Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio and The Revival of Islam in Hausaland


by Usman Bugaje


The Milieu 

Perhaps no Muslim needs to be told about the importance of history if only because the Qur’an is full of it. And how assuring were these stories of the prophets as well as the tyrants of old. They assured the Prophet Muhammad as well as his companions that they were treading a well trodden path and gave them both the strength to bear the hardship and the insight to understand the nature of the encounter they were engaged in. Ironically no one seems more ignorant of his history today as the Muslim. Muslims, like others, certainly know that whoever controls the past controls the future. But what they don’t seem to wake up to is the corollary, whoever controls the present, too often, controls the past. This is not simply to explain why they remain ignorant of their past but to make them appreciate the fact that those who control their present will not easily give up their past. As Muslims did (or are still doing) with their freedom and independence, they may have to do with their past, indeed their past is an important component of that freedom, for it gives them their identity and therefore the freedom to be what they are. For, as history itself testifies, freedom is never given on the platter of gold. But without it no nation, or indeed individual, makes any meaningful progress. Our past gives us not only our identity and our worth, but also our bearings and our goals. It presents to us our role models and show us the things worth fighting for. Our future therefore is in discovering our past. This journey of discovery is taking us to some of the forgotten lands of Islam, the region of West Africa which had been an integral part of the Muslim world for over a millennium and which today holds over half of Africa’s Muslim population. We are visiting one of the greatest Muslim figures of this region, Shaykh Uthman b. Fodio. 

Hausaland, where Shaykh Uthman was destined to live and thrive, was located in the middle of what early Muslim historians called the Bilad al-Sudan, which is the vast Savannah grassland stretching from Sene-Gambia in West Africa to the Red Sea in the east. Islam had spread in to this region since the eighth century. Prior to the spread of Islam, the region had been linked with North Africa by the trans-Saharan trade routes that brought manufactured goods from the Mediterranean region and the world beyond in exchange for Gold which appeared to have been in abundance. With the spread of Islam in the region the trans-Saharan trade routes increased and as trade grew, intra-regional routes developed, spreading Islam further into the region. As Islam spread, literacy developed, communication and security improved, increasing traffic and boosting commerce, paving the way for social integration and the development of complex urban societies. Thus the ancient kingdom of Ghana emerged in the 11th century and lasted until the 13th, when it gave way the bigger empire of Mali. By the 15th century the Songhay empire had emerged to replace Mali and lasted until the 17th when it disintegrated into smaller chiefdoms, having been invaded in 1596 by a Moroccan regime desperate for Gold. To the east of Songhay and in the middle of this vast region was the Hausaland, a loose confederation of small but independent states. To the east of the Hausa states, as they are often called, was the Kanem-Borno empire, as old as Ghana, but unlike Ghana, survived until the 19th century. 

These Kingdoms and empires were essentially Muslim states fashioned very much along the Muslim states of North Africa. Their leaders were in the habit of making pilgrimage, usually through Egypt, and bringing back books and artisans. Their students attended the famous educational institutions around the Muslim world, like al-Azhar were many of these states had hostels for their students and made annual grants to maintain them.1 The region itself developed centres of learning and received scholars of international repute like the Algerian Shaykh al-Maghili.2 Borno was famous for the study of the Qur’an and its capital attracted many scholars and became a seat of learning. Timbuktu in Songhay was famous as a city of scholars and its Sankore mosque became a great centre of learning for the region very much like Azhar in North Africa.3 Similarly, in Hausaland, cities like Katsina and Zaria had reputations that went beyond the region and attracted scholars. The Moroccan invasion of Songhay and the rustication of Timbuktu, the principal centre of learning, threw the region into confusion from which it never recovered until after the Jihad led by Shaykh Uthman b. Fodio at the beginning of the 19th century. The destruction of Sankore and the absence of the restraining force of the state of Songhay brought down the tempo of learning and threw the neighbouring Hausa states into inter state internecine warfare, with predictable effects on security and commerce. This insecurity, poor revenue and decline in learning, combined to frustrate the compliance with the Sharia as increasingly desperate kings used all means available to win battles and remain in power. This also gave a receding paganism chance to stage a come back as ignorance took its toll. It was in this chaos and confusion, decadence and oppression and increasing anxiety of a beleaguered citizenry that Shaykh Uthman was born. 

1 For details see Corpus of early Arabic Sources for West African History P. 261 and P. 353. 

2 For details see J.O. Hunwick, (ed. Trans.) Sharia in Songhay: The Replies of al-Maghili to the Questions of Askia al-Hajj Muhammad, London New York, O.U.P. 1985. 

3 For details see E. Sa’ad, Social History of Timbuktu, Cambridge, C.U.P. 1983. 

4 For a detailed account of the education of Shaykh Uthman see F. H. El-Masri, ‘The Life of Shehu Usman dan Fodio Before the Jihad’, JHSN, ii(1963-4) pp. 435-48. For the general intellectual background, especially the long tradition of learning, see Ahmad Kani, The Intellectual Origin of the Sokoto Jihad, Ibadan, 1985. 

Birth, Studies and Career 

Uthman was born at Maratta, a town in the Hausa state of Gobir, on 29th Safar 1168 AH / Sunday 15th December 1754. His father Muhammad Fodio was a well known scholar of his time in Gobir, a descendant of the Torankawa Fulani and heir to a long Islamic tradition of learning. Coming , as he did, from a learned family, with a long tradition of leaning, Uthman had two advantages: access to one of the best instructions and a social status in a society full of respect for learning. He learnt the Qur’an at the feet of his father very early, as was the practice then and proceeded to study elementary fiqh and Arabic language. He then proceeded, this time under scholars renowned in their respective fields, many of whom turned out to be his uncles, to under take advanced studies, where the curriculum is heavy and the influence of the teachers great. Here he studied Tasfsir, Hadith, Sirah, Fiqh, Arabic Language, Tasawwuf, Mathematics and Astronomy. He received a thorough grounding in these fields and before he was twenty he had already written his first work in his mother tongue, reflecting not only the early intellectual maturity but also a propensity for literary out put.4 By the time he was twenty he had formerly finished the basic texts for advanced studies and free to pursue a career. Soon after, he wrote his first work in Arabic, a poem in praise of the prophet5, indicating his proficiency in Arabic and his career inclinations. 

5 Al-Qasida ‘l-Daliyya, Zaria, n.d. See Fathi El-Masri (Ed. Trans.) Bayan Wujub al-Hijra, Khartoum, Khartoum University Press, 1978. P. 2. 

