The Nature And Character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye

The Nature And Character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye


Professor. A. A. Gwandu

Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto


Much has been said and written about Shaykh ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye both by his contemporaries and by later generations. A lot has been written about his scholarship and his military prowess, qualities which no-one can contest because they are as obvious and clear as the daylight.

Similarly there is a general consensus that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah was extremely pious  and God-fearing and had very strong, deep and unwavering faith. However, although this much was known about Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, no in-depth study known to me has been made about the whole nature and character of this icon of light.

I believe that the study of history is very important because, among other things, history tells you about people and events so that you can learn from the interplay of individuals and groups, people and environment, those elements that can help you in your current situation and environment. I believe that in times like ours we need to learn about the character of people like Shaykh ʿAbd Allah and try to emulate them. Our time in particular needs the likes of the character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah because our present circumstances and environment are in many ways very similar to those under which Shaykh ʿAbd Allah lived. To be specific, our society today witnesses hypocrisy of the highest order, where-in even the most highly placed officials are generally known to be hypocritical in their utterances and actions, just as was the case during the time of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah. We are living witnesses to corruption of the highest order everywhere, including in the building of Churches and Mosques. We see the elites, who constitute a small proportion of the population, cornering most of the resources of the nation. We see venal and corrupt people parading themselves as Ulamii and Shuyukh. We see those who claim to be representatives of the people sucking such people dry. We see Muslims and Christians who would dedicate their lives to studying in various fields of human endeavour but who will not be willing to make a little time to learn even the most basic things regarding their religion. The last time such people would learn about religion may be when they would have taken Senior Secondary School Certificate examination or even before. The Muslims among them forget or may not even know the verse of the Holy Qur’an which explains the whole purpose and meaning of creation.

In our days the Muslims have even succeeded in the total and wholesale adoption of the modern Christian philosophy which confines the jurisdiction of God to matters relating to rituals only, believing that in all other matters – social, political and economic – God should have no say.

Indeed, as far as such modern Muslims are concerned, morality and ethical questions have no intrinsic value: the end justifies the means. If such people would only acknowledge that their brand of Islam was distorted and that they were ignorant of what Islam is all about. there would be some hope. Unfortunately, however, they would regard their own whims and caprices as the true and only correct Islam which they so clearly understand and which no-one else understands. They, therefore, have no apology to God or Man for what they do, nor do they have to beg God for forgiveness or try to learn the true Islam from its sources.

In a situation like the one described above, there is need to learn about the qualities and character of people like Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, and how such qualities helped not only their possessors but others in their communities as well.

Nature and Character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah.

Shaykh ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye, described by Hiskett as physically “tall, fat and black”[1] is a rare gem in many respects. His most important quality and the one from which all the others sprang was his deep and unshakable faith in Allah and his complete, unalloyed and absolute submission and resignation to the will of Allah. This is his source of strength. Armed with faith and with submission to the will of Allah, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah tried to model the whole of his life on the teaching of Islam. He had the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a physical example to emulate and he did everything possible towards that end. It is no wonder, therefore, that the first serious poem he had composed was his takhmis (quintain) on the poem of Shaykh ʿUthman in praise of the Prophet (SAW) [2]. For Shaykh ʿAbd Allah a true Muslim must always be God-conscious and must have Prophet Muhammad as a model to emulate. This quality means that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah would direct his attention to the acquisition of learning, but whatever is learnt must be put into practice. This is the only way the individual, the group and the environment can interact and produce the desired objective of creation.

It follows from the above that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah would be expected to dedicate himself to study and learning – which he actually did until he became recognized throughout West Africa as one of the most learned scholars. Muhammad al-Bukhari described him thus:

… a Shaykh who has no equal in knowledge in these countries. I mean the Imam of his time, ʿAbd Allah’, who led the noble Shaykhs since he was a youth. Master of sciences, their servant and their follower; friend of piety,  learned, generous, perfect; …Wide sea of learning, …Firmly grounded in every branch of knowledge, deeply learned, rightly guided in everything he says. [3]

Shaykh ʿAbd Allah is a great authority in Tafsir, Hadith and Fiqh, having to his credit, two Tafsirs: Diyā’ a!-Ta’wil and Kifāyat Du’afā’ as-Sūdān, a work on Hadith Science: Sirāj Jamiʿ al-Bukhari and a number of works on fiqh.

After the acquisition of knowledge ʿAbd Allah did the next logical thing; he taught and wrote. As an author and a teacher he achieved quite a lot. Even in his youth, he participated in the preaching tours of Shaykh ʿUthman b. Foduye. He continued, throughout his life learning, teaching and writing at the same time. An idea about the number of his students can be gauged from the number of his as-hāb (companions) who, according to Salad b. ʿAbd al-Rahman numbered about 750.(4)It is assumed that all these were advanced students who came to him from different parts of West Africa and sat to learn at his feet.

Although one has no concrete evidence of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah having directly involved in teaching at primary level, yet one would assume quite reasonably, that he must have undertaken that at some stage in accordance with the general practice during his time. This assumption has some support in the fact that he showed a lot of understanding of the atmosphere in a primary school environment as depicted by his views on the handling of small children in the maktabah. Such detailed and precise discussion can only normally come from someone who has experienced the teaching himself.(5) While dealing with the issue of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah as a teacher, one would like to refer to his wonderful methodology of addressing his students according to their level of understanding and their standing in society.  This methodology was employed also in addressing audiences, readers and others. Examples of this can be seen in the way Shaykh ʿAbd Allah writes his books. Those of them meant for the ordinary people are written in a simple language and are all based on the Mālikī School of Law. Even within that School, only the views acceptable to the majority of the Mālikī scholars were adopted. The book Diyā’ ʿUlūm al-Dīn is an example of this sort of writing, so in Taqrib Darūri al-DIn. When writing for scholars and those in authority on the other hand, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah would include a lot of details such as differences of opinion of scholars from within the Maliki School of Law. He also at times brought in opinions from outside that School. An example of this is his Tafsir, Diyā’ al-Ta’wīl meant for advanced students, and his book on constitutional theory and the administration of the state Diyā’ al-Hukkam.

In such books Shaykh ʿAbd Allah would treat issues in some detail, providing various options to a given issue, hoping thereby that those for whom the book was written, who were supposed to be qualified to use it, would consider the various options and use the one most appropriate in their particular situation. Such scholars were learned enough not be confused by the various views and opinions expressed on one issue, unlike the ordinary readers. However, in order to ensure that justice is not miscarried with the resultant negative consequences, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah restricted the judges to the application of only the most well-known rulings (Mash-hur al-Mazhab) which must be drawn from the Mālikī School of Law. With this, uniformity is achieved and the danger of personal, selfish and capricious actions by the judges was curtailed.

Before we leave the subject of teaching, it is pertinent to point out that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah expected parents to bear responsibility for the education of their children. Under no circumstance should a parent dump his child in school in order to get rid of his nuisance and escape responsibility for providing for him or her. No-one should be condemned to begging, a practice ʿAbd Allah seriously criticized. Parents should cater for their children and pay for their children’s education. Teachers should, therefore, have no cause to send the children begging.(6)

Now apart from preaching, teaching and writing, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah as an admirer and emulator of the Prophet (SAW) turned his attention to the other qualities of the Prophet (SAW) among which is courage of conviction and action. Just as the Prophet (SAW) refused pressure from all quarters to give up his mission so did Shaykh ʿUthman and ʿAbd Allah. No amount of gifts from the Gobir kings could influence them.(7) They believed that worldly possessions are worth nothing compared to the reward they anticipated from Allah if they should remain steadfast in pursing their objectives. These objectives are expected to lead to the creation of a just, Allah – oriented society that lives in happiness here on Earth and in the Hereafter. However, this mission can only be fulfilled by following the teaching of Islam as expounded by the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). These qualities of courage and steadfastness can also be seen when the Jama’ah (Community) of Shaykh ʿUthman b. Foduye, led by Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, resolved to offer oath of allegiance to Shaykh ʿUthman as the Amir al-Mu’minīn – a decisive factor which marked a watershed in the struggle of the Jihad leaders to create a conducive environment in which the Muslim Community could live and practice their religion unmolested.8)

Shaykh ʿAbd Allah’s courage is perhaps demonstrated best when he came out openly to disagree with some of the views expressed by his brother Shaykh ʿUthman, despite his high regard for the Shaykh and reverence with which he held him. While making public his disagreement with these views, however, he exhibited other important qualities he possessed. He was polite, courteous and respectable in the language he used and in the manner he expressed his disagreement. In all he did, he was guided by the general principle that people should act according to facts available to them, but should be prepared to accept the other point of view if and when evidence is made available to establish that view. (9)

Let us consider also the instance when Shaykh ʿUthman, basing his ruling on a fatwa given by Muhammad b. ʿAbd al-Karirn al-Maghīlī, ruled that any scholar or student or ordinary Muslim who offered assistance to non-Muslims should be considered as an unbeliever. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah said that Shaykh Uthman’s :

“generalization in anathematizing those who mingle the truth with bāṭil (untruth) is clear if (that charge) is established. This is because the truth (here) means Islam and the bāṭil means unbelief; and clearly anyone who mixes Islam with Kufr (unbelief) is surely an – unbeliever as earlier stated. However, his anathematization of those who assisted the unbelievers in their armies against the Muslim armies is not clear to me because the verse which al-Maghīlī quoted. (in support of his assertion) was revealed in respect of assistance given by the Muslims to unbelievers in furtherance of their unbelief in line with the normal practice of the hypocrites concerning whom the verse was revealed as the Mufassirun (Exegetes) have explained. Thus assisting them in unbelief is unbelief. However, he who assists them in sin cannot be regarded as an unbeliever so long as he does not regard that (sinful action) as permissible and lawful. The sending of armies against Muslims itself definitely does not constitute unbelief, but rather it is a sin, if it is not based on ta’wil (genuine interpretation allowing that). What more of merely assisting in that? And if an action itself does not constitute unbelief, how then can what it leads to constitute unbelief? As for Ibn ʿAbd al-Karim al-MaghīIī, he did not qualify the meaning of the word “nasr” (assistance). It should, therefore, be taken to mean assisting them in committing unbelief not in committing something sinful. This will bring (the ruling) in line with the views of Orthodox Muslims. May God protect him (al-Maghīlī) from making the taking up of arms against Muslims an act of unbelief. Were the Shaykh (Uthman) to delete his words “in their armies against the armies of the Muslims” it would have been better since we know, by necessity, that a Muslim does not become an unbeliever by fighting a fellow Muslim, what more of his just giving assistance (to unbelievers) in their fight against Muslims’?(10) 

I have decided to quote this whole passage in order to show clearly the attitude of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah to issues and individuals.

Here he is, faced by a very difficult situation. His revered brother, relying on a famous and worldly renowned scholar, al- Maghīlī, has given a ruling on an issue. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, as a scholar, found it impossible to accept the position of these two respectable and learned scholars. He had one of two options to choose from: either to let things pass as they were, due to the high regard he had for the two personalities, or declare his position, reflecting his understanding and knowledge though it contradicts theirs. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah’s courage of conviction, reinforced by his piety, led him to opt for what he believed in. However, his humility and the respect he had for others manifested themselves in the way and manner he managed the differences of opinion. In the case of al Maghīlī, he gave him the benefit of doubt by arguing that his ruling that anyone, no matter who he is, “who gives assistance to anyone of the (unbelievers) becomes an unbeliever by the testimony of God the Vanquisher of all” he must have meant by “assistance” assisting non-Muslims in unbelief, which is in order and in line with the orthodox view.

He considered al-Maghīlī innocent of condemning, as unbelievers, Muslims who assisted non-Muslims in their armies. This is in line with Shaykh ʿAbd Allah’s principle of searching for an excuse to justify the action of every Muslim. In the case of the view of the Shaykh, however, he was unable to find an acceptable interpretation in line with his view, which he claimed was the view of the Orthodox Muslims. The only thing he could do in that case was, therefore, to suggest how, by removing a few words from the Shaykh’s statement, the rest of the passage could stand.

Similarly Shaykh ʿAbd Allah disagreed with the view expressed by al Maghīlī in his fatwa to the Sultan of Songhay, Askia Muhammad b. Abi Bakr where al-Maghīlī ruled that whenever Muslims voluntarily settled among Muhāribūn, (Muslim rebels) and were captured along with the rebels they should be considered as being part of them. Thus they should be killed and their property confiscated and their repentance should not be accepted. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah opined that this is not correct, because the property of Muslim rebels could not be confiscated when they are fought nor could their wives and children be enslaved since they still remained Muslims. However, as usual. he looked for a way out for al Maghīlī, by suggesting that he might have meant by Muhāribūn (rebels) the Mustaghraq al-Dhimmah (those whose property had earlier on been ruled to belong to the Bayt al-Mal (Muslim Treasury). He also suggested that perhaps by Muhāribūn (rebels) al-Maghīlī might have meant unbelievers at war with the Muslims (Harbiyyūn).(11)

So it is with Shaykh ʿAbd Allah. He would on all occasion say his mind and express his views, but at the same time try to find an excuse to explain the point of view of others. Sometimes also he tries to find an interpretation for the statement of others in order to reconcile it with what he regarded as the correct or acceptable view. In doing this, his politeness and respect for others are always manifested, while his courage to say his mind is not sacrificed.

The courage of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah and his bravery also manifest themselves on many occasions during his military campaigns. Take for instance the battle of Alkalawa in which he commanded the Jihad forces. ʿAbd Allah was struck by an arrow during the first of the three assaults the Jihadists made on the fortress. Before they could prepare for the next assault they learnt that the Touareg were raiding their families. Having made straight for home they, along with Shaykh ʿUthman and the whole family and the rest of the Community left for Tsuntsuwa. The Gobir forces and their Touareg allies now made a surprise attack on the Community at Tsuntsuwa and gave them a crashing defeat in which many notable personalities were killed. Now Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, who was not able to rise up on account of the arrow wound which he suffered earlier at the battle of Alkalawa, rose up lame, confronted the fleeing Jihad soldiers and was able, with a lot of difficulty to rally some of them whom he led in pursuit of the enemy. They eventually met the army who were busy killing and taking booty. He formed those who followed him into ranks and fought and defeated the enemy.(12)

Again when Shaykh Uthman decided to move to Sifawa from Gwandu, the need arose for Muslims in the Western fringes of the Caliphate to be assured that the move did not mean that they would be abandoned to the mercy of the unbelievers in that part of the country. Shaykh ʿUthman, therefore, equipped a small army under the command ofShaykh ʿAbd Allah to pacify the area and give confidence to the Muslim community there. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, a highly dedicated man, accepted the challenge and was able to get only a few people to join him in this campaign because most people decided to move to Sifawa with the Shaykh in order to acquire houses and virgin land for farming. Despite the small number of his troops, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah moved on until he reached River Niger where he joined some Muslim soldiers from Jarma. Here he had an injury from a horse kick and for five days when the army was crossing the river he could not stand up. But the brave and courageous ʿAbd Allah was able to conceal this from his companions until they had reached the country of Jawaru in Qurma from the northern side, beyond the river and conquered the area.(13)

Next to courage and bravery Shaykh ʿAbd Allah was humane, magnanimous and forgiving when occasion demanded that. For instance, when he commanded the army which conquered the fortress of De’be in Gurma country beyond the Niger all the people there were captured, but Shaykh ʿAbd Allah was so magnanimous and forgiving that he set them all free and sent them away to the countries of Islam.(14)

Again when the forces commanded by Shaykh ʿAbd Allah made a surprise crossing of the Niger and sacked the island of Fas after destroying their crops, the enemy who had taken refuge in the various fortresses around all came to him for submission. ʿAbd Allah accepted their submission and allowed all of them not only to go free but also to remain in their fortresses.(15)

Referring to this, he said in one of his poems:

Turwa and Komba saw destruction and sought refuge with God And Islam, for fear of misfortune. They were saved, after destruction had seized their throats by the copious rain of forgiveness which came after despair.(16)

A similar act of magnanimity, tolerance and even compromise by Shaykh ʿAbd Allah can be seen in his acceptance of the submission of the rebel Fodi, a former king of Kebbi led a revolt against the Jihadists shortly after the sack of Kalambaina. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, apart from accepting the submission made on behalf of Fodi, a~reed to appoint the latter’s son, Jibrin as Sarkin Kebbi after Fodis’ death.(17)

We have said above that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah could be humane, magnanimous and forgiving when occasion demanded that. We must add, however, that when occasion so demanded he could be ruthless as his attack on Fas demonstrate where his people not only killed and captured the enemy but destroyed all their crops. (18)

Listen to him again saying about some of the people they fought in Gurma country as recorded in one of his poems:

A victory for us through our spears and our arrows and our swords in their bellies, and in their heads. Their children and their women were taken prisoner, and their men were slain with the axe. After the spreading of our carpet on their crops, and after our horsemen had shattered their shields. (19)

Shaykh ʿAbd Allah had consistently throughout his life supported the rule of law and condemned tyranny, injustice and oppression. To check that he ruled that a ruler must make himself easily accessible every day so that he would hear complaints, if any, from the strong and the weak members of the community against oppression or injustices from his officials.(20)

He also saw tyranny oppression and injustice as some of the basic things which distinguish mulk (Kingship) from Khilāfah (Caliphate).(21) He also said that if a ruler oppresses his people “whims will slaughter him by cutting veins of taqwa (God – consciousness).(22) He identified some acts of oppression from which a ruler must keep away. There include punishment by imposing fines in the form of cash or in kind for offences such as adultery and theft whose punishment has nothing to do with fines. They also include illegal taxes and surcharges on the subjects properties.(23) Shaykh ʿAbd Allah’s prowess as a great military leader needs no emphasizing. He was’ a tactician of the first order and used his military skill and expertise to great advantage as we have seen at Kwotto and during the attack on the island of Fas along the Niger river.(24)  Before the battle of Kwotto, Shaykh ‘Abel Allah at first spent three days waiting for Gobir forces until the 4th day when he was convinced that the enemy was faint-hearted and afraid of advancing on their with the knowledge, the Jihadist forces morale must have risen very high and consequently they moved towards the enemy full of confidence. However when they learnt that the enemy had moved towards Kwotto, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah hurried with the few people whom he could muster and met them near the lake of Kwotto. And experienced on skilful tactician, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah ordered his people to ensure that they secured the water source and cut off the Gobir forces from it. They Jihadist forces, with these advantages were able to dislodge and send fleeing the Gobir forces who were twice their number. (25)

One may venture to say at this juncture that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah must have used military intelligence to find out the psychological readiness of the Gobir forces before the battle. It is not unlikely that the four days he and his army had been waiting for the Gobir forces had been used to gather intelligence because, as Shaykh ʿAbd Allah has shown in his Diya alHukkan, the use of spies to gather military intelligence is very important in war as is the imperative of never under rating or under estimating the capability and resources of the enemy. He states:

Know that military tactics require that you do not under rate the enemy, and that you dispatch spies or military intelligence officers (to spy on the enemy). It also requires the choice of brave and courageous soldiers; and none but a brave courageous person should be appointed to lead an army, a person who is experienced in war, and in managing men.(26)

In Fas, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah made use of one of the most important elements in fighting the enemy – the element of surprise. His people made a surprise crossing of the Niger river and fell upon the unsuspecting enemy and thus easily won victory. In connection with this incident Shaykh ʿAbd Allah has this to say in one of his poems:

‘They (the inhabitants of the island of Fas) thought that the river would prevent our army from crossing; The devil with his suggestions deceived Them! They saw multitudes to their right and to their left To east and west, and it was a steadfast army”.(27)

Celebrating this success Shaykh ʿAbd Allah Said:

Then we came back home, hoping For reward with which the sadness of penury would cease. No arrow touched us, nor spear, no sword; We were like those who return from marriage feasts!(28)

Shaykh ʿAbd Allah was an ascetic of repute. Throughout his life he allowed the virtues of asceticism taught by Islam to guide his actions and behaviour. He was always un-easy in the face of temmporal ambitions and the affairs of the world. Thus in the fourth year of the hijrah of the Jama’ah to Gudu Shaykh ʿAbd Allah left the army on its way to fight Alkalawa. He was so disappointed with the way and manner his contemporaries had abandoned the ideals of Jihad in favour of the pursuit of material gains like wealth power, political authority and influence that he decided to abandon his country and people and travel to the Holy land of Arabia where he hoped to stay permanently near the Prophet (SAW).(29) This asceticism is reflected in the number of works written by Shaykh ʿAbd Allah on the subject, and in references made to it in other works.

ʿAbd Allah, who led the noble Shaykhs since he was a youth. Master of sciences, their servant and their follower; friend of piety, learned, generous, perfect. Landmark of right guidance, joy of the time; its pillar, gentle, kindly towards mankind, a mighty chieftain. Strong in his religion, humble, awe-inspiring, pious, trustworthy, sweet as honey. Famous Qur’an scholar, foremost in the science if Prophet tradition, and rhetoric, one on whom others rely.(30)


Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, as we have seen, is a man of very strong faith. His faith is so strong that many people would not appreciate why he acted the way he did on many occasions. Because of his deeply rooted and strong faith he committed the totality of his life to the service of Allah. While doing this, he would not mind whose ox is gored. He rejected all forms of worldly interests if they were not lawful. To him wealth and happiness lie in contentment. Leadership is worth having and authority worth exercising only if the exercise is seen as service to Islam and humanity. This may explain why after the battle of Kalambaina, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, without rancour, formally stepped down in favour of Sultan Ballo. Shaykh ʿAbd Allah would not be the type to bring about dissension and division among the Jama’ah. That is why it is difficult to believe the claim made by Shaykh Ahmad Labbo of Masina that Shaykh ʿAbd Allah claimed to be the legitimate heir to Shaykh ʿUthman. Certainly no one who understands the nature and character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah would ever expect him to take such a drastic negative action.

Shaykh ʿAbd Allah tried to model his life on that of the Prophet (SAW). Many incidents in his life can be compared to similar ones in the life of the Prophet (SAW). In fact, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah so much imitated the life of the Prophet (SAW) that he saw in many things that happened a reflection of what happened in the life time of the Prophet (SAW). For instance, the battle of Tabkin Kwotto brought to his mind vivid memory of the battle of Badr. It is interesting to note that after the conquest of Makkah the Prophet (SAW) forgave the inhabitants of the city for all the injustices meted out to him and his followers earlier. Similarly Shaykh ʿAbd Allah set free the inhabitants of Fas after he had got all of them under his control and mercy.

As someone modeling his life on that of the holy Prophet (SAW) Shaykh ʿAbd Allah possessed virtually all the good virtues one could think of.

If our society of today can learn the virtues and adopt the character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah, most of its ills would be cured. Security, peace, and tranquility will prevail, everywhere. Justice will be dispensed without fear or favour, love and understanding will guide mutual relations and honesty, integrity and rule of law will be the order of the day. If we succeed in emulating his character our nation will be as safe and secure as the Sakkwato Caliphate was during the 1820’s when Clapperton described it as follows:

The laws of the Qur’an were in his (Sultan Ballo’s) time so strictly put in force — that the whole country when not in a state of war, was so well-regulated that it is a common saying that a woman might travel with a casket of gold upon her head from one end of the Fellata dominions to the other. (31)


1. ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye, Tazyyīn al-Waraqāt (T.\V) (edt. M. Hiskett)

(Ibadan, 1963), p. 21.

2. Ibid, pp. 26, 84 – 85.

3. Ibid. p. 23,

4. Sa’ad b. ʿAbd al-Rahman, Tartīb al-Ashāb.

5. See ʿAbdAllah b. Foduye, Lubāb al-Madkhal. pp. 59 -83 for details

6. Ibid, pp. 67 – 69.

7. T W pp. 30, 88 – 89

8. Ibid, pp. 55, 108.

9. ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye, Diyā’ al-Sultān (O.Su) in Majmuʿ al-Diyā’āt

(published by Alhaji Dan-Ige, Tsamiyar Yaro) (Cairo, n.d), p. 189.

10. Ibid, p. 198.

11. Ibid, p. 191.

12. T.W, pp. 61 – 62, 114.

13. Ibid, pp. 78 – 79, ]27 – 128.

14. Ibid, pp. 75,125.

15. Ibid, pp. 75, 125

16. Ibid, pp. 77, 125

17. Ibid,p.21.

18. Ibid, pp. 75, 77, 125, 126.

19. Ibid, pp. 76, 126.

20. ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye, Diyā’ al-Umarā’, in Majmuʿ al-Diyā’āt p.222.

21. ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye, Diye’ al-Hukkam, in Majmuʿ al-Diyā’āt p.245.

22. Ibid, p. 247.

23. Ibid, p. 251.

24. T. W, pp. 56 – 57,109 -110, 75 – 77, ]25 – 126.

25. Ibid, pp. 56 – 57 – 109 -110.

26. D.H., p. 273.

27. T. W, pp. 77, 126.

28. Ibid, pp. 78, 127.

29. Ibid, pp. 70 – 72, 120 -122.

30. Ibid, p. 23.

31. Clapperton, Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the years 1822, 1823 and 1824, (Dixon Henjam, Hugh Clapperton, Dr. Oudney, second edn. (London, 1826), p. 206.

The Sakwatto Model


A Study of the Origin, Development and Fruition of the Jihad of Uthman b. Fodye)




This booklet was originally a paper presented at an International Islamic Conference held at Bayero University  KANO – NIGERIA  (16th to 22nd April 1980)


A lot has been said and written on the Jihad of Uthman b. Foduye, initially and adequately by the mujahidun themselves (1) and their contemporaries. To this day, the products of the Sakkwato intellectual tradition continue to write on this subject.(2) Sequel to the fall of the Sakkwato Caliphate to British colonialism another tradition was born. This is a tradition initiated by colonial officers and their clique. Their purpose is very clear: to discredit the Jihad and portray it as a racial and at best a religious fanaticism that has seized power only to perpetrate injustice and oppression. By portraying the ‘dreadfulness’ of the old order and the benevolence of their government, the Imperialist hoped to create a fertile ground for colonial propaganda and justify their imperialism. Later academicians mostly trained by the colonial “pioneers” came to study the Jihad through the spectacles of the secular west, playing down aspects incomprehensible to the Western minds and emphasising only those aspects important to them. For many of them this is the only way to get their degrees and be accepted as members of the learned academic community. Recently, however, there began to emerge some scholars, few though they are, daring to break from the established western Euro-Christian standards and seeking to interpret the Jihad in it’s own context.

Yet another concern for this Jihad has, rather quite recently appeared. This is a concern which was born out of an awareness in the Muslims of the need to return to Islam. This paper is part of this concern and its objectives is to analyse the origin, development and fruition of Uthman b. Foduye’s Jihad with a view to laying down a theoretical framework for Muslim movements in the Fifteenth century of the Hijra. Hence this paper seeks to adopt an indigenous approach which as of necessity must depart from the alien conventional western standards, an approach whose framework is perhaps still to be found.

The only constraint to the realisation of this objective, I must say, is the inadequate knowledge and skill of the author. The most the author can do therefore is to present something that can form a basis for discussion, in the hope that through contribution of other brothers during discussion, the objective of the paper may be realized.


The Hausaland, where Shaykh Uthman b. Foduye was destined to emerge, was located in the Central Bilad al-Sudan, an extensive Savannah grassland area starting from the Nile Valley in the east to the Atlantic ocean in the west. Sandwiched between the Sahara and dense forest, enriched with fertile soil, the Bilad al-Sudan was particularly suitable for the development of complex civilisations. This land came to be made up of a variety of Black peoples with a variety of languages and cultures. Chief among these were the Fulani, Jolof Bambara, Wolof, Mandigo Kanuri and Hausa. In the course of time group incorporation and integration became regular and massive.(3) Through migration, settlement, intermarriage and trade, inter-ethnic communities with complex social patterns of alliance emerged all over this vast region.

The emergence of the Hausas dates back to the tenth century. According to the popular Kano chronicle they seemed to have migrated from the north, settled and mixed with indigenous hunters and eventually established mastery over them.(4) The Hausas shared a common language and never formed a tribal group as such. By the first half of the fifteenth century the Hausas were controlled by the Borno empire. This lasted up to the end of the century. By the sixteenth century the seven Hausa states, some of which came under the conquest of the Songhai Empire had emerged. The fall of the Songhay in the same century was followed by upheavals in the Hausa states. These upheavals which lasted up to the eighteenth century, saw the rise of independent Hausa city-states. Unlike their eastern neighbors (Kanem Borno) the Hausa states never formed an empire and their history was characterised by inter-state conflicts and wars, which quite naturally had adverse effects on security and commerce in the area.

Until the appearance of Islam in the early part of the fourteenth century, the dominant religion in the Hausaland had been what has now come to be known (rather prestigiously) as ‘traditional’ religion. This is, essentially, a belief system widespread in the then tropical Africa, involving belief in a high distant god not actively connected with every day life of men, supplemented by a chain of supernatural forces directly in touch with men and controlling their destiny in everyday life. Ubangiji was the Hausa’s high god while Iskoki (singular Iska) the variety of those near spirits, and it is the maintenance of good relationship with the latter which formed the object of the rituals. Communication with the Iskoki was achieved through sacrificial procedures or possession. The possession of a human being by any of the Iskoki is called Bori; the Bori-cult is still to be found among the few non-Muslim Hausas today. This belief system naturally supported a class of priests (called Bokaye) skilled in the mysteries of the Iskoki and in addition played a significant political role. The ruler (Sarki) seems also to have occupied a leadership position especially in public rituals.(5)

I. Islamisation. Despite the efforts of some vicious scholars such as Trimingham and Le Chatelier, it has now been established that Islam began to permeate the western Sudan as early as the eighth century. This Islamisation was calmly carried out by traders, merchants and itinerant Ulama, mostly from north Africa, whose trade contacts with western Sudan started long before Islam spread to North Africa itself. As north Africa itself became Islamised, the zeal of spreading Islam across the African Sahara increased the number of caravan traders travelling from the north to the south and vice versa. As a result of this, the influence of Islam in western Sudanese society grew rapidly and spread considerably, integrating groups, forging a stronger socio-economic and political life based on a superior culture.(6)

Though historians are not certain of the time Islam began to permeate the Hausaland it seems obvious that Islam spread into this region from the western Sudan through the deliberate activity of Muslim traders and itinerant scholars as well as natural processes such as migrations, as early as the eleventh century. For by this century Ghana had been so Islamised that there were about thirteen mosques one of which belonged to the King. By the twelfth century Ghana was described as Islamic and the next century saw the rise of the great Muslim empire of Mali which was followed by Songhay.

In Hausa land, until the later part of the fifteenth century, Islam did not assume any political dimension, although the Ulama with their superior culture and rare ability of literacy, must have been involved in administration. Associated with the emergence of Islam as a political force in Hausa land were governmental changes which brought new leadership. This leadership especially in Zaria, Kano and Katsina, affected a number of reforms that were to further Islamise the Hausa land. Notable among these leaders was Muhammad Rumfa of Kano, who went as far as inviting a jurist of international repute, Muhammad al-Maghili, to advise him.

As Islam gained more foothold in the Hausa states, its significance as a pilgrimage route and centre of learning increased. By the sixteenth century the reputation of some Hausa state capitals as Muslim metropolises was already high enough to attract many students and scholars. This coupled with the pilgrimage tradition served as a link with the rest of the Muslim world and a source of continuous flow of Islamic thought and ideas into the Hausaland. The eighteenth century saw the Hausaland further Islamised, with Islam conspicuously enjoying a superior position, many rulers professing Islam and employing more Ulama in their courts. Despite the Islamic identity of the administration, total application of Islam – especially its system of law and morality – was not obtaining. This situation naturally attracted the attention of some of the Ulama and posed as a potential area of conflict between the increasing number of committed Muslim subjects and the nominal Muslim rulers. That the rulers often paid tribute to unIslamic traditional practices must have helped to make this conflict more probable. Worse perhaps was that the rulers often forced the Muslim subjects to also pay tribute to pagan practices or undertake such unIslamic obligations.

Official corruption, heavy taxation, confiscation of subject’s properties, oppression of the poor in general and slavery which instilled perpetual fear, was as much a source of discontent to the Muslim as to the non-Muslim subjects. This state of affairs led to tension and frustration especially to the Muslim subjects, as Smith quite rightly observed:

“The position was frustrating for Muslims were generally conscious of being culturally far superior to the pagans. Their religion, of course, left them in no doubt about this, and on the practical level they were likely to be superior citizens, knowing much more about the world than did the pagans, and conserving a vital monopoly of literacy.”(7)

During the course of this state of affairs in Hausaland, the Ulama were becoming deeply influenced by Islamic ideology through the growth of Islamic literature. As their concern for Islam grew so did their disapproval of paganism or ‘mixed Islam’. Their passive attitude was slowly but perceptibly changing such that by the later part of the eighteenth century a number of local Islamic literature, pointing accusing fingers to paganism and violation of Islamic law especially of food and drink, marriage and inheritance, promiscuity and excessive praise for rulers, were already in circulation. It was in this period that Shaykh Jibril b. ‘Umar a revolutionary and severe critic of this society, (one of the most influential of Shaykh Uthman’s teachers) attempted to wage a Jihad and reform his society. Why Jibril’s efforts failed to materialise is still to be clear, but his extreme position about takfir must have denied him accessibility to the masses of the people as well as fellow scholars making his reform out of tune with his society. Such tension and frustration which led to mounting dissatisfaction in Gobir as much as in other Hausa city-states was to usher the emergence of Uthman b. Foduye.

II. The Emergence of the Shaykh. Shaykh Uthman was born on 15th December 1754 to a learned scholar Muhammad Foduye at Maratta, a town in the Hausa state of Gobir. Not long after his birth, his family moved to Degel, a town still within the state of Gobir, where Uthman spent his childhood learning the Qur’an in addition to reading and writing from his father. Uthman’s youth, like his childhood, was totally given to learning, fitting like some of his contemporaries into an already institutionalised system of education in his society. Uthman studied quite a variety of subjects. Starting with the Arabic language, tafsir, Hadith, and Sirah, through Fiqh to astronomy, arithmetic and tasawwuf. Uthman’s teachers, as his brother Abdullah reported, were too many to be recorded.(8) This only reflects the intellectual background of Shaykh Uthman as well as his brother ‘Abdullah. Prominent however, among many of his teachers, after his father were Shaykh Abd al-Rahman b. Hammada, Muhammad Sambo and Uthman Binduri who was in fact Shaykh’s uncle and influenced him remarkably. Others were Hajj Muhammad b. Raji, Ahmad b. Muhammad, both Shaykh’s uncles, and Shaykh Jibril b. ‘Umar, a scholar of high learning and revolutionary zeal who also influenced the Shaykh tremendously.

Shaykh Uthman’s teachers not only imparted knowledge, but as was usual in this system of education, influenced him profoundly. Of these influences, those of his uncle Uthman Binduri and Jibril b. Umar were the most vivid. Of course, most influential on Shaykh Uthman was Jibril. This however did not prevent disagreement on certain issues, What is interesting is that this disagreement never affected in any way Shaykh’s respect for this teacher of his. As Shaykh Uthman advanced his knowledge and entered his early adulthood his piety and extreme simplicity, exceptional intellectual ability and charismatic personality began to attract disciples from his immediate society. He gradually gained prominence among young Muslim scholars – including his junior brother Abdullah who he in fact taught – sharing some revolutionary idea.


It is perhaps a trite remark to say that in any revolution there is always in interplay of many factors. This I think is always necessary if the revolution is to be worth it’s name. This is particularly true of Islamic revolutions – such as that of Uthman b. Foduye – for it is the nature of Islam to guide man in all aspects of his endeavours, be they economic, social, political, moral etc. To understand and appreciate the role played by the personnel of this revolution we have to explore the nature and depth of the problems that characterised their society and hence gave their movement its character and dimension. We are however limited in the extent to which we can go in this for, until quite recently, much of the research done has tended to obscure rather than elucidate this point.

By the second half of the eighteenth century Borno was declining and the Hausa city states were plunged into inter-state devastating rivalry and warfare, with its effects on society ranging from forced conscription into the army, and low


agricultural output, to decline in internal and external trade. Internally, the contempt in the Muslim-pagan relationship, the mistrust and suspicion in the relation of Muslim subjects (especially the non-court scholars) and nominal Muslim rulers and the fear in the oppressed subjects of their tyrannical rulers, were breeding discontent of increasing magnitude. Thus the economic and political crisis was reinforced simultaneously by social and moral ones. While the court Ulama were advising the rulers and praying for success in military adventures the other Ulama (who form the majority) were busy teaching their small groups of students as well as the public. The role of the Ulama in the social life of the people – in teaching, leading Islamic social rituals, settling disputes etc – was growing in prominence in towns and villages. There was thus, in this eighteenth century Hausa society, a strong tyrannical political power base in the hands of the rulers and their court officials (including some Ulama), though ridden with crisis, and a growing intellectual power base in the hands of the Ulama whose position was growing to a level which can no longer be ignored by the political power base.

