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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