6 Abdullahi b. Muhammad, Tazyin al-Waraqat, M. Hiskett (ed. trans.) Ibadan, Ibadan University Press, 1963. pp. 85-6. Abdullahi was put under the care of Shaykh Uthman while still young and did his early education under his brother and continued to accompany him through out the mission and being literary inclined, in fact a prolific writer and scholar with a taste for thoroughness, he kept a good record of their endeavour all along. 

As he was growing up one thing appeared to have taken Uthman’s attention, the level of ignorance of the wider society, especially among the women and the pervasion of innovations (bid’a) and widespread syncretic practices. He was deeply worried about the violations of the Sharia, the neglect of the Sunnah and the plight of his society as it came increasingly under the tyranny of ever unjust monarchs. The more he read the more he seemed to find this state of affairs unacceptable. The situation was not for want of teachers, indeed there were many, but the teachers had kept themselves in their ivory towers making their knowledge available only to the few who cared to come, to the neglect of even their own families. There were teachers who instead of correcting the ordinary people, were in fact making fortunes out of their ignorance, collecting their wealth under several pretexts and condoning violations of the Sharia and often conniving with rulers to perpetuate all manners of injustices. So by the time he was through with formal studies and became a man of his own he had already decided to devote his time to educating the public the basics of the religion. He started giving public lectures, sermons in and around his home town as he pursued hid post graduate studies with renowned scholars within his reach. He was soon to be joined by his brother Abdullahi, twelve years his junior and much later his son Muhammad Bello. 

As if the society was waiting for him, he received an immediate response among many, not only in his home town but beyond. Abdullahi, who became an erudite scholar, has captured this initial start in one of his many works: “Then we rose up with the shaikh helping him in his mission work for religion. He travelled for that purpose to the east and to the west, calling the people to the religion of God by his preaching and his qasidas in other languages and destroying customs contrary to Muslim law.”6 As people started crowding around this young and rather daring scholar, soon Uthman found himself at the head of a circle of young people sharing some revolutionary ideas. This, unknown to them all, was the nucleus of a movement that was to transform Hausaland for good. Having taken off, the movement went through four distinct phases. The phase of teaching and public da’wah, the phase of planning and organisation, the phase of hijra and jihad and the post jihad phase during which the Caliphate was established. In what follows, we shall be looking at these phases one at a time. 

The Phase of Teaching and Public Da’wah 

The response Shaykh Uthman received to his public preaching must have encouraged him to continue and expand it beyond his home town to other parts of his state of Gobir. He soon found it necessary to go beyond his own state to the neighbouring states starting from Zamfara where he spent some five years, for as he said, he discovered several pockets of people who had not infact accepted Islam yet. Shaykh Uthman was to remain, for some 19 years, as an itinerant scholar always on the move. Where ever he went he stayed long enough to establish a community and always left behind some of his students and disciples to continue his job. It wasn’t all teaching, however, as he had to be writing at the same time not only to produce the texts to be studied in the various circle he was creating but he had to reply to numerous questions and issues which his da’wah was raising and reply critics who were busy trying to stop this rising wave of awareness that was clearly out to sweep the status quo. Hectic as this job no doubt was, Shaykh Uthman was able to combine it with his own pursuit of learning visiting one renown scholar after the another. So many were these teachers that when they eventually settled down many year later and tried to write down some biographical notes on their teachers, which turned out to be a whole book itself, they could not quite remember all, in the words of the author, “I cannot now number all the shaikhs …. so many that I cannot count them.”7 Where ever he went and where ever his works reached he attracted a following as Abdullahi reported, “Some of the people from the surrounding countries came to him, and entered his community which had become famous through him.”8This is not to suggest that the Shaykh found it easy, far from it, it appeared to have been quite a trying and challenge period, as these lines from a poem Abdullahi composed during this period suggests: 

7 Abdullahi b. Muhammad, ‘Ida` al-Nusukh man Akhadhtu ‘anhu min al-Shuyukh, M. Hiskett, (ed. trans.) ‘Material Relating to the State of Learning Among the Fulani Before their Jihad’ in BSOAS xix, 3, 1957. p. 568. 

8 Ibid. 

9 Abdullahi b. Muhammad (Fodio), Tazyin al-Waraqat, M. Hiskett (ed. trans.) Ibadan, Ibadan University Press, 1963. P. 99. 

“Oh send on my behalf to my tribe a letter, To which men or honest women may pay attention, To their scholar, or seeker after knowledge, desiring To make manifest the religion of God, giving good advice therein.  I say to him: Rise up, and call to religion with a call Which the common people shall answer, or the great lords; And do not fear, in making manifest the religion of Muhammad The words of one who hates, whom fools imitate. And do not fear to be accused of lying; nor the disavowal of the apostate; Nor the mockery of the ignorant man gone astray While the truth is as the morning; Nor the backbiting of a slanderer; nor the rancour of one who bears a grudge, Who is helped by one who relies upon (evil) customs. None can destroy what the hands of God has built. None can overthrow the order of God if it comes.”9 

These verses summarised what several pages of prose had explained. One can glean the strength of their conviction and the degree of their determination. Their immediate objective was to disseminate the knowledge of the religion clearly and widely. They were motivated by the consciousness of their responsibility and sustained by their strong belief that God was on their side. They faced an array of obstacles, starting from their peers who thought that they were crazy to contemplate a change in the rotten society they were born into, then their contemporary scholars who were eager to find faults in what they did and called them all sorts of names, and ultimately the rulers of Hausaland who realised that the success of this movement was going to be at the expense of their cherished thrones. These obstacles, formidable as some of them were, did not, however, dissuade them from their path. For they new that it was a well trodden path, the path of the prophets of old. 

In line with his immediate objective of educating the wider public, most of Shaykh Uthman’s preaching focused on the basic issues of proper understanding of tauhid, correct performance of the routine acts of worship, Islamic standards of behaviour and emphasis on the Sunnah as opposed to the bid’ah which due largely to the prevailing ignorance had infested numerous acts of worship and behaviour. He also explained the general meaning of the Sharia and encouraged his audience to appreciate the need for ‘amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy an al-munkar (commanding the right and forbidding the wrong). He wrote numerous books on these subjects during this period, like, Usul al-Din, Iman, Islam, Ihsan, Hidayat al-Tullab etc. But since a substantial part of his audience were not literate, Shaykh Uthman also composed poems in local languages carrying essentially the same messages in simpler but poetic form and therefore easy to understand and remember. Apt in their expressions, passionate in their appeal, melodious in their tune, these poems took Hausa society by the storm, pervading the streets, market places and farms and invading homes, schools and courts. They soon rose to the top of the chart of the time and remained at the top for decades, replacing the vain and vulgar songs that had formed a significant part of the Hausa-Fulani Jahiliyya. To the men when at work and to the women while in their kitchens, these poems seemed to evoke tempo and vitality. They eventually became to the ordinary men and women what books were to students and scholars. 

