Shehu Usman Dan Fodio And Islamization Of Hausas through Jihad


by Amnah Khalid
Political Science researcher
International Islamic University,Malaysia



In contemporary time, jihad is often understood as the violent process of waging war againstnon-Muslims. Muslims themselves have promoted it as a form of cleasing of external influencesfrom the Islamic personality at an individual level. However, historically in West Africa, jihadwas used as a pattern of Islamization to eradicate paganism and African culture to homogenizesociety as a whole to become a part of the Islamic Ummah. Islamization as a process occurred inevery age and time through revivalist movements that challenged particular order. Knowledgeand Islamization in relation to society is understood as the transformation of the public sphere interms of mass distribution of Islamic symbols and the increase of political representation of Islam. In other words, it is the contention of purporting an Islamic worldview by introducingIslamic values and method into educational institutions, science and politics.
Advent of Islam in west Africa
Islam made inroad into West Africa by trade, intermarriage and pilgrimage. Following the Arabconquest of North Africa, the Berbers accepted Islam and carried it across the Sahara to thekingdom of Soninke. The transmitting of Islam through culture explains its peaceful process of conversion, but its success laid in the Africanization of Islam. It proved its rational basis,simplicity and adaptability and tradition of scholarship. It was common, like in Gao that peoplewere pagans and their king a Muslim and so the court customs remained Pre -Islamic. Likewise,in Ghana Muslims lived in separate quarters under the protection of a pagan king who seek their prayers in overcoming plots, wars, and drought. It was difficult to rule over a powerful minorityMuslim community who monopolized trade and had extensive foreign relations but also had to please the pagan majority. Ibn Battuta’s (1352-1353 A.D) accounts firmly placed Islam in thekingdom of Mali. He describes the political system as a struggle of influence between paganismand Islam especially when religion appealed differently to different social groups.Ritualism was prevalent and offering prayers was regarded the main tenet. There were no Kadi tosettle disputes and the community litigated before a preacher to settle through conciliation. The Quran was regarded as a source of blessing instead of a revelation of the divine law. The ulemawere also of two kinds; those close to the king that integrated into the socio-political system of the state who accepted the realities of compromise and presented Islam in dilute and mild forms.The other kind maintained high standard of scholarship well connected to other centers of learning and more interested in the application of Islamic Law. They presented a normativeIslam, different from the practiced and so were in a position to deal with kings in an independentcapacity. The radical break with the past could not be accomplished through evolution; an armedrevolution was necessary. Therefore if the kings cannot turn to be true Muslims then the onlyway was for the ulema to become chief to make an Islamic state. Therefore, a median positionwas adopted in political system and the change to Islam came between 1785-1898 through the jihad of , Usman Dan Fodiyo, Ahmad b. Muhammad, al-hajj Mahmud, al-hajj Umar al-Futiwhich spread the tijani message, al-hajj Muhammad al- Amin of Gambia, Samory Ture innorthern Ghana. It was these great Muslim leaders of the states of the Sudan that Edward Blydenspoke so highly of in a London suburb on the anniversary of Liberian independence in 1874.Blyden summoned up the great characteristics of the Muslims and the Islamic spirit of brotherhood in the following words:’They read constantly the same books, and from this they derive that community of ideas and thatunderstanding of each other which gives them the power of ready organization and effectiveaction. Without the aid or hindrance of the foreigners, then they are growing up gradually andnormally to take their place in the great family of nations, a distinct but integral part of the greathuman body, who will neither be spurious Europeans, bastard Americans, nor savage Africans, but men developed upon the basis of their own idiosyncracies and according to the exigencies of the climate and country.The result was the set up of centralized Islamic polities, although strictly speaking it did notresult in theocries rather the moving of Islam to the center as the source of state legitimacy. Itreduced paganism to the lowest rungs of society and thus forcing pagans to convert. This system remained intact until colonial occupation.
What were the customs and practises that led to Jihad and Islamization of the region?