By 1774, Shaykh Uthman, who was now qualified to teach, was filled with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm for reforming his ailing society. The question which has often been raised was whether the Shaykh was aware of his role as a reformer from the beginning of his teaching? Or was he like most other scholars of his time, concerned only with teaching (often as a means of livelihood) and quite unaware let alone commmitted to any form of reform? It is now very clear that the Shaykh. perhaps through his intimate contact with Shaykh Jibril b. ‘Umar, a severe critic of the society who had earlier attempted to carry out a Jihad but failed, was aware of the dire need for reform and saw himself more than just a teacher/preacher but as a reformer with a clear sense of mission and commitment. In his own word, in one of his early writings – Ifli-am al-Munkirin: 

“Allah, the Exalted, has ordained to send forth to the Umma at the end of every century a scholar, Alim, who would revive her religion for her. Such a scholar or Mujahid, would take upon himself the duty of enjoying the good and forbidding the evil. He would call for the regulation of the affairs of the people and the establishment of justice amongst them. He would support the truth against falsehood, revive the sunna, suppress innovation, and denounce bad customs. As a result of his activities his conditions will be different from those of the Ulama’ of his age and he will find himself a stranger amongst them, because his qualities are different from their own and men like him are few…”(9)

Convinced of his role in reforming his society Shaykh Uthman devoted his full time right from the onset to teaching, preaching and writing. The content and method of his preaching were geared towards achieving the desired results – reforms. Of course during the cause of his preaching a number of events occurred which influenced Shaykh’s thinking and ultimately directed his course of action.

By teaching and preaching, Uthman was not doing anything new in this society for this tradition has for centuries been practiced in Hausaland. What was actually new was the content and the approach. The Shaykh who was committed to changing his society must have studied its problem and work out a strategy that was most fitting for, the circumstances. What seems to have taken the Shaykh’s immediate concern was the ignorance of the mass of the people about Islam despite the presences of many scholars. True there were many scholars with knowledge but most of them preoccupied themselves in teaching their very few students in their ivory towers neglecting the mass of the people and even their families. The few Ulama who were engaged in mass preaching were very rigid in their views, anathematizing (takfir), the masses and engaging in all sorts of venality. Local customs and beliefs were so mixed with Islam that the issue of what is Islam and what is not Islam was the talk of-the day. Thus at the onset of his mission Shaykh focused his attention on these problems; the mass ignorance of Islam; the rigidity and venality of the Ulama the issue of sycritism and the question of belief and unbelief, Kufr. 

At the early age of twenty (1774) Shaykh Uthman started his teaching and preaching in his home town Degel. In the same year he started moving around Degel, accompanied by his brother Abdullah, teaching and preaching. Later in the company of his disciples he began to travel out of Degel, to the east and west, Birnin Kebbi (to the west) being his first station of call.

With Degel as his base, Shaykh Uthman and his group travelled to other towns in Gobir teaching and preaching with remarkable success. As Abdullah himself reported in his Tazyin al-waraqat:

“Then we rose up with the Shaykh helping him in his mission work for religion. He travelled for that purpose to the east and to the west, calling the people to the religion of Allah by his preaching and his qasidas in other languages and destroying customs contrary to Muslim law. Some of the people from surrounding countries came to him and entered his community while we were in his country which had become famous through him.”(10)

The result, as Abdullah reported, was that people started to respond to Shaykh’s preaching in large numbers and some started coming to him in groups after his return to Degel, thus both Shaykh and his town Degel were becoming prominent. This prominence was the result of the Shaykh’s radical approach. Until then, the difference between the Shaykh’s content and method on the one hand and those of other Ulama on the other was not vivid. Now that the difference and impact of Shaykh Uthman’s method has begun to manifest itself then opposition started. Many Ulama began to oppose the Shaykh and accused him of such things as hypocrisy, sedition, hearsay and misleading the common people. Neither was the opposition unexpected nor was the Shaykh unaware of the problems his preachings would raise. The Shaykh simultaneously started writing, arguing his point with the Ulama – where he excelled them and always, emerged victorious – and attacking the venal and rigid Ulama who have actually created the problems the Shaykh was toiling to solve. In this process alone the Shaykh was reported by Muhammad Bello (his son) to have written over fifty works.(11)

Foremost in the Shaykh’s attack were those corrupt Ulama (‘Ulamaal su), most of whom were associated with the rulers court, who in their efforts to maintain the established order and protect their vested interest, justified political corruption, immorality and all sorts of evils on the grounds that these were customs (ada) and tradition. Making this point clear the Shaykh said:

“Among their misconceptions is that some of them (i.e. ‘Ulama) tolerated unworthy customs on the ground of the sayings which are widespread in the lands, that tht: custom of a land is sunna. But his is falsehood and confusion according to the consensus of opinion ijma because a custom should not be tolerated if it contradicts the sunna (of the Prophet)…. I was told by one of the brethren that he heard some of them say ‘Forbidding evil in the land of evil is the real evil’. And for this reason they do not chide each other for committing an evil. I take refuge with Allah the Exalted; this is one of the characteristics of the Jews.”(12)

Shaykh Uthman also condemned those class of charlatans who posed as saints or sufi shaykhs. Such people were in most cases of very low learning who made their living by divination and prophecy. Many of these Ulama claimed the power of Kashf (mystical experience of transcendental knowledge) and thus duped the common people. Not only did the Shaykh attack and condemn these people but he denied in clear and unequivocal terms, such supernatural claims attributed to him by many people making this point clear in his Tahdhir al-ikhwan, the Shaykh said:

“Know O’ my brethren that I have never claimed the Quthaniyyah or the Wilayah, though that it is heard from the tongues of other men that I can fly in the air and walk on water that the earth is folded up for me in such a way as to enable me to talk to Makka and Madina, that the Jinns serve me as they serve the most perfect saints (al awliya al-Kummal) and that I can guide the people not only on the path of piety and righteousness but also on the path of Kashf. When all these had come to my notice. I composed numerous poems in ‘Ajami to refute the aforementioned claims…”(13)

Of the problems that Shaykh had to confront at the onset of his mission, the issue of belief and unbelief (who is a Muslim and who is not) was perhaps the most intricate. The gravity of the situation becomes more vivid when it is realized that this issue of who is a Muslim and who is not goes beyond the theological or Islamic faith, to determine the right and obligation of the individual in society. This was directly connected with the institution of slavery which was apparently widespread. Since a Muslim cannot be enslaved according to Sharia, the question of who is a Muslim and who is not was no doubt crucial for it determines who can be enslaved and who cannot. This issue of Islam and Kufr being the main categories in which the people of eighteenth century Hausaland were classified has been played down by scholars of the colonial establishment (and their students) who labour to convince us of a Hausa-Fulani dichotomy. In spite of their efforts it is now clear that what was important was not whether one was Hausa, Fulani or Tuareg but rather whether one was a Muslim or not. The issue was a burning one and the Ulama were divided on it. There were the ‘Ulama al-kalam, who claimed that before a person is accepted as a Muslim he must be able to explain the unity of Allah and the Prophethood of Muhammad (P) in accordance with the theology of Kalam. The Shaykh had no patience with this group whom he denounced as ignorant and misguided idiots who were confused by the sophistication of the science of Kalam. Some Ulama took the view of Al-Maghili in his advice to Askia Muhammad. This definition did not solve the problems of the eighteenth century Hausaland for it leaves open what practices constitute unbelief. Shaykh Jibril b. ‘Umar, one of Shehu’s teachers, took a very strict and rather extreme position. For Jibril confession of faith must be reinforced by good works and the commitment of a grave sin (Kaba’ir) constituted unbelief (Kufr). Shaykh Uthman here disagreed with his teacher Jibril. In refuting Jibril’s definition Shaykh Uthman argued that if a sinner recognised his sin, he thus proved he accepted the Sharia.(14) Although it might be argued that to sin either intentionally or persistently implies denying the validity of the law, such an argument involves the intention and personal attitude of the sinner. Since none but Allah can know what is in the heart of a man, any judgement is better left to the last day.(15) The Shaykh’s moderate but dynamic position on this issue is clearly expressed in his book Ihya al-Sunna, where he said:

“Whosoever affirms the confession of faith (Shahadatayn) should be treated in accordance with the Islamic legal rules; he may intermarry with the Muslims, he may lead the prayer, the meat of animals slaughtered by him is lawful, the Muslims may inherit his property and he may inherit their own, and when he dies he should be buried in the Muslim grave yard.”(16)

As Shaykh Uthman’s preaching tours in and around Degel continued, Degel attracted more people and news of his activities became widespread. At this stage the Shaykh decided to extend his preaching to his head of state – Bawa Jangwarzo the Sarki of Gobir. Why the Shaykh did so at this particular point in time is not very clear. The Shaykh must have been aware that news of his preaching and growing success had reached Bawa. By his visit to the Bawa’s court Shaykh might have hoped to assess the degree of political opposition or otherwise, especially when he was soon to extend his preaching tour to Zamfara which was in constant war with Gobir. The visit according to Abdullahi was fruitful for if nothing else it consolidated further Shaykh’s position and boosted his success.”(17)

The Shaykh’s next station of call was the city-state of Zamfara where Abdullah said:

“We remained there about five years, and it was a land over whose people ignorance was supreme; the majority of its people had not smelt the scent of Islam. They used to come to the Shaykh’s gathering mingling with their women. He segregated them, teaching them that mixing together was forbidden, after he had taught them the laws of Islam.”(18)

This suggests that the Shaykh preached to the mass of the people, Muslims and non-Muslims, male and female, who until the Shaykh’s coming had been abandoned in the depth of ignorance. But as it was, the Ulama never got tired of attacking him. One scholar, Al-Mustapha Gwani from Damagaram attacked the Shaykh over mixing men and women and urged him to stop the women from attending his preaching assembly.(19) Abdullahi replying on the Shaykh’s request, argued in a poem, that education of women in Islam is compulsory and it was a far greater sin to leave women in ignorance than to allow them to attend a mixed crowd and after all, the Shehu always separated them.(20) The Shaykh’s preaching tour of Zamfara was apparently producing alarming success which the rulers could no longer afford to ignore. At about this stage it was apparent that the rulers were showing growing concern and in fact beginning to take measures to check this new development. When the Shaykh was still preaching at Zamfara, Bawa Sarkin Gobir invited him along with other scholars, to celebrate the ‘Id-al-Kabir of 1788 (or 1789) at the town of Magami. Though this was said to have been a plan to get rid of the Shaykh, at the end gifts were distributed to the scholars with Shehu reported to have the lions share of 500 mithqal of gold. All accepted the king’s gift except Shaykh Uthman, who said he and his people were not in need of Bawa’s wealth and in its stead he had five demands to make:

1. To allow me to call people to Allah in your country. 

2. Not to stop anybody who intends to respond to my call. 

3. To treat with respect anyone with a turban. 

4. To free all the (political) prisoners. 

5. Not to burden the subjects with taxes.(21)

These demands clearly point to the fact that the Shaykh’s overwhelming success in his preaching tours had begun to assume proportions that the political power base can no longer tolerate. It was clear the rulers were making some effort to frustrate people from responding to his call or the Shaykh must have reason to believe that they would soon embark on this. These demands indicate some opposition to the Shaykh’s activity by the state and he was not ready for any sort of confrontation. If anything Shaykh Uthman was trying to secure the least hostile atmosphere possible to spread the message of Islam and educate the mass of the people.

After five years successful preaching in Zamfara the Shaykh and his group returned to Degel about the year 1791-2. Continuing his tour, the Shaykh travelled west to Kabi and further crossed the river Niger to Illo. Back to Degel he now moved eastwards and reached Zurmi where its ruler was reported to have accepted Islam. By 1792-3 Shaykh Uthman found it necessary to settle down at his centre Degel to receive people coming in quest of learning and guidance.


Here I hope to discuss the manner in which the Shaykh and members of his team, went about procuring, assembling and directing the various instruments of change in his own society. Needless to say that this is the most crucial as well as difficult part of any revolution. More so when the Shaykh had to operate within a people that are largely ignorant of Islam and under a strong tyrannical government that is highly suspicious of any activity of the Ulama.

That the Shaykh spent nearly nineteen years traveling, teaching, preaching, converting, and writing along with his expanding team of disciples shows clearly the Shaykh’s commitment to mass education as a key to reforming his society. Throughout this process the Shaykh distinguished himself from other itinerant scholars not so much by his superior learning and exceptional ability like his deep sense of mission and commitment to reform. More than just preaching the Shaykh was silently but consciously building all over his itinerary a body of scholars and students who he left behind to continue instructing his increasing number of followers in the basic tenets of Islam as well as his idea of reform. During the same tour he was able to familiarize himself with society – its nature, problems and aspirations.

Having roved all over his society, grasping its full first hand information and gauging its intellectual level; having laid a sound intellectual base for his revolution; having raised an adequate number of students and scholars now scattered all over the Hausa land, teaching and preaching Islam along his line of reform, Shaykh Uthman could now settle down at his home town Degel to begin yet another phase of his revolution. This is the organisational phase.

No sooner did he settle down than he began writing, teaching and counseling. Here he devoted more time to his advanced students who he taught every afternoon. He also held a weekly public preaching session every Friday and maintained a separate class for the women. One of his most detailed works Ihya al-Sunna wa Ikhmad al-Bida was written in the first year of his settlement at Degel. This book must have been meant to be a text book for the use of his disciples in particular and scholars in general in teaching and preaching all over Hausaland. The shaykh’s strategy was that in every mosque in every town or village there must be a scholar constantly engaged in teaching and preaching. This is clearly evident from his Ihya al-Sunna, where he said:

“It is incumbent on every scholar not to keep silent in the present time because innovations, bid’a, have appeared and are widespread. Verily the Hadith states: ‘Any scholar who keeps silent in the face of dissention fitna may the curse of Allah fall upon him’. Verily, anyone who today keeps to his home cannot be absolved from responsibility of teaching the people and guiding them to the right path. 

And since the majority of people today are ignorant of the Shari’a, it is necessary that there should be a jurist, faqih, available in every mosque and in every quarter in town to instruct the people in tenets of their religion. Similarly in every village it is incumbent on every jurist who has completed the individual obligation, fard ‘ayn, and is free to carry out the collective obligation, fard kifaya, to go out to the neighbouring territories and teach the people there the tenets of their religion and the stipulations of the Shari’a.”(22)

Through this body of scholars engaged in da’awa, the Shaykh was able to maintain constant contact with his growing followers. His prolific writings which were immediately handcopied and circulated, were no doubt addressed to the masses through the literate group (scholars). The Shaykh’s moderate position on many of the burning issues not only conforms to the Islamic principles of the middle course but also gave a balanced interpretation of Islam easily understood and acceptable to the local population. At a time when newspapers as such did not exist the Shaykh’s writings with their copyists constantly occupied, served as a very effective way of disseminating knowledge and ideas. Equally utilised by the Shaykh in communicating his ideas to the masses was poetry, composed in both Arabic and vernacular. These turned out to be as effective as our contemporary radio and television. Ranging from those that are meant to simplify otherwise complicated instructions, through those that are meant to appeal or preach, to those of praising Prophet Muhammad (P), “the poems”, in the words of Hiskett, “more than anything seems to arrest the imagination of the Shaykh’s followers, when reading or listening.”(23) Thus intellectually and psychologically the masses were prepared to understand the message of Islam and its method of reforming their ailing society. Through all these sophisticated means of communication the Shaykh was forming and directing his revolutionary crowd.

In the course of time Degel was growing to be a kind of University town of its time and becoming the Shaykh’s student was not only a prestige but in fact a qualification. Scholars all over Hausaland and Bornu were finding their way to Degel. Every increase in this team of scholars was automatically an increase in the revolutionary personnel for what they were seeking was not only knowledge but also change. The Shaykh at Degel spent a lot of his time with these students/scholars, teaching them to varying depth and also moulding and shaping them into people who could shoulder responsibilities that lie ahead. Part of the programme that the Shaykh seemed to have organised at this stage for this group include spiritual training through tasawwuf. The Shaykh himself (and a number of his close disciples) was reported to have gone on retreat a number of times. The role this kind of training played in shaping and moulding the revolutionary personnel is often played down by conventional western scholarship and often underestimated even by sincere Muslims who try to study the Jihad in its own context. Here the Shaykh trained his students and disciples to dislike the world and its Zinah, to live in bare austerity and desire the life of a1janna. Such a training as the Shaykh was no doubt aware was crucial to any revolution. Without such properly committed highly disciplined vanguard as the Shaykh trained it is doubtful if the revolution would have been the celebrated success it was. Many people from the Jama’a who were eager for a confrontation and kept bothering the Shaykh for it must have, I believe, overlooked this point which the Shaykh quite rightly considered vital.

Also taking shape at this stage, though perhaps unnoticed, was the revolutionary leadership. The Shaykh’s position at Degel was not just that of a learned scholar dishing out knowledge to his thirsty students, more than that, the Shaykh was increasingly, finding himself as the head of a growing revolutionary party. Next to the Shaykh in the scale of this leadership was a team of close disciples made up among others of Abdullah (his brother) Umar al-Kammu and Muhammad Bello (his son). As the revolutionary party was growing in both membership and commitment, the personnel and leadership were becoming more involved in writing, teaching as well as organisation. That here you have a revolutionary leadership with its personnel and crowd in constant and intimate communication and planning could not be a coincidence. It was a deliberately but patiently worked out arrangement by none other than the Shaykh himself.


Confrontation, even in the best of circumstances is never unconstrained, least of all confronting a power many times stronger and well organised. The concerted effort of the Shaykh, settled at Degel and his students, scattered all over the Hausa city-states, was to produce a growing revolutionary group cutting across tribal, racial and national boundaries, sharing common fundamental cultural values that were vividly reflected in their manners and dressing – turban for males and veil for women. While this development was in the making, the rulers of Gobir in particular, who had all along been suspicious of the Shaykh’s activity were employing covert measures ranging from intimidation to assassination attempts, to curb this growing threat to their authority. By the turn of the nineteenth century the rate of growth of the Shaykh’s Jama’a has reached a proportion which alarmed Nafata, then ruler of Gobir. Nafata realised that the power base of his declining authority was being eroded by the growing Jama’a and will soon disappear in a matter of time. The Gobir power base was indeed being eroded for every increase in the Shaykh’s Jama’a meant a shift of loyalty from Nafata to the Shaykh. For the Jama’a saw themselves for all intents and purposes as a separate entity whose allegiance was to an ideology (Islam) and not to a state (Gobir), sharing a common set of beliefs, goals, and aspirations. In a desperate effort to save his authority and consolidate his power Nafata intensified his attacks on the Shaykh’s Jama’a; robbing their properties and waylaying them in the hope that they would become disenchanted and revert to their former faith or indolence as the rif-raff, as opposed to the Jama’a who were now distinct by attitudes, manners and dress.(24) This increased hostility had the opposite result of making the Jama’a more firm and committed to changing the state of affairs in Hausaland.

As these persecutions continued the Jama’a demanded a showdown with the Gobir authorities but the Shaykh, composed and far sighted, refused. Instead the Shaykh, in a poem apparently made in praise of Shaykh Abdulkadir Jaylani, urged his Jama’a to acquire arms, as it is sunna (to do so) and prayed to Allah to establish Islamic rule in Hausaland.(25) The Shaykh’s message was very clear. By using a poem the Shaykh meant to communicate directly with the revolutionary crowd to prepare itself militarily both for self defence and eventual confrontation. The Jama’a’s response frightened Nafata, who, feeling more insecure than ever efore, decreed that:

“(a) Nobody except Dan Fodio in person was allowed to preach. 

(b) No more conversions to Islam were to be allowed and those who were not born Muslims should return to their former religion (paganism). 

(c) Men should not west turbans nor women veils.”(26)

These decrees were to no avail as they only provoked Muslims to greater militancy. With his failure evident, Nafata made a desperate attempt to kill the Shaykh but failed. He soon died and was succeeded by his son Yunfa in 1802. Yunfa inherited not only this internal crisis but also an external one. The whole Hausa city states and Gobir in particular were engaged in mutually destructive interstate wars. The Shaykh and his Jama’a were fully aware of these developments but unlike the Jama’a the Shaykh was not in favour of an open confrontation. Even in the circle of his top revolutionary personnel there were many who were pressing the Shaykh for a confrontation with Gobir rulers. That Shaykh Uthman insisted on avoiding any clash at that material time despite mounting pressure is of particular interest to this paper. While many of his disciples and followers saw in the tense situation a simple threat of force which an open confrontation could settle, Shaykh Uthman with his superior learning and discipline, exceptional composure and sagacity knew that there is more to the situation than sheer threat of force; and such open confrontation at that stage was not the answer. Confronting a deteriorating power, operating in a society where a standing regular army as such did not exist and where there was relatively equal accessibility to arms – spears, swords, arrows and shields, it was quite tempting to go for a showdown. But the Shaykh who had spent nearly thirty years preaching and organising his Jama’a knew best their current organisational ability and potentials, must have thought it unwise if not risky to engage in any military confrontation in the circumstances. This incident reflects the Shaykh’s able and firm leadership, the Jama’a discipline and loyalty without which the story would have perhaps been different. But more fundamentally it shows the sincerity and selflessness of the leadership.

But both the Shaykh and the Jama’a on the one hand and Yunfa and Gobir forces on the other knew that a confrontation was inevitable, it was only a matter of time. Shaykh Uthman found it necessary to prepare and guide his Jama’a in the forthcoming conflict. He wrote a fourteen point tract Masail al-muhimma, early in 1803, where he says among other things:

“Muslims should not be left ‘neglected’(hummal) without a bay’a sworn to an Imam. They should migrate from the land of unbelief as an obligation. They should rise against the unbelieving ruler only if they have enough power to do so, otherwise they should not. But if they find they cannot practice their religion or that their property or their own safety is in danger they have to migrate to where there is security. Again, if the Muslims see bloodshed or seizure of property in one area, they have to evacuate it for another where nothing like that occurs.”(27)

The title and content of this tract suggests that many from the Jama’a were raising questions about hijra and Jihad. The Shaykh was clearly preparing his Jama’a for the event whose occurrence was just a matter of time. Jama’a’s response to this tract was to frighten Yunfa whose action was to precipitate the hijra only about a year after the Shaykh had written the Masa’il. 

A certain Jama’a at Gimbana was attacked by Yunfa’s forces, their property robbed, their men and women taken captive, with many left dead and the whole village destroyed. Troubled by the agony of their brethren the Jama’a at Degel ambushed Yunfa’s forces on their way to Alkalawa and released the captives. Yunfa now infuriarated ordered the Shaykh to leave his country. Though Yunfa later changed his mind the Shaykh continued ahead with his preparation for Hijra. The Shaykh soon wrote a twenty seven point pamphlet wathiqat ahl al-Sudan which was immediately circulated through the efficient network of their organisation, calling people to hijra and the fighting that is to follow it. The revolutionary personnel immediately became busy distributing the pamphlet and mobilising support for the hijra. In February 1804 the Shaykh and a party of the Jama’a left Degel to Gudu – a town at the distant borders of Gobir. This marked the Shaykh’s Hijra. It would be interesting to find out the Shaykh’s reasons for the choice of Gudu for hijra. As this is beyond the scope of this paper we shall assume that his reasons were purely strategical.

Such mass immigration of the Jama’a now large and scattered all over Hausaland, necessarily involved a lot of planning and organisation, more so when Yunfa now determined to check the movement, had ordered his governors to attack and take captive all those who moved with the Shaykh. This threat of Yunfa’s forces, transport difficulties, long distance and the haphazardness, made it difficult for the Jama’a to reach Gudu with adequate provisions. Despite these difficulties the mass movement of people and their families continued, and the Jama’a flocked to Gudu in large numbers. At Gudu, the Jama’a assembled and persuaded the Shaykh to become its Imam. Here the Jama’a offered the Shaykh bay’a as Amir al-Muminin. This bay’a at Gudu not only marked a declaration of Jihad but also the birth of a caliphate – later to be known as Sakkwato Caliphate.

The details of how this poor, ill-equipped and comparatively small gathering in Gudu fought and conquered the whole of Hausaland to the borders of Bornu, the military organisation and strategy of the Jama’a, is a subject worthy of another paper. Not long after the Shaykh’s arrival at Gudu, before the Jama’a could muster substantial military force, Yunfa and his forces attacked Gudu as if to put a final end to this “menace”. Though Yunfa and his forces suffered a heavy defeat at Tabkin kwato, the Jama’a were generally weak, roaming without a base until they captured Birnin Kabi in April 1805. These victories of the Muslim forces, were followed with similar victories up to about 1808, when virtually the whole of Hausaland came under the majahidun. By 1810 the Shaykh withdrew to the town of Sifawa to continue with his intellectual endeavours, leaving Abdullahi (his brother) and Muhammad Bello (his son) to administer the caliphate.

Until his Hijra to Gudu, Uthman’s teachings, writings and preachings were centred on the fundamentals of Islam, Ibadat and Muamalat. As if the confrontation that led to hijra took him unaware, be continued to write throughout the fighting period that immediately followed the hijra. This is not to suggest that the Shavkh was totally unaware, that he might have to make hijra and fight afihad. In fact, the fact that the Shaykh continued to write despite the chaos and demand of the fighting would suggest that the Shaykh did preconceived hijra and jihad on his road to reform. The point I wish to stress here is that the events and circumstances that led to hijra did not, as it were, give the Shaykh the chance to write and guide his Jama’a, on issues relating to state administration. While the Jama’a was engaged in fighting the Shaykh their commander-in-chief was doing more than fighting. Far sighted as he was, he saw the dire need to guide the Jama’a on the obligation of the hijra and Jihad, the way the Jihad should be fought and how the booty should be divided. The need to appoint a leader, Imam, qualification required of such a leader, the principles for appointing deputies and officers to handle the affairs of the community. More than that, the Shaykh wrote on general division of administration, formation of a Muslim state and the principles upon which such state should be founded.(28) One of his most elaborate works Bayan wujub alHijra written in the midst of the fighting in 1806, deals with this issue in detail. One cannot sometimes help imagining what would have happened had the Shaykh Uthman not been precisely what he was.


Having fought and won, the revolutionary leadership, mujahiddun, found itself, by 1810, heading an Islamic state standing over the ruins of the Hausa city-states of Gobir, Kabi, Zamfara, Katsina, Zaria, etc. The birth of this new Caliphate, cutting across all former boundaries and identities, unprecedented in it’s scope and complexity, was what finally solved the crisis and disequilibrium of the societies and politics of this vast region. This phenomenon has caught the attention of many a scholar of the western tradition. What seems to have attracted them most is the territorial integration, political solidarity and the economic transformations – aspects that are easily comprehensible to the secular west. The perception, nuances and aspirations of the mujahidun is at best played down and often ignored.


Victory invariably carries with it a notion of achievement of a goal or objective. But victory or lack of it must depend not on the achievement of any goal or objective but on the achievement of the specific goal or objective fought for. The victory of the mujahidun must be seen not in terms of territory, polity, least of all economic gains, but in terms of the ideal they fought for. That Amir al-muminin, Shaykh Uthman, abandoned the caliphate soon after the fighting that established it and retired to Sifawa to continue writing is more than a display of sincerity which indeed the Shaykh had – but more important it indicates that the leadership has an ideal higher than and beyond the state. True the mujahidun were fighting for a change in the state of affairs of the Hausaland, but it must be realised that the change was not the end it was only the means and the end is unmistakably Islam – in it’s comprehensive form. This is further borne out, very vividly, by the fact that Abdullah b. Foduye, one of the commanders of the mujahidun became so dissatisfied with the Jihad at a time when territory and booty was being captured. So dissatisfied did he become that he abandoned the battlefront and made his way to Hajj through Kano. As Abdullah himself put it:

“…then there came to be from Allah the sudden thought to shun the homelands, and my brothers, and turn towards the best of Allah’s creation, in order to seek approval, because of what I had seen of the changing times, and (my) brothers, and their inclination towards the world, and their squabbling over it’s possession, and its wealth, and its regard, together with their abandoning the upkeep of the mosques and the schools … I left the army and occupied myself with my own (affairs) and faced towards the East…”(29)

Thanks to Allah, he was persuaded to stay in Kano where he wrote a monumental work Diya al-Hukkam. Abdullah’s dissatisfaction is clearly because of the material inclination of some of the revolutionary personnel who must have appeared to Abdullah to be fighting for territory and booty instead of the real thing – Islam.

After they had emerged as the undisputable leaders of the new caliphate it was debate, not funfare or celebration that occupied the time of the personnel of this revolution. It was not a debate on who should rule what territory or appointed to what post, far from it, it was a debate on how such and such concept of Islam should be translated into practice. While Abdullah insisted on the letter and spirit of the law, the Shaykh and Muhammad Bello (his son) were generally flexible and practical. It is interesting to note that the debate, hot as it was, never led to a rift or constraint in running the new caliphate. This rare and exceptional incidence should leave us in no doubt that the leadership of this revolution is committed to an ideal (Islam) which ranks higher than state and all that contained in it. The Amir muminin Uthman had to labour to convince Abdullahi and any who might have held his (Abdullahi’s) view that in fact the Jihad has achieved its objectives not in terms of territory but in terms of the degree of Islamisation realised. Writing in his Nasihat Ahl al-Zaman, the Shaykh says:

“Know, O’ Brethren, that – condemning (one’s) time is an unrespectable attitude towards Allah and nothing will accrue from such other than bothering one’s heart and tongue. Know, O’ Brethren that ordering good is obligatory according to the consensus and this is what has happened at this time. That forbidding bad is obligatory according to the consensus and this is what happened at this time. That immigration from the land of unbelievers is obligatory according to the consensus and this is what has happened at this time. That carrying weapons (for Jihad) is obligatory and this is what has happened at this time. That defending oneself, one’s people and property is obligatory according to the consensus and this is what happened at this time. That the application of the Shariah rulings is obligatory according to the consensus and this is what happened at this time. These are ten achievements and the people of this time should thank Allah for them because they are from the greatest bounties of Allah after the faith and they have all happened at this time”.(30)

This is not to give the impression that Shaykh Uthman was not at all critical of the achievements of the jihad, in fact he was but not to the extent of Abdullahi. Taken as a whole the Jihad is a tremendous victory not because of the size of the caliphate but because of the Islamisation it achieved.


In the circumstances the leaders of this revolution found themselves soon after the fighting that begot the caliphate, consolidating and protecting the newly procured Dar al-Islam was not just desirable but a duty which Allah has enjoined upon them. Their idea of consolidation, contrary to what some scholars would have us believe is wide and comprehensive. For while Abdullah at Gwandu and Muhammad Bello at Sakkwato occupied themselves in consolidating the boundaries of the caliphate the Shaykh at Sifawa and scholars all over the place were busy consolidating the intellectual base of the revolution. Indeed the governors, the wazirs, the judges, the walis etc, were simultaneously consolidating internal order and security, justice and equity without which the ideal they fought for cannot be realised. It should be added that this consolidation was unique, not simply because of its comprehensiveness not even because of its intensity but mainly because of the sincerity and the sense of mission with which it was carried out. The campaigns of Muhammad Bello with their captives and booty have been well noted by many scholars, what seemed to have escaped notice is this sincerity and sense of mission with which it was executed. Even if later generations turned it into a slave raiding exercise, the fact still remained that Bello was not fighting for captives or booty but for spreading Islam and protecting the Dar al-Islam. 


“In spite of their difficulties, continuous occupation and involvement, first, and throughout their careers in all matters pertaining to Islam, then the Jama’a and subsequently the state, the triumvirate, left a great legacy in writing.”(31)


It is this intellectual legacy, unprecedented, thorough and broad which, more than anything perhaps, gave this revolution its vigour, strength and above all its roots. Nourishing its malamai and almajirai as well as keeping them constantly busy from the cradle to the grave. It is the opportune combination of this legacy with this educational tradition that gave this revolution the continuity it had or it perhaps still has. Students of history know that the vigour and tempo of any revolution go down with its later generations. While this was true of this revolution, the literacy legacy fitted as it did into this diligent educational system unique to bilad a lSudan, remained alive and largely unaffected even when the political leadership deteriorated. Even colonialism and now neocolonialism, with its strong institutions and sinister methods has not succeeded much in changing this intellectual base. For despite decades of colonial and how National propaganda, the writings of the triumvirate (Shaykh Uthman, Abdullah, and Muhammad Bello) are readily available in the markets and the makaranta where they are read daily. In fact, this conference should be seen, as indeed it is, as part of the Sakkwato Islamic revolution, for its organisers as well as the author of this paper are profoundly influenced by the intellectual remains of this revolution. With this link now forged, colonialism becomes only a moment, though not a pleasant one, in our history.



The main features of the Sakkwato model which I have attempted to delineate is perhaps best summarized by Professor Ismail when he wrote:

“That there was an Islamic movement with all that Islam stands for by virtue of its universality, its openness, its tolerance, its justice and equity, its knowledge, recognition and provision for previous religions, its civilizations and history, shaking the socio-political order after successfully eroding its cultural and intellectual basis and that it had achieved all this by education and patient persuasion, precisely not to compromise Islam, is simply but subtly overlooked or ignored. Had that movement been conceived or presented on a tribal basis as some wants us to believe it would have been doomed to fail not to mention the fact that it couldn’t have found a place in Islam.”(32)

It is true many events have occurred since this revolution. Many Muslim countries for example were, about the end of the last century, coerced into the orbit of western European capitalist system which has since arrested their development, perpetuated their poverty and broken up their unity. Muslim countries today are characterized not by Islam with it’s system of education, law, economy and social justice, but by western European democracy with its parliament, its courts, its universities, culture and technology, and, not least in giving its support, its corruption. Beyond the glitter of western institutions and technology, manned by a handful of western elite, a large mass of people who, though ignorant, have largely remained faithful to Islam and true to themselves. It is here not anywhere else, any revolutionary movement that hopes to succeed, must root its base. The alternative of course is to become academic. In a society with heavy western European capitalist and even socialist vested interest, highly specialised and heavily equipped institutions of defence and propaganda and not least, people with political and economic vested interests to protect, any revolutionary movement that hopes to survive must afford to combine patient and able leadership with sound and apt planning. The alternative is to hurry up and burn or to alert it’s enemies before it is ready for confrontation. To what extent the Sakkwato model helps us in our contemporary circumstances, I leave to the distinguished audience for discussion.



1.See Abdullahi’s Tazyin al-waraqat and Muhammad Bello’s Infaq al-maysur.

2.See Alhaji (Dr.) Junaidu’s works.

3.See Yusuf Abba, “The 1804 Jihad in Hausaland as a Revolution”, Sokoto Seminar paper, 1975,

4.See Kano Chronicle page 148.

5.F. Smith, “The early states of the western Sudan”, in Ajayi and Crowder (Eds), History of West Africa, Longman, London, 1976, p. 190.

6.“Islamic History in the Western Sudan”, International Islamic Seminar on Education. Kano,


7.H. F. C. Smith, “A Neglected theme of West African History: the Islamic Revolution of the 19th century”, J. H. S. N., 2(1961), pp. 169-85.

8.See ‘Ida’ al-Nusukh of Abdullahi b. Foduye.

9.Uthman b. Foduye: lfhan al-Munkiring, quoted from M. A. Al-Hajj, “The Writings of Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio”, Kano Studies (1), 2(1974/77), p. 9.

10.Abdullahi b. Muhammad: Tazyin al-waraqat, (Ed. and Trans. by M. Hiskett), Ibadan, I.U. P. 1963, p. 86.

11.See M. A. Al-Hajj, “The writings of Shehu Usman”, Kano studies, (1) 2 (1974/77)

12.Ibid page 10..

13.Quoted in M. A. Al-Hajj, “The meaning of the Sokoto Jihad”, 1975, p. 8.

14. Quoted from D. M. Last and M. A. Al-Hajj, “Attempts at defining Muslim in 19th century

Hausaland and Bornu”, JNSN, (iii), 2 (1965) pp. 232-233.

15. Ibid. 

16. Quoted in M. A. Al-Hajj, “The writings of Shehu”, Kano Studies, (1) 2(1974/77), p. 7

17.Abdullahi Muhammad: Tazyin al-waraqat (ed. and Trans. by Hiskett), b. Ibadan, I. U. P.,1963, p. 86.




21.Quoted in F. H. El-Masri, “The life of Uthman b. Foduye before the Jihad,” J. H. S. N. (1963), p. 435-48.

22. Quoted in M. A. Al-Haj, “The writings of Shehu”, Kano Studies (i) 2 (1974/77), p. 9.

23. M. Hiskett, The sword of Truth, London 0. U. P., 1973, p. 56. –

24. Muhammad Bello, Infaq al maysur, (Ed. W. E. J. writing), p. 66.

25. Abdullah Muhammad, Tayzin al-waraqat. 


26. F. El-Masri, “The life of the Shehu before the Jihad”, J. H. S. N., 11, 2 (1961), p. 445.

27. Quoted from, “Introduction to Uthman B. Fudi”, Bayah wujub al-Hjtra, (Ed. Trans. El

Masri), K. U. P., 1978, p. 24.

28.See. Bayan.

29. Abdullahi b. Muhammad, Tayzin al-waraqat (Ed. and Trans. by Hiskett), Ibadan, 1. U. P.,

1963, p. 120-121.

30. Quoted from A. Kani’s unpublished M. A. thesis, 1978.

31. 0. A. S. Ismail, “Some reflections on the literature of the Jihad and the caliphate”, in Y.

B. Usman (Ed.), Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate, (SHSC), Lagos, 1979.

32. Ibid. 

Published by Muslim Enlightenment Committee  Nizamiyya Islamiyya School, Sakkwato,  in memory of Alhaji Ahmad Danbaba Marafan Sakkwato, founder of the School. May Allah have mercy upon him, Amen.

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The Islamic Concept of Leadership and Its Application In The Sakkwato Caliphate

The Islamic Concept of Leadership and Its Application  In The Sakkwato Caliphate


Professor Sambo Wali Junaid Department of Arabic 

Usman Dan Fodiyo University Sokoto

The Sakkwato Caliphate, as it is popularly called, is that Islamic government which was based on the pattern of the orthodox Caliphal system founded by the Prophet of Allah Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and which he bequeathed to Islamic communities all over the world as a modus operandi for every Muslim Ummah to emulate and be governed by. The major sources of jurisdiction for this caliphal system of government are the Qur’an, the Hadith (traditions of the Prophet) (SAW) and the ʿijma’ (consensus of ʿulama and qiyas (analogy) deduced by scholars of every epoch.

