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The Mali Empire was an Islamic Empire of the Mandinka people in West Africa from the 14th to 17th centuries. The empire was founded by the king, or Mansa , Sundiata Keita, was famous for the generosity and wealth of Mansa Kankan Musa I, and for the fabled wealth of the city of Timbuktu.
After the Ghana Empire had been weakened the Soso Kingdom filled the power vacuum and conquered many surrounding peoples including the Mandinka. When the Mandinka were conquered the Soso king, Sumanguru Kante , executed his brother, the Mandinka king, and eleven of his twelve sons. Sumanguru spared the twelfth son, Sundiata Keita, either because he took pity on the boy's fragile health or thought it likely he would die anyway. Sundiata eventually overcame his physical obstacles and grew into a strong young man. He led a Mandinka revolt against Soso rule, and his forces routed Sumanguru at Kirina . Sundiata converted to Islam as gesture of goodwill to Islamic traders, after the defeat of Sumanguru. The Epic of Sundiata is part of the oral tradition of the Mandinka and is still told today.
Sundiata's grandson, Mansa Kankan Musa I or Musa I, ruled over the Mali Empire while it was the source of almost half the world's gold. Musa was a devoted Muslim and Islamic scholarship flourished under his rule. With Musa as a benefactor, Sankore University in Tombouctou reached its height. Craftsmen and especially Islamic scholars came from all over the Muslim world to receive a free education at Sankore's guilds and madrasas. Musa is, perhaps, most famous for his hajj in 1324. On his pilgrimage to Mecca, Musa gave gold away generously. When he passed through Cairo, he gave out so much gold that the price of gold didn't recover for 20 years. Unfortunately Musa was so generous that he ran out of money and had to take out a loan to be able to afford the journey home. Musa's hajj, and especially his gold, caught the attention of both the Islamic and Christian worlds.
The famous Muslim traveller ibn Battuta visited the Mali Empire in the years 1352 and 1353, and his account is an important first-hand written description of this empire.