From Ibn Battuta’s account of African native culture it can be deciphered that it was tribal.African polytheism involved human sacrifice and the use of human organs to make charms andamulets.Paganism dominated the supernatural forces that reigned on earth, sky, forest and water.They derive their genealogy from the the maternal uncle and neither does a man pass on hisinheritance to his sons but to the sons of his sister.The free mixing of genders in which men didnot experience jealousy and women continued to have friends and companions after marriage.Women were not veiled and not modest in the presence of men inspite of their perseverance in prayer and would not even in ramadan cover up. On marriage they could not travel with men andwhen they did ,only permitted within a set territorial boundary. They ate animals not rituallyslaughtered or permitted like dog, donkey.Many pagan tribes were cannibals and Ibn Battutarelates that once when a woman was offered as a hospitality by a king she was slaughtered andeaten .The pagan belief system, believed in a high god not actively connected with everyday lifeof men but connected to them through a chain of supernatural forces that controlled destiny .TheUbangiji was the high god and the supernatural forces were Iskoki that acted as the medium of agood relationship between god and men, through rituals which were often sacrifices or possession of being. It supported a class of priests skilled in the mysteries of Iskoki ,that were politically powerful since the king was made the center of public rituals.This is known as theBori-cult .The people were most humble before their king and little injustice was found among them. Thegood is that they are regular in prayer and particular even with their children, especially on theoccasion of Friday prayer even the poorest among them washes his clothes and wears white to goand pray. They learn Quran by heart and punish those who would not learn by chainingthem.They make fetters for their children when they appear on their part to be falling short intheir learning of Quran by heart, and they are not taken off from them until they do learn byheart. I went to visit him on id day and his children were tied up for this reason.
Early Islam in northern Nigeria
According to the, Kano Cronicles which is the earliest written historical record of the Hausas andtranslated from Arabic to English by Palmer,Islam first came to northern Nigeria in the reign of Yaji of Kano in fourteenth century. The wangarawa trading scholars like Abdur Rahman Zaiti,kebe, Mutuku,Yakasai, Shehu, Auwula and Imam of Madatai from Mali spread Islam in theregion by preaching and practical display of the beauty, elegance and excellence of Islam. It wasaround this period Muhammad Kurau of Katsina embraced Islam and became the first Muslimking however it was during the reign of Sarki Yakubu that books on fiqh and etymology began to be studied brought from Timbuktu.The Sankore university of Timbaktu is credited to be the firstMuslim university in West Africa with its ijazat fully equvelant to any great Islamic centers of learning beyond Sudan. Initially its scholars were influenced by North Africa but from sixteenthcentury onwards replaced by Egypt mainly because of its greater theological and legal pluralism.Unlike the north Africans ,the Egyptian permitted individual freedom to choose amongthe four madhab and were more tolerant to mixed Islam and had anticipated the ijtihadmovement of subsequent centuries.Under the reign of king Muhammad Rumfa of Kano Islamization began to influence the way of life for ordinary people.The great Muslim scholar Muhammad bin Ahmad al- Maghili fromSankore university came to advise king Rumfa on matter of running his government inaccordance with shariah. He was later appointed the qadi at Katsina who invited a number of Muslim emissaries from Medina to live and teach and it became a hub of traders and scholarsfrom Magrib,Tripoli, Egypt. Hausa traders and government took to writing Hausa language inArabic script using the kufi script and old scripts were abandoned and later destroyed in DanFodiyo’s jihad.Hausas worshipped their ancestors and revered them so much that out of respectthey did not even call out their name like in Dambatta.The sacred tree of ‘Madabi’ near Dala Hillwas cut down and a mosque was built in its place. This was the first mosque in Kano and knownas Madabi Mosque and it’s imams went to Makka on pilgrimage and returned with Islamic booksthat founded schools in which they were taught. However pagan practises and supersitioncontinued and were mixed with Islam and presented as acceptable and permitted in the religion.
