Chapter Twelve from the African Caliphate – The Vision of a Mujaddid

Chapter Twelve 

The Vision of a Mujaddid

We shall now take our leave from the volatile arena of jihad for a quieter, more serene, but equally vital arena of Shehu Usman’s thoughts on the new, noble state that had just come into being. How, for example, would he visualize the unfolding of history in the course of the life of this young state? What was his vision of an Islamic state (dar al-Islam). In which way, for example, would it differ from the Hausa kingdoms it had replaced, and if decline is inevitable for all peoples and all states, what would be his recipe for avoiding disintegration? Our main sources in this endeavor are the Shehu’s Bayaan Wujub al-Hijrah, his Kitaab al-Farq and his Uṣuul al-ʿAdl.

The Road to The Revival of the Sunnah  

The Shehu saw his role in leading to the establishment of the khilaafah (caliphate) as similar, in many respects, to that of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) who came to call his people ‘to profess belief in the unity of Allah, and demonstrated to them shining miracles in the face of which no man of sound judgment would doubt that he was the Messenger of Allah’; however, the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was at first rejected and severely persecuted. His followers were killed and forced into exile, but he endured and persisted in his mission.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) had an ardent desire to see his people spared the prospect of destruction, even though their treatment of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was contemptuous and unjust. “When their persecution intensified,” the Shehu recalled, “Gabriel came to him and said, ‘Oh Muhammad, Allah has ordered heaven, earth and the mountains to obey you.’ He replied, ‘I (wish to) grant a respite to my community for it may be that Allah will forgive them’.” The question of rushing to establish a ‘state’ on the ruin of his community was never contemplated by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). All along, he had hoped for one of three things: that his people be guided to the right path, by which they would be saved from the wrath of Allah, and made to live a successful life here, and a still worthier and more successful life in the hereafter; that in the case of their rejecting his message, Allah might, in His unbounded mercy, grant them His pardon; and that, alternatively, He would at least, raise out of them a generation that would accept the message and be guided rightly.

The Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) conviction that perseverance was a key to ultimate success restrained any tendency in him to seek an armed confrontation prematurely. “In spite of the offer his Lord gave him,” the Shehu insisted, “he was not the first to resort to force against them, on the contrary, he used to present himself to the tribes and during festive seasons saying, ‘Who will believe in me? Who will help me so that I can convey the message of my Lord and thus secure for himself (a place in) paradise?’ In the end, Allah opened for him the door of hijrah and through it, the ultimate door to the perfection of religion and the termination of the days of ignorance.”

The system established by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), after his victory over the systems of ignorance, thrived principally on his ‘sublime attributes’, including his personal discipline and his austere and abstemious life, in the midst of numerous opportunities for an easy and comfortable life which his position as the head of state necessarily opened to him. The leader’s self-restraint, his indifference to material privileges and his selflessness constitute the essence of being an Imam – as opposed to being a king. It is in this way that a leader symbolizes the spirit that gives birth to a new system, and carries it further and reinforces it by personal example and commitment.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also had an absolute sense of humility, both in his personal conduct and his exercise of power. The Shehu noted that when the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was given the option of being either a prophet and a king or a prophet and a slave, he replied, ‘Rather a slave!’ He noted further that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) prevented his people from standing up for him as a mark of respect, saying, “I am only a slave. I eat as a slave eats and sit as a slave does.” His humility in private life was also revered by the Shehu:

“In his own house, he used to pursue the occupation of his family, i.e. serve them. He deloused his clothing, patched it, repaired his sandals, served himself, gave fodder to his camel used for water-carrying, swept the house, ate with the servant and kneaded dough with him and carried his own goods from the market, (a job) which he allowed nobody else to do for him… He himself served when entertaining a guest… He used to accept the excuse which one made, be the first to shake hands with his friends, and he never interrupted anyone who was speaking, nor made any displeasing remark to anybody. He never avenged himself save when the holy things of Allah were abused, then he would punish for the sake of Allah.”

Another attribute of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was that he fixed his gaze in the course of his entire life on the hereafter, disdaining to take advantages of his life lest he should be occupied with it to the detriment of his relationship with Allah. Even as the booties from the battlefields kept pouring into his treasury, even as territories came under his control at a rate beyond his imagination, even as people came to him in complete submission, the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) mind was always occupied with the thought of Allah, and his ultimate abode. “Nothing is dearer to me,” the Shehu quoted the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), “than to join my brothers and my intimate friends (i.e. his fellow Prophets).” One month later, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) died, without ever desiring to enjoy material benefit from his lifetime struggle in the guidance of mankind – he died seeking purely the reward that is with Allah.

The Shehu’s objective in telling about the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and the four Rightly Guided khulafaa’ (Caliphs) (Allah be pleased with them) perhaps killed two birds with one stone: he showed the attributes of the best of Muslim leaders, the nature of the Islamic state (dar al-Islam) and the fundamental goals of Islamic polity; and secondly, he showed the likely trend in the history of his own state – from a merciful and compassionate khilaafah (caliphate), to monarchy and then to universal corruption and tyranny; and all could happen within a period of only fifty years.

Shehu’s Vision for the khilaafah (caliphate) 

The mujaddid‘s vision of his own khilaafah (caliphate) was essentially characterized by two fundamental attributes: a commitment to moral values and to an unconditional, universal justice. The mujaddid was determined to create a state far superior to and totally different from the Hausa states he had just overthrown. The new spirit can be summarized in two words: justice and piety.

The Moral Foundation of the State

Of the ten ‘qualities commendable both for princes and others’, mentioned in Bayaan, we shall content ourselves with five. These qualities are an expression of the Shehu’s concept of the nature of the new social order.

The first quality is wisdom – that moral and intellectual discipline which enables a person to join the company of angels while retaining essential human characteristics. It is the ability to strike a balance between the material and the spiritual in life. Proceeding from the two premises laid down in the ḥadiith: namely that ‘the best men are the wisest’ and that ‘wisdom takes one nearer to Allah’. The Shehu stated that to be wise means that one should be a master of one’s desires. Wisdom is therefore acquired not as much from books as from a life supported by honest and lawful income. The overriding importance of wisdom to the new order was articulated by the Shehu. “A wise man,” he said, “is guided aright by his wisdom and fortified by his sound judgment, so that what he says is sound and what he does is commendable, while an ignorant man is caused to go astray as a result of his ignorance; so what he says is unsound and what he does is objectionable.” Further, “the merit of wisdom is that one can judge what one has not witnessed according to what one has witnessed. So he who can judge what he has not witnessed by what he has witnessed is called wise.” Wisdom entails the ability to make sound moral judgments and the possession of a keen and penetrating sense of history. The Shehu was, however, quick to add a proviso: “wisdom is essential, but its value can be undermined if it is not freed from its mortal enemies – caprice, envy, arrogance, greed and other desires.”

A second quality that should characterize the spirit of the new state is knowledge. The need for the ruler of the Islamic state (dar al-Islam) to be a man of knowledge is vital, for in as much as the ruler is the symbol of the state, his actions, behavior and character are bound to influence society as a whole. “All people,” the Shehu explained, “derive fine qualities from the ruler and are indebted to him for laws, the checking of quarrels and settling of disputes. So, more than any other of Allah’s creation he is in need of being acquainted with learning and gathering (knowledge) of the law.” The very fact of his being a leader places on him the obligation to be learned. To be successful in government the ruler should not have to rely on aides who might tell him what they think he wants to hear, rather than what he ought to be told. “For a ruler,” as the Shehu says, “sets himself up to deal with people’s natures, to settle their disputes, and to undertake their government. All that requires outstanding learning, keen insight and extensive study. How would he get on if he had not made the necessary preparations and made himself ready for these matters?” An ignorant ruler is most likely to be held hostage by his own advisers who inflate his ego in order to use him for their own purposes. A state will be on a sure path when the love of knowledge, its acquisition and its propagation becomes a characteristic.

The role of scholars as administrators, judges, custodians of moral values and ideological guides of the khilaafah (caliphate) was crucial. In fact, the success of the state depended ultimately on the extent to which it was able to draw inspiration and support from the scholars.

A further essential quality to the state is that of generosity, which operates on two levels: the first level consists of the material support that a state can give to individuals, which individuals can give to each other, with the aim of strengthening mutual brotherhood, and the second level of generosity is the higher, which entails being ‘so generous with your soul that you wear it out for the sake of Allah, in worshipping Him and in willingly undertaking jihad in His path, seeking nothing but His good pleasure’. The khilaafah (caliphate) had two tasks before it: the advancement of the well being of the people through a voluntary mutual support scheme initiated by the people themselves but boosted by the state, and the development of the khilaafah (caliphate) through a continuous effort to defend the state and expand its frontiers.

The quality of patience is also necessary. In the post-jihad phase, it acquires a new significance. It means an unswerving determination to carry out the fundamental objectives of the state and to establish the required institutions, regardless of the material and moral costs. Patience would mean a determined resistance to the forces of evil which might have adopted new tactics to frustrate the realization of the objectives of the state.

The last of the five essential qualities is gratitude. How else could Muslims express their appreciation for Allah’s support? When they were weak, He strengthened them. When they were scattered, He brought them together. When they were oppressed, He gave them victory and made them rulers.

Allah has said, “Few are those who are thankful among My servants.” Gratitude is of three degrees. Gratitude from the heart, from the tongue, and from the bodily members. The first is to recognize that blessing comes from Allah alone. On this subject there is Allah’s word: “Whatsoever blessing you have, it comes from Allah.” The second, which is gratitude from the tongue, is to talk about that, as in Allah’s word: ‘And as for your Lord’s blessing, declare it.’ The essence of it is to praise the Beneficent for His beneficence. The third, which is gratitude from the bodily members, is to pay Allah’s due with each member and to worship Him with all of them. On this subject there is Allah’s word: “Labor, O House of David, in thankfulness.”

The Social Edifice of the State

We shall now look at the Shehu’s conception of justice that should characterize the state. Proceeding from the principle established in the Qur’an that Allah is not heedless of the atrocities being committed by oppressors – He is only giving them rope with which to hang themselves – the Shehu postulated two assumptions in his Bayaan: first, oppression is the main source of the collapse of a people: “oppression is the thing most conducive to the withholding of divine favor and the occurrence of catastrophes.”; and second, the oppressed are the ones most likely to triumph. Allah’s statement that He would ultimately destroy the oppressor and oppressive systems is, in the Shehu’s words, ‘a sufficient warning to the oppressor, and a sufficient consolation to the oppressed’.

Justice, then, was Shehu Usman‘s recipe for national stability and progress. it is the key to a nation’s endurance on the stage of history. The principles of justice put forward by the Shehu and the social and political policies he recommended for the state are the subjects of his Uṣuul al-ʿAdl and Kitaab al-Farq. In Uṣuul al-ʿAdl, the Shehu laid down ten principles of justice, mainly addressed to the overall ruler himself, as the symbol of the state. The first of these principles is that the sulṭan should bear in mind the implications of his office. It is on the one hand a source of blessing for one who exercises it properly and on the other, for one who misuses it, it is a source of unmitigated torment and misery. The just sulṭan will have the enviable benefit of being the ‘dearest of people to Allah’, and the unjust sulṭan will have to pay the consequences of being the most hateful of people to Allah.

The essence of justice is that the laws of Allah should be applied meticulously, without fear or favor. Since Allah established His law in a perfect order and for the purpose of realizing a comprehensive justice, it is foolish for a sulṭan to tamper with it, even with good intentions. The ruler should recognize one fundamental principle: Allah knows best how society should be organized and managed, and how an abiding and comprehensive justice can be achieved, as set out in the Shariiʿah.

An additional principle is that the ruler should endeavor to have upright and courageous scholars as his advisers and should himself listen to their advice. The scholars, on their part, must advise the ruler in accordance with what is best for both the ruler and the ruled, and must therefore, not hide anything from the ruler for fear of displeasing him. Here the Shehu was stressing the crucial role of the intellectual community in the state. As the conscience of society, they are under a binding obligation to give direction to government. Similarly, as the symbol of the oppressed, they have a duty to raise their voices against injustice and against all tendencies that could lead to permissiveness and luxury. Their exalted status in society demands that they dissociate themselves from all oppressive policies, and that they rush to the aid of the oppressed against the oppressor. They must share the people’s aspirations, yearnings and, as much as possible, their sufferings, and because the scholar’s association with the rulers is to establish justice, such an association should cease when justice is abandoned by the state. Thus, in reality, the scholar’s tent should ever be pitched with the people, not with the ruling class, and the intellectual community should not constitute a community separate from the mass of the people.

The Shehu went on, in the third principle of justice, to state that it is not sufficient for the ruler himself to be fair and just. He must ensure that all the departments of state of government functionaries obey the rules of justice, until, we presume, the whole state is permeated by justice. The ruler must never tolerate any act of injustice committed by any of his officials – be it his personal servant, an army officer, a civil servant or a governor, for Allah will hold him personally responsible for an unjust act committed by those who serve in his government.

As the fourth principle states, the ruler should put himself in the position of his subjects whenever he introduces policies. If he feels that as a subject of the state, the policy would be advantageous to him, he should proceed with it, but if he feels he might be injured by the policy, he should abandon it, otherwise his actions would amount to a misuse of authority, and even treason against the people.

In addition, as the fifth principle states, the ruler must open his doors to complaints of aggrieved and oppressed citizens, and must beware of the danger of turning a blind eye. If he ignores the injustices committed by his officials and strong citizens against the common people, he cannot be helped by his personal piety. His most important task as a ruler is to establish justice and prevent injustice, and not to be engaged day and night in personal piety, for ‘redressing the grievances of the Muslims is more meritorious than voluntary acts of devotion’. The shutting of the door against the poor and the oppressed is characteristic of unbelieving rulers, and not of a Muslim ruler, we are told in Kitaab al-Farq.

