Book Review of ‘The African Caliphate’ – Author: Ibrahim Sulaiman

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This is a book about tajdiid and jihād that follows the example set by the Prophet Muhammad صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم and those who patterned themselves after him, up until the time the Muslims became overwhelmed by the arrival of non-Muslim Europeans  and their eventual occupation of the Muslim lands in the 19th and 20th Century.  The author has chosen to write about ʿUthmaan dan Fodio, a pure scholar who through the method of tajdiid revived the knowledge of the Sunnah, fought a lawful jihād, established dar al-Islam and instituted proper Islamic governance in Hausaland during his time.

Tajdiid can be translated from Arabic to mean: ‘revival, restoration, resuscitation, regeneration and jihād can be translated from the Arabic to mean: exertion, striving, going through pain for the sake of something, a struggle or battle to defend dar al-Islam against its enemy, unbelief, innovation or rebellion against Allah; or a battle to defeat kufr and to establish Islam in its place.

Islam, which is Sunnatu-l-laah (Allah’s perfect command) and Sunnah Muhammad (Prophets perfect behavior) was sent down by Allah and was established by His Messenger, as the perfect balance of social transaction and governance.

Islam is established and revived by a classical pattern of action or behavior which began in the time of the Prophet Muhammad صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم and the first three generations of Muslims. That pattern is daʿwah for non-Muslims, tajdiid for the Muslims, hijrah, and jihād followed by the establishment of governance or government.  If after a number of generations there is a decline in the practice of Islam, the Prophet is reported to have said in a sound hadiith, “At the beginning of every century, Allah will send a mujaddid (a reviver, regenerator, resuscitator, one who does tajdiid) to regenerate their religion for them.”

Thus, this is the pattern, the model of Islam established by the Messenger of Allah صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم and re-enacted through out the history of Islam by those genuine and upright scholars who came after him. Shaykh ʿUthmaan ibn Fūdī known as dan Fodio or simply Shehu Usman was one of those scholars who chose to meticulously followed this pattern and model.

Islam had been in Hausaland which included Kano, Katsina, Zaria and Gobir among other states, since its arrival there around 15th century C.E. During his reign, Muhammad Rumfa the Sultan of Kano (d. 1499) under the guidance of Muhammad bin Abdul Karīm al-Maghīlī, strove to see that the pure practice of Islam and true Islamic governance were well established there. However, by the 18 century during the era of Shaykh ʿUthmaan dan Fodio, the practice of Islam had greatly degenerated in Hausaland.

The Islamic practice of the rulers of Hausaland had become corrupt. As a result, these rulers failed to save their nations from moral and social decay and used every means to ruin all constructive efforts to revive and regenerate Islam as a pure practice for the worship of Allah. All aspects of the practice of Islam in Hausaland had become corrupted and Hausa society was continuously sinking into decline and turmoil.

Yet, by the very fact that the practice of Islam had already been established in Hausaland, and then fell into corruption and degeneration, and its rulers were judged by Shehu ʿUthmaan and the fuquhaa’ that were with him to be mukhalliṭuun (those who mix the practice of Islam and the practice of kufr together), and the fact that in Hausaland, there were people who denied the the resurrection, ridiculed Islam, worshipped idols, disrespected Allah and denied the Prophethood of Muhammad – this behavior coming from both those who professed Islam and those who rejected it – Shehu ʿUthmaan did not start out by calling for the forcible overthrow of the government or social order’ in favor of a ‘new system, but rather, he realized what was needed everywhere in Hausaland was the work of tajdiid (the restoration) of Islam and the Sunnah. His first objective therefore, was the education of the masses and to stop the innovation and un-Islamic practices among them, then at a much later stage he decide to go the rulers of Hausaland and explain true Islam to them and encourage them to follow it.