Usman Dan Fodio Ideas on issues of his times
Uthman b.Muhammad b.Uthman b. Salih was born in Maratta in Gobir, a Hausa state on 15th December . His father was a prominent renowned scholar Muhammad Fodiyo decendent of Torankawa Fulani who had emigrated from present day Senegal in fifteenth century under their leader Musa Jakolo. In childhood he moved to Dengel where he gained his early education in thetraditional Islamic tradition.This has been described by El-Masri,’as having atained a basic knowledge of the religion, reading and writing in boyhood, the aspirantscholar would then travel about to learned men and stay with them till he had perfected with eachthe particular science in which he had gained his fame; having completed his studies to thesatisfaction of a master he would then be given a licence(ijaza) to teach the subject he had beentaught, on the authority of the master. In this way the talib would go around to collect ijaza andthus establish fame as a recognised scholar. This process would not normally cease at a certainstage or age for whenever a scholar was to be found who excelled himself in a branch of knowledge no matter whether a local man or a foreigner others would go to study under him.Thisis why Dan Fodio continued going to study while he himself was teaching and preaching.This is confirmed by his brother Abdullah who records that Shehu had too many teachers to berecorded since he never spared an opportunity to add to his knowledge. He was influenced andtaught by Jibril b. Umar, a severe critic of state affairs and who carried out an unsuccessful jihadhimself. Others were Shaikh Abdal al-Rahman b. Hammada taught him syntax and science of grammar, Jibril b. Umar was a Tuareg scholar of great scholarship and revolutionary zeal whowas greatly respected by him.He learnt Sahih of al- Bukhari and tafsir from Haj Muhammad b.Raji and Ahmad b. Muhammad while Hashim al- Zamfari also taught him tafsir. He wassurrounded by intellectuals like his uncles, Uthman Binduri, Muhammad Sambo, his brother Abdullah and later son Ahmad Bello. Hence it is concluded that his intellectualism was from acurriculum of a large variety of subjects like grammar, syntax,elymology, prosody of Arabiclanguage, Tafsir, Sahih al- Bukhari, Sirat, Fiqh, Ibadat, Astrology which studied the stars and planets and Sufism.By 1774-5 he was qualified to teach and preach and began to do so in Degel, although he saw hisrole more of a reformer with a clear mission as stated in his book Ifham al- Munkirin,’ God 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 mujaddid, 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 thetruth against falsehood, revive the sunnah, suppress innovation, and denounce bad customs. As aresult of his activities his conditions will be different from those of the ulama of his age and hewill find himself a stranger………The main issues that caught his attention was the rigidity and venality of the ummah, theuncertainty in belief and the continuation of pagan customs but above all the general ignoranceof people about Islam.Therefore, he set out to rectify these issues by travelling to different townsof Gobir to teach and preach ,firstly to Birnin Kebbi to the West and Zoma in the east. Largenumbers of people responded to his call and began visiting and following him. He was aknowledgeable , charismatic, sincere an committed preacher who feared none. Shehu faced muchopposition from all direction that feared him and wish to maintain the status quo while Shehuwas committed to change.He was accused of hypocrisy, sedition, hearsay and misleading thecommon man which gradually grew into unwarranted attacks and even persecution.His opposition came from the ulema who wished to maintain the state of affairs to retain power and the charlatans who posed as sufi saints but were very ignorant and depended on mysticalexperience of transcendental knowledge.Shehu had criticized these ulema for justifying politicalcorruption, immorality, promotion of evil through local customs and culture and especially promoting slavery among muslims.These highlighted the issues of those times such as, the ulema’s strict adherence to Maliki schooland making fanatical interpretation and muddling of the very defination of who is a Muslim? Thequestion of belief and non belief was central to determining the rights and obligations of theindividual in society and directly related to the institution of slavery which was widespread. AMuslim could not be enslaved by a fellow Muslim and by not defining clearly change wasimpossible. The ulema of Gobir adhered to the view of Al- Maghili who branded all who prayedin the direction of Kaba as Muslim and gave three criteia as, professing of belief and acceptingthe prophecy, distinguishing between the beliver and non through an act of unbelief like idolworship etc and to say something known would not emanate except from one who does not knowGod even if the one who says it asserts that he does not know God. This room for specific practices of unbelief was unacceptable to Shehu.Another group of ulema following Ulama al-Kalam defined a Muslim if he could explain the unity of allah (s.w.a) and prophethood of Muhammad(s.a.w). Instead he argued that if a sinner recognized his sin, he proves that heaccepts shariah although if a sin is either intentionally or persistently continued through personalattitude means the denial of law and involves the question of intention which God alone knowsand so a judgment be left for the final day of judgment. In his book Ihya al- Sunna, he defines hismoderate position,’ Whosoever affirms the ‘confession of faith’ should be treated in accordancewith the Islamic legal rules, he may intermarry with the Muslims, he may lead the prayer, themeat of animals slaughtered by him is lawful, the Muslims may inherit his property and he mayinherit their own, and when he dies he should be buried in the Muslim grave yard’. This firmlyliberated people from exploitation and injustice and Shehu was seen as the long awaited mahdiwho would rescue his people.Secondly the issue as to what extent Muslims could follow their local custom was decided. Theulema had cordoned all customs and traditions on the grounds of being ada and so part of sunna, but this was claimed false by Shehu.His stand was moderate where he argued that such customsshould be permitted and their persistence made people sinners and unbelivers.Thirdly, the mostextensively discussed was on mass ignorance about Islam among his people.His commitmentwas basically to eradicate it and to teach the basics of ibadah of Islam correctly. In this regardtoo he was critical of ulema who teach a few students and ignore women and slaves.He belivedwomen education was important since they form the backbone of the family and thus thesociety.His daughter Asmau was highly educated and serves to remind that what he preached iswhat he practised. His son Muhammad Bello is credited to have written seventy eight bookswhile Usman Dan fodio with as many as hundred and fifteen. Some were,Talimal Ikhwan which was on the philosophy of law and jurisprudence.Kitab Faraq on the question of leadership and dealing with problems of illegal taxation, arbitaryconfiscation of property, corruption of judges,perversion of legal process etc.Hidayat Tullab related to Islamic law and Muslim society.Umdatal Ubbad a guidline for voluntary acts of devotion like prayer,ibadat and focus of spiritualtraining.Kitab al- Adab discussed 15 issue like obligation of husband & wife, ethics of visit to sick, social behaviour.
