The Legendary Mansa Musa - The Wealthiest Muslim That Ever Lived

by Farida Haji

Mansa Musa was a devout Muslim, known for his prosperous reign of 25 years (1312 – 1337 CE) and his extravagant journey to Mecca. His grand travels and massive caravans intrigued many through the 14th century.

Centuries later, he is still considered the wealthiest man to have ever lived.

Rise of The Keita Dynasty

1235 CE:

Islam spread to Western Africa as early as the 8th century. The history of the Mali Empire (historically referred to as the Manden Kurufaba) before the 13th century is unclear due to conflicting accounts by Arab historians and oral traditionalists.

Accounts by Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun suggest, Sundiata Keita, a warrior prince, freed the people of Mali from the rule of the villainous king Soumaoro Kante in the Battle of Kirina. This conquest gave the Mali empire access to the trans-Saharan trade routes in 1235 CE.

He became the first ruler of the Keita dynasty and took control of the gold and salt trade, helping Mali become rich and powerful.

1310 CE:

King Abu Bakr II embarked on an expedition to explore the Atlantic Ocean leaving the empire of Mali in the hands of his deputy, Musa. Abu Bakr did not return.

Mansa Musa and The Empire of Mali

1312 CE:

Subsequently, Musa became the 10th Sultan of the wealthy West African kingdom and inherited Mali while it was still wealthy.

According to multiple accounts by Ibn Khaldun, the famous traveler Ibn Battuta and a 16th-century Moroccan traveler Leo Africanus, Mali was the largest empire in the West African province. It greatly influenced the culture of the region through the spread of its language, laws, and customs.

The Pilgrimage to Mecca

1324 CE:

In the 17th year of his rule, Mansa Musa decided to honor a significant Islamic tradition. He journeyed towards Mecca to perform Hajj. His journey, in other words, was a showcase of his generosity and his love for Islamic traditions.

Pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj, Kaaba

The 4000-mile journey was not taken alone. A caravan of over ten thousand soldiers, slaves, and heralds walked along with camels and horses carrying massive amounts of gold. 

Accounts by Arab-Egyptian scholar Al Umari who visited Cairo 12 years after the Mansa’s visit, revealed natives praising Mansa Mūsā. Such was the effect of his generosity and spending that he flooded the markets of Cairo with gold.

Upon returning from Mecca in 1324, Mansa Musa brought along scholars, bureaucrats, and architects. He established religious freedom. However, Islamic education flourished, and numerous mosques, libraries, and universities were built.

The Great Mosque of Timbuktu

1327 CE:

Mansa Musa is said to have built mosques every Friday. However, the Djingareyber Mosque in Timbuktu stood the test of time. It is made entirely of soil, fiber, straw, and wood and stands even today. 

He transformed Timbuktu from an insignificant settlement to the epicenter of his kingdom. It became one of the most prestigious cities in the world. Mansa supported active gold and salt trading. This made his capital a center of trade, scholarship, and religion. 

Information about Mansa Musa’s personal life remains historically scarce. However, many documentaries have been made. 


1337 CE: 

Mansa Musa subdivided his empire provincially to establish regional governments. He wished to return to Mecca. Unfortunately, he passed away and his son Mansa Maghan took over.  

The End of An Era

Mansa Musa and his empire were an enigmatic tale that reached as far as Europe. The Catalan Atlas, created in 1375 CE by Spanish cartographers, depicts Mansa Musa sitting on a throne, holding a nugget of gold in one hand and a golden staff in the other, in West Africa.

Soon after the atlas was published he became a global figure with extraordinary wealth.