The favourable mass response of the public to the message of the Shaykh naturally sent shivers down the spines of both the ulama’ as well as the rulers of Hausaland who realised that their respective positions were at stake. The ulama’ stepped up their criticism of the Shaykh and did everything to undermine his mission. First they questioned the validity of the central pillar of his mission, ‘amr bi al ma’aruf wa al nahy an al munkar, arguing that in their circumstances it was neither desirable nor possible. In one of his responses the Shaykh retorted “I was told by one of the brothers that he heard one of them say: ‘forbidding evil in a land of evil is the real evil: And for this reason they don’t chide each other for committing evil. I take refuge with God the exalted; this is one of the characteristics of the Jews.”10 The ulama’ then defended the numerous un-Islamic customs the Shaykh had been attacking, suggesting that, after all, the custom of a land is itself like Sunnah. The Shaykh argued that “this is falsehood and confusion according to the consensus of opinion (ijma’) because a custom should not be tolerated if it contradicts the Sunnah.”11 

10 Uthman b. Fodio, quoted in M. A. Al-Hajj, ‘The Writings of the Shehu’ Kano Studies, 1 (2) 1974/77 P. 9. 

11 Ibid. 

Rather expectedly the ulama’ made a lot of fuss on the issue of women. Shaykh Uthman did not stop women from attending his preaching sessions, he in fact encouraged them. From the on set of his endeavour, Shaykh Uthman appeared to have been moved by the plight of women in Hausaland particularly the way they were denied basic education and exploited by society. He made this very clear in his criticism of the Ulama’, as he observed in one of his many works on the subject, “ ….what many scholars (ulama’) of the Sudan do to their wives, their daughters and their slaves … they leave them neglected like cattle without instructing them in what is obligatory upon them in connection with their creed, their ritual ablution, their fasting of Ramadan … Nor do they instruct them on what is permissible (mubah) for them like buying, selling and similar things. Indeed they regard them as nothing but a pot which they use and when it breaks to pieces they throw away …. One wonders at this their custom of leaving their wives and daughters in the darkness of ignorance while at the same time they teach their students every morning and evening. Indeed the only motive in teaching their students is self-aggrandisement and nothing else”12 Turning to the women themselves the Shaykh encouraged them to seek for education and openly called upon them to rebel against what today can be called male chauvinism. “ O’ Muslim women” the Shaykh calls, “do not listen to the words of those misguided men who tell you about the duty of obedience to your husbands but they do not tell you anything about obedience to God and His messenger”13 As for the attack that he encouraged the free mixing of men and women, not only did he teach the women proper Islamic dressing and how to conduct themselves decently in public, he questioned the sincerity of all those ulama’ making the accusation in the first place, saying, “People see their women attending illegally, marriage ceremonies, they also see them dancing and singing and inter mixing with men, moreover they observe them going out for ‘Id ceremonies in their full make-up, without denying them these. But when they see them going out in pursuit of learning they say this is reprehensible”14 

12 Uthman B. Fodio, Nur al-Albab, Translation of M.A. Al-Hajj in Ibid. P. 8. 

13 Ibid. 

14 Uthman b. Fodio, quoted in M.A. Kani, ‘Literary Activity in Hausaland in the Late Eighteeth and Early Nineteenth Century: With Special Reference to Shaykh Uthman b. Fudi D. 1817’, Unpublished M.A. Thesis A.B.U. Zaria, 1978. p. 102. 

15 See Muhammad Bello, Infaq al-Maysur 

16 Quoted in F.H. El-Masri, ‘The life of Usman Dan Fodio before the Jihad’, Op. cit. P. 44. 

On his struggle against these class of ulama’ who resisted these changes, supported bid’ah and justified the injustice and tyranny of the kings, what the Shaykh, borrowing from al-Maghili, calls Ulama’ al-Su (venal Scholars), the Shaykh wrote nearly fifty different works, as his son Muhammad Bello reported.15 He emerged victorious at the end and he became widely acknowledged as the leading scholar in Hausaland, despite his relatively young age. As a mark of honour and recognition of this position of leadership, the king of Gobir, the strongest of the Hausa kings of his time gathered, at ‘Id al-Adha, all the ulama’ giving them gifts, and Shaykh Uthman was given the lion’s share. All the ulama’ gladly accepted their gifts except Shaykh Uthman. He politely turned it down, asking, in its stead, something more valuable to him and the mission he had come to be identified with. He made five requests to the king: 

“1. To allow me to call people to God through out your country. 

2. Not to stop or obstruct anybody responding to this call 

3. To treat with respect any one with a turban and women decently dressed. 

4. To free all political prisoners. 

5. Not to burden the subjects with taxes.”16 

These demands, of course reveal a lot about the social and political situation of the time. But what interests us here is that the stature of Shaykh Uthman had reached a point when he (and perhaps he alone) could make such demands. It also suggests that the turban for men and the 

Islamic outfit for women had become a mark of the new consciousness that Shaykh Uthman’s da’wah had raised, a mark of belonging to the mission of the Shaykh. Perhaps more profoundly, this singular act, unprecedented, earned the Shaykh a higher station yet. For, while the rejection of the gift earned him respect of the king and independence from the establishment, the demands endeared him not only to his followers but also the ordinary people at large whose interest he identified with and stuck out his neck to protect. 

Phase of Organisation and Planning 

Having spent some two decades roving the whole of Gobir, kebbi, Zamfara, Agades and perhaps other Hausa states, spreading Islamic learning, converting pockets of non-Muslim communities, reawakening Muslims and creating a network of teachers and students through out the vast region, Shaykh Uthman decided to settle down in the town of Degel in the state of Gobir in 1793. Within these two decades Shaykh Uthman with the assistance of his brother Abdullahi and their growing number of disciples have literally changed the intellectual and social horizon of Hausaland. Many schools have sprouted; teachers have been graduated and are constantly on the move teaching; books had been written on numerous subjects and issues and were circulating; poems in local languages carrying clear and liberating messages have become household. These new schools, unlike the ivory towers the Shaykh criticised, were open to all and sundry. The new teachers, though much younger, were well read, yet distinguished themselves not so much by their learning like their zeal in spreading and living their new found knowledge. The new books were addressing the situation at hand and were urging a return to Islam proper, in every aspect of life, individual as well as collective, free from the innovations that have found their way into the religion. One book which seemed to have been particularly written for this purpose and which became a textbook for the new centres of learning was the Shaykh’s Ihya al-Sunnah wa Ikhmad al-Bid’ah.17 The new mosques also became not only places of prayers but, as they ought to have been, centres of learning. 