The orthodox caliphs from which the Sakkwato leaders derived their inspirations are those four caliphs, namely, Abubakar, Umar, Usman and Ali who governed the entire Muslim world of their time under strict compliance with Shariah as explained to them by the Qur’an and the sayings, acts and approvals of the Prophet (SAW).

The Sokoto caliphate was founded by the renowned scholar and Mujaddid Shaykh Uthman b. Fodiyo. He initially started his career as a preacher with the sole purpose of cleansing the society of its social, political and religious ills. He began by educating the society on proper ways of worship, separating them from the un-Islamic practices interwoven with Islam but which are diametrical with Islam and border to unbelief. He then criticized the venal ʿulama’ (scholars) who encouraged rulers to misrule by overburdening the subjects with heavy taxes fines and confiscation of their properties without any just cause. He undertook preaching tours within Gobir and Zamfara areas. Within a couple of years, Shaykh Uthman raised a community of dedicated Muslims. The growing number of serious Muslims around him aroused the anger of Hausa rulers. Particularly the Gobir ruler. Shaykh Uthman was able to obtain for and on behalf of his followers some concessions.

The kings especially, the tyrant king of Gobir stepped-up his hostilities against the Shaykh’s community, maiming them, killing them, capturing them and selling them as slaves (Muhammad Bello, Infaq al-Maisur).

At a time the Shaykh had called on the king with the aim of finding solutions to hostilities meted against the Shaykh’s community. No sooner was some amicable solution reached when the king of Gobir, Nafata, after assuming office made contradictory declarations against the concessions given to Jama’ah. He declared that:

1. No one except the Shaykh should preach,

2. No one whose parents or grandparents were not originally Muslims should convert to Islam, and those converted should revert to their former religion,

3. No man should wear a turban henceforth,

4. No woman should henceforth wear a veil.

These and many other provocations made the Shaykh’s community start thinking for a leader to defend themselves under him. The Jamāʿah unanimously chose the Shaykh to be their first Amirul Muminin in 1804 after they migrated to Gudu. They fought many battles, some of which they won and lost some. With the capture of Alkalawa, a solid foundation for the establishment of a Caliphate with all its organs and offices, was laid down. The Caliphate waxed stronger with vast territories covering most of the Northern States of the present-day Nigeria and extending its borders to some parts of the present-day Republics of Niger, Chad, Cameroun and Mali. Even the powerful kingdom of Borno lost some part of its territories to the Caliphate.

The leaders of this growing Caliphate were scholars of repute and they wrote a number of books to serve as guidelines in the administration of the Caliphate. The first Amirul Muminin Shaykh Uthman, his full-brother Abdullahi and their son. Muhammad Bello became the nucleus of the Caliphate and they wrote extensively on religious, social, political and economic aspects of an Islamic government whose constitution was the embodiment of the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the consensus of ʿulama’.

The Islamic Concept of Leadership:

Vicegerency, the Islamic concept of leadership first emerged from the Qur’anic verse that expressed Allah’s wish to appoint His vicegerent on earth soil as to maintain justice among the creations both human beings and jinns that would worship Him. On hearing this, the angels were surprised that the human being who was not to be trusted was assigned this onerous responsibility of being Allah’s representative on earth. They politely inquired:

“Do thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee …?” (Surah II, Verse 30).

What these verses inferred is that’ Adam’ is the representative of Allah on earth who is to live, worship and maintain justice among other human beings. The concept clearly shows that leadership in Islam is a trust from Allah. A leader should regard himself as representing Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who in turn represents Allah the Creator. Allah is the All-knowing. He keeps records of all His Messenger’s representative’s activities on earth. A leader will be fully accountable to Allah on the Day of Judgment. If he commits any injustice among fellow human beings, among animal and plant kingdoms as a leader of his home, his ward, his village, his local government, his state, his nation, his planet, the neighbouring planets, the Creator of all beings is watching him. He may punish him right here on earth or may delay the punishment until the final Day of judgment. This trust by Allah through His Prophets is an all-comprehensive one and must be maintained with all sincerity.

The quoted verse above has been explained by a number of traditions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) emphasizing the trust and that man will be accountable to Allah. The first Hadith, which comes to mind, is that which says:

“Each one of you is a shepherd and each one of you would be asked about his shepherd. The leader is a shepherd and would be accountable to Allah about his shepherd.”

In yet another Hadith the Prophet (SAW) said when his companions asked him:

What do you see if leaders were appointed and they asked for their rights from us as our leaders but they in turn refused to give us our rights as their subjects? The Prophet (SAW) replied, “Give them their rights and ask them for your right from Allah for He will certainly make them accountable to what they have been entrusted ‘with.” (Shaykh Uthman, Najm al-Ikhwan, p.8).

This leadership under whatever name it is called, the same principle of trust be applied. The leader may be called Mr. President as in American democracy, the Prime Minister as in democracies of Westminster style, the Imam as in lran, the King as in Saudi Arabian monarchy or the Khalifah as was severally used in the Glorious Qur’an, In the Qur’an, Khalifah, Malik and Imam or their derivations have been used signifying leadership. Thus referring to Prophet Yusuf (AS), the verse reads:

“Oh my Lord! Thou hast given me sovereignty.” (Surah 12, Verse 101).

Also Prophet Sulaiman (AS) said as reported in the Qur’an:

“He said, My Lord! Forgive me and bestow on me sovereignty such as shall not belong to all after me.” (Surah 38, Verse 35).

In another verse referring to Imamate, it reads:

“And We made them chiefs who guide by our command …” (Surah 21.Verse 73).

In another verse referring to Prophet Ibrahim (AS). It reads:

“He said, Lo! I have appointed thee a leader (Imam) for mankind.” (Surah 2, Verse 124).

All these verses refer to various terms used for leadership role but they all point to one thing and that it is a trust which must be preserved by all types and scopes of leadership. It was with this trust in mind that Prophet Yusuf (A.S) requested Paroah to entrust him with the store-houses. He said:

“Set me over the store-houses of the land. Loll am a skilled custodian.” (Surah 12, Verse 55).

After this trust is entrusted upon a leader, then he is expected to maintain that trust and treat everyone equitably without fear or favour. In another Hadith, the Prophet of Allah (Muhammad) (SAW) said:

“The Sultan is the shadow of Allah on earth!”

The leader, therefore, being the shadow of Allah’s authority through the Prophets, should treat everyone equally. Vice such as nepotism, self aggrandizement, promotion of one’s friends, egocentricism, blind-materialism, acquisition of ill-gotten wealth should all be. avoided by a leader. In fact, the leader should be as the Prophet (SAW) described him saying:

“The leader of a community is but their servant.”

When this concept of trust which is an authority bestowed to you by Allah is digested the leader must be just in his dealing with all his subjects. He must be fair to all and sundry and the rule of the Sharfah must be supreme. Whoever tampers with the Shariah must be punished accordingly after full investigations. Justice must be carried out in all facets of human endeavours. It must include justice in relation to terrestrial and marine life as well as in connection with animal and plant kingdoms. He must do justice to the planet he lives in and the planets that he sees and utilises. To sum it all, a leader must uphold justice even against himself. He should not therefore claim immunity of the rule of the Shariah. Everyone, with high or low status, must be equal before the Shariah (Shehu Umar Abdullah. On the Search for a Viable Political Culture p.47).

The leader must see his leadership role as both mundane and spiritual. In other words, the concept of secularism as professed by the so-called modern democracies, which separate religion from politics, is absolutely alien in Islam (Shehu Umar Abdullahi, Ibid, p.46).

It was reported on the authority of Ibn Abbas that the Prophet (SAW) had said:

“Authority and Islam are twins, neither of both can, improve without the other. lslam is the foundation while authority is the protector, Whatever lacks foundatlon will collapse and whatever lacks protector is lost.” (Shaykh Uthman b. Fodiyo, Najm al-Ikhwan, p.68).

In other words, politics and religion are seen in Islam as just two faces of the same coin. The leader, therefore, must see his role as such and must, with all sincerity, carry out his responsibilities with justice irrespective of differences of religion, ethnic affiliations, geographical boundaries, etc. The religion of Islam enjoined him to be fair to all, The Glorious Qur’an says:

“Oh ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what ye do.” (Surah 5, Verse 8).

In another verse, the leader is enjoined to maintain justice even if it is against his relative. The Our’an urges that:

“And if you give your word, as justice thereunto, even though it be (against) a kinsman!” (Surah 6, Verse 152).

In another verse, the leader is still being enjoined to uphold justice whenever he passes a judgement among his subjects.

The Our’an says:

“And if ye judge between mankind that you judge justly.” (Surah 4, Verse 58).

The next concept of leadership in Islam is the utilisation of Shura [consultation], The Qur’an enjoins the leader to look for advice before embarking on any serious issue affecting his subjects. The so-called modern models of State or National assemblies under the guise of Western democracies are mere caricatures of the Islamic principle of Shura revealed to the Prophet of Islam (SAW) more than one thousand, four hundred and eighteen years ago. Shuraor Counsel is from the Arabic word ashara. Shura to show or to consent or approve by nodding one’s head.

The person seeking advice would want to know areas of truth and the benefit . to be derived from the issue Shura is sought for Counsel is the search for an expert opinion from experienced persons to enable the leader arrive at what seems to be right, But before the right course or decision is arrived at, a body of experienced persons must come together and critically examining each other’s opinion being guided by the principles of jihad.

Those issues which had already been legislated on in the Qur’an and/or by the Prophet (.SAW) cannot be subjected to discussion or review. The leader may however call for a discussion, presentation of opinions or debate on things that are either not yet clear or have multiple approaches. Matters of peace and war or signing treaties, for example, are issues that should not be taken lightly or rushed into without taking due cognisance of the implications involved.

Particular example which may be cited here where difficult decisions were taken by the Prophet (SAW) was the Hudaibiyah peace accord. Despite the opposition by some of his companions to the treaty, the Prophet (SAW) upheld it and it turned out to be the greatest conquest in the history of Islam.

Another example was the Battle of Uhud when some of his companions advised that he should remain in Madina while others opined that he should move out. Each opinion was trying to arrive at what would be the best option for the Muslims. But in the end, the Prophet (SAW) chose the decision to go out of Madina to meet the enemies (see Abdurrahman Abdul-Khaliq, AI-Shura, p.17).

For any issues to be tabled for discussion, the leader must be able to select experienced persons who are transparently sincere, honest, determined and have strong sense of responsibility who will stand firmly by the decisions taken and implement them as required. That body of decision-making must not be lobbied by the leadership but should let each one of them to be the master of his conscience and the protector of the trust reposed in him by Allah.

The importance of Counsel has been emphasised in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). A whole chapter of the Qur’an was named chapter of Shura. In one of the verses of the chapter, Muslim leaders are enjoined to seek for advice before taking any serious decisions.

In another chapter, the importance of seeking for Counsel was also highlighted when the Prophet (SAW) was asked to consult his companions before taking a decision. The Qur’an verse reads:

“So pardon them and ask for forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah Lo! Allah loveth those who put their trust in Him.” (Surah 3. Verse 1.59).

With the establishment of an Islamic State, the leader must not relent in his defence of the Ummah from internal and external enemies by establishing a strong force to defend the nation of Islam defends its territories as well as guarantee the application of the Shariah throughout his domain. The nation of Islam must be combat ready and the leadership must be alert and lead its army in defence of the State. The leadership must protect the religion and its values with all its ‘juristical, administrative and military’ capabilities. The leader must adhere to the following ten conditions in discharging the affairs of the Islamic State. The conditions are:

a) Preservation of faith in its established principles and in the form in which al-Salaf (the predecessors) of the Ummah had unanimously agreed.

b) Enforcement of judgments among contenders and resolving cases among disputants.

c) Provision of security in the territory so that people may live in their homes safely and travel in security.

d) Enforcement of punishments prescribed by the Shariah to safeguard the limits set by Allah and preserve the rights of people.

e) Fortification of borders with preventive equipment and repelling of aggression.

f) Jihad against those who oppose Islam after calling upon them to embrace it or to accept protection as non-Muslims, so that the light of Allah is upheld in proclamation of the religion in its entirety.

g) Levying of taxes and collection of Zakah and charity from the treasury without being extravagant or stingy.

h) Appointing the honest and competent to positions of trust in order to preserve (State) wealth to administer (government’s) affairs.

i) Personal supervision and examination of public affairs to be able to lead the nation and protect the religion.

j) Personal supervision and examination of public affairs to be able to lead the nation the nation and protect the religion (See Muhammad S. EI Awa, on the Political System of the Islamic State, p.?7).

Now we have through the previous pages seen the Islamic concept of leadership and what follows is the application of that concept in the Sakkwato Caliphate.

Concept of Leadership and Its Application in the Sakata Caliphate

The leaders in the Sokoto Caliphate firmly believed that leadership is a trust from Allah through the Prophet (SAW) bestowed on them to rule according to Shariah. Thus, from the onset, the Muslims unanimously agreed to pay homage to Shaykh Uthman b. Fodiyo as the first Amirul-Muminin of the newly established Muslim Ummah, an Ummah which is to be governed by the Shariah. The leadership from the beginning applied Shura when they realised the danger they were exposed to by the enemy. After their Hijra to Gudu, the Muslim Ummah met and agreed to pay homage to Shaykh Uthman as Amirul Muuminin. The first to pay the homage was his full-brother Abdullah, followed by Muhammad Bello and then Umar Alkammu and the rest of the “Ummah (see Wazir Junaidu, Tarihin Fulani, pp.16-17).

The Shariah as the basis of Muslim constitution was implemented in full. Honest, pious and scholarly judges were appointed throughout the Caliphate. In fact, descendants of these jUdges like the Qadi-Qudat (Chief Judge) still retain the titles if not the functions. We also have other titles like the Sa’i who takes charge of the collection and distribution of Zakah. Other are the Sarkin Yaki (War Commander), the title still held by the descendants of Aliyu Jedo, the war commander at the time of the Jihad and the Muhtasib (Censor of Morals). As for the Wazir, the Shaykh appointed four viziers, namely: Abdullah,Muhammad Bello, Umar  Alkammu and Malam Sa’adare. When the Caliphate became stronger, the viziership positions were reduced to only two. The Western flank under the charge of Abdullah has its own vizier as was the case with the Eastern flank under Bello. However, as Muhammad Bello became the second Caliph, the viziership position of the Caliphate held by Abdullahi shifted to  ‘Uthman Gidado.

The application of the Shariah was thorough and that some recordedincidents during the  struggle to apply justice to all were evidenced in some traditions.

Sultan Bello’s strict application of the Shariah is evidenced by his scrutinizing the judges, reversing their judgments dictated by their own interest and his refusal to give them free rein in their posts (Alhaji Shehu Malami, Sir Siddiq Abubakar III, p.25). Sultan Bello was also said to have told his brotherAbubakar Atiku:

If you judge according to the truth, I will not interfere with you.” (Ibid, p.25). Throughout the Caliphate, justice was done and every, citizen was forced to comply with the Shariah. As a result of that, there was absolute peace. This peaceful momentum did not escape the eagle-eye of the Christian white explorer, Clapperton who observed that:

“The laws of the Qur’an were in his (Bello’s) time so strictly put in force … That the whole country when not in a state of war, was so well regulated that a woman might travel with a casket of gold upon her head from one end of the Fellata dominions to the other,” (See Rashid, Islamic Lava in Nigeria, p.39)

The Sokoto leadership promoted learning and scholarship. This promotion was vigorously pursued by the Caliphate so much so that there was no Islamic revivalist movement in the whole of Africa during that time that had bequeathed to the generations of the Sakkwato Caliphate. Shehu Uthman had written not less than one hundred books and manuals in three languages, namely: Fulfulde, Hausa and Arabic. So was also done by his son Bello and Abdullahi and Emirs who received flags from the Shehu. All the flag-bearers were at one time or another students of Shaykh Uthman b. Fodiyo who in turn encouraged scholarship in their own areas of jurisdiction.

With the combined efforts of the leaders and their subjects, within a short period, the massive educational and enlightenment programmes embarked upon by the Caliphate yielded fruitful results.

At this juncture, one can recall the unprecedented educational campaign mounted by Nana Asma’u, the Shaykh’s daughter to educate the women-folk. Nana herself. a poetess in three languages, did not hesitate to compose poems which are still sung today to educate the women masses. She organised the Ysn-teru’ (Associates) system of knowledge dissemination whereby older women from rural areas converged to her home and received lessons from her and in turn disseminated such lessons to the wives in purdah in the rural areas.

The lessons usually imparted by Nana Asma’u included Islamic rituals like the five daily prayers, aspects of Teunia, the Zakah, responsibilities of the wife to the family, etc. These rituals are composed in poems for easy memorization. (Jean Boyd, The Caliph’s Sister, pp.-51-52).

After the establishment of the Caliphate, the leaders built a strong army to defend and extend the territories of the nation of Islam. The leaders led many successful expeditions against the  enemy. Abdullah, who was in charge of the Western flank of the Caliphate and his able lieutenants, ably extended the areas of the Caliphate as far away as the Nupe and Yoruba lands. while Bello effectively controlled the whole of the Eastern flank which extended far beyond Adamawa. The Caliphate remained intact and the leaders successfully subdued to submission the attempted rebellion after the demise of Sultan Bello. Sultan Bello had, during his reign which spanned for over 20 years, led 17 military campaigns against the enemies of Islam.

The Caliphate became the Islamic umbrella under which the citizens of the nation of Islam, irrespective of language, colour or place of birth, converged to worship Allah alone and maintain justice among human’ beings and becametrue representatives of Allah on earth.


The paper traced the Islamic concept of leadership from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the two main sources of Islamic jurisprudence and constitution. It discussed the Islamic and secular concepts of leadership. It emphasized that the Sakkwato Caliphate believed in leadership being a trust from Allah and had left no stone unturned throughout its life-span which began in 1804 until it was rudely halted in the year 1903 by the British fire power.

The paper also expressed its nostalgia for the Islamic concept of leadership especially with regard to the general security of life and property, which followed the total application of the Shariah.


1. Abdullah b. Fodiyo, Tazyin al-Waraqat. Kano, 1383 A.H.

2. Abdullah b. Fodiyo, Diyaul-Sultan, Zaria

3. Abdurrahman Abdul-Khaliq, AI-Shra fi Dhilli Nidham al-Hukm al-Islami, Kuwait. 1988.

4. Alhaji Shehu Malami, Sir Siddiq Abubakar III, Ibadan, 1989.

5. Ibrahim Imam, Tarihin Shehu Usman Mujaddadi, Zaria, 1966.

6. Jean Boyd, The Caliph’s Sister, Nana Asma’u, London, 1989.

7. Kalim Siddiqui, Issues in the Islamic Mivement, London, 198.0-81.

8. Muhammad Bello, Aigayth al-wabi fi Sirat ai-Imam al-Adl, manuscript available in Wazir Junaidu’s personal library.

9. Muhammad Bello, Infaq al-Maisur, London, 1957.

10. Muhammad Bello, Sard al-Kalam fi Ma Jara Bainana Wa Baina Abdissalam, Manuscript available in my personal library.

11. Muhammad Fu’ad Abdul-baqi, AI-Mu’jam al-Mufahras Ii al-Fadh al Our’an al-Karim, Beirut, 1945.

12. Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an, Karachi, 1986.

13. Muhammad S.EI-Awa, On the Political System of the Islamic State, Indiana, 1980.

14 Sa’adu b. Abdurrahman, Tartib al-Ashab wa Tajmi’ Ulil-Albab, Manuscript available in wazir Junaidu’s personal library.

15. Shehu Umar Abdullah, On the Search for a Viable Political Culture, Kaduna, 1984.

16. Syed Khalid Rashid, Islamic Law in Nigeria, Sokoto.

17. Uthman b. Fodiyo, Sayan Wuju al-Hijra al Allbad wa Bayan Nasbi al-Imam wa Iqamat al-Jihad, Zaria.

18. Uthman b. Fodiyo, Najm al-Ikhwan Yahtaduna Bihi Bi Idhnil Lah fi Umur al-Zaman. Cairo.

19. Wazir Junaidu, Tarihin Fulani, Zaria, 1957.

International Seminar Papers

1. International Seminar on “The Role of the Ulama in the Sakkwato

Caliphate”, 1800-1803, presented in 1986, organised by C.I.S/U.D.U.S.

2. International Seminar on “Intellectual Tradition in the Sakkwato

Caliphate”, 1987, organised by C.I.S/U.D.U.S.

For similar or related articlesclick on the links below:

Tajdid 1

Tajdid 2


The Role of Scholars on the Jihad Leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate

The Role of Scholars on the Jihad Leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate

By S.S.Muhammad

Department of Political Science – Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto


Allah, the exalted, has ordained to send forth, to the ummah, at the end of every century, a scholar who would revive the religion for her. Such a scholar would take upon himself the duty of enjoining the good and forbidden the evil. He would call for the regulation of the affairs of the people and the establishment of justice amongst them. He would support the truth against falsehood, revive the Sunnah, suppress innovation, and denounce bad customs.

As a result of his activities, his conditions will be different from those of the Ulama of his age and he will find himself a stranger amongst them, because his qualities are different from their own and men like him are few … 1

In conformity with the above hadith, Shehu Uthman b. Fodio undertook a jihad, which transformed the early 19th century Hausa land and saw the establishment of the Sakkwato caliphate. The Sakata jihad of the early 19th century was preceded by important intellectual as well as political and social developments and might even be argued that the intellectual pre-history of the revolution has been crucial to the course it has taken.

This paper basically examines the role of scholars on the jihad leaders of 1804 in Hausa land. These include Shaikh Uthman b. Muhammad b. Fodio (1754-1817) his brother Abdullahi b. Muhammad b. Fodio (1776-1828) and Shaikh Uthman’s son Muhammad Bello. The paper also examines the role of scholars in shaping the kind of polity that came to be established, the Sakata Caliphate. It first shows the link between scholarship and revolution, the different scholars that influenced the Jihadists of the caliphate as well as the pattern of such influences and concludes the study by pointing the way forward.

Scholarship as foundation of Change:

There are consensuses among scholars, classical or contemporary about the interconnectedness of scholarship and change in societies. Particular scholastic traditions culminate into the establishment of particular kinds of societies based on certain recognized principles. The jihad leaders were very clear on this. According to Muhammad Bello, one of the key architects of the caliphate, everything has a foundation and the foundation of this caliphate is knowledge. The Shehu himself has clearly captured the place of scholarship. He wrote:

A man without learning is like a country without inhabitants. The finest (qualities) in a ruler, in particular and of people in general are the love of learning, the desire to listen to it and holding the bearers of knowledge in great respect-this is the surest way for a ruler to be loved by his subjects. On the other hand, if the king is devoid of learning, he follows his whims and lead his people astray, like a riding beast with no halter, wandering off the path and perhaps spoiling what it passes over.  2

The Shehu has also asserted in his Kitāb al-Farq that acquisition of knowledge by study and the teaching of that knowledge is one of the objectives of Muslims in their government. The very serious concern with scholarship by the Sakata triumvirate is in recognition of its place in the progress and development of humankind and the societies in which they live in. The Shehu, Abdullah and Muhammad Bello thus become preoccupied with the acquisition of knowledge such that they have together over 300 scholarly works to their credit. These were written at different times, including in battle fronts and dealt with a variety of subjects from jurisprudence, political theory, economics, history, tafsir, to virtually every field of human endeavour. They were so concerned with learning and scholarship such that this becomes the most pronounced and lasting tradition the caliphate came to be associated with. The Sokoto caliphate was thus clearly a product of learning, a product of decades of preaching and enlightenment campaigns aimed clearly at establishment of a just socio-economic and political entity.

Role of Scholars on the Jihad Leaders

Of the many factors and forces that shaped the thought of the jihad leaders, that of the scholars is the most important. All the jihadists were greatly influenced by a number of prominent scholars that are contemporary with them. They have testified to this in a number of their works through the expression of opinions and the experiences of scholars before them from the prophetic era through the first four caliphs of Islam, through the Abbasid and the North African scholars to those of the Bilād as-Sudāan.

One of the greatest influences exercised upon the jihad leaders is that by scholars contemporary to the jihadists. The Shehu, Abdullah and Bello have testified to this in the numerous works they authored. Abdullahi has listed vast number of scholars as some of his teachers in Idā an-Nusukh. Ten of those are related to him by blood. But of greater prominence of the scholars mentioned was Shaikh Jibril b. Umar who was both Shehu’s and Abdullah’s teacher and significantly noted for his radical views in matters of Islam as it applied to society. He was in fact viewed to have engineered the Sakkwato revolution. So significant were his contribution that the Shehu stated thus, “I wonder whether we would have been guided to the right path, had it not been for the Sheikh for the destruction of customs contrary to Islam in our Sudanese country was initiated by him and it was completed by us”. Similarly, Abdullah composed several poems of eulogy for Jibril in his Tazyin, which show his reverence for him.

Through these scholars, the jihad leaders studied the Qur’an and its Tafsir (exegesis), Tawhid (the science of the unity of Allah), Fiqh, (Jurisprudence), and Hadith (the traditions of the prophet) and a variety of other branches of scholarship. They thus became men of very deep learning. It is this breadth and depth of learning possessed by the Sakkwato Mujahidun that greatly prepared the intellectual phase of the Sakkwato jihad. But there are other set of scholars whose philosophy and practise the jihadists worked to counter. Abdullahi described them as those who:

…Neglect their prayers and obey, in procuring pleasures their own souls. And the majority of them have traded their faith for the world, preferring what they desire; their minds are full of temptations. They are bold in eating forbidding food, they eat like beasts … they do not listen to commands and they disobey their Imam, and they ridicule anyone who stands and who stands and forbids they from evil… 3

The Shehu in his Tanbīh Al lkwān also noted that:

one of the habits of many scholars of the Bilād as-Sudān is that they leave their wives, daughters and slaves neglected like a grazing livestock without teaching them what Allah makes obligatory on them; they consider them like a container which they use; when it breaks they throw it in dung and rubbish pieces. 4

Muslim Scholars and the Jihadist

The works of several scholars who were not their contemporaries profoundly influenced the jihad leaders. It has been viewed that:

The triumvirate, their supporters have consistently stressed the link between them and the preceding generations of Islamic scholars. In their works on constitutional matters, for instance, they frequently quoted or referred to the works of Ibn AI-Arabi Ibn. Jama’a, AI-Suyuti, al-Gazzali, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Arafa and al-Maghili. Thus Shehu, Abdullahi and Bello drew their inspiration from a remarkable and enduring academic tradition… 5

AI-Mawardi, the Abbasid political theorist, to begin with, is one such scholar whom Abdullahi referred to in his works, particularly in DiyaalHukkam. AI-Mawardi argued that religion and politics are not separate as far as Islam is concerned. He also viewed the institution of the imamate is a necessary requirement of the shariah and not of reason. The imamate, to al-Mawardi, is established to replace prophecy in the defence of the faith and the administration of the world. Consequently, he discusses the means of instituting the imamate-and the qualifications required of an Imam as well as those who are empowered to elect him.

Now, there is close correlation between Abdullah’s ideas with those of AI-Mawardi as outlined above. Murray last confirmed this when he noted that Abdullahi follows the arguments made familiar by AI-Mawardi in his AI-Aḥkām as-Sultaniyyah. 6

AI-Ghazzali, a prominent Muslim political thinker, is also one of the important personalities who have greatly influenced the thought of the jihadists. His Kitab al-Halal wal Haram, which is a part of his famous work, Ihyā Ulumuddīn , was one of Abdullahi’s main sources in delineating what is permissible and what is not in an Islamic state. The jihadists views on the need of calling a corrupt and unjust regime to order is also logically connected to AI-Gazzali’s view, as discussed in his “Min hunā Na alam“. His view too that religion and politics cannot be separated has also been expressed by Abdullahi in his Diya -al-Siyasat. AI-Maghili was one such scholar to have exercised tremendous influence on the Sakata jihadists, It has stated that by Abdullah Smith:

All the leaders of the Sakkwato Jihad great attention to the writings of Muhammad b. Abdal Karīm al-Maghīlī who seems to have exerted an important and lasting influence on learned Muslim opinion in this region, particularly on potitics. 7

AI-Maghili (d. 1503/04), a Muslim jurist noted for his scholarship, held great revolutionary ideas on a wide range of issues of religion, society and leadership. Many of those were expressed in his public teachings and the scholarly works he authored, many of which were in circulation in North and West Africa since the 16th century. The radical nature of his ideas was partly instrumental in his falling apart with many ulama of his period and his subsequent leaving for the Bilad-al-Sudan.

AI-Maghili’s ideas however found a fertile ground in the Bilād as-Sudān. In Kano, he was warmly accepted by the then Amir of Kanø, Muhammad Rumfa (1493-1499). It was here that al-Maghili wrote his famous Tajuddīn Fī Mā Yajib alā al-Mulk (On the Obligation of Princes). The work is a constitutional treatise that laid down details of administration, court procedures, defence and foreign policy. In brief, its main focus is on how best a state could be administered. The jihadists drew a lot from this scholar. A study of Abdullahi’s Oiya aI-Sultan will reveal that it consisted of a summary of four works. The first two works belong to al Maghili and they were those written respectively for Muhammad Rumfa of Kano and Askia of Songhai. The other two works were Shehu Uthman’s. In addition, the entire section dealing with the question of the Imamate and the duties of the Supreme Imam’ contained in Abdullahi’s Diyā al-Hukkām 8 is based on the views of AI-Maghili. Abdullahi himself stated at the end of that section, “know that all I mention in this section is an extract from a book written by Muhammad b. Abdalkarim al Tilmi Sani”. The book referred to here is the Tajuddin fi rna yajib ala al-Muluk. Mentioned earlier while the name was al-Maghili’s full name. It is also to be noted that Shehu’s Siraj al-Ikhwan adopted some of the views of AI Maghili as contained particularly in his al-Ajwiba.

The jihadists also made significant references to al-Nafarawai, Ibn Arabi, as-Suyūti and Ibn Farhum. They all have discussed in varying details the nature of the Imamate institution, its role as well as the supportive institutions like Wazir, Qadi, Muhtasib and the like. Abdullahi, following al-Nafarawi’s held “It is unanimously disallowed to have more than one Imam at a time in one country unless the two places are far from each other such that the jurisdiction of one of them cannot reach the place of the other.9 In the case of Ibn AI-Arabi, Abdullahi relied on him in his Diyā-al-Hukkām in enumerating the essential offices that make up the state. As-Suyuti’s ideas have similarly found their way into the jihad leaders. Suyuti’s work on the caliphate of the four rightly guided Caliphs entitled Tārīkh al-Khulafā was the main work on which Abdullahi based his Diyā al-Muqtadīn lil Khulafā al Rashīdūn. As-Suyuti is also severally quoted in Abdu’lahi’s Diyā al-Hukkām, Diya as-Siyasat and Sabilu-s-Salamah fil Imamah. It is thus not surprising that Zahradeen noted that a figure of the jihad, Abdullahi derived his constitutional ideas from the Kitab al Ahkām of Ibn AI-Arabi, the Tārīkh al-Khulafā of al-Suyuti and the Tabsīrat al-Hukkām of Ibn Farhum since quotations from these works are numerous.

It is now apparent that the scholars discussed to this point and many others, have through their various works aided in various degrees in the shaping of the Sokoto Mujahidun’s thought. Their scholarship and the inspiration they drew from both classical scholars and those contemporary to them as well as their extensive travel to spread that knowledge had the singular effect of preparing the intellectual phase of their revolution.

Although the Jihadists borrowed extensively from constitutional theorists such as al Mawardi, AI-Gazzali, AI-Maghīlī, Ibn Farhun and others yet, they were not mere imitators. Far from that, the jihadists sifted their writing, simplified them and made them applicable to the environment they lived in. In other words, their originality lies in the fact that they studied the teachings of the predecessors, sifted. and simplified them and above all made those ideas the living ideology of the Sakkwato Jihad movement.

The Effect of the Influences on the Bases, Nature and Outcome of the Jihad

The impact of the scholars on the jihadist could be seen on the bases, nature and outcome of the jihad. The first of these is to be seen on the jihadist philosophy and the bases of the jihad. They embarked on the jihad mainly for the sake of Islam. Schoiars of the jihad have agreed on the establishment of a state system based on the principles of Islam is what the jihadists strived for. Nowhere does any member of the triumvirate indicate that they were fighting a ‘national war’ for the domination of one ethnic group over the other. Nor were they fighting for material motives as some writers have tried to portray. They were preoccupied with creating of Dar al-Islam and a system of government that will facilitate the realisation of Islam.

In Abdullah’s poem, the purpose of their campaigns were more succinctly stated:

We went for the sake of Allah; we hoped for His reward and the raising up of Islam so that all should benefit. And he whose aim is wealth or the demonstration of his courage or the assuaging of his anger, has not waged holy war,’ that is the true judgment. 10

Abdullahi who further stated in his Tazyin al-waraqat reinforced the above:

then we rose up with the Shaikh, helping him in his mission work for the religion. He travelled for that purpose to the East and West, calling the people to the religion of Allah by his preaching and his qasidas (pamplets) in other languages and destroying customs contrary to Islamic law.11

Their travels covers Zamfara, Kebbi territories, Gulma, Daura and across the present day River Niger where they taught and preached in local languages, mainly Hausa and Fulfulde to facilitate understanding. Another impact is to be seen in the kind of state they established as well as the values to govern its conduct. Different set of values informed the new polity. These, according to Tukur include justice, impartiality, consuItation/advice, kindness/flexibility, abstinence/moderation/asceticism, truth/integrity/probity etc.12 Tukur concludes, “That under the Shehu and Bello, at least public business was conducted within the framework of the accepted value system in tune with the ideals which inspired the revolution and created a noble political order” in which unity, welfare, and primacy of public interest” occupied the center.

As individuals, the jihadists come to personify high moral values, gentleness, forgiveness, humbleness, generosity, self satisfaction, keeping good company with relations, honesty and fulfillment of promise were some of the virtues that were zealously nurtured by the jihadists.

They were traits which nurtured the revolutionary furvour of the caliphate that was established, a state based on justice and devoid of corruption, favouritism, nepotism and sectionalism. Their intellectualism was clearly translated into reality.

The influence of scholars and political thinkers could also be clearly seen in the jihadist conception of the nature and essence of the state. All the jihadists have agreed that a state has both spiritual and temporal roles. According to late Professor Abdullah Smith, this involves raising the moral tone of society and providing a societal ideology in accordance with Islamic ideas …. General education reform … to be accomplished by then training of teachers, economic reform to be brought about by the improvement of markets, the development of communications (by opening roads and bridges) transactions of the government (and undertaking) all good works. 13

The role is also captured in the Diyā al Waliyat and the first few pages of Diyā al-Umara of Abdullahi when he wrote:

The state should look to their citizens’ education in matters of their religion in principle and detail, the performance of prayers in all its details, all matters relating to fasting, the pilgrimage and all the obligations connected with it … the state should similarly look at the institution of marriage and all that is connected with it, their commercial transactions and such matters, the affairs of their markets and all that is necessary relating to them, the maintenance of their roads, the protection of their water supplies, the maintenance of their graves,’ the affairs of their treasury …No person is made a ruler over the people to become their master; (Rather) he is to serve their religious and temporal interests. 14

In the words of Bello, it is also the duty of a ruler to commission craftsmen and provide for people in various occupations which are necessary for mankind such as farmers, blacksmith, tailors, dyers, physicians, drapers, butchers, carpenters and all the professions which are the basis of life in this world. He should set them up in every town and locality. At the same time he should make the people busy themselves with the production and storing of food, settle the urban and rural areas … He should seek to achieve everything conducive to their general welfare that the proper order of life in this world may be restored. Encouragement of all virtuous acts, the protection of the poor and the weak, etc. At the end, the jihadists were able to establish the largest and most organised polity in Africa south of the sahara, a state based on the – ideals of justice and equity and the realisation of the interests of the people.


The jihadists were greatly influenced by the different scholars with whom they have studied and associated with. From them they learnt and eventually mastered different fields of scholarship. The Shehu was himself nicknamed Fodio for his great learning and piety. The writings of great Muslim jurist and thinkers such as al-Mawardi, ai-Mag hili, Ibn alArabi, as-Suyuti to mention but a few, have exerted great influence on the thought of the jihadists. They left an indelible mark on them and remained for them a source of inspiration. This is as evidenced by their frequent quotations from their works.

However, far from being mere initiators, the jihadists never succumb to the views and opinions of others without question except they are clearly grounded in law. Although they made references to the preceding generations of scholars, their originality lies in the fact that he sifted, selected and simplified their works and made them the living ideology of the Sakkwato jihad movement. The jihadists were quite aware that the scholars they quoted wrote taking into consideration the problems and circumstances of their times. They must have therefore addressed themselves to those problems. It is thus the case that the jihadists did not unduly idealize the works and ideas of the scholars that influenced them.

End Notes

1. Uthman b. Fodiyo, Ifhām al-Munkirīn, cited in Bugaje U., The Sakkwato Model: A Study of origin, Development and Fruition of the jihad of Uthman b. Fodiyo 1754-1817‘ (paper presented at International Islamic Conference, Bayero University, Kano, 16th– 22nd April, 1980).

