The Tradition of Tajdeed In West Africa: An Overview



Dr. Usman Bugaje


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 Takur 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-maghili 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 sheme 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 calledMujahiddun, (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 Maghili’s Ajwibat, (5) Bustani’s work (6)  on the concept ofTajdeed 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 oneMujaddid 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 URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: