When you are asked about rich people, you probably think of Bill Gates, Rockefeller, Warren Buffet, Carlos Slim, or the Rothschild family. But, according to some historians, the richest man that has ever lived was an Islamic Malian king named Mansa Musa. His name Mansa means King. He ruled over the Malian empire of Mali from 1312 till 1337 and caught the attention of Europeans and Arabs after his renown Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1324. During this period, his fortune has been estimated 400 billion dollars, and he caught the eye of many of many far and beyond the countries he visited. He was not a person that was afraid to give zakat to the poor people and build houses and mosques on his way to Mecca.
The Malian Empire of that time contained countries such as Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad. It was an enormous empire that stretched up to two thousand miles starting from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to Lake Chad to the East of its borders.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Mansa Musa was a devoted Muslim, who was prepared his pilgrimage soon after taking his position from Abu Bakri II in 1312. During this period of preparations, which took years, he used the knowledge and resources from his rich land. With the help of the Malian scholars, who have planed the pilgrimage, Musa was very good prepared and knew a lot about the cities in which he went, as well as how to navigate the way to Mecca. 1324, off to Mecca!
Finally, during the 1324 he took up to a thousand servants (some say 60,000) with him. They had more than 80 camels, which were loaded with 300 pounds of gold, as well as some other needed goods, for their trip of over four thousand kilometers. He has also had 1200 slaves with him, and each of them was carrying a golden adorned staff. During his trip, he stopped the Egyptian cities Alexandria and Cairo where he attracted the Arabs’ and Europeans’ interest. As a result of his kindness and bounteous (giving Zakat), it has been said that he gave away most of his gold to everyone he met, especially to the poor people on the streets in Cairo and Alexandria. Musa has also helped in building mosques each
Friday on his way to Mecca.
Years later, his act of kindness was still felt in Egypt, Mecca and Medina, as the local economy collapsed and the price of gold substantially fell. Soon, Mansa Musa became a good known man in the Arab world and Europe. There have been tales about the sub-Saharan African Muslim king, who was loaded with gold, told by some Italian merchants and Egyptians. This made him place on the maps drawn by Arabs and Europeans. One of these maps was Italian map.
The impact of his trip
When he came back home, hi brought with him Arab scholars, architects, and bureaucrats, in order to help him in building the historic building that we now have in Gao and Timbuktu, which became a famous scholarly, cultural and flourishing trade city in that period. It became a city to which people from Europe, Asia and Northern Africa came, in order to learn, trade, and live as well.
Here we also have a funny story:
One descendant from the prophet Muhammad went to Timbuktu in order to teach Malian Muslims, but he failed the entrance test for the Madrasa. This meant that later he had to study for three years in order to be able to be a student at the University of Timbuktu.
The legacy of these Arab (Andalusian) architects contains a few masterpieces such as the Djinguereber Mosque, that is a part of the University of Timbuktu. It contains the Masjid of Sidi Yahya and Sankore. Other notable and famous buildings are the palace Madagou and the University/masjid of Gao.
By this trip, the Islamic scholarly was boosted, as the amount of Madrasas and the libraries grew together with the Islamic knowledge. At the same time, the exchange of commerce, scholars, poets have been increased by the Islamic leaders and kingdoms. By this, Timbuktu became the center of the Islamic studies and trade in sub-Sahara Africa.
After the death of Mansa Musa in 1337, his son named Megan I became Mansa. But his rule did not last for a long period. Also, what soon meant the downfall of this great Islamic kingdom were the attacks from Morocco and the kingdom of Songhai.