Tariqal al- Ganna on moral ideals.The mood of his preaching and the tone of his writing reflectthe intellectual and political development of his society, hence initially his writings were milduntil 1790s and when jihad was emminent he was uncompromising and after the establishment of Sokoto Sultanate again mild. His strategy was to disperse as many students as possible so Islamis promolgated, discussed and ignorance of the people reduced. His committment to masseducation set the course of his books that were hand copied and circulated. His moderate positionon important issues conform to the Islamic principle of middle course and the intrinsic simplicityof Islam became the reasons for his mass following among his people and intellectuals. This wasfeared by the kings of the region who felt threatened by this new phenomena of conversions andmass following. In 1789 Shehu was invited by Bawa the king of Gobir to celebrate Id al Kabir atMagami. It was planned that he would be killed but when Shehu was accompanied by a thousandfollowers, the king quickly changed his mind and instead tried to win them over by offeringgifts.On accepting the gifts of which the greatest was of 500 mithaqls to him, Shehu made fivedemands from the king,1. Allow him to preach the word of Allah (s.w.a) in Gobir.2. Allow people to convert if they wish.3. Give respect to turbaned men (his followers).4. Free all prisoners that were taken from Zamfara ( a hostile state but had more converts).5. Not to burden the people with more taxes.These were accepted by the king since he realised how influential Shehu had become.The firsttwo demands indicate the alarming proportion of followers that the king wished to contain. Thethird was on the discrimination his followers must have faced in their practices and attair whichmust be visually having an impact.The demand for freeing of prisoner shows the powerful position Shehu was in and reduction of tax especially on cattle must be liberating for the people.
Usman Dan Fodio’s Hijrah
By 1795, the power was the rulers was eroding with the consolidation of Shehu’s Jama’a wasonly increased their persecution.It was around this period that Shehu wrote a poem in praise of Sheikh Abdul Kadir Jilani in which he urged his jamaa to acqiure arms to establish Islamic rulein Hausa land. To quell his insecurity the King promulgated new laws, 1.No one was allowed to preach except Usman Dan Fodio.2.Conversions were not allowed and those who were not born Muslims should revert back totheir old religion.3.No man was allowed to wear the turban and no women a veil.This attempt to control the masses failed and provoked Muslims to become militant and amassarms. The failure of the policy forced desperate King Nafata forced to take Shehu’s familyhostage and coerce him to discontinue his activities but this too failed and the king died in 1802.Yunfa took over the throne when Shehu wrote on the theme of Hijra and Jihad in Al-Masa’il al-Mu-himma, and again an attempt on his life was made and it again failed.By 1803 the situationwas explosive and when Yumfa attacked Gimbana in Kebbie, Muslim property was robbed andMuslims were taken captive with many dead and villages destroyed.When the captives passedDegel they were freed by other Muslims without Shehu’s permission but this made Yunfa toorder him to leave his jamaa and go into exile.Shehu refused to leave his Jamaa and instead leaveGobir for Gudu. Yunfa sensing mass exedous ordered him to stay back but the descion was madeand the whole process was organised by his brother Abdullah, Aliyu Jedo, Abdusalam andMuhammad Bello his son. It was at this time that the famous, pamplet, Wathiqat ahl al-Sudanwa-ila man Sha’Allah min al-Ikhwan fi al- buldan was written as the manifesto of jihad. It waswidely circulated and a kind of declaration of Jihad.It made it clear that the status of a state isthe ruler and if Muslims have to fight the unbelievers so be it. Thus Shehu and his party of Jamaamoved from Degel to Gudu marking it as the Hijrah in 1804. It was the climax of a social and political crisis the Hausa states were facing and the final break from the pagan kings of theJamaa.
