Darfur was the Fur homeland. Renowned as cavalrymen, Fur clans frequently allied with or opposed their kin, the Kanuri of Borno, in modern Nigeria. After a period of disorder in the sixteenth century, during which the region was briefly subject to Bornu, the leader of the Keira clan, Sulayman Solong (1596-1637), supplanted a rival clan and became Darfur's first sultan. Sulayman Solong decreed Islam to be the sultanate's official religion. However, large-scale religious conversions did not occur until the reign of Ahmad Bakr (1682-1722), who imported teachers, built mosques, and compelled his subjects to become Muslims. In the eighteenth century, several sultans consolidated the dynasty's hold on Darfur, established a capital at Al Fashir, and contested the Funj for control of Kurdufan.
The sultans operated the slave trade as a monopoly. They levied taxes on traders and export duties on slaves sent to Egypt, and took a share of the slaves brought into Darfur. Some household slaves advanced to prominent positions in the courts of sultans, and the power exercised by these slaves provoked a violent reaction among the traditional class of Fur officeholders in the late eighteenth century. The rivalry between the slave and traditional elites caused recurrent unrest throughout the next century.
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