17 This had been edited and published in Cairo some time in the 60’s. Local productions are widely available in Nigeria. For an over view of its contents and excerpts in English, see I.A.B. Balogun, Life and Works of Uthman Dan Fodio, Lagos, Islamic Publication Bureau, 1975. 

As Shaykh Uthman settled in Degel he found himself at the centre of an expanding and ever growing network of mostly young Muslims looking forward to changes that will reinstall Islam in Hausaland. Degel itself turned in to a kind of university town as many students, teachers and disciple came to further their education to consult the Shaykh on issues. Shaykh Uthman thus found himself heading an Islamic movement whose members were growing and spreading all over Hausaland and beyond, looking up to him to provide them with guidance. He had to reluctantly accept the leadership of this movement which he chose to give the modest name of Jama’a. He had to consequently take the full responsibility of guiding the Jama’a not only because they looked up to him for guidance but also because he realised that with out proper guidance this youthful energy can get out of control, especially with potential provocation. Soon after settling in Degel the Shaykh thus found it necessary to write a book titled ‘Amr bi al-Ma’ruf wa al-Nahy ‘an al-Munkar, clearly to guide the members of this movement in their conduct of this important aspect of their mission. From the content of the book the Jama’a appeared to have been expressing some impatience in the realisation of their goals which were becoming clearer with time. For though the Shaykh started rightly by emphasising the central significance of ‘Amr bi al-Ma’ruf, going as far as saying “every Muslim should observe this duty, even though he be a sinner, because this duty and individual piety are two distinct injunctions and failure to observe one should not justify neglecting the other.”18 The Shaykh proceeded to warn against undertaking jihad without proper preparation and without having an Imam, for in these kind of situations “it only results in failure and drags weak Muslims into perdition unnecessarily.”19 The Shaykh cited examples of rushed jihads which ended up in total failure, like the case of Abu Mahalli in early 17th century North Africa.20 

18 Uthman b. Fodio, Amr bi al-Ma’ruf …., quoted in F.H.Masri (ed. trans.) Bayan Wujub al-Hijra, Khartoum, K.U.P. 1978, p. 22. 

19 Ibid. 

20 Ibid. 

21 Abdullahi b. Muhammad, Tazyin al-Waraqat, P. 107 

22 See F.H. El-Masri, (ed. trans.) Bayan Wujub Al-Hijra, p. 24. 

23 See A.D.H. Bivar, ‘The Wathiqat Ahl al-Sudan’, Journal of Modern African History ii, 2(1961) pp.235-243. 

If this book was meant to caution the Jama’a in exhibiting their zeal, it did not. In fact it seemed to have had the opposite effect, for members of the ever growing Jama’a were beginning to challenge openly the activities of the kings, particularly the injustices against the weak and the lack of upholding the Sharia. This high profile the Jama’a was assuming was quite naturally sending signals to the kings of Hausaland, that their way of ruling was not going to be tolerated. The anxiety of the rulers was particularly heightened by the fact that the rank of the Jama’a was swelling with people especially the weak and the oppressed who were beginning to see not only their heavenly salvation but even their earthly salvation in the Jama’a under the leadership of the Shaykh. In fact as Abdullahi reported,21 some of the Hausa kings were enraged by these trends, understandably so for every increase in the ranks of the Jama’a represent a shift in loyalty and the narrowing of the political base of the Hausa rulers. Threatened by these developments and eager to save their diminishing political base on which rested precariously their thrones, the Hausa kings started harassing members of the Jama’a, who were not too difficult to identify. This, it must have been hoped, would discourage others from joining the ranks of the Jama’a and to persuade the older members to down-size their activities. But it did not quite discourage the Jama’a. The Shaykh had to intervene, he composed a poem, ostensibly in praise of Shaykh Abdulqadir al-Jaylani, the great sufi Shaykh, but in reality calming the Jama’a while at the same time encouraging them to take up arms to defend themselves, arguing that it was Sunnah to carry arms. This was shortly followed by yet another work, Masa’il al-Muhimma, important matters, in which the Shaykh, foreseeing a confrontation an a large scale, cautioned that hijra might be eminent and in these kind of situation Muslims cannot be abandoned without an imam to whom bay’ah is sworn.22 

This call to arms, as it were, further frightened the Hausa rulers even more and in their frantic response the situation worsened, forcing the Shaykh to make a hijra to Gudu, a place on the boarders of Gobir, in preparation for a confrontation which the Shaykh appeared to have been determined to avoid but which the circumstances have made rather inevitable. But a few month before making the Hijra he had to write a pamphlet which was to be circulated through the very efficient network of the Jama’a. This pamphlet the Shaykh called Wathiqat ahl al-Sudan wa man sha’ Allah min al-Ikhwan, a letter to the people of the Sudan and who so ever Allah wished among the brothers. This work had been described by a British scholar23 who edited and translated it as the ‘manifesto of the jihad’ and perhaps so, for while calling people for hijra the letter made it clear that it was a prelude to jihad and went ahead to give the justifications and objectives of this impending jihad. This document therefore triggered a massive movement of members of the Jama’a from all over Hausaland towards Gudu on the northern outskirts of Gobir. It was a hazardous journey, for the Hausa army were lying ambush all along the routes, yet it continued. 

Phase of Hijra and Jihad 

Shaykh Uthman and the Jama’a at Degel left for Gudu on the 12th of dhul Qada 1218 / February 1804. No sooner did the Shaykh arrived Gudu, joined by trickles of his Jama’a, the jihad began. The strategy of the Hausa rulers, it seemed, was not to allow the Jama’a any time and to route them before they gather some formidable force which they seemed capable of harnessing. As they sensed the first attack, the Jama’a, in Gudu, quickly made bay’ah to Shaykh Uthman, as their imam and amir al-mu’minin. A detachment of Gobir army, which had been on their heels, attacked this meagre number of ill-equipped members of the Jama’a. The Jama’a fought back and routed the Gobir forces seizing booty, food and equipment which augmented their scanty provisions and thus the jihad started. For the next two years the Jama’a had to be on the move without a permanent base. It was not until April of 1806 they managed to take over the state of Kebbi and made a permanent base of the capital, Birnin Kebbi. As the jihad started rather earlier than expected and because of the perils on the routes many members couldn’t join the Jama’a at Gudu. But perhaps just as well, for delegations were made to the Shaykh by the Jama’a in different states seeking permission to carry out jihad in their area. These permissions were given along with a symbolic flag which the leaders take back to their states and fought the Jihad. This way the whole of Hausa states and parts of neighbouring Borno was turned in to a battle field. The jihad went on until about 1808 when, with the defeat of Gobir, the strongest military power, the jihad, in the main came to an end with Jama’a emerging victorious.

