Al Sahili

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Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Al-Sahili (1290–1346) was a prominent architect of the Mali Empire under the rule of Mansa Musa.

Early life[edit]

Born in Granada, Andalusia (Muslim Spain), Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Sahili studied the arts and law in his native land. Known as a gifted poet, al-Sahili belonged to a well-established merchant family. His father was also known for his mastery of jurisprudence, especially inheritance law. Al-Sahili gained a reputation as a man of letters and an eloquent poet in Andalusia, which by the 14th century was known for its rich cultural and religious diversity. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic influences spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula and into North Africa and the Western Sahel. Al- Sahili left Granada around 1321 and began to travel in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.


In 1324, al-Sahili met the ruler of Mali, Mansa Musa, during his pilgrimage to Mecca. According to the chronicler al-Sa'di, Mansa Musa was so delighted by the poetry and narrative talents of al-Sahili that he invited him to return to Mali with him. Al- Sahili settled in the growing intellectual and commercial center of Timbuktu, where he built an audience chamber for Mansa Musa, demonstrating his talent as a skilled craftsman. So impressed was Musa that he engaged the Andalusian to construct his new residence and the Great, or Djingereyber, Mosque in Timbuktu. While the residence has been lost to time, the Great Mosque still stands in Timbuktu. Hunwick posits that the "rounded arch, so reminiscent of the architecture of Muslim Andalusia, may, therefore have been an innovation of al-Sahili." But more reasoned analysis suggests that his role, if any, was quite limited. the architectural crafts in Granada had reached their zenith by the fourteenth century, and its extremely unlikely that a cultured and wealthy poet would have had anything more than a dilettante's knowledge of the intricacies of contemporary architectural practice.[1] Abu Ishaq Al-Sahili died in 1346 and is buried in Timbuktu. Although it is believed that he never married, he is said to have fathered several children who later resettled in Walata.[2]