By the 8th Century AD, Islam spread throughout North and West Africa, becoming a major cultural and religious influence. African countries such as Nigeria, Libya, Cameroon, and Chad are countries that Islam influenced, but the areas they occupy will be our focus for today. The Kanem-Bornu Empire was founded in the 7th century and was located in present-day Nigeria, Chad, Libya, and Cameroon but the empire reached its apex under the rule of Mai Idris Alooma. Idris Alooma was born around 1538 AD in the Sayfawa Dynasty of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, the Sayfawa dynasty ruled the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the year 1564, Alooma became the Mai or King of the Sayfawa Dynasty and Emperor of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, and he was only 26 years old. One of the first moves Alooma made as Mai was to make the city of Gambaru his capital city instead of the traditional capital city of Ngazargamu, a city that was chosen for its fertile lands. Gambaru was a walled city that was built with red bricks; the architecture built during Alooma’s reign was distinct because of the red bricks he used. Warfare and the expansion of empires were not uncommon on the African continent. Alooma was known for his diplomacy, intelligence, leadership, and military success. He faced and conquered the Hausa, Tuareg, Toubou, Bulala, and the Sao to expand the Kanem-Bornu Empire.
Militarily, Alooma was very innovative and levelheaded. He was known for his military tactics and domination of his opponents. He set up walled military camps to give his army protection from enemies while placing enemy armies under siege cutting off resources and communication, utilized armor for his soldiers and the horses and camels they rode, and employed Berber; Ottoman; and Egyptian mercenaries within his army. His army and empire were mighty and intimidated its enemies. After victories over their opponents, they would use the scorched earth tactic, burning everything on the lands they conquered. Though Alooma and his army were highly successful, Alooma’s diplomacy and understanding of warfare allowed him to expand his empire through physical conflict and using treaties; it is said he wrote the first ceasefire treaty in the history of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. Politically, Alooma understood his strengths and weaknesses, so he created a council of the kings of the most important clans of the Kanem-Bornu Empire. He often engaged in conversation with highly educated administrative members of his empire. Using his wise counsel, he leads a major administrative reformation of his empire based on his interpretation of Islamic law. A number of Mosques were built throughout the empire, a pilgrimage to Mecca was required, and he also built a hostel in Mecca for those taking their pilgrimage.
Alooma made the Kanem-Bornu Empire strong and wealthy. He understood what his people needed, he made trading and traveling safe, so safe, that he is quoted saying, a woman covered in all gold could walk the trade routes and not be harmed. The expansion of the trade routes from North Africa and the Sahara, coming into West Africa was revitalized. Precious and natural resources such as salt, silk, copper, kola nuts, cotton, and natron were traded. Humans were even traded for slave labor. To improve trade coming into the Kanem-Bornu Empire, Alooma improved upon the conditions of the empire. He cleared and upgraded roads, and used standard units to measure grain increasing agriculture production. After the fall of the Songhai Empire in 1591, the Kanem-Bornu Empire became the Kanem-Bornu Caliphate, and Mai Alooma became the most powerful and influential Islamic ruler in Africa. In 1596, Mai Alooma was engaged in a battle against the Baguirmi Kingdom, he was mortality wounded and died on the battlefield. His body was buried at Lake Alo where he was posthumously given the name Idris Alooma. He is the best-known and most successful ruler of the Kanem-Bornu Empire and one of the main reasons the empire is remembered today. Engaging in over 1,000 battles and gaining over 300 victories. Mai Idris Alooma, we stand on your shoulders.
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