In three more principles, the Shehu warned against forms of behavior that could undermine the government itself. The ruler must not allow himself to be dominated by arrogance, for pride might kindle in him the fire of anger. Anger on its part blots out intelligence. The ruler who is likely to be roused into anger, should remember the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) words: “Woe to him who gets angry and forgets Allah’s anger against him.” The ruler should treat his people with forgiveness, forbearance and magnanimity. He should avoid treating his people harshly or unkindly by imposing unjust taxes on them, or misusing or squandering their wealth and resources. The states resources should be utilized in such a way that everyone has his basic needs satisfied, and economic and social justice reaches every corner of the state. The ruler should not allow his passions and appetites to get the better of him. The Shehu recounted the story of ʿUmar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) in which he asked a certain ascetic, ‘Whether he had heard any objectionable thing about him’. The ascetic replied, “I heard that you have been putting two loaves on the tray for your meals, and that you possess two shirts, one for night-time and one for day time.” ʿUmar (Allah be pleased with him) asked if there was anything else, to which the man answered in the negative. “By Allah,” replied ʿUmar (Allah be pleased with him), “both these two things shall also cease.” That a Muslim ruler should live sumptuously is offensive.

In the ninth principle, the Shehu turned the ruler’s attention to the crux of the matter – the Day of Judgment. He noted that in the hereafter, there are two homes, paradise for those who are righteous, hell for those who have squandered their lives. Real life is that of hereafter, and if one is seeking power, glory, prestige and enduring happiness, the hereafter has the best prospects. It is futile to risk that higher existence for the fleeting and delusive pleasures of this life, but more important is the fact that on the Day of Judgment, every human being will give his account before Allah. The ruler will in addition account for his stewardship: how he tackled poverty and spread happiness, how he battled against injustice and initiated or facilitated the flow of justice, how far he had curbed the excesses of the rich and powerful, and protected the poor and the weak, how he had taken care of the citizens, particularly, the children, the old, the sick, and the most important of all, women. In addition, he will have to account for the three most important issues of government and of human society: the blood of the citizens, their property and their honor. In essence, the Shehu was saying but one thing, that the ultimate source of restraint for a ruler in the face of enormous power at his disposal is his inner self, his conscience, his consciousness of Allah.

Finally, in the tenth principle of justice the Shehu reiterated that Allah has sent prophets to show mankind the best way to organize their lives, so that none can ever have an excuse for following a wrong cause. He sent the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as the last of the prophets to give glad tidings and to warn people. “He perfected his Prophethood,” the Shehu said, “in such a way as to leave neither room nor warrant for any addition whatsoever – thus, He made him the seal of the Prophets.” That perfected model, therefore is the one the leader should follow. The tenth principle is, in fact, the sum total of all the principles the Shehu enumerated. He was effectively telling his own men, if you want to rule with justice, if you want a perfect model for your government, if you want your rule to succeed, your state to live long, your society to be happy, then follow the footsteps of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) – read the Seerah, retain the essence of it. The Shehu thus returned to his theme, namely, that he wanted the Sokoto khilaafah (Caliphate) to be the nearest approximation to the state established by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) himself.

As for the policies, the Shehu grouped them, in his Kitaab al-Farq, into two categories: those geared towards elimination of corruption in both spiritual and mundane matters’, and those intended for the well-being of the people. The former include the defense of the state against unbelievers, brigands and rebels, the blocking of all sources of corruption and the prevention of crimes and other social evils. The pursuit of the well-being of the people includes such measures as improvements to the mosque, which symbolizes Muslim piety and unity, the ‘commanding of the people to strive earnestly to study the Qur’an’, disseminating knowledge in all its ramifications, the improvement of the market system, the relieving of the burden of poverty from the people, and ‘commanding everything that is good’. These constitute the essence of the social and economic policy of a state. Briefly, the Shehu was telling the young state, defend yourself against all possible enemies, wage war against corruption, crime and oppression, re-establish the purity and sanctity of religion, give education the utmost priority with the Qur’an as its root, establish justice as the basis of the economy, fight against poverty, enrich the people and make them happy, and do whatever Allah has ordered to be done.

Forestalling Disintegration

Is there a way in which a state can forestall its decline, or at least lengthen its life? We draw from the Shehu’s thoughts on this subject in the Bayaan.

The state, in the post-jihad phase, should endeavor to end disputes, conflicts and divisions by a sustained policy of forgiveness and leniency towards those who might not have full sympathy with its cause, but who are, nevertheless its citizens. “The wise men,” the Shehu emphasized, “have said, Authority cannot go with revenge, nor leadership with self-esteem and self-admiration. Be it known that it is better that you should pardon wrongly in one thousand cases than to punish wrongly in a single case.” Hence, transgressors should be ‘killed by goodness not by evil’. Perhaps in this way, the process of reconciliation in the wake of turmoil and upheaval associated with jihad could be facilitated, but if punishment is unavoidable, then it should not exceed the limit set by law. Yet, “if vengeance against… a wrongdoer may stir up civil strife or incite a man known to be docile to commit an offense, and the wrongdoer comes to seek forgiveness, then in this case pardon is better.” This does not imply giving a free-hand to corrupt elements, for “if the wrongdoer shows forth wickedness openly and is uncouth to people and does harm to the young and the old, then it is better to take revenge on him.”

The state should not allow the fervor of jihad to get the better of its citizens. Those who have lost their power as a result of the success of the jihad should not be subjected to ill-treatment nor to confiscation and seizure of property or land, for the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has warned that, “for him who seizes a Muslim’s property with his right hand, Allah has made hell binding upon him,” even if such property does not amount to more than a twig of a tree. Assaults on people’s honor must be discouraged and prevented. Once the objective of establishing a new order is achieved, the State must not allow the uncovering of old wounds, nor the unnecessary slandering of people.

The new state must guard its secrets and not expose itself to  enemies. Proceeding from the ḥadiith of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), “Seek the help of secrecy in achieving your aims,” the Shehu counseled, “Know that keeping secrets is a commendable practice for all mankind and a necessary quality for kings, and an essential duty for wazirs, courtiers and the royal retinue.” ʿAli ibn Abi Taalib (Allah ennoble his countenance) said, “Your secret is your captive so long as you do not tell it, but when you do, you become its captive.” Hence, “He who keeps back his secret attains his end and keeps free of attack. Your secret is part of your blood, so do not let it circulate in veins other than your own, and if you tell it, then you have shed your blood.”

The state has to be conscious of the fact the complexities of human nature and society are not swept away merely because a jihad has taken place. As long as ‘every human being has in himself some aspects of animal behavior’, as the Shehu said, those complexities will remain. The state, and especially the ruler, must learn to deal with complexities in such a way that the prosperity of the state and of the people can be guaranteed and sustained without necessarily harming any section of society.

The state must anticipate having leopards, monkeys, donkeys, dogs, polecats, dung-beetles, hawks, wolves, ostriches or jerboa among men. Caution, therefore, is the key policy in these matters. For instance, in dealing with the dung-beetle among men – those who ‘delight in eating human excrement and are accustomed to the smell of filthy things’, by trading in worldly tales, lies and superstitions – the ruler should throw flowers on them, for ‘they die when musk or flowers are cast on them’. The ostrich, ‘which buries all its eggs in the sand and sits on only one egg,’ thereby creating false impressions, should never be believed. ‘The man of experience… is not deceived by that first egg (but) goes on digging until he achieves his end.’ Such is the treatment of liars. As for the jerboa which creates two openings to its hole and enters through one hole and comes out through another, thus symbolizing hypocrisy, the best course of action is that he should be avoided completely. As for the lion, ‘no peace can exist in the face of a lion’s roar,’ so the answer is a full-scale defense of state interests.

There has to be recognition that the state can only be preserved by a rigorous and austere political culture, a deep sense of justice, and humility on the part of rulers. Conversely, the state can be toppled by the forces of luxury, nepotism, and oppression. On luxury, the Shehu warned that, “when Allah desires to destroy a state, He hands its affairs over to extravagant sons of rulers whose ambition is to magnify the status of kingship, to obtain their desires and indulge in sins. And Allah takes glory away from them as a result of that.” Nepotism has the effect of bringing a government to an end, while injustice terminates the life of a kingdom.

Finally, if despite these precautions and measures the state finds itself in a state of disharmony, it should question its policies of social justice and equity. If they are not the cause of the insecurity or the trend towards disintegration, then the ruler must return quickly to the roots, ‘by summoning the scholars and enjoining truth and acting in accordance with it, by upholding the Sunnah, by making justice prevail and by sitting down on skin (rugs) to review torts’. In addition, he should quickly restore honor to whom it is due, abolish unlawful and oppressive taxes, and forced labor, and give due respect to scholars and men of piety. ‘He should not deprive a chief of his chieftaincy, rather he should make sure that every mighty man retains his position, and cause everyone to occupy the place he is entitled to. Only then can he be chief of chiefs.’

A king gains victory over his enemies according to his justice over his subjects and is defeated in his wars according to his injustice. Seeing to the welfare of subjects is more effective than a large number of soldiers. It has been said that the crown of a king is his integrity, his stronghold is his impartiality and his wealth is his subjects. There can be no triumph with transgression, no rule without learning of the law and no chieftaincy with vengeance.

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Mulḥatu-l-Iʿraab – Arabic Grammar Text and Audio

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Matnu Alfiyyah ibni Malik (Audio – Slow Recitation) Arabic Grammar Text

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Chapter Six from the African Caliphate – Reviving the Sunnah


Chapter Six of  the African Caliphate – Reviving the Sunnah 

By Ibraheem Sulaiman

The goal of tajdiid, as we have stressed, is to effect an all-embracing transformation of society. The means includes calling people to religion, commanding the good and prohibiting evil, and working relentlessly to demolish the edifice of innovation. It also includes establishing, once again, the supremacy of the Sunnah. The mujaddid’s ultimate ambition is to establish a society that approximates as closely as possible to the prophetic society.

That precisely was Shehu’s ambition and his declared goal. His purpose, he reiterated continually, was to revive the Sunnah and annihilate satanic innovations that had either crept into the social fabric of society or had been an exotic imposition on its culture and traditions. We have so far examined his concept of amr wa nahy, and we have had a taste of the content of some of his public lectures and realized the great efforts he expended in educating society in the principles of Islam. What remains for us is to see how he set about reviving the Sunnah, demolishing innovations, thereby reshaping the beliefs, thinking, practices and the very character of society.

In doing that, we have to take a very close look at Shehu’s monumental work – indeed his magnum opus if we agree with Ismail Balogun – which we may consider not only as the basic reference on this matter, but also as the summary of what Shehu taught and preached. This is the Iḥyaa’ as-Sunnah wa Ikhmaad al-Bidʿah. The book is unique in two respects. It is a book of practical, social and moral education which focuses its attention entirely on Hausa society with the sole object of rectifying its wrong deeds and guiding it aright. There is no theory in it. Everything it deals with was practiced by society. Secondly, it is a book of protest, albeit of a legal nature, albeit restrained. In a way, it takes the line of al-Barnawi’s Shurb az-Zulaal, except that the Ihyaa’ was written by a mujaddid and is a textbook of tajdiid.

Its thirty-three chapters deal with the three fundamental issues of Shehu’s message: Imaan, Islam and Iḥsaan, with Islam – the regulation of life in general – taking twenty-seven chapters. Both Imaan and Iḥsaan have one chapter each, and one chapter is devoted to the Sunnah in its broader sense and one to innovations. It is our intention to consider ten of the chapters with a view to understanding the state of Islam in Shehu’s society and the methodology of tackling its problems through a peaceful, though vigorously educational mobilization.

Principles of Social Mobilization

The principles he laid down in the introduction to the Ihyaa’ are so important that we prefer to call them principles of social mobilization, for if we want to know why the Shehu succeeded where others had failed in their efforts to bring about an abiding social transformation, it is because the Shehu throughout his active struggle adhered to certain tenets which facilitated his work and encouraged people to flock to him.

The first of these principles is that the revival of the Sunnah and removal of innovations, that is the reorientation of society on Islamic lines rests, fundamentally, on counseling and sincere advice (naṣiiḥah) to Muslims. It precludes, as a matter of necessity, bringing shame upon them or finding fault with them.

“Whoever has as his intention the unveiling of the secrets of the people and preoccupation with their faults, Allah, certainly, will bring him to account and take him to task, because whoever pursues the weakness of his brother, Allah will pursue his weakness until He exposes him, even if he is in the recess of his house.”

Faultfinding and putting people to shame, even under the pretext of seeking a social transformation, constitutes ‘a grave risk and a tremendous sin’ and it is hypocritical. And he referred to the hadiith of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم): “Do not look at the wrong actions of people as if you were lords. Look at your wrong actions as if you were slaves.”

Secondly, the purpose of striving for the establishment of the Sunnah is, by implication, to attract people to the fold of Islam, to reassure them in their faith and actions, and not to reject them. Rejection of the people is as great a risk and sin as searching for their weaknesses. In any case, the Shehu stated, to find a valid legal justification to repudiate a person for his action is not only difficult, but almost impossible, since one must have a unanimous opinion of the great jurists that such an act is absolutely illegal. People should not be reproached except for a violation of the most fundamental principles of religion concerning which the ummah is unanimous as to their binding nature or their being prohibited, but this, of course, would not prevent the caller from guiding people by advice (naṣiiḥah) and excellent exhortation.

The Shehu’s third principle is that healthy intellectual growth, even though tension-ridden, is essential for an all-round transformation. Therefore, the view of other scholars on derivative aspects of the law (furuuʿ) must not only be accommodated, but encouraged, even if they conflict with the opinions of the established scholars, as long as they do not conflict with the Qur’an and Sunnah. Although consensus is to be preferred, a person is perfectly within his rights to choose an opinion he likes in the school of his choice. The reason for accommodating and encouraging divergent views and opinions is to make religion easy and within the reach of every person. Common people, however should not be subjected to unnecessary burdens in practicing religion. Though they must be educated as far as possible in their faith, worship and social life, they should essentially be left with their basic religious duties and occupations, and no more.