Needless to say this victory was far from easy and it was not without heavy losses of men, some of the fine and precious men the Jama’a had nurtured over some three decades. Their loss left a scar on the psyche of the leaders of the Jama’a, some of them like Abdullahi never appeared to have recovered from the trauma of these losses. On the other hand, as the Jama’a began to get the upper hand of the jihad their ranks were suddenly swollen by the large number of fence sitters who were waiting to see which way the fortunes were turning before making up their minds. While this may have augmented their fighting force, it did dilute their discipline and this worried one of the most senior commander, Shaykh Abdullahi and at a stage it made him sick and for a while he contemplated deserting the army to go to some far place like Makka and Madina. One other thing that made their job more difficult was that having to go into confrontation apparently earlier than expected, the Jama’a had not really made provisions for taking over the administration of Hausaland, yet as the different states fell in to their hands, they had to immediately take over and begin an Islamic administration. Though in general terms they had an idea, they had never gotten to the nitty-gritty of it. Thus soon after the jihad had taken off and even as they had no permanent base, the leaders of the Jama’a had, in between battles, write manuals to guide the various commanders on the correct conduct of the jihad, the division of booty and establishment and running of a state according to Islam. That was how the Shaykh’s Bayan Wujub al-Hijra ala al-Ibad, completed in Ramadan 1221/November 1806 in B/kebbi came to be written. Adullahi’s Tazyin al-Waraqat, which more than any of their writings captured, sometimes graphically, the running battles and the mood of the jihad was similarly written in between battles. Abdullahi had to chip in with his Diya’ Ul al-Amr wa-al-Mujahideen to guide field commanders who, having won the battles had to face the greatest challenge yet, translating the ideal they had fought for in to reality. They learnt the hard way that it was all too easy to be in the opposition. 

Phase of Victory and Establishment of the Caliphate 

Having fought and won the jihad, the Jama’a under the leadership of Shaykh Uthman found themselves in command of a large territory of over 50,000 square miles standing on the ruins of the warring Hausa states. It must have been everybody’s relief that never again the citizens of these warring states have to worry about the insecurity that had affected both education and commerce for the best part of two centuries. But that was certainly not enough, the society needed to be reorganised, rehabilitated and reconstructed from the devastation of the jihad which had been on for some five years or so. So as the dust of the jihad was settling what engaged the leadership of the Jama’a was how exactly the new state was to be run, the principle had been spelt out in the earlier writings of the jihad leaders Shaykh Uthman and his brother Abdullahi in particular. These principles needed to be elaborated on and more importantly lived in the real practical world. So extensive consultations started among the scholars especially the ahl hal wal aqd, the shura committee members, many of whom had been military commanders during the years of the jihad. 

First a new capital, Sokoto, was created and built in due course. The new polity was divided into two and each put under the command of Abdullahi and Muhammad Bello who had proved his abilities during the jihad and had emerged very popular with the Jama’a. These consultations were often followed by spate of debate which was conducted verbally as well as in writing. The debate centred on the question of the implementation of the Islamic order the Jama’a fought to install. Muhammad Bello, who had matured as a scholar now joined in this debate and contributed a number of books.24 The debate was open and rigorous and though they did not always agree, they always managed to concede to Shaykh Uthman even if grudgingly. It was their credit that even as they felt free to differ on certain issues they never lost their composure or decorum and above all the sense of responsibility to guide the Jama’a in translating the ideals they fought for in to reality. In doing so not only did they maintain their unity and solidarity but they wrote on end leaving behind an astonishing body of literature for posterity. The fact that they did not quarrel over power and positions but preoccupied their minds with the implementation of the Islamic order must have contributed to their success. Shaykh Uthman himself did not stay long in Sokoto, having appointed his two most able assistants to deal with the routine administration, he left to Sifawa not far from the capital from where he supervised what was happening but more importantly where he continued to teach, reflect on the problems of the new state and to write more books and generate more ideas. Here at Sifawa Shaykh Uthman remained until he died in 1817. 

24 One such book which directly addressed these issue was Usul al-Siyasa, the principles of political leadership. 

Shaykh Uthman died without appointing a successor, perhaps believing that a machinery was already in place to take care of that and it was not for him to choose for the Jama’a who would lead them after him. Sources are not agreed how it worked out, but Bello was chosen as the Amir al-mu’minin and the Sultan of the Sokoto Caliphate. Bello was more than qualified, he was born amidst itinerant da’wah, as the movement was taking shape, he grew up with movement, matured with it and led several campaigns, often representing his father and above all earned himself the admiration and respect of members of the Jama’a. A scholar in his own right who had the benefit of the best education the movement had to offer and having read some 20,000 books in the process, Bello had all that it took to lead the Caliphate. As it turned out, it was a good choice, he was a visionary who built the Caliphate, politically and economically, as his works in politics and political economy, external relations with neighbouring states clearly show.25 The Caliphate itself continued in one piece until it fell prey to European imperialism early this century, when the bulk came under British rule and today forms the northern states of Nigeria, and other parts which fell under the French forms part of Cameroon, Niger Republic, Benin Republic and Burkina Faso. Despite six decades of British colonisation, the Sokoto Caliphate remains an inspiration of Muslims in Nigeria and as its rich heritage is discovered Muslims are turning to it as an alternative to the borrowed alien European models. Many are nursing the hope that as the Sokoto Caliphate solved the decadence and tyranny of the Hausaland two centuries ago so will it inspire a change that will bring an end to the contemporary corrupt political culture of Nigeria today. 

25 See Bello’s works such as Gayth al-Wabl, Tanbih al-Raqid, Ahkam al-Makasib, etc. 

26 Manuscripts of these works are to be found in Private hands, many Archives, History bureaux and documentation of many universities not only in Nigeria, but in Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Niger, Chad and Sudan. Outside Africa, these can be found in NorthWestern University, Chicago, Centre for West African Studies, University of Birmingham, British Museum, Bibliotech Nationale in Paris, among others. Quite a number of these manuscript have been edited and published, some have been subject of various Postgraduate studies in universities. They cover a variety of grounds and except for one or two were all in classical Arabic. 