In the book the author demonstrates that through out his mission, Shaykh ʿUthmaan, used the blueprint left behind by the Prophet and the first three generations of Muslims, which showed him the correct approach to opposing the decadent and crumbling old order which supported and upheld corrupt customs and the abominable mukhalliṭ (syncretic) behavior in Hausaland. Shaykh ʿUthmaan aided by the members of his Jamaaʿah, eventually cleansed Islam in Hausaland of the corrupt practices and innovation that had crept into it over a long period of time, and they restored Islam to its place of honor and brought back the practice of Islam in Hausaland to its pristine purity.

Society, the Shehu said, should return to the Sunnah, which is the fitrah (natural disposition) of the human being. Thus, he started his mission with the process of tajdiid, commanding the good and prohibiting evil, a process which was aimed at educating the people, changing their view of the world, transforming their character, social behavior and political allegiance.

This was the most crucial phase in the entire tajdiid process. The Shehu also saw tajdiid as a process of moral refreshment and intellectual rejuvenation and the resuscitation of the knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and their practice. As long as the ummah would sink from time to time into degenerative and weak state, the need for tajdiid would remain. As a scholar who undertook the task of social change, Shehu Uthmaan believed that the salvation of the ummah in general and Hausaland in particular rest solely in the revival of a social pattern based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

The Shehu’s ambition and his declared goal, his purpose, he continually reiterated as previously stated, was to bring about a transformation of society by calling people to Islam, commanding the good and prohibiting evil, and working to destroy the negative affects of innovation (bidʿah) that had crept into the social fabric which also included establishing, once again, the supremacy of the Sunnah. As a true mujaddid, Shehu ʿUthmaan had as his ultimate ambition, the establishment of a society that followed as closely as possible the Madinan society during the time of the Prophet and the first three generations.

The hijrah which followed the Shehu’s work of tajdiid and subsequent jihād was not a hasty recourse to arm confrontation. Recourse to armed confrontation is allowed only when all the possibilities for a peaceful education of the people have been exhausted. The Shehu knew all to well, that it was necessary for a mujaddid and anyone who who undertook the work of tajdiid to first establish roots in the hearts of the people and in the social fabric of society before it ventures into a confrontation.

The Shehu attributed hasty recourse to armed confrontation, to delusional worldly intrigues that was satanically inspired and connected to ambition and love of power. True, authentic and correct jihād is born out of restraint, because rushing to achieve success through armed confrontation when one is in a position of weakness is ruled out as an Islamic strategy. As long as there exists the possibility, to disseminate Islam peacefully, the scholar must maintain the peace and utilized all peaceful methods at his disposal. If the situation changes from what is possible to what is impossible, the next course of action is for the scholar to make hijrah to another area of safety (dar al-Islam) where he can continue his efforts peacefully.

Recourse to armed confrontation is allowed only when all the possibilities for a peaceful education of the people have been exhausted or dar al-Islam comes under the threat of attack or more appropriately, when one has mustered sufficient strength to confront the prevailing order, because once the fighting begins, it does not stop ‘until the war lays down its burden’ as Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an 47:4.

It was only after the hijrah to Gudu and the Hausa rulers threatened the Muslims with razi’ah (the infliction of heavy losses) and extermination that the Shehu declared jihād. The jihād would become a struggle to both establish and revive Islam in Hausaland. The jihād was declared against four kinds of kings who who under the Islamic legal ruling were considered to be kuffaar: the unbelieving king who never was a Muslim, the unbelieving king who professed Islam for outward show only, an apostate king who abandons Islam and return to unbelief, and the king who outwardly remains Muslim, but mixed the practices of Islam with the practices of unbelief.

The jihād fought by the Shehu and his followers was not a revolution. There is no question that dramatic and wide-reaching changes took place in the people’s actions and ideas, and so under those circumstances, the jihād in Hausaland might be seen as a revolution, however the Shehu’s jihād was fought to overthrow kufr, whereas, if it was a revolution in the sense of insurrection and coup d’état, the battle would have been fought merely to overthrow kings. The kings of Hausaland weren’t fought because they were defenders of corrupt monarchy. They were fought because they were defenders of kufr. Another reason why the Shehu’s jihād, was not a revolution is because the jihād he fought was a conflict between truth and falsehood and not a confrontation between individuals or economic philosophies or bankrupt political systems. It was a conflict between two orders, two diins: diinu-l-Islam and diin-l-kufr, a conflict between those who wanted to empower Islam, and its pure practice and method of governance, on the one hand and those who wanted kufr to continue to prevail in every aspect of the social and political transaction on the other. jihād is a command from Allah while revolution is based on the ambition of men.