The opinions of the jurists, he maintained, are all paths leading to paradise and roads leading to felicity, therefore, ‘whoever follows any of the roads, it will certainly lead him to where the jurists have reached, and whoever deviates from the path, it is said to him, Away with you!’

The fourth principle is that it is not permitted for a person calling to the way of Allah – or for anybody for that matter – to hate the sinners among the people of Laa ilaaha illa-l-laah any more than he should hate the righteous among them. This principle is of extreme importance for us, because it strikes at the very root of the philosophy of tajdiid. If a movement that is intent on improving the intellectual perception and moral quality of people, insists on having only those whom it considers good and upright while rejecting those it considers immoral, does it not render its work fruitless, for the very meaning of tajdiid is the raising of people from the abyss of moral decadence, and this meaning is lost as soon as they are rejected as sinners. Indeed, if everybody were righteous and excellent, there would be no need at all for such movements. A social movement is judged not by the number of good people it is able to attract to itself, but by the extent to which it is able to lift sinners from the abyss of darkness to light, and the extent to which it is able to transform society from moral decadence to honor and justice.

The sinner, the Shehu explained, may be ‘hated’ for his sins, but he must at the same time be loved for being a Muslim. In addition, a Muslim is under an obligation to give due respect to a fellow Muslim, though he be a sinner. By his faith, a believer manifests his relationship with Allah, be he pious or not, be he truthful or not. This expression of relationship has the effect of conferring dignity and sanctity on him, and makes it obligatory on other Muslims to honor him and respect his person as much as possible, and to refrain from either looking down upon him or disgracing him.

The last principle is that the caller must strive for the unity of all Muslims. The people of Laa ilaaha illa-l-laah, the Shehu explained, have a common bond with Allah, and they are, as such, all close to Him and are members of His family. So close, indeed, that if they were to fall into error and commit as much sins as would almost fill the whole earth, Allah would meet them with similar amount of forgiveness, so long as they do not ‘worship gods other than Him’. It is a grave error, therefore, to nurse only hatred towards such people, for that is prohibited, and Allah has made known the punishment of such warring against His awliyaa in this world and in the next. Hostility is allowed only against an enemy of Allah – who is anyone who worships a god instead of Allah.

These principles were clearly enunciated in response to a situation which the Shehu considered as unhelpful to the cause of Islam. It was a situation in which preaching was merely a barrage of insults and denunciation, which proved to be valueless and counterproductive to the extent that it alienated the scholars from the whole body of Muslims whose attention was ostensibly being sought. The approach to the issues of faith and law was narrow and rigid which stultified thought and reduced the practice of the law to the letter, losing the spirit. It was a situation in which the mass of the people were regarded with contempt as being sinful and ignorant by those who claimed to be guiding them. Consequently, they were not educated, their lot was not improved, they were not raised morally and they were divided on frivolous, sectarian lines.

That the Shehu departed from a method such as daʿwah (calling to the way of Allah) was indeed one of his major achievements. To him what the Muslims needed and what they would always need was naṣiiḥah, a sincere and sympathetic guidance to right conduct, and education in the principles of worship and transactions. Indeed, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) himself said that religion is naṣiiḥah. Muslims, to the Shehu, had no need for uncouth or depraved language from the ʿulamaa’ nor does Islam allow that as a means of educating and guiding people. Similarly, as far as the Shehu was concerned, the generality of Muslims, though ignorant of religion and slack in its observance did not need to be repudiated or condemned and alienated as sinners. They needed reassurance, understanding and patience from those who sought to guide them, more so when their ignorance and laxity could be traced to the excesses of the leaders whom the majority of the ʿulamaa’ supported.

The correct way to approach the people, as the Shehu quoting Imam Al-Yusi in al-Amr noted, is alaa sabiil al-luṭf, through kindness and friendliness, as one would naturally expect from members of the family of Allah. In the same vein, Muslims do not need to be divided and subdivided into countless fragments in the name of daʿwah. Such a method is counter productive and malicious. The factors which instigate one scholar to plunge Muslims prematurely into a war of self-annihilation are the same as those which cause another to create discord and tension among Muslims, keeping them perpetually at war with each other, so that the enemy gains the upper hand. Differences in opinion are vital, according to the Shehu, for the health of society since ‘difference of opinion is mercy’. To quarrel over what is essentially a source of mercy for Muslims is to insist on inflicting a wound on the family of Allah.

Errors in Hausa Society

Islamic society is that which is governed by the Qur’an, Sunnah and ijmaaʿ, and which safeguards itself continuously against the inroads of bidʿah or innovations. What the Ihyaa’ sought to do was to re-establish the supremacy of the Qur’an, Sunnah and ijmaaʿ in those areas where bidʿah had infiltrated. In Professor Balogun’s rendering:

“If you have become certain of the obligation to adhere to the Book, the Sunnah and ijmaaʿ from what we have said, then let the weight of your deeds conform with them. For every religious duty you intend to perform, ask those who know whether it is Sunnah, so that you may carry it out, or bidʿah so that you may shun it.”

But what is bidʿah? bidʿah the Shehu said, is what is extraneous to the Qur’an, Sunnah and ijmaaʿ – a new aspect introduced into religion, but which is not part of it, though it has a semblance of being part of it either in essence or similitude. For a thing to be regarded as bidʿah, however, it is not enough that it is new, but it must also constitute a negation of the essence of the three sources, but if novelty is consistent with the spirit of the law and advances the cause of Islam it is not considered extraneous. Thus, the ḥadiith of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), “Whoever introduces in this affair of ours (i.e. Islam) something that does not belong to it shall be rejected,” should be applied to that which vitiates or nullifies religion.

On the strength of this postulate, the Shehu gave us three broad categories of bidʿah. The first – the good bidʿah – consists of those matters which the Shariiʿah considers as either obligatory or recommended, though they have not been practiced by the prophetic generation. To this category belong the compilation of the Qur’an, the taraawiih prayer, the establishment of schools and defense systems. The second category – the repugnant bidʿah – is that which the Shariiʿah considers either to be prohibited or to be disapproved of, in addition to the fact that it was unknown in earlier generations. To this group belong such state policies as illegal and unjust taxation, giving preference to ignorant men over learned men in appointments to public offices or appointing leaders on the basis of lineage and going beyond what is expressly stipulated in worship. The third category – the permissible bidʿah – is that which the Shariiʿah permits, though it was not practiced by earlier generations. Technical innovations which ease life, taking delicious food and drink and living in beautiful houses are part of this category. This distinction between the various categories of bidʿah is essential, the Shehu maintained, so that one knows that not every bidʿah is reprehensible or extraneous to the law, and that a deed is judged according to the category of the bidʿah to which it belongs.

Innovation in Faith

We are now in a position to look into some of the specific aspects with which the Ihyaa’ dealt in the area of Imaan, Islam and iḥsaan, to see not only the Shehu’s notion of society, but also his method of protest and of re-shaping it. We start with faith. What it took to belong to the ummah, the Shehu said, was a person’s affirmation of the faith, and whoever did that was considered a Muslim and was governed and protected by Islamic law. He could marry from the Muslim community; he could lead the prayer; his food was lawful; he could inherit and bequeath and be buried in a Muslim graveyard. People are judged in this world according to what is apparent, and therefore, no one’s heart should be pierced to uncover its secrets. ‘It is not for us to suspect the faith of any Muslim, be he an ordinary person or otherwise, since the heart is not the place for probing into someone else’s faith’. And the heart is beyond reach of any other than Allah.

It is sufficient for the common man to believe in the essentials of the faith. He is not expected to strain his mind in deducing reasons for them. His faith is in no way impaired simply because he cannot prove it intellectually, but for people of intellect, ahlu-l-baṣiir, it is essential that they reflect on the essence of religion, since ‘religion is built on clear insight’ more so when they engage in  daʿwah. The various forms of bidʿah introduced in faith included: going to extremes in matters of religion, involving the common people in fruitless arguments on religion, invalidating their faith, or plunging into intricate, and often irrelevant philosophical speculations. Philosophical thoughts on faith, ʿilm al-kalaam, might be justified as a means of protecting the faith from the unbelieving or heretical philosophers, and might be useful for the thoughtful, but they are of no use to the faith of the majority of Muslims.

Innovations in the Practice of the Law

The Shehu thought it necessary to stress certain aspects of marriage. A person should marry with the sole purpose of ‘establishing the Sunnah’, in other words, for purely Islamic purposes. One should marry as soon as one can afford it, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “Oh young men! Those of you who can support a wife should marry, for it restrains the eyes and preserves morality.” A person should look for a spouse with a religious disposition. No one should seek in marriage a woman whom a fellow Muslim is already intending to marry. The guardians of a woman should not prevent her from marrying a person of her choice who fulfills the Islamic requirements of marriage. And finally, waliimah – the marriage feast – should be celebrated.

The Shehu was particularly bitter about the custom in which the guardians of a woman took the dowry instead of giving it to her; and the custom in which men and women gathered indiscriminately for the waliimah and behaved in an unbecoming manner. He also descried the practice of beds due’ – the pervasive custom in Hausaland which stipulated that a husband pay money to the woman for his first conjugal association with her. To the Shehu, this had a semblance of adultery. Why should people not do what the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) asked: perform ṣalaat and pray for Allah’s blessing in the marriage?

On trade, the Shehu stressed that according to the Sunnah, buying, selling and giving credit should all be conducted with gentleness and kindness, and he quoted the ḥadiith of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), “May Allah show mercy to a man who is kindly when he sells, when he buys and when he makes a claim!” The debtor should be allowed more time to repay if he is in difficult circumstances. If possible, his debt should be remitted altogether. There should never be deceit or fraud in business transactions.

There were different forms of bidʿah introduced in trade in Hausaland. One was allowing ignorant men to engage in business for themselves in markets or serve as agents for others. This was wrong, because such a person would not know the laws governing business transactions. To let him do business was gross negligence not allowed in matters of religion. The next bidʿah was the custom of sending women to trade while the men stayed at home, which he likened to habits of Europeans. Women are not expected, by law, to mix unnecessarily with men, and the market place in particular is not a healthy forum for the meeting of men and women. A further bidʿah was that the woman, who by necessity transacted business herself, did not acquire the knowledge of the law. A woman has to be taught the rules of trade and business, because this knowledge is as obligatory as the knowledge of prayer and fasting. Once she has learned the law, she can carry on business if she has no one to undertake it on her behalf.

In the administration of law, the Shehu first stressed that the Shariiʿah should be implemented as an act of respect and veneration for Allah. He also emphasized that in the dispensation of justice, high and low should be treated equally. He made reference to the ḥadiith of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) who said when some people wanted to intercede on behalf of a highly-placed woman who had committed theft:

“What destroyed your predecessors was just that when a person of rank among them committed a theft they let him alone, but when a weak one of their number committed a theft they inflicted the prescribed punishment on them. I swear by Allah that if Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad were to steal I would have her hand cut off.”

Judgment, the Shehu continued, should be based on the evidence before the judge, and a judge should maintain perfect neutrality towards both sides in a dispute and should not give judgment when in the heat of anger.

The innovations which had been introduced included the substitution of fines, ‘out of greed for money’, instead of prescribed punishments. Ignorant people were appointed judges in preference to learned people or incompetent people were given the office, because their parents had been judges. Further innovations included giving judgment on tribal lines to promote selfish interests.

On clothing the Shehu stressed, among other things, the need for a person to wear what was within his means, to have a preference for white clothes, to avoid clothes made of silk, and not to be arrogant in matters of dress. On the question of bidʿah, the Shehu disapproved of clothes with long and wide sleeves, the kind worn in almost every part of West Africa, since it is not permitted for a man to add to his clothes what is not needed or necessary’, though this was permitted to a woman. Significantly, he noted that despite this disapproval, the wearing of flowing robes did have a purpose. It enhanced the prestige of judges and men in authority, thus indirectly advancing the prestige of Islam.

The wearing of dignified robes therefore, is allowed when circumstance make it necessary, because ‘the conditions of Imams and men in authority change in line with the changes in cities, times, generations and situations, so they need to adopt new forms of adornment and new policies which were not needed in the past, and these might even be obligatory in certain circumstances’. Thus, what is by law disapproved of becomes imperative politically, diplomatically and socially. This principle became a serious matter of contention in the later period of the movement. A good number of bidʿah which were disapproved of or even prohibited should be raised to the status of the permissible, recommended, or even obligatory bidʿah when circumstances change. It is for this reason that scholars have been told often that they should not be dogmatic or extremist.

A bidʿah on which, according to the Shehu, there was a consensus of opinion was that it was forbidden for a woman to show a dirty and unkempt appearance at home, but to appear clean and smart when going out.

On the subject of food, the Shehu stressed that meals should be taken with humility that the servant who prepared the meal should be made to share in it and that proper hygiene should be observed. The Shehu was concerned about two kinds of bidʿah. One was earmarking specific dishes for certain individuals, usually the heads of family, which was prohibited if arrogance or pride was intended, otherwise it was merely disapproved of. It was essential that people eat in groups, the Shehu emphasized, so that they could mutually benefit from each other’s blessings and take care of the poor amongst them.

The Shehu was also concerned about the practice – most common among the wealthy – of giving women ‘the causes to grow fat’. This is prohibited if it interferes in the practice of religion, or causes injury to her health, if not, it is merely disapproved of, but he noted that obesity, which is generally the result of excessive eating, is a violation of the sacred law. It is a waste of money and it could lead to a woman having to uncover part of her body, or worse, it could result in her inability to perform her obligatory duties, such as standing for prayer.

There is disapproval the Shehu said, of a person eating without placing water at his side, because by so doing he could ‘cause his own destruction’. Similarly, he should not drink water in large draughts, nor rush to his meal while it is too hot. A person should not engage in excessive joking while eating for fear that he might choke or cause another person to choke, nor should he be too talkative or totally silent.

On the matter of entering another person’s house, the Shehu maintained that permission should be sought three times. If none was given, one should leave. One should also seek permission before disturbing another person’s privacy and announce his name if required. On greeting, one is required to greet whomever one meets, whether or not one knows that person. The young should first greet the old, the one riding should salute the one walking, the one walking should salute the one sitting and the small company should greet the larger one. Shaking hands is recommended.

