If you were ever asked to list the names of the richest people to have ever lived, odds are you’ll be listing the Bill gates the Warren Buffets and Carlos Slims of this world. Little would you have thought that a black Muslim man living in ancient west Africa would be the richest man to have ever graced this world, at least according to recorded history. His name was Mansa Musa and was the ruler of the Manding empire of Mali from 1312 to 1337. His name came to be known to many a people, including the Europeans and Arabs during his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. His wealth was estimated at $400 billion dollars during his trip to Mecca and in the process he caught the eye of every country he visited en route to Mecca. He was a very generous man, he gave zakat to the poor and built houses and mosques along the way.
At the time the Manding empire contained countries like Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Chad, Niger, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The empire was such a vast one, it stretched up to 2000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to Lake Chad to the East of its borders
Pilgrimage to Mecca
As a practicing and pious Muslim, Mansa Musa planned for his pilgrimage immediately after he took over from Abu Bakri the 2nd in 1312. In preparation for his pilgrimage, which lasted for a number of years, Mansa Musa sought the council of the knowledgeable and used the resources of his vast kingdom. He was able to learn about the cities and places he was to pass through and learned how to navigate them through the help of Malian scholars.
In 1324 he embarked on his illustrious journey to Mecca, taking with him a 1000 slaves but according to other reports it was 60,000. He also had over 80 camels with him carrying over 300 pounds of gold and other basic necessities for their 4000 km journey. On his way, he stopped in the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo where he amazed the Arabs and Europeans. As he was a generous man, it is sad that he gave away most of his gold to the poor and also built mosques each Friday.
It was not until years after his pilgrimage that the real impact of his philanthropy was felt when the local economy in Egypt, Mecca and Medina struggled and gold prices plummeted. His pilgrimage made him well-revered man in Arabia and Europe. He even earned a spot on the Arabian and European maps.
The impact of his trip
On his way home, Mansa Musa brought along Arabian scholars, bureaucrats and architects to help him build the illustrious buildings now seen in Gao and Timbuktu. Timbuktu became a hub for education, trade and cultural experience. People from all over the world came to visit, learn, trade and live in this historic city.
The works of these Arab architects involves some masterpieces like the Djinguereber Mosque, which is a part of the university of Timbuktu. In it is the Masjid of SidiYahya and Sankore. There are other high-profile buildings like the palace of Madagou and the university/masjid of Gao.
His trip also boosted Islamic scholarly, this was evident by the increase in the number of Madrasas and libraries. The number of Islamic rulers and kingdoms also increased in this period as well as trade and commerce. As a result, Timbuktu was the hub for Islamic studies and trade in sub-Saharan Africa.
Following his death in 1337, his son Maghan I became ruler. His rule did not last long however as attacks from Morocco and the Songhai empire brought about his downfall and the collapse of this great Islamic empire.