2. Uthman 8. Fodiyo, Bayan wujūb al Hijrah Cited in Bugaje, Usman, The Caliphate in Modern Nigeria: Ending It. Mending It. or Reinventing It, Text of a public lecture organised to commemorate the 18t anniversary of the installation of the 19th sultan of Sokoto, Alh. Muhammadu Maccido, April 21, 1997, p.9

3. Cited in Ayegere. P.O. The Life and Works of Abdullahi b. Fudi. Unpublished Ph. D Thesis, University of Ibadan, 1974

4 Uthman b Fodiyo, Tanbīh al-Ikhwān

5 Mahmud Tukur, Philosophy. Goals and institutions of the Sokoto Caliphal Administration: A Preliminary Review in Nigerian Administration Research Project. 1972, pp.16-17

6 Murray, Last. The Sokoto Caliphate

7 Smith, Abdullahi A Neglected Theme in West African History, 1961

8 Abdullahi b. Fodiyo, Diyā aI Hukkām

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 Abdullahi b, Fodiyo. Tazyīn al-Waraqāt. p.85

12 Tukur, Mahmud, Values and Public Affairs, Ph. D theses, ABU.

Zaria. pp59-62

13 Smith, opt.cit.

14 Abdullahi b. Fodiyo. Diyā al- Umara

The Tradition of Tajdeed In West Africa

The Tradition of Tajdeed In West Africa

by Dr. Usman Bugage

Tradition in the Sokoto Caliphate

From the ninth century to date, Islam has been spreading in the West African region. Even western scholarship (1) has had to concede the fact that in course of these twelve centuries Islam had brought literacy, integrated various ethnic groups, boosted trade and commerce, built states of varying complexities and developed such centers of learning that produced scholars (2) of international repute. At the time of the European invasion in the late 19th and early 20th century it was Islam that put up the greatest resistance to imperialism and what remains of the indigenous features of the region owes more to Islam’s cultural and ideological resistance than to anything else.

Thus the history of West Africa is largely the history of Islam in West Africa. For not only did Islam launch the region into history but it directed and shaped events in the region since the last twelve centuries. And today t remains the only hope the for region against the onslaught of imperialism with its army of Christian missionaries, secular elites and the I.M.F’s and its multi-national fronts.

Of course Islam did not accomplish these achievements and attained position of prominence instantly. Rather, this was a very gradual, if persistent, process made up of distinct phases one leading inevitably to the other. Five such phases (3) are easily discernible:-

First Phase: This covers the period from the ninth to the thirteenth century. During this period Islam spread gradually and for the most part peacefully. The main agents of Islamisation during this period appear to be itinerant traders, a few scholars (mostly Berbers) and equally effective ardent indigenous converts. As the educational institutions had not then take concrete shape, systematic learning as such did not obtain on a general level. Indeed it was during this period the first Islamic State of Takrur was formed, it was during the same period the Al-Murabit movement emerged. But these were exceptions to the general role and the latter in particular points to the dearth of knowledge of Islam among the Muslims of the period for it was this dearth which primarily occasioned its emergence.

Second Phase: This covers the period from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth century. This is the phase in which the Muslim states of Mali and Songhay emerged and developed, Borno which had emerged much earlier reached maturation under Idris Aloma while many Hausa States notably Kano and Katsina became Islamized. More importantly this was the period during which educational centers developed and produced a multitude of indigenous scholars like Abdur-Rahman al-Sa’adi, Mahmud al-ka’ati, Ahmad Baba and his Shaykh Ahmad Baghouyogho, al-Barnawi, Muhammad al-kashnawi and a host of others. It was also the period when the region received visiting scholars such as Muhammad al-al-Maghīlī who were to sharpen the taste of scholarship and hasten the process of Islamisation.

Third Phase: This covers the period from the 17th century to eighteenth century. This was a phase which started with the Moroccan invasion of Songhay during which Timbuktu, which had become the intellectual center of the region, was sacked. The destruction of the state of Songhay and the sacking of Timbuktu with the consequent dispersal of scholars combined to rob the region its political stability and intellectual stamina. While the political vacuum plunged Hausa States into inter-state destructive warfare, the dearth of scholarship gave pagan beliefs a chance to resurface. Thus plunging the greater part of the region into ignorance, injustice and oppression often under the patronage of venal scholars (ulama al-su). These were the very conditions which occasioned the next phase.

Fourth Phase: This was the phase of the Jihad elements which though began in the 18th century (Karamako Alfa in Futa Toro 1720’s, Sulayman Ba’alin Futa Jallon 1170’s) were in the main concentrated in the 19th century. In fact a few skirmishes continued well unto the 20th century in the Sene-gambia region. This was a phase during which Muslim scholars took up their responsibly of education Muslims ad mobilizing them against the inequities, moral laxities and the excess of rulers (or more properly the oppressors) of their land.

The leading figures were Shaykh Dan Fodio in early 19th century Hausaland, Ahmad Labbo a little later in 1818 and Shaykh Umar al-Futi in mid 19th century Sene-gambia and Bambara region. In each case these Mujahiddeen established Islamic States which held their bounds until yet another invasions this time by European Imperialism. This invasion very much like the Moroccan one marked the beginning of another phase.

Fifth Phase: This was a phase which began in earnest at the beginning of this twentieth century to this day. It is a phase in which European imperialism, in their bid to control the human and material resource of the region, invaded and destroyed the politics in the region and instituted such arrangements as would ensure maximum plunder and exploitation of the material and human resource of the region. This was also a phase in which Islam became the target of a vicious and desperate attack by western imperialism and its agencies. The physical attack by the colonizing army was immediately followed with a psychological warfare. The sharia was replaced by English or French law and any demand for the Sharia was treated as a treasonable offense. The whole Government machinery was operated as if Muslims never existed at all. Educational institutions were opened with courses clearly designed to produce an army of secular elite eager to be employed to protect the status quo. The institutions of defense and security were designed to attack and the slightest move by Muslims to bring Islam again. Meanwhile the mass media is busy dissuading them from the idea of any Islam beyond the mosque and persuading them to give their total loyalty to a government which has blatantly refused them their freedom to live as Muslims all in the name of peace. With the glaring failure of these neocolonial Governments to deliver any goods even its greatest promise of material progress, the future of this arrangement is now being questioned. Islam is once again emerging as a viable alternative to take its rightful place in the scheme of things.

From the foregoing short and sketchy account three points become very clear. That Islam has immense capacity for integrating groups and building great and powerful states. Kanem-Bornu, Mansa Musa’s Mali, Askia’s Songhay, the Sokoto caliphate remain to be the most complex and powerful states that Africa has seen. Their territorial spread, political complexity and military power was unprecedented throughout Africa’s history. That Islam was able to sustain these development over such a long period of time, consistently maintaining its position of prominence points to Islam’s resourcefulness, and capacity to meet challenges. By reasserting itself once again after periods of lapse, Islam exhibits such resilience as not other system known to Mankind. This unique feature of Islam in particular has understandably been a great source of worry to its enemies, European Imperialism in particular.

Islam owes a lot of this power resourcefulness and resilience to knowledge. For Islam has placed its highest premium on knowledge. By making the search for knowledge an obligation on each of its adherents (male and female, young and old), by making the pursuit of knowledge as the most rewarding of endeavour and by making knowledge as the basis of both individual as well as collective action, Islam secured for itself the most formidable weapon humanity has ever known. Subsisting wholly on, anchored securely in scholarship Islam moved gradually but confidently and persistently, eroding the basis of local Jahiliyya and imparting its universal culture and establishing its own society which was always better than the one it found. Knowledge and scholarship, remained the life vein of this transformation.

But human being as indeed human society, is subject to lapses and often the pursuit of knowledge is slackened and scholarship falls to a level where society stagnates or even retrogresses. In such circumstances, the ultimate hope for the Muslim society is a process of rejuvenation which necessarily begins with a regeneration of knowledge and scholarship, the spread of this knowledge to the wider society and ends up with the application of such knowledge in society with all the transformation that has to go with it. This process of rejuvenation and revitalization of society is what in Islam in known as Tajdeed, and those that initiate this process or see it through to its logical conclusion are called Mujahiddun, (sing, Mujaddid). fully aware of human limitations and failure, Allah the Most High, out of His mercy for mankind, promised to raise individual (s) who will undertake the task of Tajdeed at the head of each century. As Abu Dawud narrated in an authentic hadith “From Abu Huraira, may Allah be pleased with him, the Prophet (S.A.W.) said: Verily Allah will raise for this Ummah at the head of every hundred years one (s) who will renew for her, her Deen (way of life).”

Muslim scholars have made extensive commentary on this Hadith in an effort to further clarify the text and expound on the concept of Tajdeed. Suyudi’s work (4) on Tajdeed, Al al-Maghīlī’s Ajwibat, (5) Bustani’s work (6) on the concept of Tajdeed provide a rich sources of such commentaries. We need not detain ourselves with such details here. For the purpose of this paper it may suffice us to note that many scholars have agreed that the Mujaddid need not be one given century. They could be, as indeed there were, several Majaddidun each undertaking Tajdeed in his own domain. there could even be more than one at a time for a given areas. One may even add that the reference to one hundred years not be literal. It may simply refer to such intervals as may be there between one Mujaddid to the other.

It is important to note that Tajdeed (renewing) of the Deen (way of life)’ of the Muslim Ummah is a technical expression connoting a total societal change. It is a profound and comprehensive change which seeks to return the Muslim society to its purity free from he decadence and lethargy that had crept in over a period of time. This change to be sure must necessarily start with pursuit and spread of knowledge which leads to the erosion of the intellectual and cultural basis of the decadent order and ultimately end up with a total societal change – a revolution

The Al-Murabit Factor

The history of Tajdeed in West Africa is nearly as old as the history of Islam itself. By the ninth century Islam had already reached the Sene-gambian region and Kanem on the he eastern edge of West Africa. By early 11th century the Islamic State of Tukrur had emerged. To the north of Tukrur were the Sanhaja Berbers who must have been Islamized much earlier than Tukrur. But by 1030’s their level of ignorance and lack of compliance with Islam was such as to warrant their leader Yahya b. Ibrahim al-Guladi on his way back from Hajj, to request Shaykh Abu Imran al-Fasi at Qayrawan to assign for him a teacher from the latter’s students to return with him and instruct his people. The responsibility of undertaking this task of instructing the Sanhaja fell on Abdullahi B. Yasin. (7) Ibn Abi Zar’s account may be worth recounting:

“When he (Abd Allah b. Yasin) arrived with Yahya b. Ibrahim in the land Sanhaja … he began to teach them religion and to explain the Law and the Sunnah to them, to command them to do good and to forbid them to do evil.

When they saw that he was intent on making them abandon their wicked ways they shook him off turned away from him, and shunned him, for they found his actions burdensome … When Abd Allah b. Yasin saw their opposition and the way in which they followed their fancies he wished to leave them and go to the land of the Sudan who had adopted Islam … but Yahya b. Ibrahim would not let him, saying: “I shall not let you go away for I brought you here only that your learning might profit my person, my religion, and those of my people for whom I am responsible …” (8)

Yahya b. Ibrahim was able to convince Abd Allah b. Yasin to leave for an island in the sea, a kind of Hijra, where he made a ribat teaching his students Qur’an among others. The number of his students grew until he was in a position to return to the Sanhaja fighting those who remain adamant and refuse to mend their corrupt way of life. From here Abd Allah Yasin appointed Yahya b. Umar as a Military commander and with their expanding team of students (murabitun) they conquered the Magrib as far as Spain.

It is significant that Abd Allah b. Yasin had to make a kind of Hijra during which he devoted time for the study of the Qur’an. This is not only a reflection of selflessness but much more. It is also significant that he was rigorous to a point where his very mission became threatened.

This thoroughness of Abd Allah b. Yasin which became hallmark of the al-murabit appear to have been the influence of their grand Shaykh, al-Fasi. For it was the latter’s strictness which apparently led him to fall out with the rulers of Fez of his time warranting his leaving Fez for Qayrawan where he settled and taught until his death.

The extent of al-Murabit’s effect on the development of Islam in western Sudan is still to be assessed. But it was clear that some of the Berber tribes which participated in the al-Murabit movement moved south and settled around the bank of the Niger River which al-Bakri the historian mistook for the Nile. (9) It appears that it was these elements that formed the nucleus of the school of the region. Diakha and Jenne the earliest educational centers which later fed Timbuktu appear to have developed under scholars with al-Murabit links. Timbuktu itself started as a camp for a Sanhaja tribe which made up the al-murabit movement. (10) The Nasiba of the leading scholarly family of Ahmad aba of Timbuktu the Aqits, has been traced back to Abubakar b. Umar the brother of Yahya b. Umar the Military Commander of al-Murabit. (11) This point is further reinforced by the fact that the leading texts studied at the educational institutions of the region, like al-shifa, of Qadi Iyad, Mudawana of Sahnun, Risala of Abu Zaid al-Qayrawani, etc. are mainly the writings of the North African and Andalusian (Spanish) scholars.

The point that is being made here is that the al-murabit made the first attempt at Tajdeed in the region. This attempt had generated a spate of scholarship which formed the nucleus of the educational centers in the region of West Africa. This scholarship appear to have set the tempo of and continued to influence the intellectual climate for along time leaving a permanent stamp on the he intellectual tradition in the region. This intellectual tradition produced chain of scholars for the region, through whose activity knowledge and scholarship spread far and wide in the vast region.

The Al Maghīlī Factor

The next significant input into the tradition of Tajdeed in West Africa seems to be that of Muhammad Abd al-Karim al-al-Maghīlī the visiting scholar who came to the region late in the 15th century, when Muslims were yet to recover from their expulsion from Andalusia, al-Maghīlī spent a good part of his life defending the integrity of the Muslim Ummah and the supremacy of the Sharia. He had to fight fierce intellectual and later physical battle again unjust and corrupt Muslim leaders, their venal scholars and the Jews who had monopolized the economy and had begun to flout the Sharia with impunity. It was in the midst of this struggle and in the spirit of revitalizing the Muslim Ummah al-al-Maghīlī left Tuwat in North Africa for West Africa. His zeal for the total and correct application of the Sharia and his impatience with unjust and venal scholars is thus understandable.

Al-al-Maghīlī’s presence in West Africa seemed to have come at an opportuned time when sufficient awareness of Islam has been generated in the region to make rulers ready and willing to apply Islam. Coming from North Africa, whence most of the basic Islamic literature in West Africa came, operating within the same Maliki Mazhab al-al-Maghīlī found himself intellectually at home in the region. Thus almost where ever he went, Air, Katsina, Kano, Gao, he was highly welcomed and immediately involved int he process of the application of Islam. A great teacher in Takedda, in Air; Qadi in Katsina for many years; a legal and political adviser in Kano where he wrote for Sarki Muhammad Rumfa, Taj al-Din fi ma yajib ala’l muluk; in Gao, Songhay, the ideologue and architect of the State of Songhay under Askia Muhammad; al-al-Maghīlī succeeded in injecting a new drive into intellectual tradition and invigorated the social and political clime of the whole region.

Al-al-Maghīlī’s celebrated success in the region in as much a product of his zeal and vigor as the tradition of scholarship in the region which had always an inclination for thoroughness and precision. Indeed the presence of al-al-Maghīlī only gave a further push and reinforcement to a feature which scholarship in the region had been known to posses from the time of al-Murabit. Al-al-Maghīlī’s experience in North Africa had, however something new and precious to add to this tradition. Al-al-Maghīlī’s encounter with corrupt Muslim rulers and Ulama al-Su’, venal scholars who he sometimes calls ru’asa-ul-zalimin, the chief oppressor, (12) helped sharpened the regions taste for leadership and scholarship and developed for it a standard with which to gauge the scholars and rulers of the region. Thus the intellectual tradition was given new challenges to meet and the society taste to be satisfied.

Al-al-Maghīlī was of course not the only scholar of repute who had access to the region in the late 15th century. His contemporary Jalaluddeen al-Suyuti of Egypt was well known in the region. Many of Suyuti’s books were circulating in the region, many of the pilgrims from the region who go through Egypt met Suyuti (13) and many have sought for his legal opinion (fatwa) on maters. (14) But speaking from the the comfort of his late Mamluk Egypt, free from the kind of conflict al-al-Maghīlī lived with in North Africa, Suyutis’ writings though generally useful may have sounded a little milder than their situation demanded. In any case Suyuti did not have the benefit or being in the region to appreciate the region’s real needs and circumstances. For Askia Muhammad who had met both Suyuti in Egypt and al-al-Maghīlī at home in Songhay found in the latter the vigor and thoroughness he needed.

This impetus which the intellectual tradition as well as the social and political climate received from al-al-Maghīlī was what generated a spate of scholarship which produced such scholars of high learning and virtue like Muhammad Baghaygho, whose student Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu considered a Mujaddid. Though this delicate process was jeopardized by the Moroccan invasion of Songhay at the end of the 16th century, the vital ideas it had generated were kept alive by such scholars as al-Barnawi (15) of Katsina. It were these scholars who bore with courage the risks of preserving these ideas and conveying it to the leaders of the Tajdeed movements of the 19th century. One needs to see Ida’al-Nusukh of Abdullah Dan Fodio, Infaq – al-maysur of Muhammad Bello and such works of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio as Kitab al-Farq to see the role these scholars played in providing this link. (16) Indeed many of the writings of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, like Hisn al-Afham, Bayan Wujub al-Hijra, Siraj al-Ikhwan, reveal the extent of al-al-Maghīlī’s influence on the Shehu. Even the temperaments of of Shehu Usman and his team, Ahmad Labbo and Umar al-Futi clearly bore the thoroughness and conscientiousness of the al-Murabit and al-al-Maghīlī.

The Tajdeed Movements of the 19th Century

Sequel to the Moroccan invasion of Songhay in 1591, the region lost not only its source of inspiration but also the restraining force of Songhay whose political influence had reached as far as Sene-gambia to the west and Hausaland to the east. With the scholars of Timbuktu scattered, some like Ahmad Baba taken in chains to Morocco, the intellectual stamina of the region became weak and the tempo of scholarship went down, to pick up only later on the eve of the Jihads. Matters were made worse by the political vacuum which the demise of Songhay created. The weakness of Borno at that time did not help the situation. Lacking in any regional power strong enough to check the excess of other states, the region slipped back into interstate warfare with its effect on security, commerce and learning. The resulting chaotic and desperate situation gave a receding paganism a chance to resurface leading to syncretism, decadence, heavy taxation and other forms of oppression b rulers.

The ideas of Tajdeed that were preserved amidst the corruption and injustices of the 17th and 18th centuries were eventually to find their way to their deserving heirs. Rather suddenly, for the whole of the 19th century, the region was seized by series of revolutions that were to totally change it complexion. Syncretism along with the decadence and injustice it fostered was terminated, Islamic states were re-established, learning and commerce went unhampered under the peace and security the new arrangement brought. To be sure these revolutions started even before the 19th century, and were to continue until the first two decades or so of this century. There was al-Karamako Alfa Ibrahim b. Nuhu in Futa Jallon as early as 1725, there was Sulayman Baal in Senegal valley in 1775, and Ahmad Bamba d. 1927 in Sene-gambian region among many others. (17) Restricted by a number of factors these Jihads were of limited scale, their effects largely limited to their locality. For our purpose we only wish to consider the three major ones: Usman Dan Fodio in Hausaland, Ahmad Labbo in Masina and Umar al-Futi in Sene-gambia. What we are primarily interested here is such outline as will allow us to discern the pattern of these Tajdeed movements.

Shehu Usman Dan Fodio

Moved by the level of ignorance among people the Shehu, as early as 1774, then at the age of 20, embarked on teaching people the basics of Islam. He quite naturally started single handedly around his home town Degel in the Hausa State of Gobir, but was soon to be assisted by his brother Abdullahi 12 year his junior. As they began to expand their teaching programs to different parts of Gobir and beyond into other Hausa States like Zamfara they were joined by another hand who though much younger was crucial tot he success of the venture. This was Shehu Usman’s son Muhammad Bello. The three put together formed the triumvirate that led this movement, intellectually and politically, saw it through to its logical conclusion and even had the rare opportunity of translating into practice the ideas they spent the whole of their lives fighting for.

While the triumvirate were undertaking the painstaking task of educating the general public of Hausaland, which they saw as their primary assignment, they were also learning from as many Shaykhs as were around and reading as many books as were available. That Abdullah could not remember all those Shaykhs form whom they took knowledge, (18) that Muhammad Bello alone read about 20,000 books, (19) not to mention the grand Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio, may give one a glimpse to their level of scholarship. “The breadth of their knowledge of Arabic writings” writes Professor Abdullahi Smith “Is particularly remarkable when it is realized that none of them eve visited North Africa or the Middle East.” “This learning of the leaders” continued Smith:

“Showed itself in their writings which were voluminous. The astonishing total of 258 books and pamphlets is at present provisionally attributed to the triumvirate, and this is probably not a complete list. These writings cover a very wide range of subjects including all the classical Islamic Sciences, as well as history, mysticism and medicine … This literary output is particularly noteworthy when it is remembered that a large number of these books were written in the midst of active campaigning, and that they do not include official correspondence which the leaders (especially Muhammad Bello) had to keep up with their supporters in the field.” (20)

For nearly 20 years the triumvirate and the expanding team of disciples and students traveled the length and breadth of Hausaland, teaching the basics of Islam raising yet more students and following. Wherever they went and whenever they moved, they left behind one of their students to continue what they started. Through this unassuming process, knowledge spread far and wide and the Shaykh raised followers among men and women, young and old, all over Hausaland and beyond in Borno and Masina.

For the next 10 years the Shaykh and his team were to return to his home town Degel to settle for more teaching and writing to meet the foreseeable needs of his community, the jama’a. This provided the Shaykh with the opportunity to develop his spiritual potentials through Tasawwuf, produce and mould scholars of higher learning and discipline from amongst his students both men and women. But this opportunity did not last as long as the Shaykh had apparently wanted. For his expanding community, having acquired sufficient knowledge of Islam to raise their level of perception and consciousness, were becoming impatient with the excesses of the pagan Hausa rulers. The more they learnt the more they realized the obligation they owe to their Lord Allah, the Most High, to command the right and forbid the wrong (Amr bil Ma’aruf wal Nahyi anil Munkar) in the face of the corruption, tyranny and oppression rampant in the Hausland.

It was however neither the Jama’a Nor the Shaykh that was to start the confrontation. It was the Hausa rulers, especially of Gobir, whose power based had been drastically narrowed by the ever increasing following of the Shaykh. In a desperate and frantic move to save their dwindling authority, they resorted to attacking the Jama’a. Even then the Shaykh wanted more time, for rather than retaliation he ordered a Hijra from Gobir in 1804. But the Gobir rulers would not leave the jama’a a and the he latter had to defend itself. Thus in the same year (1804), the jama’a, few, impoverished and scattered all over Hausaland, started fighting, under the leadership of the Shaykh, against the corrupt and tyrannical Hausa rulers, along with those venal scholars (Ulama al-Su’) who had always given support to corruption and opposed the jama’a.

The fighting could not have come as a surprise to Shehu or his Jama’a. Shehu’s perceptive mind had long foreseen this eventuality and has apparently prepared the Jama’a for it. His teachings and writings were designed to match the needs and level of development of the Jama’a. Initially it was the basics of Islam and gradually the obligations of Amr bil Ma’aruf wal Nahy anil Munkar and how it should be carried out was expounded. At the onset of the confrontation, the obligation from the Hijra, the basis and rules of the Jihad were clearly explained in a wisely circulated document Wathiqat ahl al-Sudan which Bivar calls the manifesto of the Jihad. (21) It was only during the Jihad and of course after that books dealing with the details of t he Islamic order to be established were written.

It is significant that in the 27 points the Shehu raised in the Wathiqat, the first three were:

“(i) That the commanding of what is right (Amr bil Ma’aruf) is obligatory by Ijma’ (consensus of scholars).

(ii) The prohibition of what is wrong (or evil) (Nahy anil Munkar) al obligatory by Ijma’

(iii) That Hijra (flight) form the land of unbelief is obligatory by Ijma’.”

The Jama’a were thus to fight in order to remove injustice and corruption and establish justice and righteousness in society. The Hijra was a necessary step in this direction. The Jama’a, true to their training, complied.

By 1810 the better part of Hausaland had fallen to the Jama’a, the Jihad was in the he main over, except for skirmishes in Borno, leaving the Jama’a the task of translating their ideals into practice. (22) This tremendous success did not however mean the task was over. In fact it looked like it had just began for it sparked off a spate of writing on the details of the socio-economic, legal and political order that was to be operated in the new dispensation. In fact the Shaykh found it necessary to devote the rest of his time to laying the intellectual foundations of the new State leaving the routine administration to his two able assistance, Shaykh Abdullah and Muhammad Bello.

It was the activities of this small band of itinerant scholars whose primary objective was to simply teach Islam, which silently but effectively eroded the moral and cultural foundations of the decadent society and mobilized the Muslims towards the renewal, Tajdeed, of their society. In due course the small band of scholars were to find themselves at the head of a growing party of believers which inevitably had to confront the party of unbelief and corruption with the ever recurring result of victory. Thus the Jama’a were able to pull their society cut of the decadence and corruption it had drifted into and place it back on the he path of purity and progress. (23) It was this success which triggered off a wave of change which was to cleanse the whole region of decadence, corruption and unbelief and restore to Islam its position of prominence. Talking about “the repercussions which the movement had in West Africa” Abdullahi Smith noted how it occasioned the emergence of Shehu Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi who was to revitalize Borno and shook the Oyo empire to its roots. “Perhaps most important of all under this head, however,” observes Smith “was the influence which the Sokoto leaders exerted on later Jihad movements in other part of the Sudan.” (24).

Ahmadu Labbo

Ahmad’s Macina in the pagan Bambara State of Segu was just next door to Hausaland and the conditions in the 18th century appear to be more or less the same as in Hausaland. Though he was in contact with scholars of Jenne, an old center of learning, and Shaykh Mukhtar al-Kunti the Qadiri Shaykh of the region, (25) he was clearly part of that expanding team of Shehu’s students, many of whom like Ahmad did not have the privilege of meeting him. Though Ahmad did not meet his Shaykh he appears to have been in constant contact with him, receiving his books and seeking his opinion and advice.

Due to the dearth of written records, especially when compared with the Sokoto Jihad, details of Ahmad Labbo’s programme is not as yet very clear. He was known to be a scholar who, in the tradition of his days, was teaching and learning at one and the same time. He seemed to have relied heavily on the literature produced by the Sokoto triumvirates in addition to the standard texts and such famous works as the Fatawi of AL-al-Maghīlī. It was clear that in course of his teaching and inspired by the spirit of Tajdeed his growing team of students became conscious of their responsibility to uproot corruption which was rampant and establish justice. It was this new consciousness generated by his teachings that apparently led him into conflict with some Ulama at Jenne who like all venal scholars (Ulama al-Su’) where finding excuses for the decadent order and delaying the process of change, He must have been referring to some of the practices condoned by the Ulama when he wrote in his only book al-idtirar illa Allah ‘”when I saw their satanic innovations in which they were so steeped as to take them for orthodox …” (26) It was to Sokoto he turned for moral and intellectual support in his fight against the Ulama al-Su’. As Brown noted:

“As early as 1815 – 16 A.D. there is evidence of his effort t to build a case against the Ulama of Jenne and other Muslims who followed similar practices. In his correspondence with Amir Abdullah b. Fudi of Gwandu in 1231 H. (1815-6) he sought clear legal (and moral) support for his criticism and received it.” (27)

As in Hausaland it was the excesses of the ruling Ardos of Bambara Sate which provoked the sense of Amr bil Ma’aruf wal Nahy anil Munkar of his Jama’a. The latter’s response to one of the numerous incidences of injustice was what sparked off the confrontation between his Jama’a and the Bambara establishment. In keeping with the tradition Seku Ahmadu as he is often known, declared the Hijra and sent some of his studetns to Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, in his dying year (1817) to receive permission to carry out the Jihad. The permission came in a form of a Flag (28) and the Jihad broke out. By 1818 the pagan establishment was overthrown and Islamic administration made up of five emirates was established and new capital, Hamdullahi was founded. (29)

The Caliphate of Macina had to rely on the literature of the Sokoto Caliphate, Ihya al-Sunnah of Shehu Usman, for example, was reported to have been adopted a s code of conduct for the State. (30) This nearly total reliance seemed to have been necessitated by the absence of local literature, which would have undoubtedly been for more relevant in dealing with the local day to day problems. Seku Ahmadu’s apparent paucity of knowledge, having written only one book, has often been identified, as the scholarship in the Bambara State compared to Hausland and Songhay had been generally low (31) and Seku Ahmadu way well be one of the most learned of his days. In any case he was the best for he took up the challenge and led a process of Tajdeed which rid his society of the corruptionand injustices of the pagan Bambara, converted many to Islam and established in Islamic State. Seku Ahmadu himself died in 1843 and the caliphate lasted up to 1862 when it was taken over by the third major wave of Tajdeed led by Hajj Umar al-Futi.

Hajj Umar Al Fūtī

The earl 19th century Futa Toro where Umar spent his childhood was very much like the greater part of West Africa – weak and decadent Muslim societies under pagan or nominal Muslim rulers. There was the strong pagan state of Bambara to the west which Ahmad Labbo’s Jihad did not dislodge. There were European, mainly French, commercial presence at the coasts serving the twin purpose of trade and reconnaissance. In spite of all these however, the Islamic educational institutions were there to offer their services; services which were to prove consequential to the region. For Umar in particular the traditional education seemed to have only roused in him such thirst for knowledge that it could not quench. In about 1825 he left the region for Hajj.

At Sokoto, on his way to Hajj, Umar spent a few months, which apparently convinced him to return and stay for a longer time after his Hajj. During his Hajj Umar got in contact with the head of the Tijjaniyya Tariqa who initiated him into the order and appointed him his representative for the whole of the western Sudan. Umar returned to Sokoto about 1826 where he stayed until the death of his host and mentor, Muhammad Bello in 1837. During these 12 years Umar became literally integrated into the Sokoto Caliphate, teaching, learning and writing and even taking part in campaigns. He thus drunk from the Sokoto intellectual stream and shared the practical experience of establishing and running an Islamic Sate. He also married Muhammad Bello’s daughter who bore him Habibu who commanded for him at Dinguiray and by another wife given him in Sokoto he had Ahmadu who succeeded him as Amir al-Muminin. (32) In about 1838 he left Sokoto along with his family and a couple of disciples, among them Hausas, passing through Macina and by 1839 settled in Futa Jallon.

In the spirit of a Sokoto tradition, which he had become part of, Umar immediately started raising students, talaba albeit in his own unique manner. For him Sufi discipline under the Tijjaniyya order was essential. It was also necessary for the talaba to learn skills not only to be self-reliant but more importantly to raise the funds to purchase arms and provision for the impending Jihad. Like his Sokoto mentors his engagement with organization and mobilization of talaba did not bar him from writing. In 1845 he wrote his famous Rimah hizb al-Rahim ala Nuhur hizb al-rajim (The lances of the Party of God Against the Throats of the Party of Evil). Most of his writings were designed to mobilize his talaba, rally them around the duty of Amr bil Ma’aruf wal Nahy anil Munkar and prepare them spiritually for the confrontation with the forces of evil. In 1849, he made his Hijra from Diagouku to Dinguiray, along with his talaba, apparently prepared for the inevitable confrontation.

As in Sokoto and Macina, it was the forces of unbelief who first attacked Hajj Umar and his talaba. In 1852 the pagan Mandinka Chieftain of Tamba dispatch an army to destroy the new base of the Muslim community. Hajj Umar and his talaba routed the pagan army and their King along with many of his people converted to Islam. Having started the Jihad in earnest, Hajj Umar attacked and conquered the pagan state of Bambara and later Ka’arta in 1855. Alarmed by the growing power of the Islamic forces the French organised a boycott against Hajj Umar. The latter took his time and later attacked the French strong hold of Medine in 1857. Though Hajj Umar could not dislodge the French and many of his talaba martyred, he however “had made his point: imperialism is an enemy, to be fought at what ever cost.” (33) Hajj Umar never gave up for he continued to organize an effective ideological campaign against the French. Hajj Umar then came to the State of Macina which he took over from the heirs of Ahmad Labbo in 1862. He himself died in 1864 and was succeeded by his son Ahmad.

Though the French colonial army which invaded the area barely two decades after the death of Hajj Umar, did not allow the State he founded to last long, Umar had already brought such changes that were to be of lasting benefits to the region. Being the first to challenge European imperialism in the region, he founded a tradition which was to spur a series of Jihads against European imperialism – Muhammadu Lamin, Maba Diakhou, Samori Toure, Ahmad Bamba, et all were all extension of Hajj Umar’s movement. These Jihads were to pave the way for further Islamisation of the region and to reinforce Muslim’s resolve to fight European imperialism and all other forms of injustices. This resolved to fight having been entrenched into the intellectual tradition of the region will continue to provide a firm base for the next wave of Tajdeed in the region.

The Pattern

The Jihads of the 19th century were essentially a phase in process of Tajdeed. It perhaps need to be stressed that the fight was not against peoples or states but against impiety, corruption and injustices which these people or states symbolized. The fight with the forces of evil was necessary if justice was to be established. But sine justice cannot be established by simply winning a battle, this battle must necessarily be preceded and followed by a programme of education which will raise the social consciousness of society infusing in it the aversion for corruption and injustice, and desire for righteousness and justice and the readiness to make the necessary sacrifices to attain it. For Tajdeed as Ibrahim Sulaiman has observed “does not imply merely the overthrow of a political power in the name of Islam; it is rather the all-rounded improvement of man – his belief, his world-view, and more importantly, his character…” (34) Indeed as Murray Last has rightly noted “The war itself was an extension of intensive preaching, once the war was over, the teaching had to continue as strongly as before not least since ideas are apt to be among he casualties of victory.” (35) This has been the pattern of Tajdeed throughout West Africa from the al-Murabit down to Hajj Umar and beyond. This patter, if details be permitted, seemed to be made up of four distinct phases:

1. Education:- This represents the first phase for it is the bedrock of Tajdeed. It is through basic education that the individual Muslim becomes prepared to play his role as a Muslim, ready to submit to the laws and regulations of Islam. In course of time education sharpens Muslim consciousness until he comes to appreciate his duty of Amr bil ma’aruf wal Nahy anil Munkar. At this point he automatically becomes a defender of the truth, guardian of justice and an enemy of evil and corruption. He thus becomes a willing soldier in the fight against munkar.

2. Mobilization:- Once education has done its part the leadership finds it easy to rally Muslims around Amr bil ma’aruf wal Nahy anil Munkar and direct their new energy in they direction of change. the greatest difficulty at this stage is not to make Jama’a fight but to restrain them until it was time to fight and to do so according to the rules stipulated by the Sharia.

3. Jihad:- Though the forces of ma’aruf are aware that they have to fight the forces of munkar if truth and justice is to be established in society, it is almost always the forces of munkar that start the battle. This is understandable for the forces of munkar, fully aware of their falsehood and corruption began to feel insecure as soon as the forces of ma’aruf dawn on the horizon. Filled with guilt, perturbed by insecurity, the forces of munkar make the mistake of firing the first bullet. Many times the forces of munkar have been proved wrong and man times they have repeated the same mistake. Indeed they are, in the eternal words of the Qur’an QAUMUN LA YAFQAHUN.

4. Victory:- For the process of Tajdeed, once started there is no failure. When and how the victory comes is not the making nor even the concern of the forces of ma’aruf, this is Allah’s prerogative. The forces of ma’aruf continue to perform their obligation and when victory comes they become even more obliged to implement the justice as demanded by Islam. Of course the extent they achieve it tends to vary according to circumstances.

Of the four phases, the phase of education appears to be the most crucial not only because it is the starting point but also because all other phases rely entirely on it. In Hausaland where this phase was longest really thirty 30 years, the process of Tajdeed was far more thorough and had a more lasting effect It was thus able to occasion and influence other waves of Tajdeed in the region. What remains to be discussed now is the source of strength to this invincible process – Tajdeed.

The Backbone

The resilience of Islam and the invincibility of the process of Tajdeed has been a source of great worry for and a subject of unending research by the forces of evil and corruption, European imperialism in particular. For the Muslims this blessing is nothing but a manifestation of mercy from their Lord. We may still however identify some of the elements that form the backbone of Tajdeed, giving it its strength and protecting it from corruption. Three of these ready come to mind and may deserve a paragraph each.

1. The Qur’an: The Qur’an representing the message that the Lord of the Universe sent to mankind, forms the greatest treasure not only for Muslims but the whole of mankind if only they knew. The Qur’an essentially informs man his origin, purpose and destiny, in very clear and absolute terms. It thus moulds the world view of the Muslims and removes ambiguities in his role on this Earth. Reading it constantly sharpens the Muslims’ sense of mission and propels him into action for he comes to realise the real life is that of al-jannah which can only be secured by serving the cause of justice, the cause of Islam.

2. Tasawwuf: Sufism, as it is sometimes called, is essentially a process of discipline which seeks to refine the individuals character ridding him of such constraints and weakness as will curtail him from serving the cause of his Lord, for which he has been created. It is significant to note that all the majaddidun that the region of West Africa has seen have gone through the discipline of Tasawwuf, and there is every reason to believe that had they not been so trained, the story in this paper would have been different. It was Tasawwuf which tamed their character cleansed them of greed for material wealth and the fear of any other than their Lord. Content which their austere life, fired by the fear of their Lord these Mujaddidun and their followers were able to carry the process of Tajdeed through the numerous obstacles they had to surmount.

3. Hijra: It is also significant that each and every of the Mujaddidun had to undertake the Hijra often on the eve of the Jihad. It is also significant that some of them like Hajj Umar kept stressing it throughout his Jihad. Hijra, to be sure, is not simply the movement from one place to another for the purpose of defense. More than that Hijra represents a break with a home, possession, etc. for the purpose of preserving Islam. In other words the Muslim who makes Hijra, al-Muharjir, has placed Islam above home, land, possession and even relatives. the concept of Hijra insists that Muslims attachment is with Islam not land, property or people , and anytime Islam demands his break with this, he should be willing and ready, only then is he a true Muslim. It is this perception which made Muslims in West Africa like their brothers and sisters much earlier in Makka, to leave their homes and possessions and come together to fight for the establishment of truth and justice.