The bidʿah of bending to greet another person – the practice of the poor in the community – is prohibited by consensus if one has to bend very low, and disapproved if it is not as low as the rukuuʿ. Of course, bowing the head very low to the ground is much more serious, since it has the semblance of prostration, and even the ordinary bowing of the head is prohibited. One should not remove one’s hat or cap as a sign of respect during greetings, for it amounts to imitating non-Muslims. In this category, also falls the waving of the fingers or hands in greeting. The former is the custom of Jews, the latter of Christians.

Innovations in Ihsaan 

We now come to the important question of Iḥsaan, which the Shehu stated is to adhere to the way the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) lived. And this consists of several things. One of them is that one should endeavor to conquer distraction and absent mindedness in worship, and seek to perfect worship by keeping in mind always that one is, in reality, in the presence of Allah.

Ihsaan demands that a person should seek nearness to Allah by diligently performing the obligatory duties as well as the nawaafil. The Shehu here quoted the ḥadiith in which Allah said, “No one draws near to Me with anything dearer to Me than what I have made obligatory for him.” A person should seek nearness to Allah by abandoning what Allah has prohibited and what is disapproved of. Efforts to avoid what is prohibited should be as great, if not greater, than efforts to perform one’s obligations, for the prevention of corruption takes precedence over the pursuit of good.

Iḥsaan demands that one should never regard oneself as superior to any other person in the eyes of Allah, for no one is sure of what his ultimate end will be. In addition, one should endeavor to develop the qualities of faith within oneself, for there are as many as sixty.

Punishing oneself, by beating one’s body with sticks, iron bars or branding it with hot substances is a forbidden bidʿah by consensus. Similarly, it is forbidden to seek spiritual perfection by having recourse to ways and methods that are prohibited by law. In any case, good can never be reached through evil. Amusements such as beating drums to heighten spiritual ecstasy are forbidden innovations. It is also forbidden to perform a deed on the basis of what one has seen in a dream, since that would conflict with the Shariiʿah. It is, finally, a prohibited bidʿah that one should regard oneself as having reached a station with Allah in which one is absolved of the responsibilities and duties that are enjoined on every other Muslim.

Advice for the ʿUlamaa’ 

We conclude with an examination of further principles of social movement outlined in the Ihyaa’. We considered five of them at the beginning of the discussion. The rest come now at the end as they do in the Ihyaa’.

Preaching, or more appropriately the effort to transform society, is essentially a peaceful process which should not be discordant or create deliberate tension or disorder, for there is no way in which people can ever be changed by force. If there is to be any use of force at all, it should not be initiated, encouraged, or invited by a person whose work requires peace and reasoning.

The scholar has two responsibilities in his search for knowledge and its dispensation. He should seek those aspects of knowledge which are relevant to the needs of his society, for the possessor of such knowledge is ‘a precious gem’. He should disseminate his knowledge with absolute humility, bearing in mind that, like any other human being, he is subject to ‘error, misinterpretation and digression’ and that he alone cannot comprehend everything.

The duty to educate the people, wherever they are, is absolutely binding on scholars. The responsibility for change and transformation is theirs. If the scholars fails to perform this duty, they will incur the wrath of Allah.

Know that it is obligatory on every learned person not to keep quiet because innovations have appeared and spread in these times. The ḥadiith says: “When tribulations appear and the learned one keeps quiet on him then is the curse of Allah.” Most of the people are ignorant of the Shariiʿah, and it is obligatory that there should be in every mosque and quarter in the town, a faqiih teaching the people their religion.

The man who intends to strive against corruption and for a better society must start with himself. This is a principle which one comes across at all stages in the thought of the movement.

“It is incumbent on every scholar to begin with himself and to get used to practicing the obligatory duties and avoiding forbidden practices, he should then teach that to his family and relations. He should then proceed to his neighbors, then to the people of his quarter, the inhabitants of his town, the surrounding suburbs of his city and so on to the farthest part of the world… This is the foremost concern of anyone to whom the matter of his religion is important.”

Finally, there must be a belief in the mind of the scholar who undertakes the task of social change that the salvation of the ummah lies solely in the revival of the Sunnah. In the past, it was the Sunnah that saved this ummah from disintegration, and nothing would save it from the same fate except the Sunnah.

The Shehu ended his book with the following quotation from Abu al-Abbas al-Abyani, one of the Andalusians: “There are three things which would find enough space were they to be written on a fingernail, and in them is contained the good of the world and the hereafter”:

Adhere, do not innovate;

Be humble, do not be arrogant;

Be cautious, do not be too accommodating.

Published in: Uncategorized on April 7, 2018 at 15:40  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Five from the African Caliphate – Inviting to All that is Good

image.pngChapter Five from the African Caliphate – Inviting to All that is Good 

by Ibraheem Suaiman

The most fundamental duty of a mujaddid or indeed any upright scholar is to call his people to the way of Allah or to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. For reasons of convenience, we shall refer to it as amr wa nahy (command and prohibition) or simply, the call. Our discussion in this chapter centers on three issues: the philosophy of the call as seen by the Shehu himself, the preparation of the callers and the methodology of the call as articulated by ʿAbdullahi.

Philosophy of the Call

Our main reference for the philosophy of amr wa nahy is Shehu Usman’s short treatise entitled al-Amr bi-l-Maʿruuf wa-n-Nahy ani-l-Munkar, to which we shall refer as al-Amr. The Shehu dealt with three broad matters in this treatise: firstly, he looked at the call as a historical, social necessity, particularly at a time of social decay; secondly, he proposed basic guidelines for discharging this duty; finally, he tackled the issue of armed confrontation as it relates to a movement in the initial phase of the process of reviving Islam.

The duty to call arises as a moral and social response to the prevailing situation of decline, and it is fundamentally a function of the learned and the upright. The duty is necessitated by the very phenomenon of decline itself for, if we agree that there can be no vacuum in the history of a given society, then we may presume that one social order begins its growth precisely at a stage when the prevailing one that has been overwhelmed by spiritual and social diseases, is drifting into disintegration. The new social order has two qualities to its advantage: a deeper and more profound perception of human society as well as the ability to act justly, by virtue of its moral superiority. These two qualities distinguish it from the disintegrating prevailing order, which is characterized by an ominous blindness to the course of its own history and an addiction to social, moral and political excesses.

If the call is a historical imperative, it goes without saying, that the initiation of the process of call is justified by the very existence of social decay. There is no need for additional justification. That is to say, a scholar must call people to Islam even if their response is negative or hostile. The nature of people’s response should not be a determining factor in the discharge of this supremely important duty. A scholar should undertake this duty, because it is a duty he owes to Allah – a duty for which there is no alternative in a period of social decay, and because a scholar has a responsibility to society, which is to steer it in the course of regeneration when decline has manifested itself. This presupposes a fundamental principle of historical movement. Human society can always steer itself upwards, even at a stage when all hope might have been lost.

Hope, not pessimism, should be the scholar’s approach to transformation, but even if hope, in the scholar’s estimate, is lost, he must nonetheless go on with his duty of calling people to Islam for the simple reason that Allah’s ultimate judgment on his society is sure to come. We have already noted three elements in society: the symbols of oppression and evil, the victims, that is the mass of people, and those who strive for justice. The last group have two goals before them: either to effect a total transformation of their society to save it from impending collapse or alternatively, to secure their own safety from Allah’s ultimate judgment.

The call is necessary, the Shehu wrote, because Allah made it an obligatory duty on Muslims when He said, “Let there arise out of you a community of people who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right, and forbid the doing of what is wrong.”‘ Equally, it is, according to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), the only sure way by which a Muslim society can ensure its enhancement and survival as a social and ideological entity, a fact attested to by the history of Islam itself.

Calling people to Islam is, therefore, a means by which the Muslim society is ensured of its continued existence, for by subjecting itself persistently to critical self-examination in which everyone is involved in his own way, the Muslim society is most likely to bring itself back on course as soon as it strays. To that end, almost every individual has a role to play. This role, the Shehu wrote, consists of reminding people of those laws of Allah which most people know about, or with which they are supposed to be familiar, but in essence, the greater responsibility for this duty rests squarely on those the Shehu called ahlu-l-ijtihaad, that is, those who represent the conscience of society and mould its opinion.

A fundamental problem, however, arises here. Any scholar is well aware of two apparently contradictory sets of injunctions in respect of amr wa nahy. The first relates to a condemnation of those who enjoin others to good deeds while they themselves do not perform those deeds. Allah says in this respect, “Do you bid other people to be pious, the while you forget your own selves?” Quoting the Prophet Shuʿayb (Allah’s peace be upon him), He says, “I have no desire to do, out of opposition to you, what I am asking you not to do.”‘ The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) indicated that these scholars would suffer punishment on the Day of Judgment.

On the other hand the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also commanded, Ibn al-Hajj is quoted as saying in al-Amr, “those who were present to communicate what he had said to those who were absent.” The absentees might take it to heart more than those who had heard it directly.” He also said that, “whoever concealed his knowledge in a period of social and moral decline was like one who contended with what Allah had revealed.” Ibn al-Hajj then added: “Allah has indeed taken a pledge from the learned men that they would teach (His message to others) and a pledge from the ignorant that they would learn.” In other words, while there is a definite condemnation of those who preach without doing exactly what they preach, there is also a definite condemnation of those who maintain silence in the face of social degeneration when the actual need is to speak out.

How are these two contradictory positions to be reconciled? The Shehu, obviously conscious of his society, said boldly:

“The duty to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil is not confined only to the pious who does not perpetrate the same acts which he forbids, the duty devolves also on one who perpetrates acts similar to what he forbids, because his refraining from sinful acts and his prohibiting of evil are two distinct obligations, so it is not proper for one who defaults in respect of the one to abandon the other.”

He decided that to perpetrate acts which one asks others not to do is indeed a sin, but to be silent in the face of corruption, decay and prevalent ignorance is a greater sin; and since no one, other than a prophet, is morally perfect, one is bound to sin by abandoning one obligation or the other. It is safer therefore, for one to take one moral risk in the face of necessity, which is to speak and teach in an atmosphere of prevalent corruption, than to take the greater risk of remaining silent with the untenable excuse that one is likely to succumb to the same sins against which one rails. In other words, the guiding principle in the face of that moral dilemma is: ‘the perpetration of one evil is of lesser consequence than the perpetration of two evils’.

Shehu’s intention, most likely, was to disarm the scholars of his time who maintained an embarrassing silence in a climate of political oppression, moral excesses and prevalent ignorance on the pretext that it was not safe for one to speak if one was likely to commit the same sins oneself. In addition, he called the attention of these scholars to the fundamental historical fact that what had caused the downfall of earlier generations was their persistent inclination to reprehensible and evil customs which they had inherited from their ancestors. By maintaining silence, the scholars were, by implication, contributing to the systematic drift of society towards its destruction.

If a scholar is to wait until he is morally perfect before he embarks on his duty to call, he may ultimately be overtaken by the forces of decay, while his hopes for perfection will elude him. It is impossible for a person living in a corrupt society not to be affected in some way, so the fact that even the most honorable elements in society exhibit certain moral failings should not be an excuse to refuse to undertake the urgent task of social transformation, but as a natural consequence of general decline. In any case, it is impossible for an individual to reach a very high level of piety on his own when the society is corrupt and depraved. Amr wa nahy in this situation will have the effect of raising both the individual and society to a higher level of social discipline and consciousness of Allah.

If amr wa nahy is an absolute necessity, what then are the rules governing its implementation? The injunction of Allah in this respect is this: “Make due allowance for man’s nature and enjoin the doing of what is right and leave alone those who choose to remain ignorant.” The key phrase here is ‘make due allowance for man’s nature’. It means that in the effort to transform society, elemental human weakness must not be overlooked, for such a course of action would not only defeat the very purpose of tajdiid, but would also have the effect of crushing human nature itself. Since no society declines overnight, the process of regeneration is as slow as, if not slower than the process of decay itself.

We have already noted that the cure for degeneration is the moral and intellectual elevation of society. To raise a person to full moral consciousness involves recognition of his moral weakness from the start. Similarly, to make an ignorant person learned, the fact of his ignorance should be accepted from the beginning. The effort to develop him morally and intellectually would then be easier and more feasible. Therefore, the task should be undertaken on the premise that people are to be lifted from moral and intellectual weakness to a higher level of consciousness and, as in physical growth, the process involves considerable time and strain, in fact, it is a permanent and unending process. To be impatient with the failings of people is to miss the essence of tajdiid altogether. To insist that people’s attitudes should conform to the highest standards laid down by Islam in a faultless fashion, is not only to demand the impossible, but to close one’s eyes to the very nature of human society.

The objective of tajdiid is not to create a perfect society where everybody does the right thing at the right time. If that were so, then much of the law revealed by Allah, in which there are prohibitions and punishments, would be irrelevant. Tajdiid is essentially an effort to renew society’s faith in the Shariiʿah, whereby it acknowledges Islam’s social morality – its judgment about right and wrong – and subjects itself wholly to the rule of Shariiʿah. It rewards or punishes in accordance with the Shariiʿah and strives to preserve its character as a society submissive to the sublime law. What gives rise to amr wa nahy is not simply that individuals commit sins, or that society makes errors of omission or commission, or of judgment from time to time. Rather, the call is necessitated by a collective committal of the act of apostasy whereby a society subscribes substantially to a system of law other than the Shariiʿah, to a judgment in the sphere of social morality other than that of the Most Exalted, and to a set of values other than those of Islam.

Perfection is never ascribed in its absolute sense to human beings; and if no individual can be perfect, how can we expect a human society to be perfect? Man, as Allah himself has testified, has been created weak, and that inherent weakness remains with him forever; that weakness remains a fundamental characteristic of his society as well. tajdiid aims at increasing man’s positive qualities in such a way that the effects of his frailty are reduced to a minimum, to ingrain the desire for excellence into the psychology of his society and to raise his moral conscience to a level where he recognizes Allah alone as his Lord, his judge and his ultimate goal.

