African Islamic Historical Chronicles

About This Section

tarikh al fattash [136368]Some five hundred years ago prior to the infamous European Atlantic slave trade, Askiya Muhammad Toure` founded the Songhay Dynasty  of the Askiyas (or Songhay Caliphate), which flourished for more than a century in Sahelian West Africa. Askiya Muhammad administered his kingdom from the ancient capital of Gao, Mali, although many of his most loyal followers were located in Timbuktu, Mali.

The Timbuktu based scribe and judge al Hajj Mahmud Kati was a close friend of Askiya Muhammad, who accompanied the famous Songhay leader during his well known pilgrimage to Mecca. The Tarikh al Fattash is an eyewitness account of the rise and fall of the Songhay Empire, told from Kati’s perspective as a key participant in many of the most important events in the era of the Askiyas.

 Christopher Wise edited this work and along with Hala Abu Talib translatedThe Timbuktu Chronicles, 1493-1599 from Octave Houdas and Maurice Delafosse s rendition of the Tarikh al Fattash, which was compiled from three versions of the text that surfaced in the early twentieth century, and that were edited by Houdas and Delafosse in 1913.

The new edited and translated version includes a new and profound introduction by Christopher Wise, as well as the original introduction and scholarly notes of Houdas and Delafosse. Wise’s introduction and study questions accompanying this translation provide contextualizing information for the non-specialist.



TheTarikh al Fattash is essential reading for all students of African literature and history. But more importantly it falls within those writings which constitute the historical consciousness African Islamic civilization in general and the identity construct for the descendants of enslaved African Muslims in the eastern hemisphere.

 I read this work and was quite pleased by the style and flow of Wise’s rendition of Ka`ti’s masterpiece. There are however, many disagreements I have with some of the terms and interpolations made by Wise in his footnotes. For this reason I decided to post a critique of this work on a page on the in order to highlight and clarify the problematic terms and issues that I felt conflicted with how I believed Qadi al-Hajj Mahmud Ka`ti and his descendants intended to convey this work.

sankore masjid [136367]I am here in Mali and have direct contact with the African academics and scholars of Mali who are intimately familiar with the objectives and aims of this fundamental work. In this regard, i will post my comments based upon consultations I have made with them and their assessments of this work.

Although, this page will be a critical assessment of the work produced by Christopher Wise, yet, I believe it is an excellent work, which should be utilized in elementary, secondary and tertiary levels of education in order to evidence foundation of African Islamic contribution to civilization.


The Tarikh al-Fattash rendered by Christopher Wise and Hala Abu Taleb is a work that the SIIASI highly recommends as an essential element of the library of those genuinely concerned with the sources of African Islamic civilization.

Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid

Thursday, 9th Shawwal, 1437 (July 7 2016)

The Zawiyya of Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye`

Zerni, Yerimadio, Bamako Republic of Mali

19 thoughts on “African Islamic Historical Chronicles

  1. As salamu alaykum shaykh.

    Please could you clarify the understanding of the 12 imams mentioned in Tarikh al Fattash? The only time I’ve heard about the concept of the 12 imams is in relation to the shi’a tradition. How does it fit into the sunni tradition?

    I consider myself an absolute beginner in the study of Islamic African studies though I’ve been a Muslim for a number of years.

    • The idea if twelve Imams or khalifs that would rule the Muslim Umma with justice and equity is not merely a shia concept, but find its roots in the fundamental sources of Sunni Islam as well. There are two Prophetic traditions narrated in Sahih Muslim which deals with this subject.

      The first one was related from Jabir ibn Samr, who said; “My father and I once visited the Prophet when we heard him say, ‘This affair (i.e. the glory of the religion and rectifying the condition of the Muslims) will not cease until there has come twelve Caliphs.’ He then said something which I did not hear. I asked my father what he said. He replied, ‘He said, ‘All of them will be from the Quraysh’.” [Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj al-Nisaburi, as-Sahih, (Isa al-Babi al-Halbi Publishers, Cairo), 1962, Vol.2. p.121.]

      The second tradition is similar, except now the 12 Caliphs are connected to governance (wilayat). It was related by the above mentioned Jabir ibn Samr, that he heard the Prophet say on the Friday evening that al-Aslami was stoned; “The religion will continue firm and unflinching until the coming of the Hour, or until there is appointed over you twelve Caliphs. Each of them will be from the Quraysh.” [Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj al-Nisaburi, as-Sahih, (Isa al-Babi al-Halbi Publishers, Cairo), 1962, Vol.2., pp.121-122.]