His Jihad
At Gudu the Jamaa began to swell and an imam was elected like the set up of the Islamic state atMedina. Shehu was elected the leader and called Amir al-Mu’minin or Sarkin Muslimin and thecall for jihad against pagans and half Muslims was made. Twelve flag bearers were initially sentto act his commander to Zaria and Katsina with the most difficult battle against Gobir that waseventually won. Kano and Zazzau remained hesitant but were won over and the rest of the stateswere sent letters to invite and join the cause of truth against falsehood.The Jihad ended in 1808 and Shehu appointed his son Muhammad Bello to be the first Sultan to a united states of SokotoSultanate and retire himself to preaching, teaching and writing books. He died in 1817 andcontinue to influence Islamization process in Nigeria.Examining the Jihad in the light of established principles of Islam, the primary purpose of government is rendering possible of ibadah.The moral purpose of of the state becomes manifest in the obligation to command thegood and prohibit the bad as the foremost civic religious duty. Al Ghazali calls this duty thegreatest pole in the religion and al- Mawardi a specific duty.The purpose of Muslim governmentis derived from the above political theory and according to al Ashari, its execution may be done by tongue, hand, or sword- which ever way is able.The Muslim community is to be safeguardedagainst schism and heresy and in the case of a breach, jihad is to be proclaimed since the country becomes Dar al Kufr and not Dar al- Islam. In 1808 Bello his son decided to build a capital onneutral ground and Sokoto was founded, and the Sokoto Caliphate was established that coveredtwo third of present Nigeria.The impact of the jihad was felt as far as the Carribeans in Jamicawhen in 1820s a document called Wathiqah surfaced among black slaves, it was the sameWithiqah ahl- Sudan that Shehu wrote as his call for jihad . It is believed some of these men were jihadi or traders carrying Arabic manuscripts that on the way caught and enslaved. It became thesource of strength and unity among them against the white slave masters and resulted in the slaveriots of Manchaster Jamica in 1832. It was secretly circulated among them under the leadershipof Muhammad Kaba (Robert Peart) who hailed from eastern Timbaktu and a well knownscholar. Likewise, is the story of Abdullah another well known scholar from Messina Empire inMali (where revolutionary ideas of Shehu were carried out through Seku Amadu’s jihad) todaywho got freed and returned . Hence Usman Dan fodio’s jihad can been seen as the establishmentof Islamic order in Northern Nigeria. In assessing the jihad critically, the cattle tax that was preached against was restored and overallindirect taxes in the ninteenth century increased.The Hausa could no longer participate ingovernment directly although socially there was no animosity between the two. Hausa statesexperienced good justice system with the kadi an independent authority.The most importantchanged remained political and religious but Barth strongly suggest the conflict between Hausaand fulani seriously crippled the emirate’s economy and development.
Sir Ahamadu Bello,’My Life’, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1962.Said Hamdun & Noel King,’ Ibn Battuta in Black Africa’.London.Rex Colling Ltd.1975.Abdur Rahman Doi, Islam inMeryn Hiskett, The Course of Islam in Africa. Edinbrough.Edin brough UniversityPress.1994( Islamic Surveys).Great Lives Book One Ministry of Education Sokoto State.Ibadan.University Press.1981.Usman Muhammad Bugaje,’ The Contents, methods and impact of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio’sTeaching (1774-1804), Masters Dissertation, Institute of African & Asian Studies, University of Khartoum. 1979.Usman Muhammad Bugaje, The Jihad of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio and its impact beyond theSokoto caliphate.’ Paper presented at Symposium in honour of Usman Dan Fodio. University of Khartum.9-21st November 1995.Usman Muhammad Bugaje,The Tradition of Tajdeed in West Africa’ Paper presentedInternational Seminar on the Intellectual Tradition in Sokoto Caliphate.Organized by Center of Islamic Studies.University of Sokoto from 20-23 June 1987.
Source : Amnah Khalid
Political Science researcher
International Islamic University,Malaysia


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