27 One such example is Waziri Junaidu of Sokoto who, at nearly ninety years and already blind, continues to teach, commenting on texts from memory, and has written over seventy different works. In 1971 Waziri Junaidu was given an honorary degree by the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. 

Shaykh Uthman’s Contributions and Ideas 

The creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, not only secured for Islam firmer roots but it also gave the whole region the peace and stability it lacked for some two centuries. So by reviving Islam Shaykh Uthman also revived the region giving it new lease of life and an impetus to grow and develop under Islam. But perhaps Shaykh Uthman’s greatest contribution is in the field of learning, not only for the astonishing total of 114 works26 (so far extant) but also and more fundamentally for the transformation of the intellectual atmosphere in the region and the generation of scholars that his movement produced and the inspiration these gave to generations separated by time and space. His brother and deputy (wazir) Abdullahi had over ninety work, including a complete tafsir titled Diya’ al-Tawil. His son and helper Muhammad Bello wrote over Eighty works including a full history of the whole movement, Infaq al-Maysur fi Tarikh Bilad al-Tukrur, and comprehensive work on Politics, Gayth al-Wabl and a work on political economy al-Ahkam al-Makasib. Nana Asma’, his daughter had over twenty works or so, including the translation of some of her father’s works from the Arabic to the vernacular. This tradition of scholarship continued up to the colonial period and has indeed endured the post-colonial period as scholars continue to write, few though they have become.27 

Like all the scholars in Western Bilad al-Sudan, Shaykh Uthman was raised a maliki and so he remained, but he saw nothing hard and fast about these schools of fiqh. In his book, Hidayat al-Tullab, addressed to students, he appreciated the need for the ordinary people to keep to one madhhab, it is easier and practical. But for the students and scholars there is nothing to stop them from accessing any of the rulings of the other schools, for they all have their roots in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and as he further argued neither the Qur’an or the Sunnah specified any particular madhhab so no one was bound to have to follow any, it is all a matter of maslaha, public good.28 This, in his days as indeed today, is quite novel and courageous. Similarly Shaykh Uthman was a sufi of Qadiriyya order but he never made it mandatory for members of his Jama’a to have to be sufis, much less of the Qadiriyya order. Many did, however, knowing fully well that it was a voluntary personal choice. This made it easier for members of the Jama’a to accommodate others scholars of different sufi tariqa like the case of Umar al Futi who was a tijjani. But perhaps it was in the way he pull women out of the abyss of society, boosted their position and transformed them into useful tools of transformation of society, that Shaykh Uthman displayed his courage and foresight. He insisted that it is husband’s cardinal responsibility to ensure that his wife is educated, if he can’t teach her himself, then he has to permit her to go out for the search of knowledge. His brother Abdullahi went further to say that if the husband should fail to give her permission she could still go out, for Allah has already given her the permission. He championed the cause of women education and he demonstrated that in his wives who were learned and his daughters like Nana Asmau’ and Maryam who were scholars and left literary works behind.29 More importantly Asmau’ created a women’s wing of the movement and took the leadership of this wing which survived until decades after British colonisation. Shaykh Uthman was of moderate opinion generally, he had a strong flair for following the Sunnah and hatred for the bid’ah, but clearly he tempered this with a lot of wisdom and sagacity, unlike some of our contemporary champions of the Sunnah. For the Shaykh refused to stop new rulers dressing in elaborate dresses arguing that if dress will add to the rulers haiba so be it. Similarly he resisted pressure to ban music completely, he was content that the general limits of the Sharia be observed. The depth of his learning combined with a broad mind and flexibility must have been important factors the success of his enterprise.30 

28 When Muhammad Bello came to develop the new Caliphate, taking the cue from the Shaykh, he “did not see any need for the Islamic state to subscribe to particular schools of law when initiating policies or in the administration of law. …. The state, as conceived by Muhammad Bello, is a Mujtahid, capable of drawing right inferences …. and does not need to rely on a particular school of law to solve its problems.” See Ibraheem Sulaiman, ‘Nigeria: Lessons From History’, Inquiry, London, January 1987. P. 30-1. 

29 For details on Nana Asmau see Jean Boyd’s recent book, The Caliph’s Sister: Nana Asma’u 1793-1865, Teacher, Poet and Islamic Leader, London, Frank Cass & co. 1989 

30 For details on the Jihad of Shaykh Uthman and the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate, see Ibraheem Sulaiman’s two books: A Revolution in History: the Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio, London, Mansell Publishing Ltd. 1986. And Islamic State and the Challenge of History, London, Mansell Pub. Ltd. 1987. These two books are perhaps the best materials so far available in the English language. 

Impact of the Shaykh Beyond the Sokoto Caliphate 

Naturally the immediate impact was on neighbouring states like Borno to the east, Yorubaland to the south and Agades to the north. In the rowdy atmosphere of the jihad there were skirmishes between the Jama’a and some of these states, but amicable settlement were reached, though not before some territories being conceded to the Jama’a. But in what had remained of theses state, things were never the same again if only because they had to meet the new Islamic expectations of their citizens and the challenge of a towering Islamic neighbour. 

Outside the immediate theatre of the jihad the consequences were no less serious. Masina, currently in Mali, was chronologically the first to follow suite. Ahamd Labbo was one of those many students of Shaykh Uthman and member of the Jama’a. Like many of the learned members of the Jama’a, he had been running a school in a society which shared a lot of the features of Hausaland. with the events in the neighbouring Hausaland and the rising expectation with his growing following, they came to clash with the authorities in Masina. Not long before Shaykh Uthman died he obtained his permission to start his own jihad and by the following year it was all over and Seku Ahmadu, as he was popularly known, established the Islamic state of Masina with his capital of Hamdullahi.31 Similarly Shaykh Umar al-Futi who left his native Futa Toro in the Sene-Gambia region, for pilgrimage to Makka, about the late 1820’s. Umar came through Masina, where he was impressed with the changes and then Sokoto, where he stayed for months as the guest of Muhammad Bello. Shaykh Umar must have been impressed with what he saw in Sokoto, for on his return he remained in Sokoto under Bello’s care until the latter died in 1837. On the death of his host and friend Umar returned back to Futa Toro started extensive teaching and building of a movement very much in the fashion of the Jama’a. In 1849 Umar, along with his Talaba, the name he gave his followers, made their Hijra and not long after the jihad broke out. Umar’s Jihad was first targeted to the French and later to the animist state of Bambara, on the ruins of which he eventually built his Islamic state with the capital at Segu. Though the Islamic state at Segu did not last very long as the French, determine the annex and colonise the whole area, were prepared to allow an Islamic state to flourish, the jihad continued to inspire generations of anti-French risings throughout the colonial period.32 

31 For details see W.A. Brown, ‘The Caliphate of Hamdullahi’, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Wisconsin University, 1969. 