      These Caliphs included
      [1] Abu Bakr as-Sadiq (632-634),
      [2] Umar al-Faruq (634-644),
      [3] Uthman ibn Afan (644-656),
      [4] Ali ibn Abi Talib (656-661),
      [5] al-Hassan ibn Ali (661-661),
      [6] Mu`awiyya ibn Sufyan (661-680),
      [7] Abdallah ibn az-Zubayr (683-692),
      [8] Umar ibn Abd’l-Aziz (717-720),
      [9] al-Muhtadi Bi’amrillah (869-870),
      [10] At-Thaahir Billah (1225-1226), and
      [11] Shehu Uthman Dan Fuduye’ (1803-1817).

      Each of these men were responsible for establishing justice, equity and reviving the religion. The twelth Khalif will be the Awaited al-Mahdi, Abu’l-Qasim Muhammad ibn Abdullahm from the descendants of Fatima and Ali ibn Abi Talib.

  2. Excellent discussion . . . I’ve been eyeballing this book for some time . . . I now have more reason/motivation to purchase it and look here for input as this is the first/sole opportunity I’ve found for interest/discussion of this topic and its pertinence to us in terms of ancestry, history & deen

  3. Shayk Mohammed, I hope this reaches you in wellness. You indicate in your translation of the preface to Es-Saadi’s Tarikh as-Soudan that you will translate the latter chapters with the biographies of the holy men of Timbuktu, because Hunwick did not translate this in 1999. Now, I assume that these chapters were translated by Houdas ( I did not copy them for myself by the time), but still are curious what progress you have made and if you have published them with ? (PS In 1998 I visited the Sidi Yahya in Timbuktu to en quire from Hasseye Bagayogo about the Baghayogho al Wankori, my article in CEA 44,2004)
    kul zaman inta bahij
    Andreas Massing, Germany

    • As for now I have not resumed the translations of those final chapters of the Tarikh as-Sudan. In sha Allah, I will get around to it. The truth of the matter is that I have been editing and annotating several other manuscripts the subject of which is more relevant to our present situaton than the TS; but I will get back to it.

  4. as salaamu ‘alaykum Shaykh, I met you in Las Vegas on the “Historical West Side” in 2004(?) and told you how wonderful it was to see you there as you were one of my first sources to clarify this Deen of ours and our history of it long before our Ancestors’ journey to the “Americas” . . . I’m now in Bahrain and find it such a different experience from what I’ve had to endure in the US that I get rather emotional at times . . . Especially given the last time I was in this locale was during the Gulf War . . . I’ve received results from a DNA test through indicating my primary African Ancestry is from Mali . . . The “reference panel” is indicated to have convened in Bamako . . . Can you provide any input about this probable Ancestry of mine please? . . . (jazak Allaahu khayran)

    • Well, Sidi, I am not a geneologist, so there is not much I can say about your lineage. I will say this though, the beautiful Republic of Mali is made up of hundreds of diverse ethnicities. There are the ancient Dogon, the Tuareg, the Mande`, Soninke, Fulani, Sorokolli. the Soso and many more.

      • as salaamu ‘alaykum Shaykh and shukran for your reply . . . My question is about the composition of the reference panel used in Bamako for the AncestryDNA test . . . I apologize if it appeared as though I expected you to be a geneologist . . . (Such is not the case) . . . Because you’ve been there doing the work provided on this site, I thought you may be good POC for the ethnic composition within and near Bamako . . . However, I do appreciate your mentioning these ethnicities as it will help me to better specify the context of my genealogical research . . . I’d also appreciate any input on the ancestral connection between Mali and the US if at all possible . . . (jazak Allaahu khayran)

        • Again, I have no idea about that. The ethnic make of Mali is extremely diverse and has been that way since the time of Mansa Musa. Here you have all five Fulani groups, the Bambara, the Soninke, the Sarakolle, the Sosso, the Dogon, the Tedmekket, Amazagh and many others. That is all I can say on the subject, since I am not a specialist in geneology.

  5. Salam ‘alaikum my esteemed brother, Ustadh Shaikh Muhammad Shareef. I am beyond thrilled at the great work you are doing and hope that it will be continually supported, expanded and guided by ALLAH’S Grace ….. Keep up the good work and may ALLAH Continue To Guide you, Protect you And Bless you,ameen!