Finally, we will quote the author of this work, Ibraheem Sulaiman who himself has succinctly and eloquently written in Chapter Five of this book about the difference between the genuine process of tajdiid and the mere effort to effect change by a political revolution:

“If tajdiid were merely a matter of political revolutions or change of leadership, then there are quicker ways than the recourse to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but tajdiid is the transformation of the heart, of human disposition and of the destiny of man itself which clearly transcends the attainment of political power. To believe that a quick political ascendancy is all that Islam is about is to cast a vulgar look at a sublime system. What Islam wants is an enduring transformation, which cannot be realized by a social hurricane which brings destruction and consumes even what it claims to rectify.” pp. 76-77.

On another note, the tendency of certain non-Muslims writers and scholars, who as outsiders to Islam writing about Shehu ʿUthmaan dan Fodio and the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate, is to concentrate on the jihād in Hausaland while ignoring the prevailing conditions of corruption and the degeneration of Islamic practice in Hausaland, and the work of tajdiid initiated by Shehu Usman to rectify the situation. This often occurs, because it is not the responsibility of non-Muslim writers and scholars to defend Islam nor is it their responsibility to present the life and work of Muslims such as Shaykh Uthmaan dan Fodio in a light or manner that reflects the whole truth.

This book on the other hand has been authored by a Muslim scholar, who does not have the disadvantage of standing on the outside of Islam looking in or the disadvantaged of being restrained by restrictive and ‘straight-jacketing’ academic or publishing requirements and technicalities that are found in the writings of some non-Muslims and Muslims who write about Islam and Muslims. This book, thus is a seminal work on the subject of tajdiid and jihaad and ‘a must read’ for Muslims who are seriously interested in understanding the methodology of tajdiid and the methodology used to conduct lawful jihād, that are found in the Kitaab wa-s-Sunnah.

Non-Muslims also stand to benefit from reading this book. Non-Muslims have been bombarded by the media and other would-be commentators with the term ‘jihād’ out of the context of its correct meaning, application and reality. This book puts jihād as a methodology back into its proper context. It clarifies that tajdiid, hijrah and then jihād is the sequential pattern of action that has been carried out by the people of knowledge, since the time of the first generation of Muslims up until the time of the arrival of the European colonial powers in Muslim lands. This book confirms that jihād has proper rules of engagement and conduct, and that jihād is a last resort measure coming towards the final stage in the process of the establishment or reestablishment of Islam, and not the first or only resort for Muslims.

Buy ‘The African Caliphate’ now from  Diwan Press (Just press the link)

The Timbuktu Tradition


The Timbuktu Tradition

by Dr. Ibrahim Sulaiman

From the Book : ‘African Caliphate’

Perhaps the most important factor in the resurgence of  Islam, after several decades of decline in Bilād as-Sudan, was that the Islamic tradition of learning and scholarship continued throughout the period of decline to operate as a living and thriving tradition, producing scholars, jurists and saints all over the region. The tradition preserved the best of Islam and kept alive its intellectual legacy strongly enough for any determined reformer to apply it as an instrument of societal transformation. That Islamic tradition was best symbolized by an enigmatic and highly venerated West African city that flourished for at least five centuries from the twelfth century A.D. – Timbuktu.

Timbuktu was a city bolstered by piety and, as Dr. Hunwick tells us, “it was the proud boast of its people that worship has never been offered to pagan gods within its walls.” He quotes Muhammad Kati who described the city in Tārīkh al-Fattāsh:

“Religion flourished and the Sunnah enlivened bothreligious and worldly affairs… In those days it had no equal in the Sudan, from Mali to the edges of the Maghrib, for soundness of its institutions, political liberties, purity of customs, security of life and goods and respect for, and assistance to, the students and men of learning.”