32 For details see Omar Jah, ‘Sufism and the Nineteenth Century Jihad Movements’, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, McGill University, 1971. See also B.O. Oloruntimehin, The Segu Tokolor Empire, London, Longman, 1972. 

Perhaps a more interesting impact of the Jihad of Shaykh Uthman is to be seen in the Nile valley. Following the Jama’a’s capture of Kebbi in 1806, which gave the mujahidun a permanent base, the jihad went swiftly in their favour that rumours started making the rounds that Shaykh Uthman must then be the expected Mahdi. When this reached the Shaykh as it must, he denied being the Mahdi, but said that the Mahdi will appear in the east of Hausaland after him and as soon as he appears the jama’a should migrate to him and give every support. Soon after the death of the Shaykh people started migrating into the Nile valley in search of the Mahdi. Not only did they fuel the expectation of the Mahdi which grew as fast as situation deteriorated in the Sudan under the so called Turko-Egyptian colonial regime. So when in 1881 Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi declared himself the Mahdi these people had no difficulty believing him and they gave him their immediate and unconditional support which in turn gave him the astonishing success he had. The father of Khalifa Abdullahi, who deputised for the Mahdi and took over the leadership of the state after the death of the Mahdi in 1885, was himself part of this migration in search of the Mahdi. When the British over powered the Sokoto Caliphate, rather than live under the British, the Sultan at the time chose to migrate to the East. Even after the British had hunted him and killed him, what remained of his people continued their march until they reached the Nile valley, where their descendants still live today.33 

33 For details see, S. Biobaku and M. al-Hajj, ‘The Sudanese Mahdiyya and the Niger-Chad Region’, in I.M. Lewis (ed.), Islam in Tropical Africa, 2nd. ed. London, I.A.I. 1980. See also U.M. Bugaje, ‘A Comparative Study of the Movements of Uthman Dan Fodio in 19th Century Hausaland and of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi in 19th Century Sudan’, Unpublished Masters Dissertation, University of Khartoum, 1981. 

34 See Philip D. Curtin (ed.) Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade, Madison, the University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. And also Robert R. Madden, A Twelve Months Residence in the West Indies During the Transition from Slavery to Apprenticeship, vol. I & II, Philadelphia, Carey, Lea and Blanchard, 1835. 

35 The document was said to have gained wide circulation in Jamaica, and when it reached the hands of one Muhammad Kaba (alias Robert Peart) in Manchester, Jamaica, he led the Jihad. See J.H. Buchner, The Moravians in Jamaica, London, Longman, 1854. 

36 For the ideas of the Wathiqa see ‘Uthman b. Fodio, Wathiqat Ahl al-Sudan wa man Sha Allah min al-Ikhwan, translated in A.D.H. Bivar, ‘The Wathiqat Ahl al-Sudan’ Journal of Modern African History, ii, 2(1961), Pp. 235-43. 

37 For details see Sultan Afroz, ‘The Unsung Slaves: Islam in Plantation Jamaica’, an unpublished paper, presented at the 25th conference of the Association of Caribbean Historians, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, March 27-April 2, 1993. 

Even more interesting perhaps is the echo of this jihad in faraway Caribbean Islands. Some of the Africans caught in the heinous European slave trade and ended up in the plantations of the Caribbean Islands happened to be Muslims. Some of them may have been caught up while on transit in search for knowledge or while engaged in jihad, for they arrive their final destinations with Arabic manuscripts, concealed to avoid seizure from the ever suspecting white slave masters. A number of them appear to have come from West Africa; the case of Abubakar who was a scholar of some appreciable learning who eventually got freed and even returned to his native Jenne in Masina, in contemporary Mali, has been well documented.34 It was not unusual for Arabic manuscripts from new arriving slaves to be circulated discreetly among Muslims in the plantations. One such document called the Wathiqah,35 from all the descriptions, the Wathiqat Ahl Sudan of Shaykh Uthman, arrived Jamaica in the late 1820’s. This document, written by Shaykh Uthman, on the eve of the jihad in Sokoto, was aimed at mobilising the Jama’a for the jihad. It therefore contained the reasons that necessitated jihad in Hausaland and a passionate appeal to Muslims to come out to make hijra and fight jihad.36 Some of the injustices and oppressions in the slave plantations must have had some resemblance to the ones addressed to in the Wathiqa, for it got a great reception among the slaves in the Jamaican plantations. It was secretly circulated and though in Arabic its message of jihad got through and was well received. In 1832 the slaves in Manchester, an area in Jamaica, under the leadership of Muhammad Kaba, rose up in jihad against their tyrannical white masters. This jihad triggered similar jihads among slaves in these plantations and for the next few years the whole area became restive. These jihads were known by the white plantation owners as the famous slave riots.37 This posture of Islam as a liberating force has endured to this day and remains one of the most motivating factors for the increasing conversions to Islam among the black Diaspora. 

Concluding Remarks 

Here then is the story of a young man who refused to accept the conditions of decadence in to which he was born. At a very early stage in his life he resolved to change it. He rose along with his team despite all the huddles and pit falls along the way, faced the challenge until he developed a movement of men and women with a mission to spread knowledge and restore the Islamic order. Once the movement had evolved, even he did not seem to have a choice but to proceed. This they did, it lead to physical confrontations which, given the choice, he would have wished to avoid. The movement eventually succeeded not only in winning the physical jihad but also in implementing its programme. Leaving behind for us a heritage to discover and drive inspiration from as we face the challenges of our own times. We have many such heritage in the Muslim World to discover and many models to draw inspiration from. But perhaps the greatest challenge to face is the challenge of knowledge, the knowledge of our own past, the knowledge of the message of Islam itself and the wisdom to know how best to utilise it in a world which has become so complex and in which the struggle between virtue and vice has become far more sophisticated and subtle. 

Usman Bugaje  18/2/1996 


Graduated in Pharmacy from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Nigeria in 1975. Later did a Masters on a comparative study between the movement of Uthman b. Fodio and Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi and Ph.D in the tradition of tajdid in West Africa, both at the Institute of African and Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, Sudan. Currently works with Islam in Africa Organisation and teaches at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. 

