Ibn Battuta's homeland
Africa covers one fifth of the Earth's land surface. Africa's geographic features have had an impact on its development. Tropical rainforests cover less than 5% of the land along the Equator yet dense rain forests make this land unsuitable for farming. Its most populated region is the Savanna which has good soil but is susceptible to a lack of rainfall which can cause droughts. In the north lies the world's greatest desert the Sahara. The Kalahari and Namib deserts located in the south are smaller. The Mediterranean coast and the tip of South Africa are the most fertile areas yet they lack good harbors. Africa's rivers can be traveled but many contain rapids and cataracts. Despite all the hazards of travel people did migrate and trade developed (Reader John.A Biography of the Continent Africa. New York: Vintage Books, Division of Random House, 1997. pgs.30-31). The Red Sea and Indian Ocean were important for they linked East Africa to the Middle East and Asia and the Mediterranean linked North Africa to the Mediterranean coasts. Muslim merchants settled in trading communities and spread the Islamic faith. In a continent with such hazardous geographical features how could Muslim merchants spread Islam and develop trade routes? This was accomplished by domesticating the camel. Around 200 CE camels were brought to North Africa from Asia. They revolutionized trade across the Sahara.
The camel was able to travel 10 days without water and at the same time carry a large load. The camel gave Muslim merchants the ability to travel across Africa and out of Africa carrying valuable trade goods such as gold, salt, ivory, kola nuts and slaves (Collins, Robert.Africa a Short History. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers 2006. pg.56-58).Muslim merchants were able to settle into trading communities spread the word of Islam.
As communities developed along the coast Muslim merchants were in a geographical position to dominate trade routes. Coastal communities linked the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean which then linked Europe, Asia, and Africa. From the coasts Muslim merchants took advantage of the trade winds (Monsoons) to travel toward India across the Arabian Sea in the winter and then wait for the winds to continue their journey. Regions of Africa benefited from Islam and Muslim merchant cities such as: Cairo in Egypt, Fez and Marrakech in Morocco, Mogadishu in Somalia, and Kilwa, Tanzania which became commercial centers along the African trade routes.