The city owed its prestige and its immense influence on the subsequent history of West Africa to its being a center of learning. It was a university complex, drawing students and scholars from different parts of the Muslim world, nourishing governments with administrators, clerks and judges, feeding cities with imams, teachers and jurists, and providing, for the wider society, a long chain of muftis, saints and above all, mujaddids. The unusually high number of mujaddids which the Bilād as-Sudan has produced – perhaps higher than any other part of the Muslim world – can be attributed in part to the tradition of learning fostered by Timbuktu.

“The tradition of learning in Timbuktu,” Elias Sād writes in his Social History of Timbuktu, “assured the city a status and prestige.” He continues:

“The Muslim sciences, which the various settlers brought and fostered in the city, went hand-in-hand with the widespread commercial contacts of these groups to secure for the growing town a measure of noninterference from outside. For one thing, the settlers themselves commanded considerable wealth along with widespread networks of trade and alliances in the area. Additionally, however, the security of the city was in its Islamic image. Its mosques, schools and shrines began, at an early stage, to be seen as its guardians. In the psychological mood which prevailed after pilgrimage of  Mansa Musa of Mali (and again on the return from the Hajj of Askia Muhammad over a century and a half later), Timbuktu gradually gained an aura of ‘sanctity’ and assumed for itself a sort of inviolability.”

In this tradition of learning, after the elementary stage of Qur’anic recitation and literacy, a student was introduced into the world of scholarship via the Arabic language.Versatility in Arabic, Sād suggests, was highly valued, and so fields of learning associated with language, such as grammar, rhetoric, logic and prosody, became an essential part of the learning process.

The fundamental goal of learning in this tradition was to acquire comprehensive understanding of Qur’an, ḥadīth and fiqh, and, to some extent, taṣawwuf. As a result of this, the science of tafsīr – Qur’anic exegesis – was perhaps the most important of all the sciences studied. Then followed study of the ḥadīth, in which, Sāʿd states, “the abilities of a jurist came to be measured by his familiarity with the precedents set by the Prophet.”

In the study of fiqh, the Timbuktu tradition insisted on achieving as high a level of competence as could be found in any other part of the Muslim world. The fiqh studies revolved almost wholly around the Māliki School, to which the entire region has subscribed until the present day. Other fields of knowledge, such as taṣawwuf, uṣūl or the philosophy of law, tawḥīd – the science of unity of Allah –history, medicine, astronomy and mathematics were also given due attention. A relatively wide range of textbooks was available to the students.

Knowledge was sought in this tradition precisely in order to enable the students to organize their lives as Allah had ordered, and subsequently to organize society and state on those lines as well. Scholarship was, therefore, an institution in its own right, distinct from and almost totally independent of the state. It remained self-reliant, maintaining and generating its own funds through a high level of commercial activities, and in this way preserved its own prestige and sanctity.

Scholars were never subservient to the rulers. Indeed, in some respects, the tradition was so strong that it forced the rulers to concede to the supremacy of the scholar over the ruler. For example, it was the monarch who visited the Qāḍī of Timbuktu, and not the other way around. The idea was that a qāḍī, as the custodian of Allah’s sacred law, was pre-eminent over the temporal ruler. This tradition gave the scholars of Timbuktu an aura of sanctity and respectability that made them the symbol of the people and the conscience of society.

The Timbuktu tradition persisted in Hausaland, and in the whole of Bilād as-Sudan, producing scholars who upheld the spirit of Islam and nourished Islam itself both in the periods of light and of darkness. The Moroccan invasion of 999 A.H./1591 A.D., in which almost all the leading scholars were arrested, precipitated its decline. This deterioration, however, was merely quantitative. The quality of the tradition was maintained. So, while Hausaland was sunk in moral degradation, this intellectual and moral tradition carefully nurtured a cadre of scholars who were able to bring about a revival of Islam and create a society dedicated to Islam – a state entirely committed to the defense and enhancement of Islam.

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 00:41  Leave a Comment  
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