  6. One of the first issues I believe necessary to clarify in Wise’s translation of the Tarikh al Fattash is the ethnic origin of Askiya Muhammad Tuuri, the founder of the Songhay Caliphate. In the arabic Qadi Mahmud Ka`ti said:

    “وَمَنَّ اللهُ عَلَيْنَا بِأَنْ أَظْهَرَ لَنَا فِي زَمَانِنَا هَذَا اَلْإِمَامُ الصَّالِحُ الْخَلِيفَةُ الْعَادِلُ
    وَالسُّلْطَانُ الْغَالِبُ وَالْمَنْصُورُ الْقَائِمُ أَسْكِيَا اَلْحَاجُّ مُحَمَّدٌ بْنُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ
    التُّوُردِيُّ أَصْلاً وَالْكَوْكَوِيُّ دَاراً وَمَسْكَناً”

    Wise translated this segment of the text as: “God granted us the favor to bring forth in our time a virtuous imam, a caliph of integrity, and a victorious king, who was both glorious and righteous, Askiya al-hajj Muhammed ibn Abu Bakr, a descendent of the Todoro, who hailed from a family that lived in Gaogao, where he too resided.”

    The manuscript Wise used rendered the Arabic “Turuudi” into Todoro, but he amended this error in foot note # 4 where he said:

    “The proper expression, Torodo designates in Fulfulde an individual who belongs to a sort of caste or, rather a political party that was founded by the Senegalese Futa, and which means ‘those ho gather together for prayer’. However, it is employed among the Moors and elsewhere in the Sudan to designate all the original Muslims of the Futa Senegalese or the Futa Toro, or those who are connected to those branches. It is not plausible that the Askiya al-hajj Muhamamd was born in the Futa, but the author wished to indicate that his family originally came from this province. This family came from the Silla clan, which is a Soninke clan that has representatives today in the region of gao, as well as the Senegalese Futa.”

    Both the translation by Wise and his correction in footnote #4 is misleading.because he basically denies the Turudiyya Fulbe` origin of Askiya Muhammad and attributes his ancestry to the Soninke`; without given any qualitative evidence for his assertions. First reexamine the translation of the above Arabic:

    “Allah favored us by manifesting to us during these times of ours this righteous leader, this equitable khalifa, this triumphant Sultan, and upright victor, Askiya al-Hajj Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, Turuudi by origin and al-Kawkaw by land and residence.”

    The phrase: “at-Turuudi aslaan” (Turuudi by origin) has one connotation; that his ethnic origin was from the Turuudi. It does not indicate that he came from Futa Toro because the name at-Turuudi is a designation which refers to ethnicity and not land. It is for this reason Qadi Mahmud added: “al-Kawkaw (Gao) by land and residence”. This means that the place of his birth was in al-Kawkaw and that the place where he resided was the same.

    The way Wise translated this section of the text and the footnote which accompanies it obscures the fact that Askiya Muhammad was indeed a member of the renown Turuudi Fulbe ethnicity that trace their roots back to the Quraysh in one respect and to the Banu Isra’il in another. This is significant in terms of identity construct as well as political legitimacy.

    It is clear in this introductory section of the Tarikh al Fattash, Qadi Mahmud is attempting to legitimize Askiya Muhammad’s right to rule by connecting him to the people of Divine covenant among the Arabs (Quraysh) and the Bamu Isra’il.

    Who were the at-Turuudi?

    Jean Suret-Canale said in his “The Social and Historical Significance of the Peul Hegemonies in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Essays on African History, The Slave Trade to Neocolonialism that the cognomen at-Turuudi is a name which designates the Fulani or pullo singularly and as fulbe’ as a group. For example: Takruur, Tukulor, Toronkawa, and Turudbe (sing. Turuudi), are all names referring to one people. The Arab historians referred to these people as Takruri. Today this cognomen is used to refer to every Black from West Africa. In Franco-phone Africa, the Fulani are called by the Wolof term Tukulor, which was the Wolof referent to the people of Takruur. This later term was how Shaykh Abu `Ubayd al-Bakri referred to them in his Kitab’l-Masaalik wa’l-Mamaalik Further east among the Hausa speaking nations the Fulani are called Toronkawa. My teacher, Waziri Junayd ibn Muhammad al-Bukhari said in his Dabt’l-Multaqataat Minna’l-Akhbaar ‘l-Muftaraqaat fi’l-Mu`alifaat, that the cognomen Turudbe’ is how their name themselves in their own language of Fulfulde’ and the cognomen Turuudiya is how they name themselves in Arabic.