Lest we forget, the intellectual tradition West Africa has preserved for us these three elements of Qur’an, Tasawwuf and Hijra in the young Qur’anic school students, aptly called al-Muhajir (in Hausa almajirai). In this almajirai we find the significance of the Qur’an which is their main subject of study; we also see vividly the austere life fostered by a contentment derived the discipline of Tasawwfu; and of course by deliberately leaving their homes to join a Malam who may himself itinerant they demonstrate their attachment to Islam. Their recent attack and murder in Kafanchan, Nigeria, may well mean that the forces of Kufr have began to realise what these innocent souls mean to the process of Tajdeed.


This paper has attempted the impossible task of reviewing the whole of the 12 centuries of Islam in West Africa. The idea of this tour d’horizon was to see if we can discern the pattern of Tajdeed during the period and identify some of its elements. What we have so far been able to find can be condensed into three points.

1. The tradition of Tajdeed in West Africa bears the stamp of al-murabit, later to be reinforced by al-al-Maghīlī, both coming from a background of struggle for the supremacy of Islam, they conferred on this tradition a taste for thoroughness and perfection that distinguished it from traditions in other parts of the Muslim world.

2. The Tajdeed in West Africa follows a pattern that seem to be made up of four phases, one inevitably leading to the other. It always starts wtih the phase of Education which is followed by Mobilization. The latter leads to Jihad which is followed by Victory. The longer the educational phase the more thorough the process and the longer the benefits last.

3.The Qur’an, Tasawwuf and Hijra have been identified as the major elements which constitute the backbone of the process of Tajdeed in West Africa. That these elements as symbolized by the almajirai are already under attack may suggest the beginning of another wave of the process of Tajdeed. Perhaps, like the Sokoto wave before it, this may also cleanse the whole region of the forces of unbelief and corruption now thriving under the patronage of imperialism.

USMAN M. BUGAJE (23 June 1987)


1.The West African Region had alwasy its historians born of its own educational institutions nurtured in its own traditionof Scholarship people like al-Sa’adi, al-Ka’ati, Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu, Ahmad bin Fartuwa, Abdullah Dan Fodio, Muhammad Bello, Abdul-Qadir bn. Mustapha, and in our days Wazir Junaid. Sequel to European imperalism, western scholarship was developed essentially as a back up support and propaganda machinery for western imperialism. While many western scholars and their local pupils like Rev. Father Trimingham, Levtzio, Hiskett, remain unrepentant otheres like Murry Last and John Hunwick have conceded to Islam its place in West Africa.

2. See Abdullah Dan Fodio,’ida al-Nusukh; J.O. Hunwick The Influence of Arabic in West Africa in Transactions of the Historical society of Ghana Vol, vii 1964; Ahmad Kani’s ‘The Rise and Influence of Scholars in Hausaland before 1804’ an unpublished paper, Wilks ‘The Trasnmission of Islamic Learning in the Western Sudan’ in J. Goody (ed.) Literacy in Traditional Societies London, C.U.P 1968; Also J.O. Hunwick, ‘Salih al-Fulani (1752/3 – 1809) the Career and Teachings of West African Alim in Medina’ unpublished paper, Sa’ad Timbuktu. Cambridge C.U.P. 1983.

3. SeeDr Omar Jah. ‘Sufism and Nineteen Century Jihad Movements in the Western Sudan: A case Study of al-hajj Usman al-Futi’s Philosophy of Jihad and its Sufi Bases.’ Unpublished Ph.D. Theses 1973.

4. See Suyuti Jalal al-Din, ‘Tajdid,’ Manuscript in author’s possession.

5. al-al-Maghīlī, ‘Ajwiba,’ ed. and trans. hunwick, J.O. , in Sharia’ah in Songhai, Oxford, 1985

6.Sa’id, Muh. Bustaini, Mafhum tajdid al-Din, Kuwait: Dar al-Da’wah, 1984

7. See al-Bakri in Hopkins (trans.), Hopkins and Levtzion (eds.) Corpuse of Early Arabic Sources for West African History. P. 71

8. Ibn Abi Zar in Ibid, p. 240

9. See al-Bakri in Ibid, p. 84

10. See Hunwick, J.O. Sharia in Songhai, Op. cit., p. 15

11. See Abubakar al-Bartili ‘Fathi Shukr fi Ta’arif A’ayan Ulama’ alTakrur

12. See Gwarzo, H.I., ‘The Life and Teachings of al-al-Maghīlī with Particular Reference to the Saharan Jewish Community.’ Ph.D Thesis Univ. London, 1972 p. 86

13. Kani, A. ‘The Rise of Scholars in Hausaland Before 1804’

14. See Hunwick, J.O., ‘Notes on a Late 15th century Document Concerning ‘al-Takrur’, in African Perspectives ed. c. Allen and R.W. Johnson, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1966, pp. 269-317.

15. See Kani, A. The Intellectual Origin of the Sokoto Jihad, Ibadan, 1405 A.H., p. 20

16. Hiskett, M., ‘An Islamic Tadition of ReforM in the Western Sudan from the 16th – 18th century,’ in B.S.O.A.S. XXV, Part 3, 1962, P.591

17. Smith, Abdullahi, A Little New Light, Zaria. Abdullahi smith Centre for Historical Research, 1987, p. 134.

18. Abd ‘Allah b. Muhammad, ‘Ida al-Nusukh

19. Muhammad Bello, Infaq al-Maysur

20. Smith, A., A Little New Light, Op. cit, p. 136

21. Bivar, A.D.H., ‘The Wathiqat ahl al-Sudan: A Manifesto of the Fulani Jihad,’ J.A.H. II, (1961), p. 239.

22. For details see Sulaiman, Ibrahim, Islamic State and the Challenge of History, London: Mansell, 1987

23. Smith, A., A Little New Light, Op. cit., 138

24. Smith, A., A Little New Light, Op. cit., P. 138

25. Ibid., P. 139

26. Quoted in Brown, W.A., ‘The Caliphate of Hamdullahi,’ Unpublished Ph.D Thesis, Wisconsin, 1969, p. 27. [1]Ibid., . 20

28. Ibid., p. 17

29. Smith, A. A Little New Light, Op. cit. ., p. 138

30. Sulaiaman, I. ‘Tajdeed in West Africa.’ Unpublished article

31. Brown, W.A., ‘The Caliphate of Hmdullahi,’ op. cit., p. 104

32. Smith, A. A Little New Light, Op. cit., p. 140

33. Jah, Umar, ‘Sufism and Nineteenth Century Jihad Movements’ Op. cit.

34. Sulaiman, I., ‘Tajdid in West Africa’, Op. cit.

35. Ibid.

Building the Community Chapter 4 From the Book titled: The African Caliphate: The Life, Work and Teachings of Shaykh Usman dan Fodio

by Ibraheem Sulaiman




Building the Community

Having seen the sort of intellectual and spiritual training given to those men and women who clustered around the Shehu, we shall now look at the shaping of the nucleus of the Shehu’s followers in the emerging new order – the Jama‘a. Here we shall be concentrating on three areas as the basis of their identity and solidarity: the molding of the character, the building of the communal spirit and the development of a “new culture”.

For any movement with the goal of bringing about a society superior to the one it abhors and is challenging, the test of its sincerity lies in its ability to develop individuals who are the very embodiment of its message and vision. No movement can be taken seriously if the character and behavior of the core members do not set them clearly above others. That was precisely the challenge before the Shehu. His responsibility was not only to preach the truth and attack evil but also, and more fundamentally, to produce men and women who believed in that truth and whose general disposition was a clear testimony to their faith in it.

Moral Ideals

Our concern now is to look at those qualities which the movement regarded as being vital for its members– especially those involved in the dissemination of its message – to acquire and practice in everyday life. There is nothing new in these qualities, for they were derived from the teachings and practice of the Prophet @, his Companions % and the early generations of Islam. They were, however, new to Hausaland where they had been all but abandoned and where, if they were still regarded as ideals at all, they were certainly not translated into action or expressed socially.

The most important work for the understanding of the moral training of Shehu’s lieutenants and students is his Ṭarīq al-Jannah but the moral ideals imparted in those men and women were best articulated by Muhammad Bello in Ṭā‘āt al-Khallāq bi-Makārīm al-Akhlāq. Other sources are ‘Abdullahi’s Sabīl an-Najāt and Minan al-Minan and Bello’s Jalā’ aṣ-Ṣuḍūr.


The first and perhaps the most important of the qualities the movement considered vital for every person in the forefront of the struggle was knowledge (‘ilm). This involved the learning of those aspects necessary for the realization of the objectives of tajdīd, including the understanding of the Qur’an, Sunnah, uṣūl, fiqh and taṣawwuf, the acquisition of the necessary skills in such sciences as medicine, and a full understanding of the means and method of government and administration.

Since knowledge was conceived as an instrument of tajdīd, a considerable stress was laid on its application in everyday life. Knowledge which was not put to use was not considered relevant. Thus, while ‘Abdullahi in Minan stressed that knowledge was the “root of our work, to the extent that the work we do in ignorance is of no merit,” he added that acquired knowledge must produce its results in practical life, otherwise it is meaningless. And Bello, in Jalā’, after quoting the ḥadīths of the Prophet @: “Woe to the one who does not learn!” and “Woe to the learned who does not put his knowledge to use,” likened such a learned man to a lamp which, while providing light to others, burns itself out.


Associated with knowledge was the quality which Bello in Ṭā‘āt called ‘aql (cognition). Essentially it means the full cognition of the aims, purposes and significance of the commands and prohibitions of Islam. “‘Aql is what leads you to the consciousness of Allah, and saves you from passion,” because the cognition of evil and its ultimate consequences is the thing most likely to help someone avoid it. Bello said that the truly cognizant is he whose words are few but whose actions are many.

The importance of cognition is twofold. First of all it gives every action not only a social or spiritual meaning but an intellectual significance as well. The man of cognition does or avoids things in the full appreciation of what they mean to him personally, what they contribute to his relationship with Allah, and what their consequences might be on the Day of Judgment. There is a qualitative difference between deeds performed with intellectual awareness and those performed merely in compliance with the letter of the law.

There is, for instance, a world of difference between a ruler who is just out of mere obedience to the law and another who is just because he is aware that it is justice that sustains a nation or because, as a leader, he will appear before Allah on the Day of Judgment in chains and it is only his justice that can release him from them. And there is there a similar difference between someone who performs the four rak‘āts before Dhuhr because the Sunnah requires him to do so and someone who does the same with the understanding that that is the very hour in which his deeds are being presented to Allah. This quality imposes on an individual the duty to probe deeply into the meaning of the injunctions and prohibitions of Islam and to devote time to pondering them.

Secondly, the importance of this quality is that it furnishes individuals with the necessary instruments for calling people towards religion. Questions as to why Islam has enjoined certain things and prohibited others are bound to be raised by people, some with a sincere aim to learn and obey and others with a mischievous intention. If cogent answers are given, Islam will thus be exalted; otherwise serious damage may result.


In Sabīl, ‘Abdullahi said of the importance of repentance (tawbah): “Know that Allah has made tawbah a covering for the nakedness of work, a cleansing of the impurities arising from error, and a means by which the sins of the past are wiped out and the deeds of the future are perfected.”

We may look at tawbah from two angles: firstly that of a person’s individual recognition of their own innate imperfection as a human being, which impels them constantly to seek to make up their deficiencies by recourse to the act of repentance; and secondly, that of repentance as a vital social imperative for a nation in a period of decline.

In its latter, wider context tawbah means the progressive abandonment of the path that is leading to social and political disintegration and the ultimate collapse of a the society concerned and turning to the path which leads to regeneration and rectitude. Tawbah thus embraces both the spiritual and socio-moral behavior of people and societies. In a yet more profound sense, on an individual level, tawbah means a return to the path that leads to Allah, the objective being to escape from perdition on the Day of Judgment and gain admittance into the Garden.

 So for a people striving to regenerate their society, tawbah implies a sustained disengagement from the norms and attitudes of the prevailing order, because it is they that are the symptoms of the diseases that have plagued the society causing its decay, and the adoption of the kind of behavior and attitudes that will lead to its regeneration. Tawbah involves, therefore, a total change in an individual’s conception of, and attitude to, life, as well as the absolute change of course necessitated by the initiation of a processof social transformation.


That new attitude to life is what is called zuhd, which was a fundamental quality of the movement. Zuhd, as explainedby the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم, has two elements: abstention from the world and keeping away from the possessions of other people. To abstain from the world means, among other things, that a person should live in it on the understanding that it is only a temporary abode, indeed, that it is in fact a place of trial and a place of preparation for the realm of reward and permanence which is the Next World.

Whatever one takes from the world, whether it be in the form of sustenance, power, knowledge or skill, and whatever other pursuits one undertakes in it, should all be seen as a means by which one is being tested by Allah, who will take the final account on the Day of Judgment. Nothing in this world, therefore, is an end in itself. Everything is given or taken by way of trial. The world itself will at some point cease to exist and give way ultimately to the everlasting life of the Hereafter.

Zuhd also involves, however, exerting the effort necessary to secure your own livelihood so as to be self-reliant and free from having to look towards what belongs to other people. Bello stressed in Jalā’ the need for people to preserve their integrity through self- reliance, saying: “The Prophet  صلّى الله عليه وسلّم said, ‘Take to trading, for it secures nine-tenths of wealth’… It is related that [Prophet] Isa met a certain person and asked him, ‘What do you do for a living’? He replied, ‘I engage in worship’. Isa  then asked him, ‘In that case, who takes care of your needs?’ ‘My brother,’ he answered. ‘Then,’ said Isa, ‘your brother is more of a worshipper than you are.’”

In essence, zuhd means that one should ardently seek the realm of the Hereafter by mobilizing and channeling the materials of this world towards the accomplishment of the higher purposes of life and by living one’s life, as far as possible, in accordance with the injunctions of Allah. Equally, it means exerting the efforts necessary to make one self-reliant and self-sufficient, to obviate any need to sell one’s honor, or even as a last resort one’s religion, in order to live.

In its ideological context, zuhd means the mobilization of a movement’s moral and material resources with the purpose of delivering the people from the grip of this world. Moral resources provide the strength to strive against a degenerate social order, while material resources, secured through the members’ extensive and serious engagement in various professions and trades, are advantageous in the struggle for economic and technical supremacy.


To achieve that moral and economic supremacy another quality is, however, essential: ṣabr. In a narrow sense, ṣabr just means patience, but in a wider sense, it embraces a number of attitudes, including endeavoring to live honestly and honorably in a situation where those qualities are not tolerated by the prevailing system and putting up with the hardships and disadvantages suffered as a result. The purpose of embodying this attitude is that it serves as a shining light in the midst of pervasive darkness. Ṣabr also means overlooking much of the ill-treatment, harm and wrongs which come from others and which are an integral part of human life. Allah has said in this regard that He has made some people a means to test others, in order to see which of them will exercise patience.

The most important form of ṣabr is the endurance of hardships suffered while striving on behalf of one’s religion. In their struggle against a decadent system, some people might lose social or economic privileges, some might lose their freedom, some their means of subsistence and some their very lives. In all these trials the most valuable weapon is ṣabr, because the path of religion is long, the steps hard and the efforts exhausting. Ṣabr means not personalizing any harm or injury suffered in the cause of Allah and not holding personal enmity towards those who inflict such harm, so that hostility will cease as soon as such an adversary opens his heart to the faith. It also entails overlooking temporary inconveniences and viewing such trials as moral training, not as a punishment from Allah.

The fruits of ṣabr are ready forgiveness, the lack of any other than ideological adversaries, the ability to overlook and overcome any obstacles placed in your path, and ultimately the attainment of your goal. Apart from knowledge and piety, there is no greater weapon for an individual striving in the cause of Allah than ṣabr.

Diplomacy, Forgiveness and Ḥilm

For a movement, the relationship of its vanguard with the generality of the people is vital, not only for its image but also, more significantly, for its very survival. In this regard three other qualities, in addition to ṣabr, were given prominence in the Shehu’s movement. One of them was what Bello called mudārah, or diplomacy. It entails showing kindness, generosity and respect to others, even to those who nurse enmity towards religion, in the hope of either winning their hearts to the faith or at least neutralizing their enmity. In short, mudārah is another word for restraint and caution.

Bello was quick, however, to distinguish between this honest effort to safeguard religion and acts of opportunism or ambivalence, whereby a person heaps praises and gifts on a powerful enemy in order to gain the latter’s acceptance or favor. “That,” he said, “is squandering religion to safeguard wealth.” In a wider sense, mudārah embraces those steps a movement takes to disarm its potential enemies by winning their hearts through persuasion, such as showing regard for their feelings and sensitivities and offering them help in a time of need.

The second quality is ‘afw or the spirit of forgiveness. In this respect Bello quoted the verse of the Qur’an: “Repel the bad with what is better and, if there is enmity between you and someone else, he will be like a bosom friend.” (41:33) He also quoted the words of the Prophet @: “A person does not forgive a wrong done to him without Allah exalting him on account of it; therefore, take to forgiveness so that Allah may exalt you.”

The third quality is what Bello called ḥilm, which means to develop and perfect a gentle disposition so that people find comfort and have confidence in you. Even in anger, you should never stray from truth.


A further extremely important quality highly prized by the movement is what Bello in Ṭā‘āt called adab, which, for want of an appropriate word, we may term discipline. “The Prophet,” Bello said, “has inculcated discipline in his ummah by instructing them to mention the name of Allah before a meal and to give praise to Him after it; by forbidding them to drink while standing, or directly from buckets; and by forbidding them from eating with the left hand or removing impurities with the right.” That is just one of the several aspects of adab.

In a more comprehensive sense, adab embraces the discipline and control of what Shehu in Ṭarīq and ‘Abdullahi in Sabīl called the five organs – the eye, the ear, the tongue, the heart and the belly. The eye must be controlled, Shehu said, for three main reasons: firstly, because Allah himself has commanded that Muslims should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; secondly, because the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم warned us that immodest gazing at women is “one of the poisoned arrows of Shaytān” and that anyone who avoids it will be graced with the sweetness of worship; and thirdly, because the eye was created, not to seek out the beauty of women, but to gain the vision of Allah – glorious and great is He! ‘Abdullahi added that controlling and restraining the eyes helps towards the perfection of faith and obedience to Allah.

Similarly, it is part of adab to keep the hearing under control. This is achieved by not listening to irrelevant or offensive things, such as vulgar music or the denigration of others. The tongue, for its part, should be prevented from making any utterances which are likely to involve the body in physical or moral danger or that will be a cause of regret when you stand for judgment before Allah on the Last Day. Such utterances include, for instance, slandering other people, which Allah likens to eating the flesh of your dead brother.

The control of the heart is, as far as both the Shehu and ‘Abdullahi were concerned, the most important challenge people face. The Shehu called attention to five factors which account for this crucial importance. The first is that in all matters Allah looks into the heart, into people’s intentions, as is stressed so often in the Qur’an. The second is the reinforcement of this point by the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم. The third is the point that the heart is, as it were, the king of the body and all the other organs its subjects, so that if it is corrupted the whole body is likewise corrupted. The fourth is that the heart is the repository of innate human qualities such as intelligence and knowledge. “It is most fitting,” said Shehu, “that such a repository should be preserved against being contaminated or despoiled.” The fifth is that the heart is, as it were, the battleground between good and evil, between angelic and satanic forces.

Controlling the heart means preserving it from inordinate ambition, haste, envy and pride and, conversely, refining it through such attitudes as modesty, where hope or ambition is concerned, deliberation in affairs, entertaining goodwill to people, and humility.

The control of the belly means preserving it from taking in what is either expressly unlawful or of a dubious nature, or taking in even lawful things in excess of one’s needs. Excessive consumption, even of lawful things, has the effect of hardening the heart, causing injury to the other organs of the body, weakening the intellect and the ability to pursue knowledge, reducing one’s desire for worship, increasing the possibility of falling into dubious and prohibited ways and, above all, it may warrant one’s being subjected to serious scrutiny on the Day of Judgment.

Besides this comprehensive discipline, adab also involves, according to Bello, acquainting oneself with the knowledge of good works and endeavoring to perform them; and acquainting oneself with the knowledge of evil deeds and distancing oneself from them. It encompasses the control of the senses, the positive orientation of one’s total disposition, keeping within the legal limits set by Allah, the abandonment of passions and dubious conduct, striving towards good deeds, and keeping the mind engaged in thought and remembrance of Allah.

Another quality related to adab is what Bello called inā or deliberation. This is important for an individual, because it enables him to ponder issues before he undertakes them, thus saving him from rushing into things which he may later regret. Deliberation is essential for a movement that regards its cause as a lifetime undertaking. In this case, inā involves the realization that, in the task of raising people to moral excellence, there is no need for excessive urgency, since there is no shortcut in such matters. “Haste,” said the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم in a ḥadīth quoted by Bello, “is from Shaytān,” whereas caution and deliberation are from Allah. Bello made, however, six important exceptions where haste is not only allowed but praiseworthy: the payment of debt, offering food to a guest, burying the dead, prayer at the right time, the marriage of a girl who has reached maturity and tawbah (repentance) after doing wrong. Other qualities pertaining to adab were listed by Bello as being a humble disposition, generosity, contentment, truthfulness in speech, strengthening the ties of relationship, honoring trusts, good neighborliness, fulfilling promises and obligations, modesty, keeping appointments, and being merciful to creatures. And he quoted this noble statement of the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم:

“My Lord has commanded me to do these nine things, and I recommend the same for you. He has commanded me to be sincere in all matters, secret or open; to do justice in all circumstances, in pleasure or anger; to be moderate in all conditions, prosperity or poverty; to forgive thosewho wrong me; to give to those who deprive me; to seek ties with those who break from me; that my silence should be for reflection; that my utterance should be a reminder; and that my seeing should be to gain instruction.”

This emphasis on the qualities we have enumerated implies that the Shehu was determined to create individuals imbued with the qualities of the Prophet @ himself and to evolve, through them, a community that embodied the qualities and characteristics of the community of the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم. Every mujaddid knows that the course of his movement is determined ultimately by the quality of the

people who champion it and, that it is only when such people are nurtured to moral and intellectual maturity through a long and painstaking process of training and education, that Allah in His wisdom will entrust them with the great task of shouldering the responsibility of forming a new ummah.

The Communal Spirit

We can now look into the nature of the social relationships that were being nurtured in the nascent community and see this as one of the principal means through which the new order was developed. It is natural that a special kind of relationship should exist among members of an ideological group, dictating their interpersonal conduct, establishing the rights and obligations of each member and holding the community together. This relationship is an expression of a profound mutual commitment to a cause, something absent in society as a whole, and a sense of unity, belief, purpose and destiny.

In the case of the Shehu’s community, the question of the rights and obligations of its members was not determined by the development of a new code. These had already been spelled out by Islam itself. If society at large did not implement them, it was not because they were not there, but rather because a sense of unity, a sense of commitment to Islam and a feeling of brotherhood were missing. But a group committed to the regeneration of Muslim society should not only establish these mutual rights and obligations but also give them a new significance within the context of their particular situation. They are not mere rules but constitute the means of maintaining the community spiritually, morally and socially, as well as being the means of self-development and self-expression.

The rules did not only deal with the duties of one member to another but also with the duties of each member to his or her parents, children, and spouse. It was, in effect, the training of an individual in social responsibility. Our main source of information about this is ‘Abdullahi’s Tibyān li-Ḥuqūq al-Ikhwān. This short treatise, we venture to suggest, was only a written testimony of what the movement had in fact put into practice right from its inception.


The first category of duties and responsibilities is the mutual rights of Muslims that flow from the bond of brotherhood which ties each to the other in this world and the Next. The fulfillment of these mutual responsibilities has the effect of cementing that brotherhood and brings together all members into a single ummah, separate and distinct from the communities of other faiths.

The rights cover the whole spectrum of life. A Muslim should greet a fellow Muslim whenever they meet, an action which, according to the Prophet, increases love among Muslims, mutual love being something which assures admittance to paradise. He should accept the invitation of his Muslim brother. He should visit and care for a fellow Muslim when he falls sick. He should honor his brother’s words and oaths. He should give him good counsel or advice whenever it is sought or whenever he deems it necessary. He should protect his brother’s honor when he is absent. He should attend his funeral. And, above all, he should love for his fellow Muslim what he loves for himself and hate for him what he hates for himself.

These mutual duties are increased when the Muslim brother is also a neighbor. He should be helped whenever necessary. A loan should be extended to him if he is in financial difficulty and if an outright gift is not possible. He should be congratulated when good comes to him and consoled when misfortune afflicts him. He should share a meal with him from time to time. Neither his neighbor nor his neighbor’s children should be made to feel any difference that might exist on an economic level. His neighbor’s privacy must be respected and guarded.

Mutual rights are also increased, both in quality and intimacy, when a Muslim is a fellow traveler in a common cause. As a friend and confidant his rights are that he should be accorded almost the same status as yourself with regard to your property. At the very least, he should be considered as having absolute right to what is in excess of your needs, and at best, you should follow the example of earlier Muslims by preferring him to yourself. You should go to his aid even before he asks for it and support his family if he dies. You should refrain from exposing his weaknesses and secrets and discourage others from doing so.

You should also be silent about his dislikes, except, of course, when it is your duty to prevent evil. You should make him happy through whatever honorable means are available, such as commending his good qualities and those of his children, “without,” added ‘Abdullahi, “having to tell lies.” You should overlook any bad behavior on his part and accept his excuses, whether they are true or not. You should also pray for him from time to time. And, finally, you should avoid putting unnecessary burdens on him, so that the bond of love is preserved and not strained.

Parent-Child Obligations

Rights and obligations flowing from child/parent relationships constitute a further relevant category. A child has a duty to obey his parents. ‘Abdullahi quoted a number of traditions without, however, making any specific recommendations; but Bello might have been expressing ‘Abdullahi’s thoughts in Fawā’id Mujmilah fi-Mā Jā’ fi-l-Birr wa-l Sillah when he commented briefly on Allah’s injunction to be dutiful to one’s parents:

“It is narrated in the Ṣaḥīḥ on the authority of Abū Hurayrah % that a person came to the Messenger of Allah صلّى الله عليه وسلّم and asked, ‘Who is most entitled to my best treatment?’ to which the Messenger of Allah replied, ‘Your mother’. The man asked, ‘Who next?’ He replied, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Who next?’ He replied, ‘Your mother.’ He asked further, ‘Who next?’ And the Messenger of Allah replied, ‘Your father.’”

The implication of this – that someone’s affection for a mother should be three times that given to their father – is supported by what we see in life, since a mother bears the burden of conception, the burden of childbirth and the burden of nursing.

“Five duties,” Bello wrote further, “devolve on a responsible person in respect of his parents. Firstly, that he should not be arrogant towards them; secondly, that he should avoid rebuking them even when they confront him with something he dislikes; thirdly, that he should address them in a pleasing, respectful manner… as a humble servant addresses his noble master; fourthly, that he should show great affection to them, not raising his voice in their presence or walking in front of them, and should do what they want, without of course disobeying the law, showing them love, compassion, reverence, and serving them in an excellent way; and fifthly, that he should always pray for Allah’s mercy on them provided they are Muslims, and offer ṣadaqah on their behalf after they are dead.”

Regarding the children’s rights, ‘Abdullahi emphasized that a child is a trust (amānah) in the hands of his parents, endowed with a pure, innocent heart, free from guilt. At the same time, a child’s heart is impressionable so that it can be steered towards either good or evil. If a child is introduced from the beginning to goodness he will grow in that direction and will be a success in this world and in the Hereafter, and everyone who has contributed to that moral success will share in the reward. If, however, he is introduced to evil, he will grow in that direction and the burden of misguidance will be on those who are responsible for it.

A child should be suckled, ‘Abdullahi insisted, by a woman who lives on lawful food and is herself upright because “unlawful milk corrupts the child, as there is no blessing in it at all.” A child’s correct upbringing in the home is a duty owed to it by its father. ‘Abdullahi suggested that children should be inculcated with Islamic discipline in matters such as eating, dressing and sleeping.

Concerning his education, he should first be introduced to the Qur’an and entrusted to an upright teacher. Throughout his early education, the child should be guided towards developing strength of character. He should be taught not to cry loudly if beaten at school, nor to seek the intervention of anyone against his punishment by his teacher, but rather to endure the punishment patiently. He should be allowed sports and playtime after school to prevent depression, blunting of the intelligence and loss of interest in schooling altogether.

Regarding general behavior, ‘Abdullahi suggested that children should be taught to hate pride and love humility. They should not be allowed to brag about their parents’ wealth, possessions or livelihood. They should be taught to respect those who associate with them, to be soft in speech, to talk little, and avoid unnecessary questions. They should be taught that gentlemanly behavior lies in giving, not in taking, and that greed is degrading. They should not spit when in company. They should be attentive when spoken to by older people and offer them a place to sit. At the same time they should avoid people who use obscene speech, curse or insult others.

Mothers have a duty to teach their children to respect their fathers and to give due regard to their teachers and superiors. Children should be taught their duties as Muslims and be told stories of upright men and women. They should be warned against stealing, cheating and lying and be inspired to perform and love good deeds. If they make mistakes they should be corrected and if they repeat them they should be rebuked in secret and made to appreciate the gravity of what they have done. They should conversely be rewarded for displaying good qualities.

As children grow older, they should be made to appreciate that the purpose of eating is to enable them to be strong enough to carry out the injunctions of Allah, and that this world is ephemeral and so a sensible person will only take from it those provisions necessary for the Next. The ephemeral nature of this world and the reality and permanence of the Hereafter should be so inculcated into a child’s consciousness that it becomes ingrained permanently in their character. When maturity is reached, marriage should be arranged. ‘Abdullahi repeated the Prophet’s teaching that every child is born with a pure natural disposition. It is up to the parents to keep their children on this natural form and not allow it to become corrupted.

Family Obligations

A husband, ‘Abdullahi wrote in Tibyān, has approximately eleven obligations towards his wife. The first, which arises from the marriage bond itself, is the payment of sadāqi or dowry and also the costs of the marriage celebration, provided that it is done as the Prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم specified. The second obligation is that a husband should tolerate annoyance and endure injury from his wife and, more importantly, “he should be forbearing, indulgent and understanding when she gets angry following the example of the Messenger of Allah صلّى الله عليه وسلّم.” Thirdly, he should stimulate her mind by engaging in lawful fun and games with her but, fourthly, he should be moderate in this regard so as not to lose her esteem or lose the ability to correct her if she violates the Sharī‘ah.

Fifthly, he is obliged to correct her but is not entitled in the course of this to subject her integrity to suspicion or to change her attitudes or to neglect her or be indifferent towards her. His sixth responsibility is to maintain his wife fairly though moderately. His seventh obligation is to educate her “in the tenets of the people of the Sunnah and in the injunctions and prohibitions of the law”, instruct her in her religious duties and instill the fear of Allah into her if she shows slackness in the practice of her dīn. The eighth duty applies to a man who has more than one wife, in which case he has to maintain justice between his wives. The ninth thing is that, if ever she exceeds the limits of tolerable companionship, he should discipline her in the way the Qur’an prescribes, “without violence”. The tenth duty is to take pleasure in her children – male and female. Finally, if a divorce does occur, he should continue to please her heart with gifts, guard her secrets and respect her privacy.

As for the rights of a husband, ‘Abdullahi explained, “they are many: for instance, a wife should obey her husband in all matters so long as they do not amount to sin, and pursue those things that give him happiness. He quotes the words of the Prophet  صلّى الله عليه وسلّم: “Any woman who meets her death while her husband is happy with her will go to paradise.”

Finally, servants have legal rights, too. They should be fed with the same food their master eats and be clothed in the same decent and dignified way as their master. They should not be burdened with work that is beyond their capability. Servants should not be subjected to humiliation or blackmail by their employers.

To reiterate, there is nothing radically new in this code of social behavior but it gains special significance when placed in the context of Hausaland at that time and when it becomes an integral part of the growth of a new social movement. The intention behind the code was, no doubt, to create a fellowship of the people who shared a common cause; to establish good and virtuous neighborliness; to build loving and upright homes; and to raise the dignity of even the lowliest of people within the community. On deeper reflection, it would appear that what ‘Abdullahi was in fact advocating in Tibyān was the transformation of the community into what amounted to a single large family, sharing a single set of values and pursuing a single cause.

The New Culture

In addition to the spirit of fellowship and mutual obligation that was fostered in the Jama‘a, there was the simultaneous development of a new social attitude, a kind of counterculture, in the movement. In fact, the cultivation of this particular kind of behavior was an extension of the mutual obligations we have mentioned, which served to strengthen the solidarity of the Jama‘a, but it was also essential in giving the new movement a sense of identity, a superior spiritual and cultural attitude, that distinguished it from the rest of the community and helped to draw other fairminded and cultured people towards it. This is the subject matter of Shehu Usman’s Kitāb al-Adab.

The acquisition of knowledge was the most fundamental characteristic of Shehu Usman’s Jama‘a. Indeed, the emerging ethos and values that were molding the Jama‘a revolved entirely around knowledge and scholarship. The fact that the eight-page Kitāb al-Adab, which dealt with more than fifteen issues, devoted almost half its space to matters relating to knowledge indicates the paramount importance of this matter.

Education, like any other sphere of human activity, should be governed by certain values and ethical principles, all the more so in a society where knowledge is sought primarily as a means to gain wealth or social prestige. For, if knowledge is vulgarized or commercialized, as indeed it was in Hausaland, it will no longer be possible for scholars to raise the moral tone of society or influence it in any positive manner. The reiteration of the ethics of education was therefore imperative, if only to provide the new movement with a distinct sense of direction and purpose.

This meant that the new generation of scholars – the vanguard for the revival of Islam in Hausaland – had to display qualities and attitudes consistent with their role as teachers, guardians of societal values and as the conscience of the ummah. So, while remaining humble, they had also to behave in a dignified manner that commanded respect from all. And, while it was essential that they show respect to people in general, it was not expected of them to accord honor to oppressors, if only as a mark of their disapproval of criminal, un-Islamic acts. They were to endeavor to be “scholars of the Hereafter” and not scholars of this world. Consequently, they had to seek knowledge that was useful in the Hereafter, knowledge that would facilitate and encourage obedience to Allah.

They were not to be materialistic in matters of food, clothing or accommodation. They were to endeavor to acquire sound spiritual knowledge, strive to combat undesirable innovations in society, and gain insight into the causes of corruption and confusion. In addition, they were required to keep their distance from kings. This, we may add, was essential if these scholars were to serve as the focus of social mobilization and as the symbols of people’s aspirations. Indeed, the fundamental distinguishing factor between the generation of ‘ulamā’ raised by the Shehu and the rest of the scholars, was that the former saw itself as a distinct body independent of the existing political order and committed to its overthrow. Such scholars could not fraternize with those they regarded as oppressive rulers, let alone serve them.

The responsibility of the scholars was to their students: to impart useful sciences to them; to urge them to pursue knowledge purely for the sake of Allah; to urge them to learn about their individual religious obligations before embarking on other subjects; and to discourage them from associating with men of evil character. In addition, the scholars had to show kindness to their students, mould their characters and give them good advice at all times. They were not to belittle subjects not taught by them and were to deal with each student according to his intelligence.

The students, on their part, had to pay due respect to their teachers, give the school the same veneration due to the mosque, and accord to the acquisition of knowledge the same reverence the accorded to the prayer. They should not display any materialistic tendencies and should behave in a dignified fashion. They too had to keep their distance from oppressive kings and strive to preserve their dignity. “Do not,” the Shehu advised, “place wealth above honor.” The ultimate objective of each of the sciences had to be considered carefully by the students before they made their choice about which disciplines to pursue, remembering, however, that the purpose of knowledge is to improve the character and seek nearness to Allah.

 In the area of social behavior, several matters were dealt with in Kitāb al-Adab. The Shehu advised his men to display composure, social restraint and common sense in their association with people in general. They should limit their disapproval of the behavior of others but be quick to advise on right and wrong, offering advice, however, only when there was a real hope of it being accepted. They should not plunge into other people’s discussions, nor should they pay attention to rumors and lies peddled in public, listen to obscene language, frequent places of ill repute or seek anything from people of low morals. They should be thoughtful and humble and, in their search for a livelihood, they should put their trust in Allah and be content with what they had lawfully acquired.

While it was essential that members of the Jama‘a should develop maturity by, for example, not eating too much and not tiring themselves unduly during the day, they must at the same time improve their inner disposition, thus strengthening the cohesion of the Jama‘a and raising their status with Allah. Hence, the mind should be freed from nursing any hatred or enmity towards a fellow Muslim and from being unduly anxious over worldly matters.

 The mind should rather be occupied with the thought of the Hereafter, to counterbalance its normal preoccupation with this world. In addition, qiyām al-layl (standing for prayer in the night) should be observed on a daily basis, and the mind should be trained to be conscious of Allah, to fear His punishment, and to be ashamed of its moral failures. Over and above this, constant reading of the Qur’an, observing the respect due to it, and making an effort to understand and contemplate it was desirable.

When starting on a journey, members of the Jama‘a, and in a wider sense Muslims in general, should free themselves first from all moral and economic obligations, so that they could travel with an absolutely free conscience. According to Shehu Usman, they should first amend any wrong they had done, pay their debts, return anything that had been entrusted to them and arrange for the maintenance of those under their care. They should take adequate provision but use only lawful means to acquire it. They should carry items of basic necessity with them. And above all, they should fulfill their spiritual obligations throughout the journey and adhere to the ethics of travel established by the Prophet of Allah صلّى الله عليه وسلّم.

