Hajj Salim Suwari, Al-(C. 1300)

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Al-Hajj Salim Suwari is a name that appears in a number of scholarly lineages in West Africa. He is credited with transmitting a significant Maliki teaching tradition to a region stretching from Ghana and Burkina Faso to Senegal and Gambia in West Africa. This tradition included jurisprudence, exegesis, and the biography of the Prophet. Historians are divided between his provenance in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the early fifteenth century. Those who support the latter believe that he played a leading role in the cultivation of extensive trade in gold between West African kingdoms and North Africa. According to them, al-Hajj Salim Suwari laid the foundation for a Maliki tradition that fostered trade and accepted the authority of non-Muslim rulers. It is this tradition that played a leading role in relations between Muslims and other religious groups until the Fulani Jihad states emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But it is also a tradition that continues today in countries like Senegal and other regions in West Africa.

Following the local hagiographies more closely, S. O. Sanneh believes that al-Hajj Salim Suwari should be situated in the twelfth century. Al-Hajj Salim Suwari performed the pilgrimage seven times, and on returning from the last one, he began a migration from Diakhe-Masina on the Niger River to Diakhe-Bambukhu further southwest on the Senegal River. There he founded a city-state with his many followers, and established the scholarly tradition that flourished for the next several generations. Sanneh also believes that al-Hajj Salim Suwari and his followers, the Jakhanke, were not directly engaged in the gold trade. Rather, they were engaged in agriculture (through the extensive use of slaves) and were devoted to travel and study. The Diakhe-Babukhu of al-Hajj Salim Suwari became a model for many similar city-states in the long history of Islam in West Africa.

See alsoAfrica, Islam in ; Islam and Other Religions ; Networks, Muslim .


Levtzion, N. "Patterns of Islamization in Black Africa." In Conversion to Islam. Edited by N. Levtzion. New York: London: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1979.

Sanneh, S. O. The Jakhanke: The History of an Islamic Clerical People of the Senegambia. London: International African Institute, 1979.

Wilks, I. Wa and the Wala: Islam and Polity in Northwestern Ghana. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Wilks, I. "The Juula and the Expansion of Islam into the Forest." In The History of Islam in Africa. Edited by N. Levtzion and R. L. Pouwels. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.

Abdulkader Tayob