Muhammad Toure was born in the mid-1400s in Senegal and was said to be in the bloodline of the Soniki people within the Songhai Empire. Little is known about Toure’s life before he gained military fame, but he gained his fame through a number of legendary victories on the battlefield. There are scholarly debates over Muhammad Toure being a part of the ruling family of Songhai or not. What we do know is during the time of Toure’s rise to fame Sonni Ali Ber was the Emperor and Founder of the Songhai Empire. Toure served as the Chief Minister to Sonni Ali until Ali’s death in 1492. Ali was succeeded by his son Abu Bakr Da’u aka Sonni Baru. Sonni Baru would only rule Songhai for one year or less because of a coup d’état led by Muhammad Toure, which was followed by Toure naming himself the Emperor of Songhai. Muhammad Toure had plans to expand the Songhai Empire, but he first had to start by reorganizing his empire, equipping it to thrive during its expansion. Toure created new positions for his ruling counsel and appointed family members and the people he trusted the most to the positions. In a strategic move to solidify his empire, he married his daughters and nieces to the prominent men and officials of the kingdoms of the Songhai Empire. Songhai expanded so rapidly that it is known as the largest empire in the history of the continent of Africa, covering 1.4 million square kilometers.
Toure wanted his empire to reflect two main things, being an Islamic empire and being an educated empire. Scholars say that other religious and spiritual paths were practiced in Songhai but Islam was declared the official religion. Timbuktu was one of Songhai’s universities and its reputation as one of the world’s leading educational centers grew under the rule of Muhammad Toure. Songhai not only housed one of the world’s leading academic centers, but they were also opening up trade agreements with Asian and European nations, which helped to increase their wealth and expand their empire even more. Toure’s rule of Songhai is known as the “Golden Age” of Muslim Scholarship at Timbuktu, scholars from around the world descended upon Timbuktu to learn. Toure’s rule was also a time when Islamic laws and ways of living began replacing the traditional African laws and ways of living. Toure is known as a well-organized leader, Timbuktu, Jenne, Masina, and Taghaza were the four areas Toure split Songhai into, each area was overseen by a governor who reported directly to Toure.
In 1496, Toure took a pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca carrying with him the equivalent of 2.5 billion dollars worth of gold, horseman, and infantrymen. Muhammad Toure became know as Askia The Great after a victory between the years 1493 and 1496. Stories are told that he took the title Askia to mock the daughters of the men he defeated because they declared that Muhammad Toure would never be great. The Askia Dynasty was one of the Songhai Empire’s greatest and most successful dynasties, but like all things, an end must come. As Toure grew older his influence on his people grew weaker. A number of the people grew bitter because of his strict Islamic views, but his greatest threat came from within his own household. A number of Toure’s trusted advisors were killed and his life was in danger. As an old man who was losing his sight and could no longer properly defend himself, he relied heavily on his advisors. His oldest son Musa was responsible for the killings of his advisors. Musa wanted Toure’s throne and nothing would stop him. Musa was eventually able to kill Muhammad Toure and take over as the Emperor of Songhai, but the memory of Muhammad Toure would even outlive the Songhai empire. To Muhammad Toure aka Askia The Great, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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