In fact, some of the same the Muslim historians and scholars that have written about Ghana have also provided a written record of Mali (Jackson, 1970). For example, Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim scholar working out of Islamic Spain in the 15th century, wrote about both Ghana and Mali. Islamic scholars must have paid a great of attention to Mali because its rulers converted to Islam, and subsequently spread it throughout Africa. The richness of the historical record of Mali allows a history of this great civilization to be reconstituted (Jackson, 1970).
The geographical borders of Mali where similar to the former boarders of Ghana. The similarities exist because Mali was once a feudal territory that rose to fill a void after Ghana had fallen at the hands of the Susu. In his Kitab al-'Ibar Ibn Khaldun indicates that Mali occupied Ghana's former boarders (Davidson, 1991). He writes, "Much later the population of Mali grew to such an extent that it became dominate over all over this region (i.e. the area formerly ruled by Ghana)" (Khaldun, 1969 p.1). In the early history of Mali, during the reign of Al-Malik al-Nasir, Mali extended its borders west to the Atlantic Ocean. To the north, Mali occupied the upper portions of the Sahara. To the south, Mali extended down the Niger River past the city of Djenne, which is located on marshy land in the middle of the Niger River, it is referred to as an island. To the East, the kingdom stretched to a city called Takrur; this included much of the Sahara.
Originally the kingdom of Mali started expanding from the top of the Niger River (Davidson, 1991). Starting from the city of Timbuktu, Mali steadily conquered the lands that lay down stream. These areas included the towns of Djenne, located on series of mashes and lakes that lies close to the Niger River, and Kawkaw, thought to be the modern-day city of Gao. Controlling the Niger River and the cities that lie on its banks were important for trade and travel (Jackson, 1970). The Niger was a central artery of commerce for both West and North African trade routs. The importance of the Niger can also be seen in the fact that Mali's capital city, which changed many times, was often located on that river. Mali's control of the Niger River, and these important cities, helped it to grow and prosper (Davidson, 1991).
By the 18th century, Mali was in a semi anarchic state. Two empires emerged that opposed French invasion, the Tukolor Empire of al- Hajj Umar (1794-1864) and the Somori Toure (1870-98). During this time the region saw a resurgence of Islam. But in later years Mali was conquered and became the French Sudan, part of the Federation of French West Africa (Jackson, 1970).
Thanks to its rich and ancient past, Mali has become a country of great ethnic diversity with nearly two dozen different ethnic groups living within its borders. The main groups are the Mande (including the Bambara, Malinke, Soninke, Mandinka, Mende, Susu, Dialonke, and Dyula), Peul (or Fulani), Voltaic, Songhay, Tuareg, and Moor. Some other groups include the Dogon, Bozo, and Bobo. The single largest ethnic group is the Bambara also known as Bamana. This name recalls the era when the influence of Islam was spreading through Africa, yet this group of rural farmers refused to convert to a new religion and kept alive their traditional way of life. Bambara means "infidel" or