Thus, the very first rule of amr wa nahy is that people should not he subjected to unbearable moral pressures. It should be recognized that the success of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in mobilizing and unifying people, was attributable partly to his dealing gently with them, ‘for’, Allah reminded him, ‘“f you had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from you.”‘

Shehu Usman pointed out that in an effort to call people to Islam, the scholar should never condemn them for doing acts which are not expressly prohibited by the Qur’an and Sunnah, or by a consensus of the jurists. Similarly, he should not fault the people for failing to do acts which are not expressly made obligatory by the Qur’an and Sunnah, or by the consensus of jurists. He should not be quick to condemn the mass of Muslims, thus injuring their beliefs; nor bring forward a fatwaa invalidating their worship and transactions merely on the strength of the ruling of some jurists without any explicit ruling of the Qur’an or Sunnah to that effect, or by an agreement of the jurists. This is because it is as bad, or even worse, to repudiate what legally should not be repudiated, as it is to perpetrate acts one has prohibited. In other words, many of the moral failings of the people should be overlooked and amr wa nahy should be limited to those matters on which there are express rulings in the Qur’an and Sunnah, or which the jurists have agreed to be obligatory or prohibited.

A second rule concerns a very important problem in the duty of amr wa nahy: what should one do if, despite one’s efforts to transform people, one meets with little or no success? Shehu’s answer was that one should continue with one’s efforts: ‘The refusal of the people to do what he enjoins them to do or to abandon what he prohibits them from doing, does not constitute a justification (for the scholar) to abandon the amr and the nahy’. This is because, he said further, his duty is basically to remind the people of this obligation. If they heed, the aim is achieved and if not, he is nevertheless freed from blame before Allah.

Finally, we proceed to consider the nature of the call. Allah says in this regard:

“Call people unto the path of your Sustainer with wisdom and goodly exhortation. and argue with them in the most kindly manner, for, behold, your Sustainer knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows He as to who are right-guided. Hence, if you have to respond to an attack, respond only to the extent of the attack leveled against you; but to bear yourselves with patience is indeed far better for those who are patient in adversity,”

Restraint, then, is the very essence of this duty. Rushing to achieve success through armed confrontation when one is in a position of weakness is ruled out as an Islamic strategy. The call is, therefore, fundamentally a peaceful process, and this peaceful stage should be prolonged for as long as possible. For the duty of the scholar is no more than to lay the truth bare and make it available to the people; whoever wishes may accept it, and whoever wishes may reject it. It is not for him to seek to impose the truth on an unwilling people. It is not possible and it is not desirable. As long as there exists the possibility, however little, of a peaceful dissemination of the truth, the scholar is obliged to utilize it. Even if that possibility is blocked, the next course of action is for the scholar to move to another area where he can continue his peaceful efforts.

Recourse to armed confrontation is allowed only when all the possibilities for a peaceful education of the people have been exhausted, and more appropriately, when one has mustered sufficient strength to confront the prevailing order. The point that is being stressed here is that the ultimate conflict between truth and falsehood is not a confrontation between individuals, rather it is a conflict between two orders, the order, who ideologically want to restore Islam back to its pure practice, on the one hand and the decadent, prevailing order on the other. It is necessary therefore, that the challenging order should first establish roots in the hearts of the people and in the social fabric of society before it ventures into a confrontation; otherwise, it will be swept away.

The Shehu attributed hasty recourse to armed confrontation to delusions (ghuruur), worldly intrigues (dasa is dunyawiyyah), satanic insinuations (nazghat ash-Shaytaan) and ambition and love of power (ḥubb ar-ri’asah). The Shehu gave three examples of people ‘overwhelmed by Satanic insinuations’, one of whom was the well-known ʿAbdul Mahalli who rose in revolt against the Moroccan establishment in about 1610 A.D. and succeeded in expelling Zaidan, one of its rulers, from Marrakush. ʿAbdul Mahalli claimed to be a mahdi, and the rule he established lasted for merely two years before it was terminated. He was killed, his head hung in the open market, and his power annihilated. Zaidan returned to power. ʿAbdul Mahalli’s exploits were seen by Muslims largely as Allah’s vengeance on Morocco, and not as a tajdiid, his Islamic pretensions notwithstanding.

Several others met with similar fate. As far as the Shehu was concerned, the apparent piety of such people was irrelevant as long as they were not ready to follow the correct procedure in calling to the way of Allah. It is significant that he likened the popular appeal they commanded to the sway which Pharaoh held over his people, for he used the same term with which Allah described Pharaoh’s apparent popularity: “He made fools of his people and they obeyed him.”‘ To incite people to armed confrontation without first establishing a concrete power-base, could be construed by the ‘revolutionaries’ as the right path, but in reality such exploits are wrong because they lead invariably to unnecessary disorder, corruption and death.

The fact remains that there is no alternative to exhortation and persuasion in calling the people to the way of Allah. His command was that people should be called with wisdom (hikmah) and good exhortation. That requires a depth of understanding of the issues and a profound knowledge of Islam. The prophets had access to wisdom and knowledge because, in addition to the revelations they received and their intimate association with the angels, Allah gave them insight into the workings of the universe. The scholar has no such advantages. He has to acquire his knowledge himself which involves great effort over a considerable length of time. He also has to lead others through the same experience. He has to develop a personality which commands respect, awe and confidence. To sidetrack these essential steps and act like Pharaoh means that one is seeking something different from a genuine transformation of society. If tajdiid were merely a matter of political revolutions or change of leadership, then there are quicker ways than the recourse to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but tajdiid is the transformation of the heart, of human disposition and of the destiny of man itself which clearly transcends the attainment of political power. To believe that a quick political ascendancy is all that Islam is about, is to cast a vulgar look at a sublime system. What Islam wants is an enduring transformation, which cannot be realized by a social hurricane which brings destruction and consumes even what it claims to rectify.

Tajdiid, the Shehu seemed to imply, rests with the scholar who is patient enough to establish the roots of faith, Islam and Iḥsaan firmly in society and who, in addition, has a well-grounded and profound knowledge of the sciences of religion. His cause, in the final analysis, is to establish the good and rule by it, to aid the truth and the people of truth and to demolish the edifice of falsehood. Once Muslims have found such a person, they are obliged to support him and fight with him to overthrow an un-Islamic and tyrannical order.

The Callers 

If the call is the most important way to transform society, then it is vital to raise people of the right caliber to assist in the accomplishment of that task. The process of social transformation may fail if the wrong people disseminate its message, or indeed, if the message itself is misrepresented or distorted by those who transmit it. The Shehu tackled this important issue in his Iʿdaad ad-daaʿi ilaa diinu-l-laah  and also to a large extent in his ʿUmdaat al-ʿUlamaa’.

In Iʿdaad the Shehu reiterated the importance of amr, and stated further that this duty devolves almost entirely on scholars. By implication, therefore, anyone who is to be involved in this task must first be trained properly, but perhaps due to the dearth of scholars, once a person had received a minimum education for calling people to Islam, he became a scholar, at least for the purpose of the Jamaaʿah. Because he had got ‘a share of knowledge’ as the Shehu stated, it was incumbent on him not to keep silent in these times. He was then sent out to teach, preach and call to Islam.

What was the minimum education needed for a person to qualify as a caller or daaʿin? We can only answer by inference, relying on the contents of ʿUmdaat al-ʿUlamaa and Iʿdaad. The former was written to provide the callers with the relevant verses of the Qur’an and ḥadiiths on subjects they were to teach people. In broad terms, these subjects were: firstly, uṣuul ad-diin, which embraces the unity of Allah, His attributes, the belief in the messengers and their attributes, belief in the angels, the books, qadr and the Day of Judgment, and several matters pertaining to it; secondly, Fiqh, which embraces the other four pillars of Islam, ṣalaat, zakaat, ṣawm and haij and then fundamental matters of life, such as marriage, business transactions and related issues; thirdly, Iḥsaan, which embraces all matters relating to the development of character and the spiritual purification of oneself. By providing the relevant texts of the Qur’an and ḥadiith, the Shehu might have had three aims in mind: to establish the supremacy of the Qur’an and Sunnah in all these matters, such that, especially in taṣawwuf, one could develop spiritually without belonging to an order, and in fiqh, one could practice all that is required without necessarily belonging to a particular school; secondly, to unify the methods and themes of preaching in his movement. A third aim might have been to provide those who were not yet fully grounded in knowledge with a handy reference for their work.

The callers were told inIʿdaad that in uṣuul ad-diin they should teach the people about Allah, about the messengers, the angels, and the Day of Judgment. In Fiqh, they had to teach the people about purification, wuduu, tayammum, ṣalaat, and so on, as well as the laws pertaining to marriage and business dealings in general. In each of these, the Islamic rules should be categorized for them as to whether they were obligatory, forbidden or recommended. In Iḥsaan or taṣawwuf the people should be taught first what aspects of human behavior are offensive to Islam, and therefore, destructive to a person, such as self-glorification or self-justification, envy, unjustifiable anger, miserliness or nursing suspicion or rancor against a fellow Muslim. Then, they were to be taught what forms of behavior Islam had prescribed for Muslims, such as zuhd or abstinence, repentance, trust in Allah, entrusting affairs to Him, sincerity in worship.

Apart from these, the people should be made to appreciate the gravity of Allah’s punishment, as well as the degree of His mercy. For example, verses in the Qur’an which state that man has not been created in vain and that he will eventually be brought to judgment were to be quoted and explained. Similarly, verses which highlight Allah’s overflowing mercy, such as those which urge people not to despair of His mercy because ‘Allah forgives all sins’ (except associating partners with Him) and those which state that He has made mercy incumbent on Himself, could be explained to the people.

The Shehu then touched briefly in Iʿdaad on the ethics of public education, which is an important element in calling people to Islam. He urged his men to be lenient to people when they call them to Islam. Leniency here possibly means exercising patience with the people because of their roughness, or their low moral standards, or their ignorance. This, the Shehu indicated, was the practice of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), which made it possible for him to hold people of divergent backgrounds and different moral levels together. Had he been harsh to them, they would have abandoned him completely. Further, people should not be addressed in person and criticisms should be in general terms and not directed at specific individuals or groups. While the callers had to be earnest and grave in their approach and countenance, they were not to create an atmosphere of despair and apprehension in the minds of their audience. A fine blend of ‘fear and hope’ was necessary to elicit a positive response. Lecture sessions must not be too long for the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) had advised that people were not to be overburdened or bored with too much preaching.

It may be asked why there was nothing ‘political’ in the matters which were addressed to the people. One can deduce several reasons for this. The Shehu might have felt that there was no need to antagonize the rulers at a stage when the Jamaaʿah had not grown strong, in which case the whole exercise could be brought to a premature end; or he might have believed that the essence of calling people was to effect their spiritual and moral transformation. Once this was achieved, their attitude to life, which incorporates politics, would change automatically. Thus, there was no need to jump to a stage which would be reached if the process of mass education was sustained. Alternatively, the Shehu might have felt that political education fell within the sphere of mudaarah and was best dealt with more subtly. He might have felt that to generate an uncontrollable, emotive political agitation would not ultimately be in the interests of Islam. It could be hijacked by forces of opportunism. It could also be deliberately misrepresented and crushed before it could take root.

Quite simply however, the Shehu might have felt that his fundamental role was to improve the moral and spiritual quality of the people, and raise their intellectual standard. If this effort led to political awareness, that was well and good, if not, his duty to call people to believe in Allah, obey His laws and be conscious of the Day of Judgment was nevertheless fulfilled. Or He may have also felt that he needed profound characters, not mere agitators, in his Jamaaʿah, consequently people should attach themselves first to Allah before fighting for His cause.

The Methodology of the Call

Shehu Usman’s Iʿdaad provided a faint hint to the methodology of calling people to Islam. Most probably, at the time it was written the Jamaaʿah had already been well established and the duty of amr wa nahy had advanced significantly. Similarly, his al-Amr, which we discussed at the beginning of this chapter might have been written at the time when the Jamaaʿah felt that it was strong enough to enter into armed confrontation with the powers-that-be in Hausaland, and the Shehu, who held a different opinion, felt the need to articulate the philosophy of the call, in order to impress on the minds of his people that the journey had in fact just begun. He ruled out armed confrontation and urged the intensification of the ideological, legal and moral education of the people.

Mass education was indeed the corner-stone of Shehu’s method of mass mobilization. His activities at this stage in the process of reviving Islam in Hausaland were aimed first at changing people’s attitude towards Allah, through the intensification of the ideological orientation in which Allah is conceived as the fundamental, ultimate theme in life, whose worship should be the sole object of one’s life. All avenues not leading to Allah, all roads towards false worship and false principles of life were systematically closed. The activities also aimed at turning people back to the Shariiʿah and its prescription for worship, social life and economic endeavor in general. They were also aimed at directing people’s social and moral behavior which would effect their own, and hence society’s, spiritual regeneration. For once society is reformed, it stirs into action, ready to transform itself socially and politically.

In this task the demand for more scholars rose constantly. The Shehu and his men could not cope with the surging membership of the Jamaaʿah, nor with the necessity to have in every mosque and in every village a scholar to call the people to Islam, as the Shehu himself had demanded, but many scholars were reluctant to join the Jamaaʿah – though quite a few of them shared its aspirations for social transformation. To bring those scholars into the mainstream of the process of reviving Islam became at a certain stage a fundamental necessity. Tajdiid is first and foremost an intellectual and moral process, and scholars are the repository as well as the symbols of intellect and morality – the twin prerequisites of a genuine revival of Islam.