The Kitāb al-Adab also touched on the ethics of sleep. The Shehu advised his people to regard sleep not merely as a physical phenomenon but also as a profound lesson which repeats itself daily. They should see sleep “as a form of death” and their reawakening “as a form of resurrection”. In other words, the thought of the Hereafter should be paramount in their minds when going to bed. It might, in fact, be their last sleep. Therefore, they should go to bed in a state of purity – teeth brushed and wuḍū’ performed. They should ask Allah’s forgiveness for all their sins and offer the supplication (du‘ā’) appropriate for going to bed. Their beds should not be excessively soft – either because that would indicate an inclination to luxury, which is hateful to Islam, or because a soft bed might diminish a person’s ability to wake for Ṣubḥ prayer.

When the Shehu touched on the obligations a man owes to his wife, the wife to her husband and mutual obligations between Muslims, there was no fundamental difference between Kitāb al-Adab and ‘Abdullahi’s Tibyān, although the Shehu added several points not included by ‘Abdullahi. He advised Muslims to honor the aged and show compassion to the young. He said they should meet each other with cheerful faces, be considerate and fair in their dealings with one another, and fulfill one another’s needs on a cooperative basis. He instructed them to protect one another against injustice and come to one another’s defense and, most significantly, he told them to avoid the company of the rich, associate always with the poor and take adequate care of orphans.

On the matter of the ethics of visiting to the sick, the Shehu advised that visitors should exhibit compassion, pray for the sick person as the Prophet has counseled and ask as few questions as possible. The sick person, for his part, should be patient, keep his complaints to a minimum and put his trust for recovery in Allah, while continuing to take the necessary medication. It may be said that, on the whole, there was nothing new, either in Tibyān or Kitāb al-Adab. What was new was that the social and moral rules they contained were being put into practice by a group dedicated to establishing a better and superior social order. The Jama‘a was nurtured on well known principles, values and ethics. When these were actualized in a social setting, they assumed added significance and, in turn, made their mark on the emerging social force. As long as the Jama‘a remained faithful to these values and ethics, there did not exist any force that could weaken them or alter their course towards reviving Islam.

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Published in: on November 4, 2011 at 18:48  Comments (1)  

Clarification About the Obligation of Hijrah Which is Placed Upon the Slaves of Allah

10628589_1480732885508215_4636547380070369050_nAt this time in history, a large number of people are accepting Islam in non-Muslim countries. As a result, the question of whether or not it is still compulsory for Muslims to emigrate from daru-l-kufr (the land of disbelief) also referred to as daru-l-harb to daru-l-Islam (the land of Islam) becomes a very important matter. The legal status according to Islamic law of Muslims who continue to reside in non-Muslim lands has been debated for centuries. The sound Sunni scholars have always used the Kitaab (Qur’an), the Sunnah (The precedents established Prophet Muhammad) and Ijmaaʿ (the consensus of the most outstanding and trustworthy scholars). The most pressing questions being asked about the matter are the following:

1) Is this a land of disbelief or a land of peace? That is to say, what is the definition of daru-l-Islam and daru-l-kufr.

2) Is it still compulsory for those who Muslim continue to reside in the countries in rule by non-Muslims to make hijrah to a land of Islam or not?

3) In the case that hijrah is compulsory for the Muslim, and he does not do it, and he prefers to stay and help the forces who are against Islam and Muslims with his person or his wealth, is he committing  a sin when he does this?

We hope that the following discussion will shed more light on this matter and will clarify the position of the traditional Sunni scholars in regards to it.

The following discussion about hijrah is an abridged version of a broader discussion which  has been taken from Shaykh ʿUthmaan Dan Fodio’s book entitled:

بيان وجوب الهجرة على العباد وبيان وجوب نصب الإمام وإقامة الجهاد

Clarification About the Obligation of Hijrah which is Placed Upon the Slaves of Allah and Clarification About the Obligation to Appoint an Imām and to Initiate the Jihād

في‮ ‬وجوب الهجرة من بلاد الكفار

The Chapter: On the Obligation of Hijrah from the Land of the Unbelievers

فأقول بالله التوفيق‭:‬‮ ‬إنَ‮ ‬الهجرة من بلاد الكفّار واجبة كتابا وسنّة وإجماعا

I say, success is from Allah. Emigration from the land of the kuffaar is an obligation according to the Kitaab, the Sunnah and and ʿIjmaa’.

أما الكتاب فقوله تعالى‮ ‬‭:‬‮ ‬إنَّ‮ ‬الّذِينَ‮ ‬تَوَفَّاهُمُ‮ ‬الْـمَلاَئِكَةُ‮ ‬ظَالِـمِي‮ ‬أَنْفُسِهِمْ‮ ‬فِيمَ‮ ‬كُنْتُمْ‮ ‬قَالُواكُنَّا إِنَّ‮ ‬الَّذِينَ‮ ‬تَوَفَّاهُمُ‮ ‬الْمَلَائِكَةُ‮ ‬ظَالِـمِي‮ ‬أَنفُسِهِمْ‮ ‬قَالُوا فِيمَ‮ ‬كُنتُمْ‮ ‬قَالُوا كُنَّا مُسْتَضْعَفِينَ‮ ‬فِي‮ ‬الْأَرْضِ‮ ‬قَالُوا أَلَمْ‮ ‬تَكُنْ‮ ‬أَرْضُ‮ ‬اللَّهِ‮ ‬وَاسِعَةً‮ ‬فَتُهَاجِرُوا فِيهَا فَأُولـاـئِكَ‮ ‬مَأْوَاهُمْ‮ ‬جَهَنَّمُ‮ … ‬النساء‭:‬‮ ‬97‮ ‬قال مفسّرون وفي‮ ‬هذه الآية دليل على‮  ‬وجوب الهجرة من بلاد الكفّار قال الـجلال عبد الرحمن السيوطي‮ ‬في‮ ‬التكملة تفسيره في‮ ‬بيان معنى قوله‮ [‬ظَالِـمِي‮ ‬أَنفُسِهِمْ‮] ‬بالـمُقام مع الكفّار وترك الهجرة انتهَى

As for the Kitaab [the Qur’an], there the Word of Allah, “Surely those whom the angels cause to die while they are wronging themselves, the angels will say, ‘In what circumstance were you?’ They will say. ‘We were weak in the earth.’ The angels will say. ‘Was not Allah’s Earth spacious, so that you might have emigrated in it?’ As for such, their abode will be hell.’” The commentators of the Qur’an have said, “And in this verse is a proof of the obligation of emigrating from the land of the kuffaar.” al-Jalaalu-d-Din Abdur Rahmān As-Suyuutī1 said in [his tafsīr] at-Takmilah2, explaining the meaning of the Words of Allah “wronging themselves,” [to mean], by remaining among the unbelievers and neglecting the command to make hijrah.

وأمّا السنّة فقوله عليه السلام‭:‬‮ ‬إنَّ‮ ‬الله بريء من مسلم ساكن بين الـمشركين وقوله عليه السلام الْـمومن والكفّار لاَ‮ ‬تُرَاءَى نَارُهُمَا أَوردهما سيدنا مختار بن أحمد الكنتي‮ ‬في‮ ‬النصيحة الكافي‮ ‬وقوله عليه الصلاة والسلام من جامع الـمشرك أو سكن معه فإنّه مثله ورواء أبو داود عن سَمُورة

As for the Sunnah, There is the saying of the Prophet عليه السلام, “Allah has nothing to do with the Muslim who lives among the people who commit shirk.” And his saying, “The fires of the of a believer and an unbeliever should not be in sight of one another.” These two hadiths were sited by our master Mukhtār bin Aḥmad al-Kuntī3 in [his book] an-Nasīḥatu-l-Kāfīyyah4. There is also his saying عليه الصلاة والسلام, “He who mixes with the people who commit shirk (associate partners with Allah) is the same as they are.” this has been related by Abu Dawud from Samūrah.

وأمّا الإجماع فقد قال الونشريسي‮ ‬في‮ ‬الـمعيار والإجماع على وجوب الهجرة الإنتهى ولا تكونُ‮ ‬مراعاة حقوق القرابة والزوجية عذرا الأحد في‮ ‬ترك الهجرة فالأموال والـمساكين من باب أحرى قَالَ‮ ‬تعالى‭:‬‮ ‬قُلْ‮ ‬إِن كَانَ‮ ‬آبَاؤُكُمْ‮ ‬وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ‮ ‬وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ‮ ‬وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ‮ ‬وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ‮ ‬وَأَمْوَالٌ‮ ‬اقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ‮ ‬تَخْشَوْنَ‮ ‬كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ‮ ‬تَرْضَوْنَهَا أَحَبَّ‮ ‬إِلَيْكُم‮ ‬مِّنَ‮ ‬اللَّهِ‮ ‬وَرَسُولِهِ‮ ‬وَجِهَادٍ‮ ‬فِي‮ ‬سَبِيلِهِ‮ … ‬التوبة‭:‬24‮ ‬فقعدتم لأجله عن الهجرة كما في‮ ‬التكملة تفسير عبد الرّحمن السيوطي‭:‬‮ [‬فَتَرَبَّصُوا حَتَّي‮ ‬يَأْتِيَ‮ ‬اللَّهُ‮ ‬بِأَمْرِهِ‮]‬ وفي‮ ‬تفسير الخازن أن سبب تزول هذه الآية قول الذين أسلموا ولم‮ ‬يهاجروا‮ ‬‭:‬‮ [‬إن نحن هاجرنا ضاعت أموالنا وذهبت تجارتنا وخربت دورنا قَطَعْنَا أرحامنا‮] ‬ثم قال في‮ ‬هذه الآية دليل على أنه إذا وقع تعارض بين مصالح الدين ومصالح الدنيا وجب على الـمسلم ترجيع مصالح الـدين على الدنيا إنتهى‮ ‬

As for Ijmaaʿ, al-Wansharīsī5 has said in [in his book] al-Miʿyaar6, “Ijmaaʿ upholds the obligation of hijrah (emigration).” Consideration of blood relations and marriage should not be an excuse for anyone failing to emigrate, how much less wealth and dwellings. Allah has said, “Say: If your fathers and your sons and your brothers and your wives and your kinsfolk and wealth which you have acquired, and the loss of trade which you fear and dwellings which you like, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way… 9:24 – so that you fail to emigrate because of it – as as what is found in at-Takmilah, the the tafsīr of as-Suyuutī: “then wait till Allah brings about His command…

According to the tafsīr7 of al-Khaazin8 the reason for the revelation of this verse was the saying of those who accepted Islam, but who didn’t emigrate, “If we had emigrated, our possessions would have been lost, our commerce wasted, and our dwellings ruin, and we would have cut off relations with our kinsfolk.” He [al-Khaazin] then said, “In this verse is proof that whenever there is a conflict between matters  of the Dīn and worldly matters, a Muslim must give preference to the matters of Dīn over the worldly matters.

قلت كما‮ ‬يجب ترجيع حفظه على باقى الكليات الخمس التي‮ ‬هي‮ ‬حفظ النفس والعقل والسب والـمال وألحق بعضهم العِرض قال عبد السلام بن إبرهيم‮ ‬اللَّقاني‮ ‬عند قول الناظم‭:

وحفظ دين نفس مال نسب‮                 ‬ومثلها عقل وعِرض

I [ShaykhʿUthmaan] would add that it is likewise necessary to give preference to its preservation over the rest of the five universal rules which are preservation of the soul. the intellect and lineage and wealth, while some also added honor. Abdus-s-Salaam Al-Laqqaanī9 said in [his book] al-Ithāfu-l-Murīd10 which is the sharḥ for Jawhaaratu-t-Tawhīd, in regards to the words of the poet:

And the preservation of religion, soul, wealth and lineage,

Likewise, of intellect and body is obligatory.

وآكد الـخمسة الدين لأن حفظ‮ ‬غيره وسيلة لحفظه ثم حفظ النفوس ثم العقول ثم الأساب ثم الأموال وفي‮ ‬مرتبتها الأعراض أن لم تؤد الأذية فيها إلى قطع النَّسَب وإلاّ‮ ‬كانت في‮ ‬مرتبة الأنساب ثم قال وجب حفظ الـجميع في‮ ‬جميع الشرا ئع لشرفها إنتهى

The most important of the five is [preservation of] the Dīn, because the preservation of the others is a means of preserving it [the Dīn]. Then comes the preservation of the soul, then of the minds, then of lineage, then of possessions. As important as the latter is the preservation of honor, so long as injury to it does not lead to breaking bonds with kinfolk, otherwise it comes on a level with the preservation of lineage.” Then he [al-Laqqaanī] said, “In all systems of divine law, it is essential to preserve all of them, because of their noble status…”

Shaykh Uthmaan continues saying:

وما ذكرناه من أول هذا الفصل من أن الهجرة من بلاد الكفار واجبة على جميع الـمسلمين لا‮ ‬يختلف فيه اثنان ولا عذر لأحد في‮ ‬تركها إلاَّ‮ ‬الـمستضعفين قال تعالى‭:‬‮[‬إِلاَّ‮ ‬الْـمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ‮ ‬مِنَ‮ ‬الرِّجَالِ‮ ‬وَالنِّسَاءِ‮ ‬وَالْوِلْدَانِ‮ ‬لَا‮ ‬يَسْتَطِيعُونَ‮ ‬حِيلَةً‮ ‬وَلَا‮ ‬يَهْتَدُونَ‮ ‬سَبِيلًا‮] ‬النساء 98 طَرِيقًا إلى أرض الهجرة كما في‮ ‬التكملة تفسير عبد الرحمن السيوطي‮ ‬وفي‮ ‬تفسير الـخازن في‮ ‬بيان معني‮ ‬قوله‮ [‬لَا‮ ‬يَسْتَطِيعُونَ‮ ‬حِيلَةً‮]‬‮ ‬يعني‮ ‬لا‮ ‬يقلرون على حِيلَةً‮ ‬ولا نفقة ولا قوة لهم على الـخروج‮  ‬من مكة وقال تعالى في‮ ‬حق هؤلاء‭:‬‮ [‬فَأُولآئِكَ‮ ‬عَسَى اللَّهُ‮ ‬أَن‮ ‬يَعْفُوَ‮ ‬عَنْهُمْ‮] النساء 89 قال الـمفسيرون ذُكِرَ‮  ‬بكلمة الأطماع ولفظ العفو إيذانا ترك الهجرة أمر خطر حتى أن الـمضطر من حقه أن لا‮ ‬يأمن ويترصد الفرضية ويعلق‮ ‬بها قلبه انتهى

What we have discussed since the beginning of this chapter with regard to the fact that emigration from the lands of the unbelievers is obligatory on all Muslims cannot be disputed, and nobody is excused for neglecting it except the weak. Allah has said, “Except for the weak from among men, women and children who can’t  devise a plan”. They are unable to make hijrah; they don’t have no means of support; “they don’t have a way” to get to the land where they might emigrate,” as was is mentioned in at-Takmilah of ʿAbdur Raḥman as-Suyuutī. In his commentary, explaining the meaning of His [Allah’s] word, “who can’t  devise a plan”,  al-Khaazin said, “It means they are unable to devise a plan, they don’t have the means of support, nor are they able to emigrate from Makkah.” Concerning such people Allah has said, “As for those, it may be that Allah will pardon them.

Those who commentate on the Qur’an have said that the expression indicating hope and the  one indicating pardon were mentioned to warn people that failure to emigrate is a grave matter that even a man in difficult circumstances should not feel at ease, and should continuously look for a way  to obey the divine precept and set his heart upon it…

Shaykh Uthmaan takes the discussion about hijrah further in the next chapter which followed the above-mentioned entitled:

في‮ ‬تأويل قوله عليه الصلاة والسلام‭:‬‮ ‬لا هجوة بعد الفتح

What is Meant by the Prophet’s Saying: No Emigration After the Conquest of Makkah

He begins by saying:

فأقول بالله التوفيق ورد في‮ ‬صحيح البخاري‮ ‬عن ابن عباس قال‭:‬‮ ‬قال النبي‮ ‬صلى الله عليه وسلم‮ ‬يوم فتح مكة لا هجرة بعد الفتح وفي‮ ‬صحيح البخاري‮ ‬أيضا عن مجاشع بن مسعود قال جاء مجاشع بأخيه مجالد بن مسعود إلى النبي‮ ‬صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال هذا مجالد ببايعك على الهجرة‮  ‬فقال لا هجرة بعد فتح مكة‮  ‬وفي‮ ‬صحيح البخاري‮ ‬أيضا قال عمرو بن دينار وابن جريج سمعت عطاء‮ ‬يقول ذهبت مع عبيد بن عمير إلى عائشة وهي‮ ‬مجاورة بثبير فقالت لنا‭:‬‮ ‬انقطعت الهجرة منذ الله على نبيه مكة‮ ‬

I say success is from Allah. It has been mentioned in as-Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī from of Ibn ʿAbbās, that the Prophet صَـلّى الله عليه وسلّم said on the day of the conquest of Makkah, “No emigration after the conquest.” It is also related in as-Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī on the authority of Mujaashiʿ bin Masʿūd that Mujaashiʿ brought his brother Mujaalid bin Masʿūd to the Prophet صَـلّى الله عليه وسلّم and said, “This is Mujaalid who has come to pledge allegiance to you as well as to emigrate. The Prophet said,‘No hijrah after the conquest of Makkah.’” It is also related in al-Bukhārī Ṣaḥīh that ʿAmar bin Dinār and Ibn Jurayj said that they heard ʿAṭā say, “I went with ʿUbayd bin ʿUmayr to ʿĀishah when she was in the vicinity of Thabir and she said to us, ‘Emigration has ceased since Allah opened up Makkah to His Prophet.’

أما‮  ‬تأويل قوله عليه الصلاة والسلام‭:‬‮ ‬لا هجوة بعد الفتح فقد قال العلماء‭:‬‮ ‬أي‮ ‬لا هجرة من مكة بعد الفتح بعد أن صارت دار الإسلام‮  ‬

As for the interpretation of the Prophets saying عليه الصلاة والسلام, “No emigration after the conquest,” the scholars have said that it means there is no emigration from Makkah after conquest and after it became dar al-Islam.

وفي‮ ‬تفسير الخازن عند قوله تعالى‭:‬‮ [‬إنَّ‮ ‬الّذِينَ‮ ‬تَوَفَّاهُمُ‮ ‬الْـمَلاَئِكَةُ‮ ‬ظَالِـمِي‮ ‬أَنْفُسِهِمْ‮]‬يعني‮ ‬بالشرك وقيل بالمقام في‮ ‬دار الشرك وذلك لأن الله لم‮ ‬يَقْبَل الإسلام من أحد بعد هجرة النبي‮ ‬صلى الله عليه وسلم حتى‮ ‬يهاجر إليه ثم نسخ ذلك بعد فتح مكة بقوله‮ ‬صلى الله عليه وسلم لا هجوة بعد الفتح أخر جاء في‮ ‬الصحيحين‮ ‬

Regarding Allah’s word, “Surely those whom the angels cause to die while they are wronging themselves…,” al-Khaazin said in his commentary, “It means, by practicing shirk (associating partners with Allah) and by remaining in the land of the mushrikīn.” The reason for this was that Allah would not accept the declaration of Islam from anyone after the hijrah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم until he emigrated to him. Then this was abrogated after the conquest of Makkah by the saying of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, “No emigration after the conquest,” as mentioned in the two Ṣaḥīhs.

وفي‮ ‬تفسير الخازن أيضا في‮ ‬سورة الأنفال عند قوله تعلى‭:‬‮ [‬وَالَّذِينَ‮ ‬آمَنُوا مِن بَعْدُ‮ ‬وَهَاجَرُوا وَجَاهَدُوا مَعَكُمْ‮] ‬اختلافوا‮ ‬في‮ ‬قوله‮ [‬مِن بَعْدُ‮] ‬فقيل من بعد صلح الحدبية وهي‮ ‬الهجرة الثانية وقيل من بعد نزول هذه الآية وقيل بعد‮ ‬غزوة بدر‮ ‬

It’s also found in the commentary of al-Khaazin, in Sūratu-l-Anfāl in the words of the Most High :

And those who afterwards believed and emigrated and strove hard along with you,” ‘scholars have interpreted the meaning of the word ‘afterwards’ in different ways. Some say it meant after the treaty of Ḥudabiyyah which was the second hijrah; some took it to mean after, the revelation of this verse. Others said it meant after battle of Badr.

ثم قال والأصح أن الـمراد به أهل الهجرة الثانية لأنها بعد الهجرة الأولى لأن الهجرة الأولى انقـظعت بعد فتح مكة لأنها صارت دار الإسلام بعد الفتح ويدل عليه قوله صلى الله عليه وسلم لا هجوة بعد الفتح

He (al-Khaazin) then said, “ The most correct interpretation in terms of what is meant by it [مِـن بَـعْدُ],  is that [it is referring to] people of the second hijrah, since it  occurred after first hijrah. This is because the first hijrah ceased after the conquest of Makkah since it became Dār al-l-Islam after the conquest.” This has been proven by the Prophets saying,  “No emigration after the conquest.

وقال الحسن الهجرة‮ ‬غير منقطعة ثم قال ويجاب عن هذا بأن الـمراد من الهجرة من مكة إلى الـمدينة‮ ‬

Al-Ḥasan said, “Emigration has not ceased.” Then he [al-Khaazin] said, “To answer this, what is meant specifically by [the word] hijrah, is the hijrah from Makkah to Madinah.

فأما من كان من الـمؤمنين في‮ ‬بلد‮ ‬يخاف على إظهار دينه من الكفار وجب عليه أن‮ ‬يهاجر إلى بلد لا‮ ‬يخاف فيه على إظهار دينه

As for the believer who is in a place where he is afraid to display his religion because of unbelievers, he has to emigrate to a place where he practice it [his religion] freely.

وقال القسطلاني‮ ‬في‮ ‬الإرشاد شرح البخاري‮ ‬ما دام في‮ ‬الدنيا دار الكفر فالهجرة منها واجبة والحكم‮ ‬يدور مع علته

Al-Qastallaanī11 said in al-Irshaad12, “As long as a land of unbelief exists in the world, emigration from it is obligatory, for the law applies wherever the relevant circumstances exist.

ويدل على ذلك قوله عليه الصلاة والسلام‭:‬‮ ‬لا تنقطع الهجرة حتى تنقطع التوبة ولا تنقطع التوبة حتى تطلع الشمس من الـمغرب وراه أبو داوود عن معاوية وفي‮ ‬ابن عبد السلام‭:‬‮ ‬الهجرة تجب في‮ ‬آخر الزمان كما تجب في‮ ‬أول الإسلام انتهى‮ ‬

That is further proven by the saying of the Prophet صَـلّى الله عليه وسلّم, “Emigration will not stop until repentance ceases and repentance will not cease until the sun rises in the West.” This has been related by Abu Dāwūd on the authority of Muʿāwiyyah. And according to Ibn ʿAbdu-s-Salaam: “Emigration will be obligatory at the end of time just as it was obligatory at the beginning of Islam.

فإن قلت هل‮ ‬يصح الإسلام‮  ‬من أسلم في‮ ‬بلد الكفر ولم‮ ‬يهاجر قلت جوابه كما قال النفراوي‮ ‬في‮ ‬الفواكه الدواني‮ ‬شرح الرسالة لم‮ ‬يبين الـمضف‮ ‬حكم من أسلم من الحربين هل‮ ‬يجوز لهم البقاء في‮ ‬دار الحرب أو‮ ‬يهاجرون منها إلى بلاد الإسلام وبينه‮ ‬غيره بقوله ولو أسلم قوم كفار حيث تنالهم أحكام الكفار وجب عليهم الأرتحال منهم فأن لم‮ ‬يرتحلوا‮ ‬يكونون عاصين لله رسوله وإسلامهم صحيح انتهى‮ ‬

If you said, “Is the Islam of the person who became a Muslim in the land of unbelief valid while he did not emigrate? I would say that the answer is as given by an-Nafraawī13 [in his book] al-Fawaakihu-d-Dawaanī14 a sharḥ for the Risaalah15of Ibn Abī Zayd: The author Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawaanī16 in his book ar-Risaalah did not make clear the law concerning people who live in the abode of war or whether they should emigrate to the land of Islam. However, it has been made clear by another scholar who said, ‘If unbelievers become Muslims, they have to emigrate if they are in a place where they come under the jurisdiction of the unbelievers, for if they do not emigrate, they will be disobedient to Allah and his Messenger although their Islam will still be valid.’”

وكما لا‮ ‬يختلف اثنان أن الـمقيم ببلد الحرب اختيارا عاص لله ورسوله لا‮ ‬يختلقان أيضا أن شهادته لا تجوز وفي‮ ‬الـمعيار لا شهادة الدجن وقضائهم لأنهم رضوا أن‮ ‬يكونوا تحت إبالة النصاري‮ ‬وفيه أيضا سئل الـمازري‮ ‬عن أحكام تأتي‮ ‬من صقلية من عند قاضيها أو شهود عدول هل‮ ‬يقبل ذلك أو لا ولا ندري‮ ‬إقامتهم هناك تحت أهل الكفر هل اضطر ار أو اختيار فأجاب هذا الـمقيم ببلد الحرب إن كان اضطرارا فلا شك أنه لايقدح‮ ‬في‮ ‬عدالة وكذلك إن تاويلة صحيحا مثل إقامة‮ … ‬لرجاء هداية أهل الحرب‮ … ‬وأما لو أقام بحكم الجاهلية والإعراض عن التأويل اختيارا فلا شك‮ ‬أنه‮ ‬يقدح في‮ ‬عدلته‮ … ‬ومن ظهرت عدالته وشك في‮ ‬إقامة على أي‮ ‬وجه فالأصل عذره‮ … ‬إلا أن تكون قرائن تشهد على أن أقامة كانت إختيارا‮ … ‬

Similarly no one disputes that whoever remains, by choice, in dar al-harb is disobedient to Allah and His Messenger, or that such a man’s testimony is invalid. It has been said in al-Miʿyaar, “The testimony of  ad-dajin17is not valid nor is that of their judges, because they are content to remain under the sovereignty of the Christians.” In al-Miʿyaar, “Al-Maazarī18 was asked whether decisions arrived at in Sicily by its qādī or upright witnesses (ʿuḍūl) could be accepted or not, assuming we do not know whether their stay there by choice or out of necessity. He replied, ‘There is no doubt that the testimony of man remaining in dar al-harb out of necessity. Likewise, if his reasons for staying there was sound, for example, if he hoped to guide the people in dar al-harb. However, if he chose to stay there, while living under the rule of jaahiliyyah (rule of those who have no knowledge of Islam) without any sound reason, then there is no doubt that his uprightness comes under question, while he whose uprightness is clear but whose reason for staying there is not clear, then the rule is to give him the benefit of the doubt, unless circumstantial evidence points to to the fact that his stay there was of his own choosing.

وتولية الكفار للقاضي‮ ‬باطبة ومع ذلك لا‮ ‬يقدح في‮ ‬تنفيذ أحكامه إذ حجر الناس بعضهم بعضا واجب

If an unbeliever appoints a man to the position of qādī, that appointment is invalid, nevertheless, the qādī’s decrees are binding because it is essential to protect people from one another.’

قلت هذا كله فيمن لم‮ ‬يقاتل الكفار حتى‮ ‬غلبهم وقدر على إظهار الدين وصار البلد به دار الإسلام إد قال القسطلاّني‮ ‬في‮ ‬الإرشاد شرح البخاري‮ ‬قال الـماوردي‮ ‬إذا قدر على إظهار الذين في‮ ‬بلد من بلاد الكفر قد صارت البلد به دار الإسلام فالإقامة فيها أفضل من الرحلة لـما‮ ‬يرجي‮ ‬من دخول إسلام إنتهى

I (Shaykh ʿUthmaan) have said all of this about those who have fought the unbelievers until they overcame them, and were in a position to render Islam a victory; the place then becomes dar al-Islam.  In this respect, al-Qastallaanī in his book al-Irshaad quotes al-Maawardī19 as saying, “If Islam can be granted victory in a land of unbelief, then it is better to remain there than to leave, since it is expected that others will accept Islam.

For the Shāfī position on Hijrah click the following link: The Abodes of the Earth

For the Hanbalī position on Hijrah click the following link: Mardin Fatwa: Madness And Muffling Falsehood 1

For a further and more extensive study, read the following scholarly text by Sh. Muhammad Shareef: Zaman’ n-Nasaara

Footnotes: (The footnotes are interactive. Click on each footnote number to find its reference point.)

1 He is Jalaalu-d-Dīn Adur Rahmān bin Abi Bakr as-Suyuutī a Shāfī scholar also known as Ibn al-Kutub (the son of books) had a great influence on many West African scholars.  He was an Egyptian writer, religious scholar, juristic expert and teacher whose works deal with a wide variety of subjects in Islamic theology.
2 At-Takmilah is a tafsīr  of as-Suyuutī’s
3 He is al-Mukhtaar bin Ahmad al-Waafi al-Kuntī, a Mālikī scholar from the Kunta tribe found in West Africa, and he is also a shaykh of the Qādirī tarīqah. He was born in Arawan to the North of Timbuktu.
4 Written by al-Mukhtaar al-Kuntī
5 He is Aḥmad bin Yaḥya al-Wansharīsī, Mālikī mufti of Fez (1430-1508) scholar born in Tlemcen (present-day Algeria). Principally known for his compilation of North African and Andalusian legal opinions (fatwas).
6 Its full title name is Al Miʿyaaru-l-Muʿrib Wa-l-Jaamiʿu-l-Mughrib ʿan Fatāwī Ahli-l-Ifriqiyyah, Wa-l-Andalus Wa-l-Maghrib (Click on link to see text). Referred to as a ‘mountain walking on the Earth’, Al-Miʿyaar is a compilation of North African and Andalusian legal opinions (fatwas) which is a source of information on the social, cultural, economic, and juridical practices of medieval al-Andalus and the Maghreb.
7 The tafsīr of al-Khaazin is known as  ’Lubab at-Taʿwīl fi Maʿānī at-Tanzil‘.
8 His name is ʿAlā ad-Dīn ʿAli bin Muḥammad bin Ibrahīm  al-Baghdādī as-Sufī (d 725/1340).
9 He is Abdus-s-Salaam Al-Laqqaanī a Mālikī jurist and scholar of Egypt.
10 Al-Laqqaanī’s sharḥ for Jawhaaratu-t-Tawhīd
11 He is Imām Shihaabu-d-Dīn Abu-l-ʿAbbaas Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abu Bakr, al-Qastallaanī al-Qutaybī ash-Shafiʿī (d. 923H)
12 Irshaadu-s-Saari li Sharḥ Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī by al-Qastallanī. It is one of the most well known commentary on Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.
13 He is Ahmad bin Ghunaym an-Nafrāwī,  a Mālikī scholar of Egypt (d. 1713).
14 al-Fawaakihu-d-Dawaanī a sharḥ for the Risaalah
15 Ar-Risaalah is an instructional book devoted to the education of young children which  is a summary of the main aspects of aqīdah (Faith), fiqh (Jurisprudence) and akhlaaq (character).  It is divided into 45 chapters. ibn Abī Zayd wrote this book at the age of seventeen.
16 He is Abū Muhammad Abdullah ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawaani who was a Malīkī scholar and teacher from Qayrawaan in Tunisia (922–996).
17 The verb dajana means to become domesticated, tame; to remain; to stay; to get used to; to become habituated; to be accustomed to. Therefore ad-dājin is one who remains or stays behind because he has become accustomed to his current habitat (preferred surroundings) and because of this, he’s afraid of emigrating or refuses to do so.
18 He is Muḥammad bin ʿAlī al-Maazarī of Sicilian origin who settled in Maḥdiyyah, Tunisia (1058-1141)
19 He is ʿAbu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Habib al-Mawardi a Shāfī faqih of Persian origin; qādi of Ustawa near Nīsāpūr. Al-Mawardi’s works on Islamic governance are recognized as classics in the field. He is well remembered for his treatise  Al-Aḥkaam as-Sulṭaniyyah w-a-d-Dīniyyah on ‘The Ordinances of Government‘ which provides a detailed a definition of the functions of the khalifate.

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

‘The African Caliphate’ by Ibrahim Sulaiman


A Book Review 

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 ( present day northern Nigeria) during his time.

Tajdiid can be translated from Arabic to mean: ‘revival, restoration, resuscitation, regeneration, while jihād can be translated from the Arabic to mean: exertion, striving, going through pain for the sake of something. It can also be a struggle or battle to defend dar al-Islam against its enemy and unbelief or against un-Islamic innovation or rebellion against Allah; it’s a battle to defeat kufr (disbelief / un-Islamic practices) 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 Messenge rصلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم, 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 over dar al-Islam.

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’ (Muslim legal scholars) that were with him to be mukhalliṭuun (those who mix the practice of Islam and un-Islamic practices 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 this 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 (collective followers), 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 strove to reestablish the supremacy of the Sunnah by calling the people back to Islam, commanding the good and prohibiting evil. His goal was to bring about a  social transformation by working to destroy the negative affects of the innovation (bidʿah) that had crept into the social fabric of Hausaland.

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.”

As a true mujaddid (reviver of correct Islamic practice), 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 (emigration from the place where it is unsafe and impossible to practice  Islam to a place where the practice of Islam is possible and safe) which followed the Shehu’s work of tajdiid, and then 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 were 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 or 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 (plural of kaafir): 1. the unbelieving king who never was a Muslim, 2. the unbelieving king who professed Islam for outward show only, 3. an apostate king who abandons Islam and return to unbelief, and 4. 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.

Jihād is a command from Allah, while revolution is born out of the ambition of men. The Shehu’s jihād was a conflict between two orders, two diins: diinu-l-Islam (life transactions based on belief) and diin-l-kufr (life transactions based on disbelief). Jihād is a conflict between those who want to empower Islam, and its pure practice and method of governance, on the one hand, and those who want kufr to continue to prevail in all aspects of the social and political transaction on the other.

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.” p. 98.

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 jihād 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 (The Qur’an and the behavioral pattern of the Messenger of Allah صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم).

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.

Click on the link below to read and / or download this important work written by Dr. Ibrahim Sulaiman:

Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 20:44  Leave a Comment  

The Jihad and the Consolidation of Sudanic Intellectual Tradition

The Jihad and the Consolidation of Sudanic Intellectual Tradition


Ibrahim Ado-Kurawa

Traditions are “those works that have proven to be of enduring value” to the Sokoto Caliphate and its successor-section of the Nigerian society. Intellectual in this paper means verbal art in written form especially[1]. They are limited in this paper to Islamic Sciences of Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Tauhid/Ilm Kalam (Theology) and Tasawwuf (Sufism). The Sokoto traditions were a continuation of the Sudanic Islamic tradition[2]. Sudanic Africa stretches from the Red Sea coast of the present day Republic of Sudan to the Atlantic coast of the present Republic of Senegal. It was in Timbuktu of the Songhay Empire that this area reached its peak in scholarly endeavor. The founders of the Sokoto Caliphate were educated in the same system as obtained in Timbuktu [3]. This Caliphate was in the central Sudan in the present Federal Republic of Nigeria and other neighboring states. In terms of scholarly contributions its leaders were worthy successors of the Timbuktu tradition but succeeding generations especially the contemporary generation have not been able to keep the legacy of extensive literary output. It was one of the most literate societies compared to its neighbors when the British imperialist over ran in it at the beginning of the twentieth century[4]. It also was the largest, most complex and most prosperous state of the pre-colonial tropical Africa .

Arrival of Islam in the Sudan

One of the earliest traces of Islam in the Sudan was amongst Takrur, the Toorodbe (singular Tooroodo) in Fulfulde, the Torankawa (singular, Ba toranke) in Hausa[5] and Toorobbe or Toucouleur in French for all the Fulfulde speakers who originated from Futa Toro of Senegal [6]. They belong to different tribes and clans[7]. In fact some of them distinguish themselves as a separate entity distinct from other Fulbe or Fulani thus they became identified as Toronkawa in Nigeria . They claim descent from Esau of the Bible. According to Wazirin Sokoto Alhaji Junaidu[8] the ancestor of the Toronkawa was Rama son of Esau[9] who was the son of the Prophet Ishaq (AS), the son of Prophet Ibrahim (AS).

The Sokoto legend is in line with the conventional legend of ascribing a light skinned ancestor to the Fulbe. Linguistic science has demonstrated that the Fulfulde language is closer to the languages of other Negroid peoples than to Arabic and other Afro-Asiatic languages. And moreover there is hardly any Arabic source which reported the ancestor of the Fulani Uqbah ibn Nafi`s purported sojourn in the Sudan[10]. It has been documented that he championed Khalifa Mu`awiyya`s westward expansion of the Dar-Islam[11]. He built the fourth most important Islamic city,[12] Qayrawan[13], in 49 AH (670 CE) and it became the nucleus of Islamic influence in Ifriqiyya[14]. The legendary General was said to have advanced from his military base in Qayrawan until he was stopped by the waves of Atlantic but his purported encounter with Bajju Manga has not been reported[15]. He died a martyr in Biskar in modernAlgeria in what, may have been an encounter with some Berbers. His grave has become a national monument of Algeria [16].

Another problem for the Sokoto legend is the report of Al-Bakri who was the first to write about Takrur. He has reported that it was “a town on the “ Nile ” (the Senegal ), whose black inhabitants were idol worshippers. War Djabi (or War Ndiyay) son of Rabi was their first Chief who became a Muslim. He enjoined his people to accept Islam and he introduced the Shari’ah. He died in 432 AH (1040 – 1). Thus Takrur became “one of the earliest Sudanese kingdoms to embrace Islam”[17]. Al-Idrisi who wrote one hundred years after Al-Bakri described the contemporary king of Takrur as just and firm ruler[18]. Al-Bakri`s account contradicts Sokoto legend if Uqbah Ibn Nafi one of the earliest Muslim generals[19] who died in 62 AH (684 CE)[20] had ever had any contact with Takrur al-Bakri must report it but he did not. His account may be more authentic than the Sokoto legend since he was a contemporary of War Djabi (or War Ndyay) and he wrote his al-Masalik in 459 AH (1067-1068) twenty-seven years after the later`s conversion to Islam.