    Thus when Qadi Mahmud designates Askiya Muhammad as: “at-Turuudi by origin”, we have to take it a face value that Qadi Mahmud knew what this ethnic origin signified. Both Turudbe` and at-Turuudiya are how they are known among other larger Fulani ethnicities, as well. In the region of Futa Toro, the Fulani refer to themselves as Haalpulaar`en (those who speak Pulaar or Fulfulde’ language). It is from this name that the French refer to them as Peul. The Fulbe’ in general and the Turudbe’ in particular are dispersed throughout the Sahel region of Africa, from Cape Verde in the west to Ethiopia in the east, and from the equatorial regions of Illorin in the south to edge of the Sahara desert in the north. Again, Suret-Canale rightly points out that the reason for the dispersion of the Fulbe’ across vast areas of Africa is the fact that they specialize in the herding of cattle and the Sahel is best suited for this specialization.

    For a thorough analysis of the historical consciousness and identity construct of the at-Turuudiya see my The Lost & Found Children of Abraham:

    • I’m glad you clarified this, I’ve spoken with a couple people from West Africa on the ethnicity of Askiya Muhammad Toure and they were of the opinion that he was of Soninke origin. My position based upon what I’ve seen, is that he dwelt amongst the Soninke people who were the dominant people of that particular region, and they intermixed with the people but maintained their identity which seems to be a traditional practice of the Turudbe people.

      You remind us of the significant point of the Askiya being Turudbe, because it shows a continuity of them being the Imams of Africa.

      Did Askiya Muhammad meet conditions or qualifications of being amir’l-mumineen? If so, why is he not counted amongst the rightly guided Caliphs?

      • During the period just before Sonni Ali’s reign the Turudbe` were subjugated by the Mande`, Bambara, Soninke` and other dominant ehtncities; and whereever they resided they subsummed themselves under the dominant ethnicity of that region. Like in northern Nigeria where the Turudbe (known there is Toronkawa) subsummed themselves under the Hausa, Nupe and Kanuri ethnicities. They were preoccupied with being purveyors of the religion and left soveriegnty to the ethnicities which predominated over them.

        It is for this reason that Askiya Muhammad Ture` was considered one of the military slave vassals of Sonni Ali. If he was indeed Soninke then why would he be considered a vassal? The Turudbe and many other Fulani ethnicities were vassals at that time to the Sosso people.

        The people of Toro, or Futa Toro also known as Tuuro, were always people who associated with the people of Islamic erudition. Thus Askiya Muhammad had a long time relationship with the scholars of Biru, Walata, Timbuktu, Djenne, Nassina, Dja, kabara etc where the Fulani scholars and jurists were predominant in the profession of Islamic teachers, educators, jurists and judges. Although Askiya Muhammad was a part of the military class, yet he maintained a good relationship with his fellow Fulani peers who were scholar/merchants, scholar/agronomist etc.

        Of course after Askiya Muhammad made his fame as one of the most renown African Muslim rulers known throughout the Middle East and north Afirca, the Soninke would later claim him as one of their own. This is only natural.

        Among Africans he was counted as one of the khulfa ‘r-rashiduun. Even Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye` had two opinons regarding which of the amirs were included. In some of his writings he enumerates the tenth righteous caliph as At-Thaahir Billah (1225-1226) of the Abbasiyya. However in other writings, particularly his Fulbe works he referred to Askiya Muhammad as the tenth of the Righteous Caliphs.

        The grandson of the Shehu, Shaykh Abd’l-Qaadir ibn Mustafa spoke of this as well in his Risaalat Ila Nuuh ibn Taaahir where he challenged the idea that one of the students of the Shehu who latter became a ruler in Mali, Ahmadu Lobbo was the eleventh righteous Caliph.

        It was well known in African and Arab sources, particularly from Imam Abd’r-Rahman as-Suyuti and the Qadi of the Jinn, Shamharuus, that the last of the righteous Caliphs that would appear prior to the Mahdi, would be in Africa. Imam as-Suyuti and Shamharuus (who was one of the jinn Companions of Prophet Muhammad was still alive at the time of Askiya Muhammad) claimed that the first of these two promised African caliphs was Askiya Muhammad Toure.

        Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye` was the eleventh, and after him there would be no other RIGHTEOUS CALIPH until the appearance of the Mahdi.

        As the qualification of Askiya Muhammad as Caliph based upon the prerequisites laid down by the law-giver, Prophet Muhammad, who said: “The khilaafa is from the Quraysh.” The Turudbe trace their descent from the Quraysh through `Uqba ibn Naafi` the amir of the West, the Companion of Muhammad who led the Companions across north Afica and then led his armies into the northern most regions of the western Sudan. At that time the Fulani resided further north before they were driven south by the Berbers and Tuareg. Thus, technically, the Turudbe` can rightfully claim the khilaafa due to their descent from the Quraysh.