It was here that the Shehu’s illustrious brother, ʿAbdullahi stepped in. He wrote his well-known Risaalat an-Naṣaa’iḥ  which he addressed to the scholars urging them specifically to ‘rise up and call to Religion’ and join the process of reviving Islam. In particular, ʿAbdullahi had in mind people like his teacher, Mustafa al-Hajj. From what ʿAbdullahi says of him in Tazyiin, he was indeed a formidable scholar: ‘the mirror of the tribe, the refuge of the poor… the wise, the protector, pillar of knowledge, reviver of the religion among them, of great patience… magnanimous, the mansion of the guests, gentle, friend alike to the humble and the great’. To succeed in bringing scholars like this into the Jamaaʿah would indeed be a turning point in the struggle for Islam in Hausaland.

The Risaalat an-Naṣaa’iḥ is important to us in more than one respect. It is clear evidence that others beside the Shehu had a role in the mobilization of the people to the cause of Islam. It opens for us a window into the broad issues to which the Shehu, and his men addressed themselves in their social mobilization. It also enables us to understand the growing confidence in the movement itself as to its ultimate victory. Finally, it presents us with a clear insight into the methodology of mass mobilization, or daʿwah or amr wa nahy, depending on how one chooses to call it. This last point is our concern here for the Risaalat is a document of great merit and significance.

ʿAbdullahi gave the reason for writing the Risaalat in these words:

“Now when I saw most of the country, the common people and the nobles coming to Shaykh ʿUthman, profiting by his admonitions and becoming influenced by his good manners, and entering into his community in throngs, but did not see that in the majority of our tribe though they were most fitted to it, I composed a qasiidah… which I called Risaalat an-Naṣaa’iḥ, and I sent it to them in order that they might ponder upon what was in it, and hasten to help the Religion of God Most High.”

It is clear therefore, that ʿAbdullahi wrote the Risaalat at a period when the movement had gained considerable influence and some strength. More significantly, its content reveals a practical experience acquired from long years of preaching and mass mobilization. A number of the points raised in it are indications of the practical problems that faced the movement in its tedious efforts to reach the people, the obstacles it faced, the bones of contention between it as an emerging social order and the entrenched system in Hausaland. The methodology adopted by the movement and its faith in the rightness of its cause are also revealed.

The Islamic call, or daʿwah, ʿAbdullahi made clear, was the duty of every conscious member of society, man or woman, and it was to be directed towards society as a whole: both the ‘common people’ and ‘the great lords’ were to be invited to the reform of the faith, to Islam, to Iḥsaan, but he recognized too that opposition from vested interests was inevitable. There was bound to be opposition from the ʿulamaa’ as-suu’, the political leaders and even the common people. ʿAbdullahi therefore, asked the learned men and women of his tribe who constituted, intellectually speaking, the cream of society, to adopt the correct attitude of the true worker in the cause of Allah. They should not fear he said, ‘the words of one who hates, whom fools imitate… nor the mockery of the ignorant man who has gone astray… nor the backbiting of a slanderer nor the rancor of one who bears a grudge who is helped by one who relies on (evil) customs’. They should not be discouraged if they were accused of lying or rejected by the king. For as long as they were working for the cause of Allah, they should be sure of ultimate victory, because:

None can destroy what the hand of Allah has built;

None can overthrow the order of Allah if it comes.

Next, ʿAbdullahi acquainted them with the fundamental social issues on which to concentrate in the work of amr wa nahy. The first, of course, was the principal source of the decline in Hausaland – clinging to customs that had degenerated into instruments of oppression and social tyranny, and were a justification for moral excesses. Often we come across the fundamental principle that in the course of transformation, a society has to be persuaded to approach its customs and traditions with a critical and selective mind, in order to discard those aspects of its culture that constitute an impediment to moral consciousness and social growth, and so that it will return to justice and fairness. Islam has been emphatic that any aspect of culture that is inconsistent with the Sacred Law has no legitimacy and should not be considered binding on society, for it is bound to offend against justice and fundamental moral values. In addition, a given society is responsible for itself alone, and not to or for any other society. It is absurd therefore, for it to seek to justify its behavior by that of its predecessor, or to sanctify unjust and retrogressive customs merely because they are old or inherited. The test of the legitimacy of a custom is whether or not it is just and fair, in other words, whether it is consistent with the Shariiʿah or not.

Indeed! Islam does not accept that people should have customs or traditions other than religious ones, for if Allah’s way is a comprehensive way of life, what room is there for custom and tradition? In fact, what is called custom is either a vestige from the days of ignorance, or an aspect of religion itself which over the years has become distorted as a result of the weakening of social responsibility in society. The relics of an ignorant past must be abandoned and forgotten, and all aspects of Islam which have been corrupted must be rectified and restored to pristine purity. This is what the call is all about. This was the task which ʿAbdullahi had in mind when he told the scholars to explain to the people that ‘the customs are vain’. The society, he said, should return to the Sunnah, which is the natural human disposition.

The scholars, ʿAbdullahi said, should also address themselves to the youth, and let them know that ‘the market for the sports of the youth has become unprofitable’ and that ‘it is praises everywhere for the market of righteousness’. If we are seeking evidence that the Shehu’s movement did concern itself with the crucial issue of youth mobilization and training, this is one. We do not need to labor ourselves to find out whether the youth at that time were largely immoral, for the character of the youth is mirrored in society. Considerable progress had been achieved in raising the youth in knowledge and Islamic practices. The ṭalabah might have grown in number considerably.

Then, said ʿAbdullahi , attention should be paid to what he called ahlu-d-dunyaa and those who were the symbols of worldly power – the pillars of secularism and materialism. This was clearly a reference to the leaders and other powerful men of influence, notably the local merchants who might not have inclined themselves to the cause. Here we are brought face to face with an emerging pattern in the movement: the steady division of people into two ideological camps, the emerging order dedicated to the establishment of the Islamic order as opposed to the decadent, crumbling old order which held on to corrupt customs and traditions. The reference to ahlu-d-dunyaa in contradistinction to the men of religion, and also to the Munkir, the denier of the religion, as opposed to the Naṣiir, the helper of the religion, all point to that pattern, which ʿAbdullahi could be referring to when he says:

And the worldly people, the shadow of their influence has shrunk this day;

And lofty trees cast their shade over our Sunnah.

The measure of one who denies the religion has become light;

And one who makes it manifest, his measure preponderates this day;

And one who helps it has become high among the people;

And one who denies it has become humble to the nobles and the common people.

The perennial but crucial problem of women’s education was also a central issue in the Risaalat. In line with the uncompromising stand of the movement that women must be educated and lifted from ignorance to the light of Islam, ʿAbdullahi asked the scholars to give women good education and a sound moral and social consciousness. Women, he said, should be taught how to dress when going out. “Clothing should be seen,” in his own words, “except on the face and hand’s.” They also should be educated in Iḥsaan as well as on how they should maintain their homes. They also had to be told what customs and attitudes were bad and how they should rid themselves of ‘bad traits’, and ‘how to render themselves pleasing, purely, in a praiseworthy fashion’. All this, however, should be seen within the general framework of the movement’s methodology of public education. As far as it was concerned, there was no difference between the minimum education which Islam stipulates for both men and women, except that, in fact, women require additional education, by virtue of their special responsibility in the raising of the family. The content of education in faith, law and business transactions remains fundamentally the same for both men and women.

As for public education itself, ʿAbdullahi obviously reflected the activities of the movement:

Make them understand what belief makes incumbent on man in the way of religion;

Of those things which the senses make easy – washing and ablution and prayer alms;

And fasting; buying and selling; then how one should marry; and what (in law) is incumbent;

What is exemplary; what is approved; and what is forbidden; and all is in the books, plain

to see.

ʿAbdullahi then turned his attention to two important questions: What should be the personal conduct of the scholar engaged in this task?; What should be his reaction if he got an unfavorable response from the people? On the first question, ʿAbdullahi presented what one may consider as a code of conduct for reviving the Deen. His theme, characteristically, was: ‘Begin with yourself’. To be convincing, the preacher must himself be an embodiment of what he preaches. Indeed, much of the success of the Shehu in his work of daʿwah had to do with his personal qualities which made people trust and have faith in him; his noble and fine presence commanded respect. We have said that the man of change wishes to recreate like-minded people so that eventually there will be enough people to bring about the desired change in society.

What the scholar should do, ʿAbdullahi suggested, is to begin his struggle from within. The external enemies: the great lords, the ignorant and the denier of religion are not as potent as the enemy within; and to the extent that the heart harbors that enemy, the heart must be transformed first. In other words, the essence of transformation is the change in the moral attitude, in the inner being of man, once this change has been achieved, the change in general behavior is but a matter of time. It is the same for society, once its inner soul inclines to noble virtues the outward manifestation of superior attitudes will follow naturally. ʿAbdullahi expressed the point pertinently:

Begin with yourself, turning away; from the abyss of lust.

It is in the pastures of lust that you tend flocks;

And verily you set a bad example;

The most harmful of enemies is one who dwells in your house;

Obedient to Satan and loathing Religion.

But how should the enemy within be fought? There are three means to do it. The first is to move closer to Allah, to seek refuge in Him, through the nawaafil which we have already discussed. The second is what ʿAbdullahi called ‘scanty food’, that is the training of the body to adapt to austere measures. Allah entrusts civilization to ‘empty-bellied people’ – people whose personal discipline gives them a will and a determination that are decidedly superior to the indiscipline and delinquency of the prevailing order. Men of change, certainly, cannot afford to live the same life-style as those whom they oppose. ‘Scanty food’, said ʿAbdullahi , ‘is the medicine which scatters diseases of the soul.’

The third means involves the acquisition of moral and social discipline. In ʿAbdullahi ’s words:

Guard the two small things and the two hollow things;

And watch over the spies always;

So that the limbs may obey you.

In other words, the scholar must bring his vital, socially inclined organs under his control, so that he can influence society, so that he can be safe from society, and so that society, in turn, can be safe from him. The scholar should control his tongue from idle speech, from blasphemous utterances, from condemning people’s beliefs and actions without definite authority, from slander and abuse. He should also control his heart from preoccupation with false hopes, base desires, greed, incitement to sin, rebellion, rancor and countless other evil intentions. The tongue and the heart constitute the ‘two small things’ mentioned by ʿAbdullahi .

Similarly, the ‘two hollow things’ – the mouth and the private part – should be firmly controlled – the mouth from taking unlawful foods gained by embezzlement, perfidy, bribery, swindling, theft, and all other forms of unjust enrichment, and the private part from excesses, from violating the honor and sanctity of women, and from unjust violation of others’ chastity. The ‘spies’ of course are the eyes and ears. The eyes should not violate the cherished privacy of others, or watch things disapproved by the sacred law, or be unduly inquisitive; the ears should not hear what does not concern their owner, nor eavesdrop the conversation and intimacy of others. What ʿAbdullahi was calling for was a profoundly disciplined personality with dignity, respect and sanctity.

Above all, the scholar must, in his private and public life, in mobilizing the public, follow the laws laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah, take the practical examples laid down by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) himself, as well as the example of his Companions (Allah be pleased with them), and those who followed them. This, ʿAbdullahi said, ‘is the antidote of the righteous man’.

As to the question of what the scholar who finds no favorable response from the people should do, ʿAbdullahi ’s answer was that firstly the scholar is under an Islamic obligation to enjoin the good and prohibit evil; secondly, he is also under an obligation to undertake the task of conveying the Islamic message. The obligation, as such, stands in its own and is not subject, therefore, to the reactions of the people to it, be it favorable or otherwise. Significantly, ʿAbdullahi pointed out that people’s acceptance of it depends entirely on the will of Allah. If it is His desire that they should accept, accept they must, if not, never. In the words of ʿAbdullahi :

The fertile parts of the earth put forth herbage wondrously

By the permission of its Lord, if abundant rain pours down;

But even if there pours down continuous rain, it will never grow;

Not even the meanest weed in barren ground (without His permission).

The lack of their acceptance will not prevent religious instruction.

The one who makes them enter is the Lord; you are the one who opens;

And verily, if you have informed them, their excuse is useless.

The Lord gives them to drink, you only mix the draught.

ʿAbdullahi suggested that the draught comprise a number of books mainly on fiqh, tawḥiid and taṣawwuf, in line with the movement’s idea of calling the people to Imaan, Islam and Iḥsaan.

And books which pay heed to the Sunnah like Madkhal;

And those derived from it, in these there is sound advice;

And Kiniya, Ihyaa’ as-Sunnah and Lubaab Ṭariiq aṣ-Ṣalihiin (are) advantageous;

Those by al-Ghazali and also those by az-Zarruuq;

Those of lbn al-Ata, by these evil things are cured;

Those from Bijai or those that are similar to them.

One who is enamored of the world, leading a wicked life

Will have nothing to do with them.

ʿAbdullahi also warned the ʿulamaa’ that they had an obligation to support the Shehu’s call. If they did not, they would be the losers, while the Shehu would succeed and benefit other people. “The misfortunes of a people are the advantage of other people.” In any case, the Shehu’s cause was bound to prevail, regardless of his tribe’s rejection, so the choice was not for the Shehu, but for them.

And if relationship alone were of profit in religion,

Then Abu Taalib, the uncle of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم)

would not have perished nor grieved.

It does not harm the sun that blind men deny its light.

It does not harm the pool, that the camels which refuse to drink, decline it.

Whosoever gives thanks, that shall profit him,

And whosoever is ungrateful for blessings and follows lusts

In this world, to say nothing of the next, he shall perish!

The Risaalat, according to ʿAbdullahi , was received with great enthusiasm by his people. We should not assume that the letter was sent to ignorant men. The Shehu’s tribe contained a substantial number of the most cultured men in Hausaland, and whose joining of the mainstream of the movement constituted a landmark in its growth. In the words of ʿAbdullahi :

“When this poem reached the ʿulamaa’ of our tribe they received it well and began to make religion manifest among our tribe, such as al-Mustafa b. al Hajj and Muhammad Saʿad and Abu Bark b. Abdullah …and others. And the strongest of them in setting up religion and in toiling for it was al-Mustafa, because he was the first to receive this message, and he read it to the community, and ordered them to obedience. Then he tucked up his sleeves, and composed (quintals) on the message, mixing them like water with wine, emphasizing victory for what was in (the message) and acceptance of it. Then our brother Zed al-Athari explained it; Allah have mercy upon them all.”