Many historians and scholars are of the view that Borno had the earliest contact with Islam when Umayyad refugees settled in Kanem after the overthrow of their dynasty by the Abbasids. It is argued that they might have converted some of the people of Kanem. This was reinforced by the activities of the Ulama and traders from Egypt and North Africa . Islam became a state religion with the conversion of Umme Jilmi, the King of Kanem in the early 12th century (Christian era).

There are several versions of the exact time of the arrival of Islam in Hausaland of which Kanois a typical example. The first Muslim ruler of Kano was perhaps Bagauda who flourished around (999 Christian era). If this is accepted then Kano becomes one of the earliest Muslim polities in the Sudan . But Gilliland implied that “the Bagoda aliens brought no religious system of their own though a number of factors are indicated”. And in the next paragraph of the same paper he contradicted his earlier suggestion by stating that, “while the kind of religion Bagoda brought to Kano is not clearly described, it did bear close relationship to Islam”[21]. The Kano Chronicle consistently reported struggles between the Bagaudawa and the indigenous people it referred to as pagans. If the Bagaudawa were not Muslims why then refer to the indigenous people as pagans? What then was their religion? They had Muslim names such as Daud, Isa and Usman. If they were not Muslims were they Jews or Christians who never bear the name Usman[22]. Another suggestion is that their religion was similar to the Hanif religion ofArabia before Islam. This seems unlikely because that religion was extinct at the time of Bagauda (999 Christian dating). It is quite clear that Sarkin Kano Yaji (750-787AH/1349-1385 Christian dating) was the first to make Islam the state religion[23]. Sarkin Kano Muhammadu Rumfa (867-904AH/1463-1499) revived Islam with the aid of Shaykh al-Maghili who wrote the treatise on government for him[24]. There were similar reforms in other parts of Hausaland and Borno during this period.

Establishment of Islamic Scholarly Tradition

The Wangarawa were the first group of Islamic scholars who revived Islam in Hausaland[25]. It has been suggested the exodus of the Wangarawa led by Zagaiti from Mali to Hausaland might be connected with the notorious actions of Sunni Ali[26]. The Wangarawa were perhaps the first to set scholarship tradition of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Lugha (Arabic language) and Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet SAW) in Hausaland. The Madabo scholars of Kano trace their origin to the Wangarawa. Fulani scholars arrived Kano during the reign of Sarki Yakubu (d.904AH/ 1463), they enriched the scholarship of the area by bringing books on Tauhid (Theology) and Sarf (Etymology). The Kano Chronicle reported that prior to that time, Kano scholars had in addition to the Qur’an, books on law and traditions[27]. Kano also had the privilege of being the first city in Hausaland where al-Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil the most advanced Maliki Law book was read and taught by Shaykh al-Maghili[28]. Books of al-Ghazali were also brought by al-Maghili.

The influence of al-Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil in the Maliki Law of Hausaland superseded other sources especially of Andalusia . Hence for example folding of arms in prayer, which is recommended in the Andalusian School , is discouraged by al-Mukhtasar. Most of the scholars of Hausaland belonged to the al-Ash’ari School of Islamic Theology founded by Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, who differed from the school of the Muta’zilite on four issues[29]. The most prominent was that the Qur’an is the word of Allah, therefore, uncreated and eternal. The Almohads who were Ash’aris might have reinforced the al-Ash’arite school in the Sudan . Al-Magili also brought books by al-Gazali, who was a leading Ash’ari scholar, to Kano .

Some books have enjoyed the patronage of the Sarakunan (Kings of) Kano since the pre-Jihad era and up to this day. Amongst them is al-Shifa of Qadi Iyad it was brought to Hausaland and Kano by Shaykh Tunusi[30] during the reign of Sarkin Kano Mohamma Kisoki (914-973 AH/ 1509-1565 CE). While Sarkin Kano Abubakar Kado (973-980 AH/ 1565-1575 CE) was the first to read al-Shifa at the house ofDan Goronduma Kursiya[31] and it is still read in Kano especially at the time of need or catastropes. It is also read every Ramadan in the morning at Gidan Rumfa (Sarki’s palace). Tafsir al-Jalalyn by Jalaludeen al-Mahaly and Jalaludeen al-Suyuti is also read by many Kano scholars and it is traditionally read in the palace some claimed that it was first read there by al-Suyuti himself.

Tasawwuf or Sufism is an Islamic science, which enables a responsible Muslim to acquire praiseworthy qualities and to keep away from blameworthy attributes. The praiseworthy qualities aretaqwa, consciousness of Allah, tawba, turning away from all acts of rebellion, Zuhd, doing without in this world, tawakkul, trust and reliance in Allah, rida, contentment with Allah’s decree and kawf wal raj’a, fear and hope. Responsible Muslims are expected to purify their hearts from blameworthy attributes are purification of the heart from the waswas whispering of shaytan, ujb, conceit, kibr, pride,amal, false hope, ghadab, anger without grounds, hasad, envy and riy’a showing off[32]. Tariqah literarily means path but in Islamic etymology it means the path of achieving the knowledge of tasawwuf.  The Tariqah has made it easy for responsible Muslims to acquire this knowledge.  The person who follows the tariqah may or may not achieve the goal of acquiring the knowledge of tasawwuf.  The founder of the Qadiriyya Tariqah was Shaykh Abd al-Kadir al-Jaylani and according to some sources it was brought to Kano by Shaykh al-Maghili.

The Jihad Leaders and Islamic Scholarship

The Jihad leaders were trained in the Sudan and they were imbibed with the scholarly tradition of the area. They studied the subjects and the books that were common in the area and they also made profound contributions to various fields of Islamic scholarship. Their works were characteristically clear and simple. They were also well documented which showed the availability of major sources in Hausaland. They addressed issues relevant to their situation and Shehu Usman Danfodio (thereafter referred to as the Shehu) once advised:

O Brethren, do read and re-read the books of your contemporary scholars because they were more knowledgeable about the important matters of your time…their writings are elaborations on what the previous scholars had summarized….the writings of each decade is an elaboration on the writings of the previous one, for this reason each scholar compiles for his contemporaries, though he has already found what he needed of religious matters in the writings of his predecessors[33].

Shehu’s book Hisn al-Afham min Juyush al-Awham is a confirmation of his adherance to the Asha’ari (School of Islamic Theology ). The book contains quotations from major Ash’ari scholars such as al-Ghazali and al-Sanusi. Perhaps since before the Jihad systematic theology was not well received by theUlama of Hausaland[34]. The Jihad leaders favoured Ilm Usul al-Din (Knowledge of the fundamentals of the religion) rather than Ilm al-Kalam (Science of Theology). The Shehu gave his opinion thus:

In fact, theology is praise-worthy when assessed for its value according to its benefit.  It is a knowledge through which we can have the thorough knowledge of Monotheism, (Tauh id) and which can protect Tauhid from mis-understanding, disclosure of facts and through it the conception of Tauhid will remain as it is. On the other hand, theology has been disgraced and has come to dishonour for its harmful teachings; like rousing doubtful thoughts, and stirring up doubt in beliefs[35].

The Jihad leaders maintained their allegiance to the Maliki School of Islamic Law. But they were not dogmatic sometimes they even disagreed with major authorities of the Madhhab (Islamic School of Law) as in the case of the Shehu in Ihya al-Sunnah where he disagreed with Imam Ibn Abi Ziad[36]. This was generally because the Shehu differentiated between the divine aspects of the Shari’ah and human derivations[37]. In some instances he disagreed with a majority view, which was also a source of disagreement with his brother Abdullahi[38]. The Shehu believed that all Sunni schools of law are authoritative. The Shehu believed that the scholars of his time knew the law in detail but did not know “the political and social implications”[39], which is strikingly similar to the situation today. As a reformer the Shehu wrote extensively against syncretism or the practice of combining unIslamic customs with rituals. Some people have maintained these practices that have resemblance with the activities of traditional religionists in relation to the rituals of passage such as sadakokin mutuwa (alms for the deceased) after seven days and forty days.

Some historians are of the view that the Sokoto Jihad leaders based their administrative structure on political theories advanced by Abbasid  Scholars and the political patrons of the Abbasid scholars according to these analysts were more tyrannical than the Hausa rulers overthrown by the Jihad leaders. According to one of the leading proponents of this thought many of such Islamic movements like the Sokoto Jihad movement in the past lasted for a short-while[40]. Considering the Shehu’s commitment to interpretations according to contemporary circumstances this suggestion cannot be accepted uncritically. Moreover most of the intellectual development in the Muslim world occurred during the Abbasid period, all the Madhhib (Islamic Schools of Law) were established during that time therefore it is very difficult for any scholar to be devoid of the influence of that period.

One of the debates that, was given prominence by the historians was Bello ’s engagement with Shehu Muhammad Amin al-Kanemi of Borno. It was a lengthy polemic in which Al-Kanemi engaged Sokoto leaders challenging them “over the status of Islam” but he was aware that the state of Islam in Borno was not well and his effort in reviving it there was not successful as observed below:

Although al-Kanemi entered into a lengthy debate with Sokoto leadership, challenging it over the status of Islam in Borno, he was himself aware that all was not well with the state of Islam in the country. Also in the same correspondence with Sokoto, he accused the leadership of the quest for power and worldliness, and although he tried to emphasize his religious inclination, all indications seem to point to the fact that his moves and actions were politically motivated. There is yet no evidence to show that he introduced far reaching Islamic reform in Borno. This is in spite of his alleged claims that his mission to Borno was an Islamic one[41].

The Shehu was committed to Tasawwuf as evidenced in his writing especially Usul al-Wilaya but he also gave options to those who do not have a Shaykh to remain in company of Muslim brothers[42]. In his characteristic thoroughness he was very clear in adhering to the Sunnah in Ihya al-Sunnah[43]. The Jihad leaders remained members of the Qadiriyya whose founder was Shaykh Abd al-Kadir al-Jaylani and according to some sources it was brought to Hausaland by Shaykh Abd al-Karim al-Maghili. Shehu and his followers were deeply influenced by Maliki Sufi scholars such as Imam Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn al-Hajj (d.737AH) author of al-Madkhal, which was often quoted by the Shehu. Ibn Hajar one of the greatest scholars commended Ibn al-Hajj as one of the teachers of Islam who made erudite differentiation between the Sunnah and unworthy innovations[44]. Another Sufi scholar whose writings influenced the Shehu and the Jama’ah was Shaykh Abul Abbas Ahmad al-Zaruq (d. 899AH), author ofQawa’idul Tasawwuf the great work on Tasawwuf. The Jihad leaders also had contact with Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti[45]. During the Jihad the followers of the Shehu were also known as Jama’ar Kadirawa (the community of the Qadiriyya) and someimes they were also called Kadirawan Shehu Dan Fodio (theQadiriyya followers of Shehu Dan Fodio).

Shaykhs Abdullahi Dan-Fodio, Muhammad Bello and Gidado Dan Laima documented the spiritual affiliation of Shehu to Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani.  In Tazyin al-Waraqat (dated 1813 C.E. 1228 A.H.) Shaykh Abdullahi Dan Fodio translated one of the Shaykh’s poems (dated 1797) from Fulfulde to Arabic that illustrated the Sufi background of the Shaykh:

The blessings of Ahmad in the country of Allah have become general and abundant by the presence of Abd al-Qadir.  Our Faith, together with our sunna is in obedience  ‘Abd al-Qadir, and make unbelief together with innovation and disobedience far from me by the greatness of ‘Abd al-Qadir.

The spiritual state of the Shehu and relation with Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jailani was also described by Sarkin Musulmi Muhammad Bello in Infaq al-Maisur dated 5 Dhil-qa’da 1227 (10 Nov. 1812). Raud al-Jinan of Wazir Gidado Dan Laima, which was written 1254 A.H. (1838) after the death of the Sarkin Musulmi Muhammad Bello, clearly indicated the Sufi traits of the Jama’a particularly the role of Muhammad Kwairanga as an intermediary between the Shehu and Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani.

The pattern of Islamic Education did not change after the Jihad instead the Jihad leaders consolidated and expanded the frontiers of learning. Sarkin Musulmi Muhammad Bello established aUniversity Center at Silame that attracted students from all parts of the Sudan and it achieved great success[46]. It products became leading members of the bureaucracy of their respective domains in the caliphate and beyond. One of its products was the Qadi of Kano who wrote the account of the Jihad inKano [47].

Colonial Rule

Some historians were of the view that the internal contradiction of the Sokoto Caliphate was the cause of its defeat in the hands of the British imperialists, who were unable to defeat a smaller polity such as the Zulu Empire because of its internal cohesion. A major shortcoming of this suggestion is the observation by another historian that the machinery of the machinery of the caliphate’s government was “in good working order”, its defeat was not as a result of internal decay since it was obviously stronger than any of its neighbors. Its collapse was purely due to European imperial expansion a force the caliphate could not resist[48]. Basic theory of international relations has shown that the survival of any state no matter how powerful depends on the international system[49] and at that time it was dominated by the Europeans who shared Africa amongst themselves. The explanation for the surrender of some of the leaders of the Caliphate to the British and their acceptance of colonial over rule could be found in Islamic precept, which gave options to Muslims when faced with annihilation. The three options available to the Muslims of the Caliphate were: Hijrah (exodus) represented by such people as Sarkin Kano Alu, resistance and shahadah (martyrdom) led by Amir al-Muminin Attahiru  Ahmadu and followed by many such as Wazirin Kano Ahmadu  and the third attitude was taqiyyah (prudent consciousness) led by Wazirin Sokoto and followed by others such as Sarkin Kano Abbas. A competent authority has summarized the Islamic basis of these attitudes[50]. Some historians may interpret taqiyyah as cowardice but those who opted for it  preserved Islam by refusing to support the abrogation of the Shari’ah as the British wanted. This was clearly proven in the case of Sarkin Kano Abbas  who was strongly committed to his Islamic faith[51]. Some others who returned after the defeat of Attahiru refused to participate in the affairs of the state because of their belief in the moral aspect of the hijra. One of such was Alkalin Kano Sulaiman  (d. 1943) the paternal grandfather of General Murtala Muhammed . Today Shari’ah has re-emerged because of the refusal of these Muslims to accept Western values as propagated by the colonialists and their successors.

The British tried to encourage the Qadiriyya in preference to the Tijjaniyya this was because they perceived the Tijjaniyya followers as more radical therefore “bad Muslims”[52]. Sarkin Kano Abbas was perhaps the first Emir to accept and encourage the Tijjaniyya. He was also successful in resisting the British attempt to obliterate the Shari’ah. He refused to apply siyasa (politics) in hukm[53] as encouraged by the British who had wanted to abrogate the Shari’ah through that strategy. He also defended the rights of Muslim women and orphans who brought their grievances before his judicial council as observed by Christelow: “The Council’s defense of widow’s property rights was closely connected to its consistent defense of orphans rights”[54]. The Tijjaniyya followers in Kano with the backing of Emir Abbas and his son Abdullahi Bayero who later also became the Emir (1926-1953) were part of the struggle against the colonial rule and were subsequently identified with the opposition Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). This was the opposite of the establishment brotherhood the Qadiriyya whose members were considered “good Muslims” by the colonialists[55]. This was a paradox the Qadiriyya that was at the forefront of Islamic reforms in the 19th century became the brotherhood of the conservatives in the 20th century.

At the intellectual level the colonialists’ strategy was to gradually obliterate Islamic education and the psyche of the Muslims. The first step was to destroy the literary technology, which was in Arabic form and replacing it with the Latin script[56]. This was because the missionaries advised the colonial government that if Arabic remains the official script, Islam would continue to be promoted. A secular education was designed for the Muslims of northern Nigeria . Hiskett  demonstrated the negative impact of this colonial secular education on Muslims such as the obliteration of Islamic literary tradition[57]. It was designed to produce citizens that would remain subservient to the West even after independence. At Katsina College , which later became Barewa College future northern elites were trained not be intellectual inclined and were encouraged to trust and depend on the British on even matters that affected the Shari’ah[58]. But perhaps the most important negative impact of secular education was “adoption of European ways, however trivial, that added up to the dissolution of Islam” in some sections of the state and the society[59]. These elites who were products of the British colonization became part of the ruling class of Nigeria . They became part or patrons of subsequent religious movements in Nigeria .

The New Reform Movement A Departure from Sokoto Legacy

It would be worthwhile to review the books studied at various levels of Islamic education in the Sokoto Caliphate and its successors. This is done by comparing with the account of Imam Umar who experienced both the 19th and 20th century before concluding with the new approach brought about by recent changes as a result of more contacts with the Arab countries. Most of the books studied were those studied by the Jihad leaders[60].

The first elementary school of most Muslim children is the Quranic School where they are taught reading and writing Quranic text. Imam Umaru has reported that in his time those who send their children to school in Kano were the majority compared to other parts of Hausaland[61]. In the 19thcentury CE when Imam Umaru was a child, children were sent to the Quranic School if they were able to count one to ten even if they were not circumcised (in the case of males). The child was taught to recite and memorize Surat al-Fatiha and from Surat al-Nas to al-Fil. To celebrate the completion of this stage a meal of rice and beans was given as sadaqat (alms) to the Mallam and pupils of the school. Thereafter the child will learn other chapters of the Quran which are divided in sixty hizb (portions) and after each hizb a ram or goat will be slaughtered and served with tuwo (corn meal) and given out as sadaqat to neighbors, the teacher and other pupils. This practice is however now very rare because of the economic situation of this of decade[62]. The celebration for completing the Quran was expensive in the 19th century CE it involved slaughtering an ox and large walima (party) for neighbors, the teacher and other pupils. Sometimes the ceremony was delayed because of the expenses involved.

After completing the Quranic School some pupils continue with their Islamic Education by enrolling at any of the numerous Ilm (literarily science) schools in Kano . Most students choose the school of the Mallam they respect most while those with tariqa affialation choose the school of theirtariqa Shaykh. Learning in these schools is still based on some books, which, shall be stated below and the period of completing each book entirely depends on the ability of the student.

The first book that is studied by most students is Kitab Qawa’id al-Salat by an anonymous author. It is a very short book of about six pages and it contains passages on salat and tawhid (Oneness of Allah). After completing this book the student will study Mukhtasar al-Akhdari by Abdurrhaman Al-Akhadari (n.d). This is an important elementary book of Maliki Fiqh studied by young students all over Hausaland[63] and it deals mainly with tahara (purification) and salat (prayer). The next book though elementary but more advanced than al-Akhdari is Muqiddima Fi-1 Fiqh by al-Aslmawi it covers the two pillars of Islam salat and siyam (fasting). The student may also be introduced to any book on Arabic especially dealing with the praises of the Prophet (SAW). al-Muqadimat al-’Izziyya by by Abul-l-Hassan b. Ali (d.1533) a more advanced Fiqh textbook in terms of volcabulary and topics covered is studied by many students who have studied al-Ashmawi. Apart from the rituals, marriage and divorce, commercial transactions, inheritance, explanations on some prophetic traditions, etiquettes, bribery and corruption are concisely treated by al-’Izziya[64]. Talim al-Muta’allim by an anonymous author a book on ethics of learning is studied by many students while studying Muqiddimat al-Ashmawi or al-Izziyyah, some may add Arbaun Hadith al-Nawawi (Forty Hadiths of al-Nawawi) by Imam Yahya al-Nawawi which is the most basic hadith textbook used by students in Hausaland.

The second stage of learning in the ’ Ilm School may include Bakrut al-Sa’ad wa zubdat al-Madhab (beginning of happiness and cream of the school) popularly known as al-Risalah of Abdallah b. Abi Zayd al-Qayrawan[65]. Some students at this stage may study al-Ishiriniyat of Abu Zaid Abd al-Rahman al-Andalusi al-Fazazi. Other poetry books on the praise of Prophet (SAW) that may be studied by many students before the Ishiriniyat include al-Burda by Sharaf al-Din Abu Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. Ali Al-Busiri, al-Witriyyah by al-Bagdadi al-Witri and Marmuz aI-Tantarani by Ahmad b. Abi Bakr. Most students are introduced to Nahwu (Arabic Grammar) at this stage by studying the elementary al-Ajurumiya by Muhammad b. Muhammad Ibn Dau’ud Ibn Ajurruma al-Sanhaji. The student may also study Riyad al-Salihin of Muhyidin Imam Yahya al-Nawawi or Mukhtar al-Ahadith al-Nabawiyat wa al-Hikma al-Muhammadiyat of al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Hashimi this book has been translated into Hausa by a Kano Scholar[66]. The next book on Fiqh is the more advanced Irshad al-Salik fi Fiqh Imam Malik of Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad Ibn Askar and Nigerian Ulama wrote the two famous commentaries of the book[67].

The last stage in most ’Ilm schools is the stage of studying al-Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil ibn Ishaq. This is the most advanced textbook of Maliki Fiqh, which, is studied in Hausaland. It takes many students several years before they complete it. Some students study it with several scholars and whoever masters the book automatically becomes a jurist in the Maliki School . Other books, which, may be studied along with Mukhtasar may include Alfiyat of Ibn Malik it is one of the most advanced books of Arabic grammar it also has several commentaries but the most widely read is the commentary of Ibn Aqil. Muqamat of al- Qasim b. Ali b. Muhammad al-Hariri, is the most advanced book of Arabic literature which, is studied in most schools. In the field of Usul al-Fiqh student may study Alfiyat Usul of Shaykh Abdullahi Dan Fodio, although it is not the most elementary book of Usul al-Fiqh many students start studying the subject with it because of their proficiency in Arabic. In field of Theology Nazam al-Kubra is the most advanced book. The stages of study enumerated above are the most basic and conventional especially in Kano but other patterns are also common based on the preference of the teachers and students. For example those students who have interest in becoming judges usually studyTuhfat al-Hukkam of Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Asim before they study al-Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil. Tafsir is mostly learnt through the annual Ramadan sessions although some scholars teach it throughout the year. These books give students the background and proficiency in Arabic that enables them later to write fluently in the language and many scholars especially those trained in Kano have excelled as testified by their literary output in comparison to their contemporaries[68].

One of the most prominent leaders of the reform movement was Shaykh Abubakar Gumi, the former Grand Kadi of Northern Nigeria. During the first republic he was closely associated with the Premier of Northern Region Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardaunan Sokoto) who even attempted to revive the Qadiriyya under the banner of the legacy of the Shehu in form of Usmaniyya. After  his death the reform movement became more prominently anti-Sufi and they were justifications from their side claiming that the Shehu abandoned the Tariqa without any evidence. The movement was also Maliki in its Jurisprudence but with the return of the Middle East trained scholars there is now gradual shift to no Madhhab situation or to the teachings of Shaykh Nasirudeen Albani. They are even now becoming more radical than Shaykh Gumi or even Shaykh Nasirudeen Albani who cautioned some of his followers outside Nigeria to stop condemning people like Imam Nawawi and Ibn Hajar as non-Ahl Sunnah. Such a position is now even more popular amongst the Nigerian reformer-returnees from the Middle East who consider themselves more knowledgeable than the Shehu or even these great Imams.

The nucleus of the reform movements is the Islamiyya School a pattern that originated from the days of NEPU the opposition party in northern Nigeria when they first established Islamic schools along the style of Western schools. Most of the reformers also do not follow the style of the Ilm schools that has existed for centuries in which the teacher in most cases teaches an individual separately[69]. Instead they follow the pattern of Middle East whereby the teacher gives a lesson on a particular subject or book to the generality of his students. Many of these reformers have Mosques or schools where they deliver their lessons. Some of them have been associated with radical political tendencies but there is hardly any one that could be compared to the Shehu in terms of commitment or even literary output. The Shehu never accepted material gifts from those in power[70]. He tried to live according to his means. In terms of literary output the contributions of the reform movement is decimal compared to the contributions of the Sokoto Jihad leaders who wrote on many aspects of their time. And even when compared to those of their rivals there was very little to show despite the patronage of the elites and some Middle East governments and organizations[71].


The Shehu was successful in establishing an Islamic society in Hausaland largely through intellectual endeavors. Using all the available intellectual means such as writing books and composing poems in the three main languages of his area at that time, Arabic, Hausa and Fulfulde. Some of his successors and contemporaries continued with these means of mobilization[72]. With the arrival of colonial rule intellectual endeavors sank and this area is yet to recover. It has not yet excelled in the Western tradition and has lost its own therefore it has remained backward in all spheres. Universities even over mimic the West[73]. The reform movement has not succeeded in either literary out put or social transformation where the Shehu and his group were successful.

The contemporary reform movement has gone further from even challenging the Sufi groups that it started with to questioning of the Maliki Madhhab and the Ash’ari School on several issues. This distinguishes it from the movement led by the Shehu, which was home grown and its reform was based on the long established teachings of the Sudan . With external patronage this reform movement has grown even in areas that where some scholars thought there could be insulation[74]. It is possible that the reform movement could experience some set back because of Saudi compliance with American directives against funding of Islamic activities in Muslim countries and sponsoring of students to study in Saudi Arabia.

The challenge before Nigerian Muslims is to learn from the Shehu how he used the available local intellectual resources to reform his society without much external support. This is more relevant now than before because as we can see political leaders at any given time could jeopardize external support.


Abun-Nasr, J. 1996 ‘Review of Allen Christelow (ed) 1994 Thus Ruled Emir Abbas: Selected Cases from the Records of the Emir of Kano’s Judicial’ Journal of African History 37: 1996

Adamu, A. U. 2004 Sunset at Dawn, Darkness at Noon : Reconstructing the Mechanisms of Literacy in Indigenous Communities Bayero University , Kano Inaugural Lecture Number 7

Adeleye , R. A. 1971 Power and Diplomacy in Northern Nigeria : The Sokoto Caliphate and its EnemiesIbadan .

Ado-Kurawa, I. 1989 The Jihad in Kano : Translation and Analysis of Taqyid al-Akhbar of Qadi Muhammad Ibn Salih Kano

Al-Kashnawi, Abu Bakr Ibn Hussain (nd) As’hal al-Madrik (4 vols) Beirut and al-Zakzaki, Alhaji Yahuza (nd) Fath al-Jawad (2 vols) Kano

Al-Masri, F. H. 1963 ‘Life of Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio before the Jihad’ Journal of Historical Society ofNigeria II: 4

Al-Qadiri, Qaribullah 1993 Al-Risalat al-Jaliyat Qabla Kiyani Daulat Sukutu Kano

Batran, A. A. 1973 ‘A contribution to the biography of Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Karim Ibn Muhammad (Umar-A‘Mar) al-Maghili al-Tilimsani’ Journal of African History

Bedri, K. and Starratt, P. E. 1977 (Translation of) ‘Taj al-Din Fima Yajib ‘ala al-Muluk or The Crown of Religion Concerning the Obligation of Princes’ Kano Studies (New Series) (2) 1974/77

Bello , O 1995 (Edited and translated with an introduction) Islamic Education in 18th Century Nigeria : Tarikh Mustapha al-Torodi by Abd Allah b, Al-Qadi Al-Hajj. Sokoto.

Carnegie, S. C. 1987 ‘BERDAEV, Nicholas (Alexandrovich)’ in Turner, R. (ed) Thinkers of the Twentieth Century London

Clapham, C. 1996 Africa and the International System: The Politics of State Survival Cambridge

Christelow, A. 1991 ‘Women and Law in Early-Twentieth-Century Kano’ in Coles, C. and Mack, B. (eds)Hausa Women in the Twentieth Century Madison Wisconsin

Dan Fodio, S. U. (nd) Handbook on Islam, Iman and Ihsan being a translation of: Kitab usul ad-Deen the roots of the Life Transaction and Kitab ulum al-Muamala the sciences of behaviour by Aisha Abdur ar-Rahman at-Tarjumana

Falola T. et al 1991 History of Nigeria 2: Nigeria in the nineteenth Century Ikeja

Ferguson, D. E. 1973 ‘Nineteenth Century Hausaland Being a Description by Imam Imoru of the Land, Economy and Society of his People’ PhD Dissertation University of California Los Angeles

Gbadamosi, T. G. O. and Ajayi, J. F. A. 1980 ‘Islam and Christianity in Nigeria ’ in Ikime, O. (ed)Groundwork of Nigerian History Ibadan

Gilliland, D.S. 1979. ‘Religious Change Among the Hausa 1000-1800: A Hermeneutic of the KanoChronicle’ Journal of Asian and African Studies X1V: 3-4.

Hilliard, C. B. (ed) 1998 Intellectual Traditions of Pre-Colonial Africa McGraw Hill Boston

Hiskett , M 1984 Development of Islam in West Africa Essex

Hiskett , M. 1994 The Course of Islam in Africa Edinburgh

Hitti, P.K., 1970 History of the Arabs

Hunwick, J.O. 1966 ‘The Nineteenth Century Jihads’ in Anene, J. C. and Brown, G. Africa in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Ibadan

Hunwick, J. O. 1995 Arabic Literature of Africa Volume II The Writings of Central Sudanic Africa Leiden ,New York and Koln

Ibn al-Hajj 1981 Al-Madkhal Beirut

Ibn Fudi, Shaykh Uthman 1962 Ihya ul-Sunnah wa Ikhmad ul-Bidat Beirut

Ibn Hajar 1989 Kitab al-Isabah Fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba vol.2

Ibn Kathir (nd). Al-Bidayah wa-Al-Nihayah Beirut

Idrissou, M. M. 1979 ‘‘Kalfu’ or the ‘Fulbe’ Emirate of Bargirmi and ‘Toorobe’ of Sokoto’ in Usman, Y. B. (ed) Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphat. Sokoto Saminar Paper. Zaria ,

Junaid, A 1957 Tarihin Fulani. Zaria 1957

Kani, A. M. 1988 The Intellectual Origin of Islamic Jihad in Nigeria London

Kane, O. 2002 Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria : A Study of the Society for the Removal of Innovation and Reinstatement of Tradition Leiden

Katsina, M. N. 1984 ‘A Study of Advanced Level Quranic Schools in Kano , Katsina and Zaria ’ MLS Thesis ABU Zaria

Kenny, J. 1992 The Risalah Treatise on Maliki Law of Abdallah Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani

Klein, M. 1968 Islam and Imperialism in Senegal : Sine – Saloum, 1847 – 1914, Edinburgh

Levtzion. N., 1976 “The early States of the Western Sudan to 1500” in Ajayi, J.F.A. and Crowder M. (eds). History of West Africa vol.1

Loimeier, R. 1991 ‘The Writings of Nasiru Kabara (Muhammad al-Nasir al-Kabari)’ Sudanic Africa ii

Lovejoy, P. E. 1978 ‘The Role of the Wangara in the Economic Transformation of the Central Sudan in the Fifteen and Sixteenth Centuries’ Journal of African History XIX: 2

Mahadi, A. 1985 ‘The Jihad and its Role in Strengthening the Sarauta (kingship) system in Hausaland in the 19th century: The case of Kano ‘ in Ajayi, J. F. A and Ikara, B. (eds) Evolution of Political Culture in Nigeria Ibadan

Musdafa, N. S. 1997 Fasarar Mukhtar al-Ahadith al-Nabawiyat wa al-Hikma al-Muhammadiyat.

Newman, James L. 1995 The Peopling of Africa A Geographic Interpretation New Haven

Oloyede, I. O ‘Mukhatasar Khalil and the understanding of Islamic Law in Nigeria ’ Hamdard IslamicusXII: 1: 88-89

Paden, J. N. 1973 Religion and Political Culture in Kano . Berkeley and Los Angeles

Palmer, H. R., 1929 ‘The Kano Chronicle’ in Sudanese Memoirs Lagos

Quadri, Y. A and Oloyede I. O. 1990 Islamic Jurisprudence: al-’Izziyyah for the English Audience Ijebu Ode

Reynolds, J. T. 2001 Good and Bad Muslims:  Islam and Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria ’ International Journal of African Historical Studies 34: 3: 601-618

Ringer, A. L. 1987 ‘SCHOENBERG, Arnold (Franz Walter) in Turner, R. (ed) Thinkers of the Twentieth Century London pp. 687-688

Saad, E. N. 1979 ‘Islamization in Kano : Sequence and Chronology’ Kano Studies 1: 4

Saidu, A. G. 1979 ‘Significance of Shehu’s Poems in Ajami’ in Usman, Y. B. (ed) Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate Sokoto Seminar Papers Zaria

Siddiqi, F. R., 1989, Islam Against Illusions (Edition, Translation and Commentary) Hisn al-Afham min Juyush al-Awham of Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fudi.

Sulaiman, I. 1986. A Revolution in History London

Smith, M. G. 1997 Government in Kano 1350-1950 Boulder

Thody, P. 1987. ‘ARTAUD, Antonin’ in Turner, R. (ed) Thinkers of the Twentieth Century London

Ubah, C. N. 1977 ‘Aspect of Islamic Impact on Pre-Colonial Kano ‘ Islamic Culture

Wada, M. 1998 ‘The History of the Imamship in Kano in the I9th and the 20th Centuries M.A. History BUK

Watt, W. Montgomery , 1985 Islamic Philosophy and theology: An Extended Survey, Edinburgh

Yahya, D, 1989 ‘Kano Intellectual History: Mapping the Intellectual Landscape’ in Barkindo, B. M. (ed)Kano and Some of her Neighbors Zaria

Yahya, Dahiru 1993 ‘Colonialism in Africa and the Impact of European Concepts and Values: Nationalism and Muslims in Nigeria ‘ in Alkali, N et al (eds) Islam in Africa: Proceedings of Islam in Africa Conference Ibadan

[1] These are after Hilliard 1998: 2

[2] As shown by Ferguson 1973, Katsina 1984, Kani 1988 Wada 1998 and especially al-Qadiri 1993

[3] Al-Masri 1963: 496 and Kani 1988: 33

[4] Professor Musa Abdullahi Vice Chancellor of Bayero University made a similar observation at the inaugural lecture of Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu on April 24, 2004.

[5] See Hunwick 1966: 305n4

[6] Klein 1968: 66

[7] Amongst the clans or tribes involved in these migrations were Ba`en, Jallube Yirlaabe, Wolarbe and Ferrobe (see Mohammadou Mal. Idrissou 1979: 340)

[8] Who was the leading authority of Sokoto history during his lifetime.

[9] Alhaji Junaid refered to him as Isa, probably because there is no Arabic translation of Esau.

[10] Except Junaid 1957

[11] Hitti 1970

[12] After Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalam. See also Hitti 1970: 979

[13] The area was a single forest before he cleared it (see Ibn Kathir (nd)). The mosque and the government house built by him served as the nucleus of the city that grew around them (see Hitti, 1970:261).

[14] A name borrowed by Arabs from the Romans. It was initially the name given to the eastern Berbery while the western part was known as the Maghrib. Later it became the Arabic word for the whole of Africa. See Hitti, 1970:213

[15] By Ibn Kathir (nd) and others except Junaid (1957)

[16] Hitti, 1970:213

[17] Levtzion 1976: 129

[18] Levtzion 1976: 129 and also Newman 1995: 112-113 where it is also stated that Takrur was “The first African polity south of the Sahara to embrace Islam”

[19] Some oral traditionists have reported that he was a companion but Ibn Hajar 1989: 492 documented Uqbah Ibn Nafi al-Quraisyy as a companion and that Urwa narrated from him. He died in 27 AH. While Uqbah Ibn Nafi the general was al-Fahiry and not al-Qurashy  (Ibn Kathir nd p.47).

[20] Levtzion 1976: 129

[21] Gilliland 1979: 3-4

[22] Palmer 1929: 104 as well as Ubah 1977: 110 where it was suggested that: “there is a possibility that Usman accepted Islam as a personal religion from sources we do not presently know”. Usman (743-750AH/ 1343-1349) ruled Kano before Sarkin Kano Yaji who made Islam the official religion. This shows that even if Islam was not the official religion it was still present in the palace before Sarkin Yaji whom some scholars refer to as the one who brought Islam.

[23] For an analysis of the Islamization of Kano see Saad 1979

[24] For more on al-Maghili see Batran 1973 and for a translation of the treatise see Bedri and Starratt 1977

[25] Al-Hajj 1968: 7-16

[26] Lovejoy 1978: 184

[27] Palmer 1929

[28] Paden 1973: 61 and Oloyede p. 89

[29] See Watt 1985: 65-66

[30] Palmer 1929: 113

[31] Palmer 1929: 114

[32] Dan Fodio (nd)

[33] Kani 1988: 52

[34] Paden 1973:65

[35] Siddiqi 1989: 176.

[36] Ibn Fudi 1962: 128

[37] Sulaiman 1986: 22

[38] Kani 1988: 94-96

[39] Sulaiman 1986: 20

[40] Mahadi, 1985

[41] Falola 1991: 44

[42] Sulaiman 1986: 28-30

[43] Ibn Fudi 1962: 230-235

[44] Ibn al-Hajj 1981: 2

[45] Sulaiman 1986: 11

[46] Bello 1994: 3

[47] Bello 1994 22 where it was stated that Zangi was one of the students of the school, he was the Qadi of Kano who wrote Taqyid al-Akhbar (Ado-Kurawa 1989), Smith 1997: 189 who wrote that: “Zangi’s history of the struggle in Kano is perhaps the most detailed and convincing available for a Hausa state” see also (Ajayi and Gbadomosi 1980: 365) where Zangi’s book is listed amongst scholarly contributions of pre-colonial scholars to the history of their societies.

