Correcting Chancellor William’s The Destruction of Black Civilizations on Islam

What if Chancellor William’s book The Destruction of Black Civilization was updated in 2019? What if the book was updated based upon current research about the rise and fall of several African civilizations?

The updated version would tackle several conflicting statements regarding the legacy of Islam in West Africa. Chancellor Williams speaks laudatory about Islam stating that ”[t]he renaissance in Africa occurred at the time time it developed in Europe, between the 15th and 16th century, and that both in Europe and Africa, Islamic sources were the catalyst.” Here, Williams credits Islam for bringing about a revival of civilizations and culture throughout West Africa.

Yet, in another portion of the book Williams chronicles the downfall of the Ghana civilization of West Africa stating that “[t]he destruction of the capital[of Ghana] by Muslims in 1076.” With the Islamic invasion of Ghana, Chancellor WIlliams writes that, “The African masses, of course, were regarded as ‘infidels” upon whom Muslims sought to carry out, “forced conversions to Islam.” Chancellor William’s account of the fall of Ghana by Islamic invaders has created much animus towards Islam within the Black conscious community and is cited to solidify their belief of Islam being a tool of subjugation over Black people. Moreover, it is hard to reconcile William’s claim that Islam brought about an intellectual renaissance in West Africa whilst simultaneously contributing the destruction of an important civilization in West Africa.

Williams wrote this book in 1973, and that time, the account of the collapse of the Ghana civilization by Muslim invaders was a widely accepted theory in academia. The updated version of his book would include the current research, which starting in 1982 discredits such theory as European colonial propaganda. In the article The Conquest That Never Was: Ghana and the Almoravids, 1076, historians David C. Conrad and Humphrey J. Fisher determined local oral tradition posited that drought was the major contributor to the collapse of Ghana. Through their analysis of oral, archaeological, and written records, they could find no evidence at all that Muslim invaders destroyed Ghana.

In a follow up work, The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa, Pekka Masonen and Humphrey J. Fisher concluded that “there is no direct evidence of any conquest, still less a violent and destructive, of Ghana.” They declare the narrative of an Islamic conquest of Ghana to be a myth and a total historical fabrication. Tracing the origins of this theory behind the collapse of Ghana, they write “ The conquest hypothesis is a European creation…The conquest and destruction of Ghana by cruel Almoravids could be seen as an historical example of the native impact of Islamic fanaticism, justifying European “protection” in Sub-Saharan Africa.” In other words, the narrative of Muslim invaders destroying Ghana and seeking to carry out force conversions was a European invented myth that gained acceptance in academia at the time of WIlliams writing but has since then been discredited.

If published in the contemporary era, William’s account of the destruction of civilization would not include the narrative of an Islamic destruction of Ghana that has been at the source of so much of the black conscious community animus toward Islam. Instead, he would focus more on his more historically corroborated claim that Islamic sources were the catalyst for a renaissance in Africa. Yet, members of the Black conscious community who continue to promulgate the narrative of an Islamic destruction of Ghanian civilization should know they are repeating a myth designed to justify European colonialism and is as much fictional as the story of a white Egypt, whites building the great wall of Zimbabwe, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, take your pick..


Williams, Chancellor. The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. Chicago, Ill: Third World, 215

The Conquest That Never Was: Ghana and the Almoravids, 1076. II. The Local Oral Sources,David C. Conrad and Humphrey J. Fisher, History in Africa Vol. 10 (1983),

Not Quite Venus from the Waves: The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa by Pekka Masonen and Humphrey J. Fisher, History in Africa Vol. 23 (1996),

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