Published in: Uncategorized on April 7, 2018 at 15:12  Leave a Comment  

Chapter Four of the African Caliphate – Building the Community 

Chapter Four of the African Caliphate

Building the Community  

 By: Ibraheem Sulaiman 

Having seen the sort of intellectual and spiritual training given to those men and women who clustered around the Shehu, we shall now look at the shaping of the nucleus of the emerging new order of the Shehu’s followers – the Jamaaʿah. Here we shall be concentrating on three areas as the basis of identity and solidarity: the molding of the character, the building of the communal spirit and the development of a ‘new culture’. For any movement with the goal to bring about a society superior to the one it abhors and challenges, the test of its sincerity lies in its ability to develop individuals who are the very embodiment of its message and vision. No movement can be taken seriously if the character and behavior of the core members do not set them clearly above others. That was precisely the challenge before the Shehu. His responsibility was not only to preach the truth and to attack evil, but more fundamentally, to produce men and women who believed in that truth and whose general disposition was a clear testimony to their faith in that truth.

Moral Ideals 

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

The most important work for the understanding of the moral training  of Shehu’s lieutenants and students is his Ṭariiq al-Jannah, but the moral ideals imparted in those men and women were best articulated by Muhammad Bello in Ṭaaʿaat al-Khallaaq bi-Makaariim al-Akhlaaq. Other sources are ʿAbdullahi’s Sabiil an-Najaat and Minan al-Minan and Bello’s Jalaa’ aṣ-Ṣuḍuur.


The first and perhaps the most important of the qualities the movement considered vital for every person in the forefront of the struggle was knowledge (ʿilm), which meant the comprehension of those aspects necessary for the realization of the objectives of tajdiid; the understanding of the Qur’an, Sunnah, uṣuul, fiqh and taṣawwuf; the acquisition of the necessary skills in such sciences as medicine, and the full understanding of the means and method of government and administration. And since knowledge was conceived as an instrument of tajdiid, a considerable stress was laid on its application to the general scheme of life. Knowledge which was not put to use was not considered as relevant in those circumstances. Thus while ʿAbdullahi in Minan stressed that knowledge was the ‘root of work so much that of no merit is the work we do in ignorance’, he added that acquired knowledge must produce its results in practical life, otherwise it is meaningless. And Bello, in Jalaa’, after quoting the ḥadiith of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم): “Woe to the one who does not learn!” “Woe to the learned who does not put his knowledge to use”; likened such a learned man to a lamp which, while providing light to others, burns itself out.


Associated with knowledge was the quality which Bello in Ṭaaʿaat called “ʿaql. Essentially it means the full cognition of the aims, purposes and significance of commands and prohibitions of Islam. “ʿAql is what leads you to the consciousness of Allah, and saves you from passion”, because the cognition of evil and its ultimate consequences is most likely to help one avoid it. Bello said that the cognizant is he whose words are few, but whose works are plenty.

The importance of cognition is twofold. First of all it gives every action not only a social or spiritual meaning, but an intellectual significance as well, in that one does or avoids things in the full appreciation of what they mean to one personally, what they contribute to one’s relationship with Allah, and what their consequences might be on the Day of Judgment. There is a qualitative difference between deeds performed with intellectual awareness and those performed merely in compliance with the letter of the law. There is a world of difference between a ruler who is just in mere obedience to the law and another who is just because he is aware that it is justice that sustains a nation, or that as a leader he will appear before Allah on the Day of Judgment in chains from which he can be released only by his justice. So too is there a difference between one who performs the four rakʿaat before dhuhr because the Sunnah requires him to do so, and the one who does the same with the understanding that that is the very hour in which his deeds are being presented to Allah. This quality imposes on an individual the duty to probe deeply into the meaning of the injunctions and prohibitions of Islam and to devote much of his time to pondering them.

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


In Sabiil, ʿAbdullahi said of the importance of repentance (tawbah):

“Know that Allah has made tawbah as a covering for the nakedness of work, a cleansing of the impurities arising from error, a means by which the sins of the past are wiped out and the deeds of the future are perfected.”

We may look at tawbah from two angles: first, from man’s recognition of his innate imperfection as a human being which impels him constantly to seek to make up those deficiencies by recourse to the act of repentance; second, from the angle of repentance being a social imperative in a period of decline.

In its wider context tawbah means the progressive abandonment of that path that leads to social and political disintegration and ultimate collapse of a given society and recourse to the ways of regeneration and rectitude. Tawbah thus embraces both the spiritual and socio-moral behavior of people and societies. In a yet more profound sense, tawbah incorporates a return to the path that leads to Allah, the objective being to escape from perdition on the Day of Judgment, and gain admittance into the Garden. Thus, for a people striving to regenerate their society, a recourse to tawbah as a fundamental aspect of the individual personality means a sustained disengagement from the norms and attitudes of the prevailing order for the simple reason that they are the symptoms of the diseases that have plagued the society causing its decay, and the adoption of the behavior and attitudes that are the ingredients of regeneration. Tawbah is, therefore, a total change of an individual’s conception of, and attitude to life, as well as an absolute change of course implied in the initiation of a process of transformation by an ideological movement.


That new attitude to life is what is called zuhd, which was a fundamental quality in the movement. Zuhd, as explained by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), has two elements: abstinence from the world and keeping one’s distance from the possessions of others. To abstain from the world means, among other things, that one should live in it and deal with it as a temporary abode, indeed, as a place of trial, a place of preparation for the home of reward and permanence. Whatever one takes from it whether it be in the form of sustenance, power, knowledge or skill and whatever other pursuits one undertakes in it, should be regarded as a means with which one is being tested by Allah who will give the ultimate account on the Day of Judgment. Nothing in this world, therefore, is an end in itself. Everything is given or taken by way of trial; the world itself will cease to be and give way ultimately to the enduring life of the hereafter.

Zuhd also involves exerting sufficient effort to secure a livelihood so as to be self-reliant and free from having to cast one’s eyes on what belongs to other people. Bello stressed the need to preserve one’s integrity through self- reliance in Jalaa’:

“The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, ‘Take to trading, for it secures nine-tenths of wealth’… It is related that [Prophet] Isa (upon him be peace) met a certain person and he asked the latter, ‘What do you do for a living’? He said, ‘I engage in worship’. Isa (upon him be peace) said, ‘Who, then, takes care of your needs’? He said, ‘My brother’. ‘Then’, Isa (upon him be peace) said, ‘your brother is more of a worshipper than yourself’.”

In essence, zuhd means that one should ardently seek the home of the hereafter by mobilizing and channeling the materials of this world for the accomplishment of the higher purposes of life, and living one’s life as far as possible, in accordance with the injunctions of Allah. Equally, it means that one should exert such efforts as would make oneself self-reliant and self sufficient, so that one would not have to sell honor or even religion in order to live.

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


Yet, to achieve that moral and economic supremacy, another quality is essential: ṣabr. In its restrictive sense, ṣabr means patience, but in its wider sense, it embraces a number of attitudes. ṣabr implies endeavoring to live honestly and honorably in situations where those qualities are not tolerated by the prevailing system, and enduring the hardships and disadvantages that one suffers as a result. The purpose of this attitude is that it serves as a shining light in the midst of pervasive darkness. ṣabr also means overlooking a good deal of the ill-treatment, harm and wrongs which come from others, and which are an integral part of human life. Allah has said in this regard that He has made some people a means to test others, in order to see which of them will exercise patience.

The most important form of ṣabr is the endurance of hardships that one suffers in striving for religion. In the encounter with a decadent system, some people might lose their social or economic privileges, some might lose their freedom, some their means of subsistence and some their very lives. In all these trials the most valuable weapon is ṣabr, for the journey towards religion is long, the steps are hard and the efforts tiring. ṣabr means that one should not personalize whatever harm or injury one suffers in the cause of Allah, and should therefore not hold personal enmity towards those who inflict such harm, so that hostility will cease as soon as such an adversary opens his heart to the faith. It also entails overlooking temporary inconveniences, viewing such trials as a moral training, not as a punishment from Allah.

The result of ṣabr allows one to forgive readily, to have no personal enemy except ideological adversaries to maintain patience in overlooking and overcoming the obstacles placed in the way, until ultimately the goal is reached. Beside knowledge and piety, there is no greater weapon for an individual striving in the cause of Allah than ṣabr.

Diplomacy, Forgiveness and Hilm

For a movement, the relationship of its vanguards with the generality of the people is vital, not only for its image, but also, more significantly, for its survival. In this regard three other qualities, in addition to ṣabr, were given prominence in the Shehu’s movement. One of them was what Bello called mudaarah, or diplomacy. It entails showing kindness, liberality and respect even to those who nurse enmity towards religion with the hope of either winning their hearts to the faith or at least neutralizing their enmity. In short, mudaarah is another word for restraint and caution. Bello was quick, however, to distinguish this honest effort to safeguard religion from the pure act of opportunism or ambivalence, whereby a person heaps praises and gifts on a powerful enemy in order to gain the latter’s acceptance or favor. ‘That is squandering the religion to safeguard wealth’. In a wider sense, mudaaraah embraces those steps a movement takes to disarm its potential enemies by winning their hearts through persuasion, by showing regard for their feelings and sensitivities and offering them help in the period of need.

The second quality is ʿafw or spirit of forgiveness. Bello quoted the verse of the Qur’an: “Repel evil with what is better than he between whom and you there is enmity becomes as it were your friend and intimate.” He also quoted the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم): “A person does not forgive a wrong done to him, but Allah exalts him on account of it; therefore, take to forgiveness so that Allah may exalt you.”

The third quality is what Bello called ḥilm. It means that one develops and perfects a gentle disposition so that people find comfort and confidence in one; even in anger one does not stray from truth, in the same way as in joy one does not err.


A further extremely important quality which was highly prized by the movement is what Bello in Ṭaaʿaat called adab, which for want of an appropriate word we may term discipline. ‘The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم)’, Bello said, ‘has inculcated discipline in his ummah by asking them to mention the name of Allah before meal and to give praise to Him after meal; and by his forbidding them to drink while standing, or from the buckets, and eating with the left hand or removing impurities with the right hand.” That is but one of the several aspects of adab.

In a more comprehensive sense, adab embraces the discipline and control of what Shehu in Ṭariiq and ʿAbdullahi in Sabiil called the five organs – the eye, the ear, the tongue, the heart and the belly. The eye must be controlled, Shehu said, for three main reasons: first, because Allah himself has commanded that Muslims should ‘lower their gaze and guard their modesty’; second, because the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has warned that immodest gazing at women is ‘one of the poisoned arrows of Shaytaan’, and whoever avoids it would be graced with the sweetness of worship; and third, because the eye is created, not to search for the beauty of women, but ‘purposely to obtain the vision of Allah – glorious and great is He!’ ʿAbdullahi added that controlling and restraining the eye helps towards the perfection of faith and obedience to Allah.

Similarly, it is part of adab that one should keep one’s hearing under control; neither listening to irrelevant and obscene sounds, such as vulgar music, nor listening to the denigration of others. The tongue on its part should be prevented from utterances that are bound to involve the body in physical and moral dangers, or that cause regrets when men stand for judgment before Allah on the ultimate day. Such utterances include, for instance, slandering others which Allah likens to eating the flesh of one’s dead brother.

The control of the heart is, as far as both the Shehu and ʿAbdullahi   were concerned, the most important challenge for people. The Shehu called attention to five factors which account for this crucial importance. First, is that in all matters Allah looks into the heart, into people’s intentions, as stressed so often in the Qur’an. Second, is the reinforcement of this point by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). Third, is the point that the heart is, as it were, the king of the body and other organs its subjects, so that if it is corrupted the whole body is tainted. Fourth, the heart is the repository of innate human qualities such as intelligence and knowledge. “It is most fitting,” in Shehu’s words, “that this kind of repository should be preserved against being contaminated or despoiled.” Fifth, the heart is, as it were, the battleground between good and evil, between the angel and the devil. The control of the heart means that it should be preserved from inordinate ambition, haste, envy and pride. Conversely, it should be refined through such attitudes as modest hopes or ambition, deliberation in affairs, entertaining goodwill to people, and humility.

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

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

Another quality related to adab is what Bello called inaa, or deliberation. It is important for an individual, because it enables him to ponder issues before he undertakes them, thus saving himself from rushing into things which he may later regret. Deliberation is essential for a movement that regards its cause as a lifetime undertaking. In this case, inaa would involve the realization that in the task of raising people to moral excellence, there is no need for excessive urgency, since there is no short cut in such matters. ‘Haste’, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said in a ḥadiith quoted by Bello ‘is from Shaytaan’, while caution and deliberation is from Allah. Bello, however, made six important exceptions where haste is not only allowed but praiseworthy: the payment of debt, offering food to one’s guest, burying the dead, prayer at the right time, marriage of a girl who has reached maturity and tawbah, or repentance.

Other qualities pertaining to adab were set out by Bello as humble disposition, generosity, contentment, truthfulness in speech, strengthening the ties of relationship, honoring trusts, good neighborliness, fulfilling promises and obligations, modesty, keeping one’s appointment, and being merciful to creatures. And he quoted this noble statement of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم):

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

This emphasis on the qualities we have enumerated implies that the Shehu was determined to create individuals imbued with the qualities of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) himself and to evolve, through them, a community that embodied the qualities and characteristics of the community of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). Every mujaddid knows that the course of his movement is determined ultimately by the quality of the people who champion it and that it is when such people are nurtured to moral and intellectual maturity through a long and painstaking process of training and education that Allah in His wisdom will entrust them with the great task of shouldering the responsibility of a new ummah.

The Communal Spirit

We can now look into the nature of the social relationship that was being nurtured in the nascent community, which was one of the principal means of the development of the new order. It is natural that a special kind of relationship should exist among members of an ideological group which dictates their interpersonal conduct, establishes rights and obligations of each member and holds the community together. This relationship is an expression of a profound mutual commitment to a cause – absent in outside society – and a sense of unity, belief, purpose and destiny.