[48] Adeleye  1971

[49] Clapham 1996: 16

[50] Yahya 1986: 3

[51] For more information see Abun Nasr 1996: 329-330.

[52] Reynolds 2001

[53] Abun-Nasr 1996

[54] Christelow 1991: 139

[55] Reynolds 2001

[56] Adamu 2004 for a detailed account of this strategy

[57] Hiskett  1994: 124

[58] Yahya 1993: 192

[59] Hiskett  1994: 125

[60] al-Qadir 1993

[61] Ferguson 1973: 260-261

[62] Mallam Sanusi of Gidan Shehu Maihula.

[63] Katsina 1984

[64] Quadri and Oloyede 1990

[65] Kenny 1992

[66] Musdafa 1997

[67] Al-Kashnawi (nd)

[68] Hunwick 1995

[69] Katsina 1984 and Wada 1998 have shown the persistence of this pattern in the traditional schools in Kano.

[70] Kane 2002: 216 is very revealing of how one of the reform leaders received support from one of the military rulers

[71] Past tense is used because they could improve or have even improved since the publication of Hunwick 1995 where there are chapters on Tijjaniyya and Qadiriyya writers of Kano and a chapter on the polemical literature for and against Sufism the reform movements contribution where decimal when this book was compiled.

[72] For example Saidu 1979: 210 where one of them made a poem on the coming of the Mahdi and Shehu’s poems translated by his son, Isa into Hausa served to counter missionary propaganda during the colonial rule (Hiskett 1984-221-222)

[73] For example in some Western universities some intellectuals without academic degrees have been appointed professors (see Ringer 1987: 687-688, Thody 1987: 28-29 and Carnegie 1987: 64) but in Nigeria universities have refused to recognize contributions of outstanding intellectuals who excelled in Islamic traditions such as Nasiru Kabara (see his contributions in Loimeier, R. 1991: 165-174)

[74] Yahya 1989 suggestion that Kano society is insulated from this current cannot withstand the test of time, as the reformers are waxing stronger because of patronage of western educated elites and external organizations.

IBRAHIM ADO-KURAWA is the Acting Director, Research, Institute for Contemporary Research (ICR), Principal Partner, Pilot Projects Services (Rural Development Consultants) and General Editor,Weekly PYRAMID – The Magazine. He earned his B.Sc (Hons) Applied Biology and M. Sc Zoology (Applied Entomology) from Bayero University Kano, Nigeria.

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 00:24  Leave a Comment  

The Administration of Zakat in Colonial and Post Colonial Nigeria



Dr. Usman Bugage


Zakat as a due from the wealth of the Muslim rich meant for the poor, irrespective of their colour, ethnicity or religion, is too well known to warrant a definition. But Zakat as an Islamic institution, anchored within the Islamic world-view and designed to fulfill definite objectives, may not be as well known and may therefore deserve a few words. Islam, to be sure, is not just about the salvation in the hereafter, it is first about salvation in this world, for only then can one work towards his salvation in the next world. To survive in this world, man needs certain requirements.

Muslim jurists have classified these requirements into three: Daruriyyat (necessitates), Hajiyyat (conveniences) and Tahsiniyyat (refinements). Necessities are held to include the protection of Nafs, man’s physical existence, the provision of things like food, clothing and shelter; protection of Din, religion; Aql, mind; Nasl, progeny or pedigree; and Mal, property.[1] Conveniences include things which improve on the quality of life and remove bearable hardship and difficulties. Refinements, on the other hand, add beauty and elegance to life without transgressing the limits of moderation as defined by the Sharia. The Jurists are all agreed that, it is the collective responsibility of the society to ensure and guarantee the necessities of man in whatever circumstances and provide for conveniences where the resources of the community permit.[2]

Goals and Objectives of Zakat

Islam as law (i.e. the Sharia) seeks to protect man’s basic needs without which he cannot perform basic acts of worship and work towards his salvation. These, as we have just seen, are his life, his religion, his mind, his progeny and his property. But it is the Zakat as an institution which guarantees him these basic needs. Being the practical religion it is, Islam is not content to simply provide the legal protection, but proceeds to create the provision through which this legal requirements are satisfied. Islam places this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the Muslim community especially its leadership.

The Prophet of Islam (SAW) has informed us in several ahadith that the position of rulers in the next world will be directly related to how happy and prosperous their followers have been here.[3] Similarly the Prophet informed us that Allah will not be happy with a community in which one of its members slept on an empty stomach. Umar b. Khattab (R.A) took this further and holds any community in which its member starves to death, responsible for murder.[4]

Islam as a message seeks to answer the three basic questions that have confronted mankind from the dawn of time; the origin of man, the meaning and purpose of human life on earth and the ultimate destiny of man. In answering these questions, Islam informs man that he is not a result of some cosmic accident but a deliberate creation of his Lord, Who has created him with a clear mission on this planet and to Whom is his ultimate return to render full accounts of his stewardship on earth. [5] Qur’an, which, as the name suggests, is to be read constantly, reminds man consistently about the transient nature of life on earth, lest the lure of the world blinds him from his mission and ultimate return.[6] But it is Zakat which actually purifies him from selfishness and greed, so that his heart is cleansed of the lure of this world and is prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve his ultimate mission on earth.

Islam as a system seeks to establish and maintain Justice, Adl on earth and build a humane and cohesive society. Protecting people form hunger, ensuring social security and preserving human honour and dignity are essential elements of a strong and humane social order. Hunger, the Prophet of Islam is reported to have said, is the worst of deprivations. Zakat is that institution which saves man from starvation, guarantees socio-economic justice in society, and procures for man the environment that allows him to preserve his dignity and pursue the purpose for which his Lord created him. By increasing the productivity of the community, Zakat also discourages envy among its members and promotes peace and social cohesion, making the Ummah a model for mankind.[7]

Thus Zakat has been designed to serve definite goals in society. The first of these is the elimination of poverty. This saves and preserves not only human life but also human dignity and in doing so facilitates the worship of Allah and fulfilment of man’s mission on earth.[8] Secondly Zakat reconciles the heart of the poor from envy and ill-feeling towards the rich. For they know that they have a definite share in every wealth in the community. Zakat makes the poor share holders in the wealth of the rich whose dividends depends on the safety and growth of that wealth. It therefore generates understanding, peace and love between the haves and the have-nots, making it absolutely unnecessary for the proletariat to take arms against the bourgeoisie. Thirdly Zakat purifies the heart of the rich from greed and selfishness making it easier for man to play a greater role in the development of his community and to make his wealth available for the cause of Islam, the cause of justice. Fourthly by institutionalising social security and eliminating strife and social tension, Zakat strengthens the moral fibre of society, promotes social cohesion and engenders political stability in society. Fifthly, by bringing about redistribution of wealth, the institution of Zakat not only ensures social justice in society but it mobilises resources making it available to the poor and thus improving the productive capacity of the community. By increasing the productive capacity of the community it enhances the overall economic growth of the Ummah, eventually empowering it to fulfil its ultimate mission of leading the world community.[9]

Perhaps we can now understand the distinguished position accorded to Zakat in Islam. The Qur’an mentions it almost every time Salat (prayers) is mentioned. The Qur’an equates failure to meet the needs of the poor and orphans, which Zakat represents, to denial of religion. [10] The hadith made it the central of the five pillars of Islam, coming immediately after Salat. Abubakar al-Siddiq, the first of the rightly guided Caliph, considered those who refused to pay Zakat as having left Islam and went to war to bring them back to Islam and collect Zakat, on behalf of the poor. Since then the institution of Zakat has been a prominent feature of the Muslim community. During the time of Umar b. Khattab, the second Caliph some states like Yemen did succeed in eliminating poverty through Zakat, and proceeds had to be brought back to Madina as there was no one in Yemen to receive it. This situation appeared to have continued for the most of the early history of Islam, for at the turn of the first century of the Hijra, Egypt under Umar b. Abdulazziz could not expend its Zakat as there were no poor people to receive it. Zakat, just like Salat, has remained a feature of Muslim communities of every time and clime. Our part of the world was not an exception, as the historical records of the pre-jihad Borno and Hausaland have shown.[11] When the Sokoto Caliphate came into existence following the Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio, the institution of Zakat, expectedly, took a distinguished position in the socio-economy of the state.

Zakat in the Sokoto and Borno Caliphates

The Sokoto Jihad was motivated by the gross ignorance of the populace about Islam and the tyranny and oppression, particularly in respect of excessive taxation, confiscation of property and wanton attacks and arrests of subjects by the Hausa rulers.[12] Having campaigned vigorously against these inequities and inspired by the ideals of the Khilafa Rashida, the architects of the Sokoto Caliphate, took great care to ensure that the state was founded on very firm foundations of justice and equity. [13] Even before the jihad Shehu Usman had made a formidable critique of the decadent and unjust order in Hausaland and drawing on the works of some of the prominent scholar of the region, like Shurb al-Zulal of al-Barnawi, he had articulated the Islamic alternative in his Kitab al-Farq. By 1806, barely two years after the jihad had began, Shehu Usman, working in between battles, completed the Bayan Wujub al-Hijra ala al-Ibad in which he spelt out the policies as well as the structures of the new Islamic state emerging on the ruins of the Hausa States. Later his brother, the jurist and conscience of the revolution, Shehu Abdullahi Dan Fodio, wrote his Diya’ ulu-l-Amr wa-l-Mujahidin, reinforcing the Bayan of Shehu and spelling out details with his characteristic meticulousness. [14] Abullahi’s Diya’ al Hukkam, written in Kano, has particular details on the collection and administration of Zakat. Much later Muhammad Bello, on whose shoulders the responsibility of implementation of these policies actually fell, joined in with works like Tanbih al-Sahib ala Ahkam al-Makasib, Usul al-Siyasa and several others.[15]

By the time the jihad was over, some parts of Borno had been annexed to Sokoto Caliphate and what had remained of Borno had become revitalised under a new leadership that was eager to meet the new Islamic expectations. Among the new offices created in the Sokoto Caliphate was the post of the Sa’i whose main responsibility was to collect the Zakat.[16] It is significant to note that the role of Sa’i was not limited to the collection of Zakat, but often included the administration of nomads and the settling of their disputes.[17] This makes the Sa’ino ordinary tax collector, for not only is he familiar with the terrain and the people but as a settler of disputes he needed to display fairness and command respect. TheSa’i had a whole team of other officials, the jakada and the village heads, working with him who were given clear guidelines of what to collect, when to collect it and how to collect it. [18] Care was taken to see that wealth and zakatable items were not taxed twice or taken in a manner which ignores fairness to the giver of Zakat. Abdullahi Dan Fodio in particular emphasised the well-known stipulation of the Sharia that “when assessing the Zakat, people’s houses and property should not be investigated, but the tax collector will relay on the taxpayers word, unless the person in question was known to be untrustworthy”.[19] Wealth from Zakat was kept separate from other revenues accruing to the state since the Zakat was bound to be expended strictly along the lines specified by the Qur’an.[20]

The administration of Zakat itself did not appear to have posed any particular difficulty in Both Sokoto and Borno Caliphate. If anything European explorers like Clapperton who were in the Caliphates were as astonished as their later day colonial officers were embarrassed by the way citizens of these states insisted in paying up their zakat as and when due.[21] Fascinated by the zeal at which the zakat was paid and the simplicity with which it was collected, many scholars have been keen to unravel what in our contemporary world would look puzzling. Some scholars have suggested that over and above the religious reasons, Zakat is a tax which leaves no room for argument in assessment. Its simplicity and proportionality invited no disaffection. Furthermore the social and economic significance of the Zakat is fully appreciated by both the payer and receiver.[23] Village granaries from zakat proceeds for example acted as security against crop failure which in places like Maradi and Kano appeared often either from drought or pests. In Kano, to the astonishment of Clapperton, the blind were settled in one quarter, Unguwar Makafi, and their needs were met from the zakat funds, so they never had to roam the streets as is our lot today. [24] All these must have helped to bring the message of the institution of zakat for all and sundry, including intruders such as Clapperton. This appeared to have been the arrangement throughout the two Caliphates. As the tempo of the jihad waned with time, however, the high standards set by the architects of the Caliphate may not have been maintained. But, in the main, the Zakat as a prominent institution remained part of the two Caliphates until the arrival of the British colonial army.[25]

British Colonisation

The story of British colonisation of Nigeria is too familiar to warrant recounting here. The naked force used and the barbarism displayed has long destroyed the myth that they were on a civilising mission. The way the invading army went about imposing all manners of taxes and plundering anything of value that their covetous eyes sight, betrayed their real mission – plunder. After labouring in vain in his Dual Mandate, Lord Lugard, the British colonial governor, had to concede, though not in so many words, that Britain was not in Africa for reasons of pure philanthropy. [26] That they were prepared to go to any length to realise their mission is clearly echoed by the words of Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary. Writing in 1897, Chamberlain said, “We ought – even at the cost of war – to keep the hinterland of the Gold Coast, Lagos and the Niger territories… I do not think we ought to yield a jot of threat.”[27]

As soon as the British established full control they went about combing the whole area for anything of immediate or potential value and imposing as many taxes as they could possibly levy. They introduced several new taxes, some of which had been previously abolished by the Sokoto Caliphate. Some of these taxes include,Kudin kasa, Jangali, Custom duties, Caravan Tolls, Hawkers Licences, Kudin Suand Native Liquor Licences (in non-Muslim areas). [28] Apparently dazzled by the abundant wealth in the hinterland, the various British Residents sent to head the provinces were urging Lord Lugard to hasten the imposition and collection of taxes. G.N. Barclay, the Resident of Yola, wrote, apparently soon after taking up his appointment, in a dispatch to Lugard, that, “In farm produce and cattle Yola is rich and will prove a valuable acquisition in the near future.” [29] He therefore urged Lugard to begin the imposition of taxation, arguing that it was easier to strike when the iron was still hot, adding: “That taxes should be imposed immediately a race is conquered”, for “in the face of defeat people will gladly acquiesce to any reasonable terms from the conqueror which if imposed after a long period of immunity they may be disposed to grumble at or even rise against, …..To put it vulgarly”, Barclay continued, “they do not know what game we are playing. They are therefore awaiting with curiosity and a good deal of anxiety a declaration of the government policy and intentions.” [30] Or so Barclay thought!

C. L. Temple the Resident in Kano made a similar appeal to Lugard. Arguing his case with a touch of imperial philosophy, Temple wrote: “All authority of native over native and all recognition of authority by natives was based on collection and payment of some kind of material tribute, i.e. rents, taxes, presents” hence authority can only be established if “taxes were regularly collected, paid and accounted for”[31]

The case of Yola and Kano appear to have been typical of the rest of the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno. After initial hesitation, Lugard granted the Residents the permission to begin to collect taxes. As the grip of British occupation army grew firmer with time, these taxes were increased both in their number as well their burden. In course of colonisation, this plunder had the effect of not only depleting the resources of the natives but also undermining the authority of the native rulers and stifling the economic independence and creativity of the native, as all activities are now marshalled towards the satisfaction of the insatiable British imperial desires. Putting it in other words Tukur concludes that: “the taxes imposed by the British, far from being fewer, more rational and lighter than the pre-colonial taxes as was claimed by the British, were in fact more in number and heavier in incidence than the pre-colonial taxes, that many of them were baseless and arbitrary, some of them having as their primary purpose not the provision of revenue to the Colonial Administration and the Native Authorities, but the creation of a colonial economy devoid of an indigenous industrial base and geared towards the production and export of unprocessed raw materials. We have also seen” Tukur adds, “that throughout our period British Residents and Assistant Residents were very much involved in the assessment and collection of these taxes than people are led to believe by the theoreticians of “Indirect Rule”.” [32]

The Fate of Zakat in the Colonial Period

In imposing these heavy and ever increasing taxes on the natives, the British, it would appear, must have hoped that the Muslim subjects would find it impossible to pay Zakat. This then would have starved the religious rulers and scholars of funds and all the religious institutions like schools that were relying on this source would have collapsed and died a natural death. Things did not quite worked out that way as Muslim subjects continued to pay Zakat and the Emirs continued to collect it. Having under taken not to interfere with religion, the British were keen to show that they would abide by their words and would not want to come out categorically to stop the payment of Zakat. But when what appeared to be their first strategy did not work, they found it expedient to come out, if indirectly, to stop the payment and collection of Zakat. They issued a directive that apart form the taxes imposed by the colonial government no other ones were to be collected.

The Emirs predictably protested. “The Shehu of Borno, for example, argued that stopping him from collecting the Zakka would amount to a departure by the British from their undertaking not to interfere with religious matters, adding that at any rate the peasants themselves would object to being relieved from paying it.” When the news reached the Sultan of Sokoto that the British were intending to make the collection of Zakat “illegal”, the Sultan asked J.A. Burdon, the British resident in Sokoto to write to Lugard and appeal to him not to interfere with Zakat. [35] Other emirs presumably protested and eventually the British relented but under two conditions: “That its payment on the part of the peasants and cattle owners should be voluntary and that the British would be given a quarter of the Proceeds.”[36] The emirs acceded to these conditions and the collection of Zakat continued, but not for long.

To the British, the payment of Zakat by the Muslim subjects was more than a matter of economics. Their wish to abolish it appear to go beyond the need to starve the emirs of such material resources that could confer on them some financial independence and therefore some measure of autonomy. The Payment of Zakat was seen as compliance to the dictates of Islam and its collection by the Emirs and their agents was seen as a recognition of the Emirs religious and moral leadership. Both of these tend to delay and eventually subvert loyalty to the British, and at a time when they were trying to find a foothold in the colony this must have been perceived by the British to be a risky business. Thus they continued to find ways they could discourage and eventually abolish Zakat.

In 1907, the British decided to increase the general tax, but informed “clearly” the Emirs and District Heads, “that the [increased] General Tax includes the Zakka and is not in addition to it” [37] Thus trying to incorporate what ever zakat may be given into the coffers of the British and at the same time stop any ruler from collecting any Zakat, creating a de-facto abolishment of Zakat. Expectedly this order was not obeyed, “two District Heads in Sokoto were caught collecting it and the Sultan was promptly ordered to depose them on that account, an order which he obeyed. The two District Heads were the Sarkin Burmi of Bakura and the Ardon Dingyadi.” [38] From Yola, the Resident, G. W. Webster, reported that “corn Zakka is paid by a large percentage of the population over and above the regular taxation.”[39] Webster was keen to clarify, in his report to the Governor General, that people have been sufficiently informed of the abolition of Zakat, yet after paying the General Tax, “several people anxiously enquired if they might also pay the Zakka to the District Head, what became of it, was not their affair, but pay they must as a matter of religion.” “I do not pretend”, Webster added with a tinge of worry, “that this feeling is the universal spirit but I think there is a strong local feeling of the religious importance of the payment of zakka.”[40]

Seeing this tenacity of the Muslim subjects to continue to pay Zakat, G. W. Webster urged the British to “recognise its payment [once more] and take our share.” Having began to appreciate the role of Zakat, Webster was kind enough to suggest that in “this case a percentage of the total tax should be laid aside for charity act.” [41] The Governor General did not, however, buy Webster’s suggestion. He may have felt that whatever gain they may make by taking “their” share could not contain the danger posed to their rule by this rather tenacious religious feelings. The Governor finally moved to make the collection of Zakat “illegal and those chiefs caught demanding or accepting it were liable to being accused of extortion and punished accordingly.” [42] This finally sealed the fate of the Zakat under the British colonial government.

Though the faithful continued to find ways of paying Zakat and the Emirs and District Heads continued to receive it throughout the colonial period, [43] the whole exercise remained hazardous. No demand can be made of it, since any individual or community not prepared to pay could report the person making the demand to the British and the person could then be tried for extortion. In this way the British succeeded in not only abolition Zakat, but more importantly in abolishing or at least discouraging, the expression and fulfilment of religious obligations, of which Zakat is only one. In this and several other ways, some to subtle to discern, the British supplanted the practice of Islam, subverted Islamic values and paved the way for the entrenchment of secularism, which was to disengage State from religion and to confine Islam to a private affair. This gave them sufficient freedom to restructure the Nigerian economy, education, law and administration along European lines, making us forever dependent and never free to be ourselves again, or so they wished and planned for.

The Fate of Zakat in the Post-colonial Period

Under such circumstances one can imagine what the fate of Zakat would be. There may have been no particular law which made Zakat illegal, but there was perhaps no need for one, since enough measures had been taken to preclude even the thoughts of it. Even when poverty and destitution grew to levels previously inconceivable, problems which the Zakat has been specifically designed to solve, one state government after another went about groping for solutions. Even in overwhelmingly Muslim states, like Kano, where the bureaucrats and the society are Muslims, no one had the courage (or is it the audacity) to propose Zakat as the solution and to proceed to organise its collection and distribution. These experts many of them academicians from our universities were groping for solutions and true to their training they propped up the familiar Western solution. Some of them, one would like to think, as Muslims believe that such Islamic solutions as the Zakat may be most appropriate, but the inferiority complex on the one hand and the secular nature of government may have prevailed upon them to suggest something else. “It is this widespread acceptance of this myth of the essential superiority of secularised European thought and practice in the field of human affairs” as Abdullahi Smith rightly observed, “which constitute the most formidable obstacles in the way of extricating the contemporary world from the corruption into which it is plunged” [46]

Meanwhile the ordinary Muslims continue to take out Zakat from their wealth, amounts or quantities they think fit, when they think fit and distribute it as they think fit. Many are not quite sure how to take out Zakat from modern financial transactions and instruments. The Ulama’ have not been very helpful in satisfying the inquires of many of the faithful eager to discharge their obligations. And all this time no one has deemed it necessary to create a competent institution that can advise Muslims on Nisab of Zakatable items and the appropriate amounts and quantities to be taken out in the variety of forms that wealth exist today. We deemed it fit to have Pilgrim Welfare Boards, even if we can not run them properly, but for some curious reasons, we never saw the need to have their equivalents in the case of Zakat, which is the third of the five pillars of Islam. It will be interesting to find out why was there silence over such an important matter. Could it be that the Ulama’, who are clearly the greatest beneficiaries of this Zakat anarchy, are enjoying it? Or are the Ulama’ out of their depth in modern business transactions and would rather allow this disorganised fashion of payment of Zakat then wake up to the challenge? Or is it part of the symptoms of the secular disease that has afflicted the Muslim Ummah and eaten deep into its fabric? It is not for me to determine this, but we certainly need to find out why.

Many Muslims have been worried over this important issue and during the last three decades or so have made efforts here and there to address the issue, especially as the number of beggars keep rising and the quality of life keep deteriorating and otherwise well to do are finding themselves increasingly pauperised by the day. But like most of the responses of Muslims to challenges during this period, these have been feverish, to say the least. Two such efforts however appear to have the potential to address the problem adequately. One of this was the National Conference on Zakat held in December 1981 in Kano. The idea of this conference started in the circles of members of the Bayero University Muslim community, but it was soon taken over by the Ulama’ and by the time the conference was over there were already three hundred people in the committee formed to collect and distribute the Zakat. This, naturally, did not inspire the rich who were to give their Zakat to such a committee. Since then this effort seems to have gone into oblivion. Some of the papers presented at the conference[47] were very good and deserved to be published and circulated widely, so that some of the issues raised could be shared and pursued further, but this did not appear to be the priority of the committee that inherited the conference.

The other worthy effort was a special session of Fatwa Commission of the Centre of Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria which took place in November 1990 at Bagauda Lake Hotel, Kano. The Fatwa commission gathered prominent scholars to address the seemingly simple issue of whether Zakat is compulsory for tubers like Yams and Cassava. Though the fatwa appear specific but it touches on a very important issue, updating our fiqh (jurisprudence) on Zakat. The fatwa was actually a test case on the readiness of our scholars to appreciate the dynamic nature of fiqh as contrasted with the Sharia which enshrines the immutable principles. About a dozen scholars made submissions [48] and majority of them took the view that there was no Zakat for these tubers. Many of them based their views on Maliki texts written some centuries ago by authors who lived their lives either in desert or temperate zones where these tubers don’t grow. The fatwa says more about the preparedness of our Ulama’ to appreciate the dynamic nature of fiqh than about these tubers.

The Future of Zakat

From the efforts so far, it would appear that the future of Zakat in Nigeria will hinge around three major factors. The competence and credibility of our Ulama’, the courage of our leadership and the enlightenment of the wider Muslim society. One is not sure about what can be done about the competence and credibility of our Ulama’ or even the courage of our leadership, but the two incidences above do not give one much hope. But perhaps something can be done about the enlightenment of the wider Muslim society. While conferences like this one, is one way of creating enlightenment, it is certainly not enough. Publication of relevant literature is an absolute necessity. Research should particularly be intensified to sustain the supply of literature and update ourselves with developments in other Muslim countries particularly Sudan and Malaysia where so much has been achieved in this regard.

Some Challenges

If and when we come to organise further conferences or undertake research to address the issue of Zakat, there are certain areas we may need to pay particular attention to. These include:

  • List of Zakatable items – At the time of the Prophet (S. A. W.) the list of Zakatable items may have been just about a dozen. But as Islam spread to incorporate other lands and climes, as society developed and became complex and as Allah’s wealth for mankind continues to unfold, this list naturally grew into dozens. There is nothing to suggest that this list should stop growing and remain stagnant, if only because Islam is still spreading, society is developing and becoming complex, especially in this computer age, and Allah’s wealth is still unfolding. We therefore need to review the list in our fiqh texts in the light of the key aya (verse) of the Qur’an, “O ye who believe! give of the good things which you have (honourably) earned, and of the fruits of the earth which we have produced for you, and do not even aim at getting anything which is bad, in order that out of it you may give away something, when ye yourselves would not receive it except with closed eyes. And know that God is free of all wants and Worthy of all praise.”[49]
  • Prioritisation in Distribution – The key aya (verse) of the Qur’an (9:60) which spells out the eight recipient of Zakat is very clear. But neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah deemed it necessary to specify what proportion each category of recipient will receive. This has apparently been left for every community to determine. Some Ulama’ have made efforts to prioritise the distribution but it appears to be a matter for every community to address its peculiar circumstances in such a way that the overall objectives of Zakat, especially the eradication of poverty, are achieved. In the Sudan, for example, the technical committee of their Diwan al-Zakah (Zakat Board), has suggested, 25% for Fuqara’, 25% for Masakin, 10% for Employees, 5% for Converts, 5% for debtors, 20% for the way of Allah, and 10% for the wayfarer.[50] One of the categories, ‘those in bondage’, has been completely ignored. Some would, however, argue that this category is still valid today since people in Palestine (especially members of the Intifada) or Kashmir or Moros in Southern Philippines will easily qualify for ‘those in bondage’.[51] The issue here is that we need to develop a prioritisation that will allow us to address our peculiar needs.
  • Distribution and Productive Capacity – In distributing Zakat we need to appreciate the need not only to eliminate poverty but also to raise the productive capacity of individuals as well as to boost the wealth of the community. We may need to find ways of ensuring that we do not keep a large body of destitute who are permanently dependant on the Zakat for the rest of their lives. Rather we should aim at providing the poor with such resources as will make him not only independent of Zakat but transforming him from a receiver of Zakat to a giver of Zakat. This has been done successfully in the Sudan today. The very process of boosting this productivity itself may need to be engineered to meet the basic needs of the community such as food security, appropriate technology etc.

Concluding Remarks

We have first attempted to establish the significance as well the goals and objectives of the institution of Zakat. We then saw how the institution of Zakat became suffocated by the British colonial government. This was not only to maximise their plunder of the native resources but also to discourage and supplant the practice of Islam and eventually pave the way for the entrenchment of neo-colonial structures that were to give permanence to their mission. During the post-colonial period, the institution of Zakat did not fare any better. The prevailing secular atmosphere did not only discourage the revival of the institution but in fact eroded and subverted Islamic values plunging the Nigerian society into deeper troubles. There is clearly both the necessity as well as the urgency to develop an effective mechanism for the collection and distribution of Zakat. We can and indeed ought to organise a kind of Zakat Board at various levels of our society. But knowing the quality of our leadership, and the competence and credibility of our Ulama’ or lack of it as it were, we should know where to pin our hopes. Such efforts as this seminar may well be the beginning of the revival this all important institution. But for these efforts to bear fruits we must overcome our apathy, complacency and mental lethargy.


[1]The primary objective of the Sharia is to guarantee man these basic necessities without which life on earth will be impossible. This precisely why the violation of any of these needs attract ahadd , capital punishment. Thus murder, whether through violence, poisoning or starvation; apostasy, which terminates religion; taking alcohol or psychotropic drugs, which deprives man of his mind and senses; adultery or fornication, which undermines marriage, and mixes and confuse progeny; theft or robbery, all attract capital punishment.

[2]Dr. Ziauddin Ahmad has delineated these arguments with admirable brevity and clarity. See his Islam, Poverty and Income Distribution, Leicester, The Islamic Foundation, 1991. P. 19-20.

[3] “Abu Sai’d reported the Prophet of Allah (P.B.U.H.) as saying: The most beloved of men to me, the nearest of them with me in the assembly on the Day of Resurrection would be a just ruler and the most hated of men to me on the Day of Resurrection and the severest of them in punishment will be quite an unjust ruler.” in another hadith he was reported to have said, among other things, “Beware, whoever has been made a guardian of the affairs of my Ummah and he is kind to them in their needs, Allah would be kind to him for this on the Day when he will be in need. And whoever hides himself from them in view of their needs, Allah would hide Himself from him ignoring his need.” See Abu Yusuf Kitab-ul-Kharaj, Abid Ahmad Ali (trans.), Lahore, Islamic Book Centre, 1979. P. 12-13.

[4] On the responsibility of leaders, “Abu Burdah reported that ‘Umar b. Khattab wrote to Abu Musa: The most virtuous of the rulers in the sight of Allah is one through whom his people prosper and the most wretched of the rulers is one through whom his subject become destitute. Guard yourself that you should deviate, then your governors too will deviate, and you will become in the sight of Allah like the beasts which always fix their gaze in it seeking thereby fatness and in their fatness lies their death.” Ibid. P. 23.

[5] See for example, Q. 2:30 and particularly the commentary of Sayyid Qutb in his Fi Zilal al-Qur’an and Maulana Maududi in his The Meaning of the Qur’an. See also Q. 3:185, 20:15, 53:39

[6] See for example, Q. 7:51, 3:196, 6:32, 29:64 and 63:9-11.

[7] Q. 2:143.

[8] The Prophet is reported to have said that faqr, poverty, is the closest to Kufr, unbelief. He is also reported to have prayed , “Oh Lord! I seek Thy refuge from Kufr (unbelief and infidelity) and from Faqr (poverty and destitution) …. and seek Thy refuge from qillah (paucity) and dhillah (humiliation).”

[9] Studies conducted in Syria and Sudan a few years back, when payment of Zakat was voluntary and distribution skeletal, has shown that up to 3-4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was transferred to the poor every year. See Ziauddin Ahmad, Islam, Poverty and Income Distribution., Op. Cit. P. 52. For details see M. Anas Zarqa, ‘Islamic Distributive Scheme’ in Munawar Iqbal (ed.) Distributive Justice and Need Fulfilment in An Islamic Economy, Islamabad, International Institute of Islamic Economics; Leicester, The Islamic Foundation, 1988 Pp. 163-216.

[10] “Have you seen him who denies the Religion? It is he who harshly repels the orphan and does not urge others to feed the needy.” Q. 107:1-2.

[11] For details see Tijani Garba, ‘Taxation in some Hausa Emirate’, Unpublished Ph D. thesis submitted to the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, 1986.

[12] Shehu Usman has made an extensive criticism of these inequities in many of his works, particularly in his Kitab al-Farq Bayna Wilayat al-Muslimeen wa Wilayat al-Kafirun. One of the first things the Shehu did after the Jihad was the abolishing of these unjust taxes, such as Jangali, Gaisuwa, Rinsuwa, etc.

[13] As they abolished these unjust taxes, the leadership of the Sokoto Caliphate reorganised the taxation system to conform with the Sharia and the ideals they had been fighting for. Some of these ideas are to found in such works as the Bayan by Shehu Usman, Diya’ ulu-l-Amr of Abdullahi and Usul al-Siyasa of Muhammad Bello.

[14] Other works of Abdullahi Dan Fodio which discussed these ideas at greater length and detail include the Diya’ al-Sultan and Diya’ al-Hukkam. For an exposition on some of these works see Ishaku Aliyu ‘Aspect of Political Administration in Sokoto Caliphate with Special Reference to Diya’ al-Sultan of Abdullah ibn Fodiyo’ and Abubakar A. Gwandu ‘Legal Aspects of the Sokoto Caliphate’, both in Ahmad Kani and Kabir Gandi (eds.) State and Society in the Sokoto Caliphate, Sokoto, Usmanu Dan Fodio University, 1990.

[15] The Tanbih is a work on political economy, while the Usul al-Siyasa, as the name suggests is a work on politics in which the author articulated the Islamic political philosophy and Institutions. Other works in which Muhammad Bello took up these issues in greater detail include his Ghayth al-Wabl and Kitab al-Tahrir. Both have been edited and translated into English, the latter is currently under publication in the UK.

[16] Several scholars have reported that the Sa’i was one of the earliest officials appointed by Shehu Usman. See M. Last, Sokoto Caliphate, London, Longman, 1976 P. 143-7. See also M.G. Smith, Government in Zazzau 1800-1950, Oxford, O.U.P. 1960. Pp. 51, 103.

[17] Tijani Garba reported that “One of the first appointments made by the first Emir (Zaria) Mallam Musa (1808-1821) was Sa’i who was to administer the nomads, settle their disputes and collect the cattle tax which was the Zakat ……….”. See Tijjani Garba, ‘Taxation in Some Hausa Emirates” P. 115.

[18] For details see Tijjani Garba, Ibid. P. 71.

[19] Abdullahi b. Fodio, Diya’ al-Hukkam (trans.), Pp. 14-19. Paraphrased in Ibid. P. 51

[20] For details see Ibraheem Sulaiman, The Islamic State and the Challenge of History, London, Mansell Pub. Ltd. 1987. P. 50-55. See also Sule A. Gusau, ‘Aspects of Islamic Economy in the Sokoto Caliphate’ in Ahmad Kani and Kabir Gandi (eds.), State and Society in the Sokoto Caliphate, op. cit. Pp 171-192.

[21] See Tijjani Garba, ‘Taxation in Some Hausa Emirate’, P. 113.

[ 22] See Ibid. P. 114.

[23] See Ibid. P. 175, quoting Palmer in Kano Annual Report for 1910.

[24] See Ibid. P. 175, quoting Clapperton in Bovill (ed.) Mission to the Niger, P. 661.

[25] See M. M. Tukur, ‘The Imposition of British Colonial Domination on the Sokoto Caliphate, Borno and Neighbouring States: 1897-1914: A Reinterpretation of Colonial Sources.’ Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Submitted to the Department of History, A,B.U. Zaria. July 1979.

[26] “Let it be admitted from the outset that European brains, capital and energy have not been, and never will be, expended in developing the resources of Africa from motives of pure philanthropy; that Europe is in Africa for the mutual benefit of her own industrial classes, and of the native races in their progress to a higher plane; that the benefit can be made reciprocal, and that it is the aim and desire of civilised administration to fulfil this dual mandate.” Lord Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. London, 1965. P. 617.

[27] Quoted in Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa: the White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent, from 1876-1912. Random House, New York, 1991. P. 504

See M. M. Tukur, ‘The Imposition of British Colonial Domination …… ’, op. cit. P. 531.

[28] “Yola Provincial Report No. 8 for June 1902” Yola Prof A1. NAK cited in ibid. P. 535.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Kano Provincial Report for the Half Year ended 30th June 1909”, SNP 7/10 No. 3635, NAK, cited in ibid.

[31] M.M. Tukur, op cit. P. 627-8.

[32] Ibid. P. 579.

[33] W.P. Hewby, “Bornu Provincial Monthly Report for September 1903.” Cited in ibid.

[34] J.A. Burdon, “Sokoto Report for July and August , 1905” Sokprof No. 575/1905. NAK. Cited in ibid.

[35] Ibid. P. 580.

[36] C. L. Temple, “Sokoto Provincial Report for Quarter Ended December 31st, 1907” Sokprof No. 1453/1908, NAK. Cited in Ibid. P. 580.

[37] Ibid. P. 581.

[38] G. W. Webster, Quarterly Report for June 1911″, Yolaprof Vol. 10, NAK. Cited in Ibid. P. 582.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. 583.

[42] Ibid.

[43] AMD, Kano, 26/5/74. Cited in ibid.

[44] M.M. Tukur, ‘Values and Public Affairs: The Relevance of the Sokoto Caliphal Experience to the Transformation of the Nigerian Polity’, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. 1977. P. 574-5.

[45] Abdullahi Smith, ‘Report to the Senate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Nigeria.’ Unpublished Report, 1983. Cited in Ibarheem Sulaiman, ‘Education as Imperialism’, in Z. Sardar (ed.) How we Know: Ilm and the Revival of Knowledge, London, Grey Seal Books, 1991. P. 59.

[46] Ibid. P. 60.

[47] These papers are in private hands, but should be available at the Research Data Centre, Bayero University, Kano.

[48] These unpublished submissions are available at the library of the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

[49] Qur’an 2:267.

[50] Muhammad Bashir Abdulqadir, Nizam al-Zakah fi al-Sudan, Omdurman, Omdurman Islamic University Printing & Publishing, 1992. P. 192.

[51] M. A. Zaki Badawi, ‘Zakat and Social Justice’, in …….. P. 117.

Dr. Usman Bugaje prolific writer of on Nigerian and international issues. He has academic and non-academic published works as well as book reviews to his credit. 

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 04:18  Comments (7)  
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