Africa’s 7 Capitals of Islamic Culture

Dakar – Republic of Senegal (2007)

Whereas Timbuktu was once the bohemian Paris of West Africa, a cultural hub dominated by Islamic intellectuals, nowadays it’s Dakar that is often called the Paris of West Africa. Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is a fascinating and tolerant place as it is remarkably diverse, consisting of many different ethnic groups and religions. Surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, Dakar is a scenic area and is also full of culture. For example, theFrench institute of Senegal highlights the city’s cultural legacy, while the most important religious building in Dakar is the Grand Mosque, built in 1964. Furthermore, there is a now a new addition to the city’s landscape: the African Renaissance monument. Costing around £17 million, it was unveiled in 2010 to mark Senegal’s 50 years of independence. The monument is notable for being taller than the Statue of Liberty.

African Renaissance Monument
© Jeff Attaway/Flickr

Djibouti – Republic of Djibouti (2008)

Djibouti city, located on the Red Sea, centres around the busy port where many refugees and migrants first set foot in the city. The city only recently gained independence from the French in 1977, which adds to its intrigue for culturally it is a crossover of 20th century France and modern Africa. Similarly, the city’s European Quarter is an interesting mix of Moorish architecture and arcades where Parisian styled cafés can be found. The European Quarter was where Europeans hung out back during Djibouti’s colonial period. So Djibouti has an interesting blend of cultures and styles of architecture. In the African quarter, there is the Hamoudi Mosque built in 1901, an important Islamic monument in Africa.

N’Djamena – Republic of Chad (2009)

Close to the famous Lake Chad, N’Djamena has witnessed a lot of conflict over the decades. Yet ISESCO has helped to highlight its significant cultural legacy rather than its history of strife. There are plenty of Mosques in N’Djamena, such as the Grand Mosque near the university. There are also churches of various Christian denominations. The Chad National Museum in N’Djamena plays a crucial role in upholding the city’s Islamic heritage, as it possesses historical ethnographic and archaeological documents. Furthermore, the city’s Institut Français hosts cultural events, including the popular N’djam Hip Hop Festival.


Moroni – Union of Comoros (2010)

This is certainly one of the more unusual places in this list, as Comoros is a group of small volcanic islands between Madagascar and Mozambique. Moroni, the capital city, has a predominantly Sunni Muslim population and, as a result, celebrates the major holidays in the Islamic calendar, such as Eid al Fitr at the end of Ramadan. The Medina district in Moroni attracts people with its narrow, winding alleys through the ancient Arabic buildings. There are indeed various mosques here, yet the highlight has to be the Old Friday Mosque, built in 1427, which overlooks Harbour Bay.

© Woodlouse/Flickr

Conakry – Republic of Guinea (2011)

Conakry is a port city that faces the Atlantic ocean in West Africa. When the city was appointed African Capital of Islamic Culture in 2011, ISESCO began to try and boost the current economic situation in the city. Close to the pleasant Conakry Botanical Garden is the Grand Mosque, funded by the Saudi Arabians, which is one the largest mosques in the African continent. Additionally, Conakry can boast of having a successful ballet company,Les Ballets Africains, that tours internationally’.

Niamey – Republic of Niger (2012)

Founded in the 18th century, Niamey quickly became an economic powerhouse and was therefore made capital of Niger in 1929. Lying on the Niger river, Niamey can lay claim to being a tolerant religious community with Roman Catholics, followers of various Muslim traditions and people adhering to Bahá’í faith all inhabiting the city. Its emerald-domed Grand Mosque, financed by Libyan money, is certainly one of Niamey’s main attractions, while the Niger National Museum is one of the most impressive in West Africa.

Kano – Nigeria (2013)

Kano is the capital of the Kano State in northern Nigeria. It is a historical area steeped in rich Islamic tradition, and it is therefore no surprise that ISESCO chose the city as African Capital of Islamic Culture last year. The city of Kano has expanded over the centuries owing to its geographical location, which enabled the area to become one of the major trade routes in Africa. It was during this 15th century expansion that Arab scientists and scholars came here and consolidated the Arab-Islamic influence in Kano’s culture. Surrounded by ancients walls, there is plenty of Moorish infused Islamic architecture to admire. Significant monuments of Islam includes the Great Mosque and the Emir’s Palace, the home of Nigeria’s second highest Islamic authority.


Written by PH

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