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

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


The first category of duties and responsibilities is the mutual rights of Muslims which flow from the bond of brotherhood that ties each to the other in this world and in the hereafter. The fulfillment of these mutual responsibilities has the effect of cementing that brotherhood and brings together all members into one single ummah, separate and distinct from communities of other faiths. The rights cover the whole spectrum of life. A Muslim should greet a fellow Muslim whenever they meet, which according to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), increases love among Muslims and mutual love is a condition for admittance to paradise; he should accept the invitation of his Muslim brother; a Muslim should visit and tend to his fellow Muslim when he falls sick; he should honor his brother’s words and oaths; he should give him good counsel or advice whenever it is sought or whenever he deems it necessary; he should protect his brother’s honor when he is absent; he should attend his funeral; and above all, he should love for his fellow Muslim what he loves for himself and hate for him what he hates for himself.

These mutual duties are increased when the Muslim brother is also a neighbor. He should be helped whenever necessary; a loan should be extended to him whenever he is in financial difficulty, if an outright grant is not possible; he should be congratulated when good comes to him and be consoled when misfortune touches him; he should share one’s meals from time to time and neither he nor his children should be made to feel the difference that might exist in economic levels. His privacy must be respected and guarded.

Mutual rights are increased both in quality and intimacy when the Muslim is a fellow traveler in a common cause. As a friend and confidante his rights are that he should be accorded almost the same status as oneself in one’s own property; at the very least he should be considered as having absolute right to what is in excess of one’s needs, and at best, he should even have preference over oneself following the example of earlier Muslims. One should go to his aid directly even before he makes his requests and his family should be supported after his death. One should refrain from exposing his weaknesses, and should discourage others from doing so; one should not expose his secrets nor encourage others to do so, and one should be silent about his dislikes, except of course when it is one’s duty to prohibit evil. One should make him happy through whatever honorable means are available, such as commending his good qualities and those of his children, ‘without’, ʿAbdullahi added, ‘having to tell lies’. One should overlook his bad behavior and accept his excuses, whether or not they are true. One should pray for him from time to time, and finally one should avoid putting unnecessary burdens on him, so that the bond of love is preserved and not strained.

Parent-Child Obligations

Rights and obligations flowing from child-parent relationships constitute a further relevant category. The child has a duty to obey his parents. ʿAbdullahi quoted a number of traditions without, however, making any specific recommendations, but Bello might have been expressing ʿAbdullahi’s thoughts in Fawaa’id Mujmilah fi-Maa Jaa’ fi-l-Birr wa-l Sillah when he commented briefly on Allah’s injunction:

“It is narrated in the Ṣaḥiiḥ on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that a person came to the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and asked, ‘Who is most entitled to my best treatment?’ to which the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) replied, ‘Your mother’. The man asked, ‘Who next?’ He replied, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Who next?’ He replied, ‘Your mother.’ He asked further, ‘Who next?’ And the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) replied, ‘Your father’.”

The interpretation that affection for one’s mother should exceed that given to the father threefold is supported by what we see in real life, since the mother bears the burden of conception, the burden of childbirth and the burden of nursing.

“Five duties,” Bello wrote further, “devolve on a responsible person in respect of his parents.”

“First, that he should not be arrogant towards them…; two, that he should avoid rebuking them even when they confront him with what he dislikes; three, that he should address them in a pleasing, respectful manner… as a humble servant addresses his auspicious master; four, that he should show great affection to them – for instance, he should neither raise his voice in their presence nor walk in front of them – and he should do what they want, without of course disobeying the law, showing them love, compassion, reverence, and serving them in an excellent manners; five, that he should always pray for Allah’s mercy on them; if they are Muslims, and offer sadaqah on their behalf after they are dead.”

On the rights of the child, ʿAbdullahi emphasized that the child is a trust (amaanah) in the hands of his parents, endowed with a pure, innocent heart, free from stain. At the same time, a child’s heart is impressionable so that it can be bent towards either good or bad. If, therefore, the child is introduced from the beginning to goodness he will grow in that direction and will be a success in this world and in the hereafter, and everyone who has contributed to that moral success will share in the reward, but if he is introduced to evil, he will grow in that direction and the burden of misguidance will be on those who are responsible for his growth.

The child should be suckled, ʿAbdullahi insisted, by a woman who lives on lawful food and is herself upright for ‘unlawful milk corrupts the child, as there is no blessing in it at all’. The child’s upbringing in the home in the proper manner is a duty which the father owes to the child. ʿAbdullahi suggested that the child should be inculcated with Islamic discipline in matters like eating, dressing and sleeping. Concerning his education, he should first be introduced to the Qur’an and entrusted to an upright teacher. Throughout his early education, the child should be guided towards developing strength of character; he should be taught not to cry loudly when beaten at school, nor to seek the intervention of anyone against his punishment by his teacher, but rather to endure the punishment patiently. He should be allowed sports and play after school, to prevent depression, blunting of the intelligence and loss of interest in schooling altogether.

On behavior, ʿAbdullahi suggested that the child should be taught to hate pride and love humility, he should not be allowed to brag about his parents’ wealth, possessions or livelihood. He should be taught to respect those who associate with him, to be soft in speech, to talk little, avoid unnecessary questions; he should be taught that gentlemanly behavior lies in giving, not in taking, and that greed is degrading behavior. He should not spit when in the midst of people, he should be attentive when his superior in age speaks and offer him a place to sit. At the same time he should avoid those who use obscene speech, curse or insult others.

The mother has a duty to teach her child to respect the father and venerate him; to give due regard to teachers and superiors. He should be taught his duties as a Muslim and be acquainted with stories of upright men and women. He should be warned against stealing, cheating and lying and be inspired to perform and love good deeds. If he makes mistakes he should be corrected; if he repeats them he should be rebuked in secret and be made to appreciate the gravity of the offense. He should be rewarded for displaying good qualities.

As the child grows older, he should be made to appreciate that the purpose of eating is to enable one to be strong enough to carry out the injunctions of Allah; that the world is ephemeral and the sensible person takes from this world only those provisions necessary for the next. The ephemeral nature of the world, and the reality and permanence of the hereafter should be so indoctrinated that it becomes ingrained permanently in the child’s character. When maturity is reached, marriage should be arranged. ʿAbdullahi repeated the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) belief that every child is born with a natural disposition. It is up to the parents to bring up the child in the natural order and not to corrupt the being.

Family Obligations

The husband, ʿAbdullahi wrote in Tibyaan, has approximately eleven obligations towards his wife. The first, which arises from the marriage bond itself, is the payment of sadaaqi or dowry, including the celebration of the marriage provided that it is done as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has specified. The second obligation is that the husband should tolerate annoyance and endure injury from her, and more importantly, ‘he should be forbearing, indulgent and understanding when she gets angry following the example of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم)’. Third, he should stimulate her mind by engaging her in lawful jokes and sports, but, fourth, he should be moderate in this regard so as not to lose her esteem or lose the ability to correct her when she violates the Shariiʿah. Fifth, he is obliged to correct her, but he is not entitled in the course of this to subject her integrity to suspicion or to change her attitudes or to neglect or be indifferent to her. The sixth responsibility is to maintain his wife fairly, though moderately. Seventh, he must educate her ‘in the tenets of the people of the Sunnah and in the injunctions and prohibitions of the law’, instruct her in her religious duties and instill the fear of Allah in her when she shows slackness in the practice of religion. Eighth, in case of polygamy he has a duty to maintain justice among his wives. Ninth, whenever she exceeds the limits of tolerable companionship he should discipline her as the Qur’an has shown, ‘without violence’. Tenth, be should take pleasure in her children – male or female. Finally, if a divorce does occur, he should continue to please her heart with gifts, guard her secrets and respect her privacy.

As for the rights of the husband, ʿAbdullahi explained, ‘they are many: for instance, she should obey him in all matters so long as they do not amount to sin, and pursue those things that give him happiness. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “Any woman who meets her death while her husband is happy with her will go to paradise.”

Finally, the servant has legal rights, too. He should be fed with the same food the master takes; he should be clothed in the same decent and dignified style as the master; he should not be burdened with work that is beyond his capability. The servant should not be subjected to humiliation or blackmail by the employer.

To reiterate, there is nothing radically new in this code of social behavior, but it gains special significance when placed in an ideological context and when it becomes an integral part of the growth of a social movement. The intention behind the code was, no doubt, to create a fellowship of the people who shared a common cause; to establish good and virtuous neighborliness; to build loving and upright homes and to raise the dignity of even the lowliest of people within the community. On deeper reflection, one cannot help believing that what ʿAbdullahi advocated in Tibyaan was the transformation of the community into one big family, sharing one set of values and pursuing one single cause.

The New Culture 

In addition to fostering the spirit of fellowship and mutual obligation in the Jamaaʿah, there was a simultaneous development of a new social attitude, a kind of counter-culture, in the movement. In fact, the cultivation of this social etiquette was an extension of the mutual obligations which served as a means of strengthening the solidarity of the Jamaaʿah, but this social etiquette was essential in giving the new movement a sense of identity, a superior spiritual and cultural attitude that distinguished the corps from the rest of the community, and helped to draw other fair-minded and cultured people towards them. This is the subject matter of Shehu Usman’s Kitaab al-Adab.

The acquisition of knowledge was the most fundamental characteristic of Shehu Usman’s Jamaaʿah; indeed the emerging ethos and values that were molding the Jamaaʿah revolved entirely around knowledge and scholarship. The fact that the eight-page Kitaab al-Adab which dealt with more than fifteen issues devoted almost half the space to matters relating to knowledge indicates the paramount importance of this subject. Education, like any other sphere of human activity, should be governed by certain values and ethics, more so in a society where knowledge is sought primarily as a means to gain wealth or social prestige. For if knowledge is vulgarized or commercialized, as indeed it was in Hausaland, it will no longer be possible for scholars to raise the moral tone of society, or influence it in any positive manner. The reiteration of the ethics of education was therefore imperative, if only to provide the new movement with a distinct sense of direction and purpose.

Hence, the new generation of scholars – the vanguard for reviving Islam in Hausaland – had to display qualities and attitudes consistent with their role as teachers, guardians of societal values and as the conscience of the ummah So, while remaining humble, they had also to behave in a dignified manner which commanded respect from all. And while it was essential that they show respect to people in general, it was not expected of them to accord honor to oppressors if only as a mark of their disapproval of criminal, un-Islamic acts. They were to endeavor to be ‘scholars of the hereafter’ and not scholars of the world. Consequently, they had to seek knowledge that was useful in the hereafter, which would facilitate and encourage obedience to Allah. They were not to be materialistic in matters of food, clothing or accommodation. They were to endeavor to acquire sound spiritual knowledge, strive to combat undesirable innovations in society, and gain insight into the causes of corruption and confusion. In addition, they were required to keep their distance from kings. This, we may add, was essential if these scholars were to serve as the focus of social mobilization and as the symbols of people’s aspirations. Indeed, the fundamental distinguishing factor between this generation of ʿulamaa’ being raised by the Shehu and the rest of the scholars, was that the former saw itself as a distinct body independent of the existing political order and committed to its overthrow. Such scholars could not fraternize with those they regarded as oppressive rulers, let alone serve them.

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

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

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

While it was essential that members of the Jamaaʿah should develop maturity by, for example, not eating too much and not tiring themselves unduly during the day, they must at the same time improve their inner disposition, thus strengthening the cohesion of the Jamaaʿah and raising their status with Allah. Hence, the mind should be freed from nursing any hatred or enmity towards a fellow Muslim, or being unduly anxious over worldly matters; the mind should rather be occupied with the thought of the hereafter, to counterbalance preoccupation with the world. In addition, qiyaam al-layl, standing for prayer in the night, should be observed daily and given its due regard, while the mind should be trained to be conscious of Allah, to fear His punishment, and to be ashamed of its moral failures. Over and above this, constant reading of the Qur’an – observing the respect due to it, and making an effort to understand and contemplate it was desirable.

When starting on a journey, members of the Jamaaʿah, and in a wider sense Muslims in general, should free themselves from all moral and economic obligations, so that they could travel with an absolutely free conscience. According to Shehu Usman, they should first amend whatever wrong they had done, pay their debts, return whatever was entrusted to them and arrange the maintenance of those under their care. They should make adequate provisions, but using only lawful means. They should carry items of basic necessity with them. And above all, they should fulfill their spiritual obligations throughout the journey and adhere to the ethics of travel established by the Prophet Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم).

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

When the Shehu touched on the obligations a man owes to his wife, the wife to her husband and mutual obligations between Muslims, there was no fundamental difference between Kitaab al-Adab and ʿAbdullahi’s Tibyaan, but the Shehu added several points. He advised Muslims to honor the aged and show compassion to the young. He said they should meet each other with cheerful faces, be considerate and fair in their dealings with one another and fulfill the needs of one another on a cooperative basis. He instructed them to protect each other against injustice and come to the defense of each other, and most significantly, he told them to avoid the company of the rich – associate always with the poor and take adequate care of orphans.

On matters such as the ethics of visits to a sick person, the Shehu advised that the visitor should exhibit compassion, pray for him as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has counseled, and ask as few questions as possible. The sick person, for his part, should be patient, keep his complaints to a minimum and put his trust for recovery in Allah, while continuing to take the necessary medication.

It may be said that, on the whole, there was nothing new either in Tibyaan or Kitaab al-Adab. What was new was that the social and moral rules were being put into practice by a group dedicated to establishing a better and superior social order. The Jamaaʿah was nurtured on well-known principles, values and ethics. When these were actualized in an ideological setting, they assumed added significance, and they in turn made their mark on the emerging social force. As long as the Jamaaʿah remained faithful to these values and ethics, there did not exist any force that could weaken them or alter their course towards reviving the Deen.

Published in: Uncategorized on April 7, 2018 at 13:00  Leave a Comment  
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