        For deeper discussion on this see my: The Lost and Found Children of Abraham here: []

        • Amin Shaykh, so we can say that Songhay was a legitimate khalifate under the rule of the Askiya’s, which would show even more, the crime of the Morroccans in undermining and destabilizing Islamic Africa in bilad as-sudan. A point that I believe needs to be emphasized because, I think us in the western hemisphere can rightfully say we were subjects of the Songhay Empire during the phase of the European slave trade. This is your talib Muhammad Toure’ in case you didn’t know Shaykh, I’m just using one of my kunyas.

          • Actually we were subjects to the Songhay Caliphate until it was destroyed by the Moroccans and Portuguese. Once the people came under the direct sway of the government of Morocco, then we inadvertently became subjects to them until the Sa`adi regime was overthrown in Morocco; which gives the socalled ‘moors’ in the US something to stand on. However, in 1804 one the oath of allegiance was given to Shehu Uthman ibn Fuduye` and he thus became the eleventh of the Righteous Caliphs; and the Sultan of Morocco, Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdullah sent letters to the Shehu acknowledging his caliphate; then we African came under the sovereignty of the Sokoto Caliphate. This same Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdullah was the one who sighed treaties with the 13 colonies. ergo, the US was/is obligated by all treaty agreements which Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdallah had with the Sokoto Caliphate; thus the legal demand of those under the sovereignty of the Sokoto Caliphate is stronger than the claims of the so called ‘moors’.

  7. First, historical consciousness is a people’s actual historical narrative, but more importantly it refers to their attitudes towards that narrative. It answers the issues of the reason the Creator created them and placed them in the circumstances that they find themselves. The historical consciousness is a vital element of the original nature (fitra) and is the ontological indication of Divine Unity (tawheed).

    While the publishing of the Tarikh al Fattash in English is very important for the development of historical consciousness of the African Muslims throughout the world; it is the interpolation of that narrative and the purposes to which that narrative is used which is more significant. It is this usage and utility which the historical narrative provides African Muslims with that constitute the historical consciousness which Cheikh Anta Diop defined as the most impregnable fortress against all forms of oppression from the outside world.

    This work, Tarikh al-Fattashi fee Ahkbaari al-Buldaani wa’l-Juyuushi wa Akhbaari an-Naasi wa Dhikri Waqaa’i`ee at-Takruuri wa `Adhaa`im al-Umuur wa Tafreeqi Ansaabi al-`Abeedi mina al-Ahraar [The History of the Researcher Regarding the Historical Narrative of the Lands, the Armies, the Historical Narrative of the People, Remembrance of the Events of Takruur (West Africa), and Their Most Immense of Affairs and the Differentiation of Slaves from Those Born Free] which is attributed to the faqih, the Qadi Mahmud ibn al-Hajj al-Mutawakkil Ka’ti, is surrounded by controversy regarding who was the real author of this work; but also whether it was free of forgery and intentional historical revisionism. It is for this reason that any translation of this work will come under intense critique.

    This work cannot simply be translated as is due to the question of authentic authorship and the issue of fraudulence. It is for these reasons that Christopher Wise’s rendition of this work should be analyzed. The Sufis say: “Your end is in your beginning”; so if this 15th century historical narrative could be forged during the 19th century for political reasons, it is also concievable that the publishing of the text in English in the 21th century could have political overtones as well. Even if Wise’s aims in translating the work as is, was benevolent, (and this seems to be the case); yet it is the interpolation and usage of this historical narrative by its descendants which we must look at and critique.

    In 1992, I asked Dr. John ‘Abd’r-Razaaq’ Hunwick why there as no critical translation of the Tarikh al Fattash and he raised the issue of authorship as well as the fact that the text was basically altered in the 19th century by Shehu Ahmadu Lobbo to justify his military and political hegemony over the region. Since there has been no extant copy of the historical narrative which escaped Lobbo’s revisions so far, it is impossible to simply translate the text as is without editing and contextualization.

    It is for this reason that SIIASI will utilize this page to look closely at Christopher Wise’s rendition of this work. Again I highly recommend everyone purchasing and reading of the Wise’s translation of the Tarikh al-Fattash because of its style. Because this work deals with the era of the 15th century which was the era of the Transatlantic European Slave Trade, this work must be closely examined and critiqued. I will be looking at the original Arabic and I will be weighing Wise’s interpolations and footnotes based upon the opinions of the right acting scholars here in Mali.

    Feel free to comment and post your own thoughts and researched opinions here as well.

Questions or comments for Shaykh Muhammad

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.