Published in: on February 26, 2021 at 20:43  Leave a Comment  

Contemporary Muslim Response to the Challenge of Knowledge: Separating the Grain from the Chaff

By Dr. Usman Bugaje


This article stems from a concern that the popular perception of the Islamization of knowledge currently in vogue appears to be a gross oversimplification of a much more complex and arduous process and could, therefore, delay rather than hasten the intellectual recovery of the Muslim Ummah. The article attemps to trace the genesis of the problem and then examines some of the Islamization ideas of the IIIT against a background of the ideas of some pioneering scholars. The thrust of the article’s argument is that while there is a case for the Islamization of knowledge, the grains appear to be jumbled with much chaff and there is an urgent need to separate the chaff from the grain and put the whole challenge into perspective. This, it argues is a process which requires the best minds of the Ummah.


Some of the issues that may need immediate attention in this respect are also examined, hoping thereby to provoke the thoughts of others and generate a fruitful debate. Introduction Some 15 years ago a Muslim professor of education gave a lecture on the ways of evaluating learning to a class in an Islamic university. At the end of the lecture, the professor asked the class, which had all along been listening attentively, if they wished to ask any questions about the lecture. The first, which turned out to be the only, question asked was whether what the professor had just taught them was halal or haram? The poor professor must have found the question depressing in itself, but this, however, is the least of our worries. Admittedly, students of Islamic universities, at least the one in question, are not usually the brightest, for the best are apt to attend secular (or shall we call them non-Islamic) universities, but this is not the point here. Rather, the point here is the encounter between two frames of mind, one nurtured in an Islamic system of education, or what has remained of it, and the other nurtured in the ever pervading Western system of education. The encounter itself is not the problem, but rather what it reveals and indeed what it conceals. It immediately reveals the gulf that exists between these two frames of mind, a gulf which threatens to make any discussion a dialogue of the deaf. But it also conceals Muslim inadequacy in both their own intellectual tradition as in the ubiquitous Western tradition. This encounter actually conceals more than it reveals, but our immediate interest is the gulf this dichotomy has created, the intellectual degeneration it has occasioned and the challenge it poses.

The root of the problem can be traced back a few centuries. Indeed it may all have started with the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain some five centuries ago. We need not debate here whether this expulsion, in 1492, was the cause or the consequence of the problem. Those who believe that it was the consequence, may wish to push the problem half a century earlier when the Renaissance movement first began. Whichever point is taken, it will suffice, for our purpose, to say that from that point onwards Muslims began an intellectual retreat from which they have never returned. It is true the Ottoman Caliphate rose to greatness thereafter and so spread Islam into Europe. Similarly, other states and polities, like the Mughal Empire in India and the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland also rose to produce towering scholars. But this scholarship was no longer all-encompassing nor was it the pace setter it used to be, so the fact still remains that expulsion from Spain marked the beginning of an intellectual decline from which the Muslims never recovered. Having quit the frontiers of knowledge, Muslims were gradually reduced from being producers of knowledge to being consumers of knowledge. Having absconded from the cutting edge of history, they receded from their position as makers of history to victims of history, where they have since remained. The invasion of Egypt by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 represented a significant milestone in this degeneration. In an intellectual encounter at al-Azhar, the French scientists appeared to have had no difficulty in impressing and dumfounding scholars at the great al-Azhar with their scientific displays. Though the Shaykhs of al-Azhar put up a very brave face and Shaykh al-Bakri, very confident in his Islamic faith, even challenged the conjurers, or so he thought they were, this singular act nevertheless shook the Muslim intellectual establishment leaving far reaching consequences in its trail. For al-Jabarti, the Egyptian historian, after visiting, like many of his contemporaries, the Institute set up by Napoleon, with its extensive library and scientific equipment, he wrote a long account of his visit and did not hide his astonishment, concluding his description with the words, “things which minds like ours cannot comprehend”.(1) Perhaps not in so many words, but the gulf, the degeneration and the challenge are all evident.

The significance of the French invasion, which as we know signalled many successive such invasions, was in bringing all these to the fore. It was an encounter between an intellectual tradition that had long rested on its oars and another which having taken its cue and borrowed a lot from the former, had taken the wind out of the former’s sails and overtaken it. This in itself is natural and presents us with no more difficulty than life itself, after all this is what in a way the Islamic intellectual tradition did to others before it. The problem, however, lies in the fact that while the Islamic intellectual tradition developed largely because of and in tune with its religion, the Western intellectual tradition could only do so in spite of and often in defiance of its own religion. The fact that it had to rebel against its own religious tradition to survive and thrive, created a basis for and gave vent to a dichotomy between the religious and the secular, the sacred and the profane, in which the latter seeks to curtail and dominate the former. This tragic development found its way into the Muslim world through a combination of coercion and persuasion. Muhammad Ali who came to power in Egypt not long after the French left, began the policy of sending students to study in the universities of France, a policy which Constantinople (Istanbul) had also began. This was to be continued by generations of Egyptian and Ottoman rulers. This paved the way for the Western system of education with its secular frame of reference, and which gradually, if imperceptibly, supplanted and undermined the Islamic system of education and social morality.

By the late nineteenth century, the dichotomy had taken root in Egypt, and while the scope and vision of Azhar was diminishing in both depth and breadth, the influence of Western trained scholars was growing. Muhammad Abduh had cause to criticise the ulama’ “for their negative attitude towards the modern sciences in spite of the fact that such knowledge had been taught in Moslem madarasahs in the past”.(2) But he also dismissed the Egyptian products of Western education, saying that “these are even more misguided”.(3) The Egyptian government itself was busy replacing the Azhar shaykhs in both the schools as well as the courts with these products of Western education referred to as the Effendi. As one Western scholar sympathetically argued, “the Shaikh-judges … could be charged with inefficiency and backwardness, with inadaptability to the new social conditions and lack of understanding of the new spirit which was gradually permeating conditions through contact with Europeans. The effendi”, the writer continues, “in spite of his lack of training, was more polished and adaptable and quicker witted than his shaikh colleagues”.(4) In 1892, when Muhammad Shibli Nu’mani, from the Indo-pak sub-continent, visited Cairo, he shared his concerns about this situation with Muhammad Abduh. From his report, he seems to have left dissatisfied with what the Dar al-Ulum in Cairo could offer and certainly unimpressed by the effendis of Egypt.(5) Since then this dilemma has occupied one generation after another and remained unresolved.

Grappling With the Problem I

Muhammad Iqbal, the great thinker and poet, was one towering figure of his generation, who relished reflecting on the flight of the Ummah. He addressed, in prose and poetry, the decline of the Ummah, but his greatest worry and the thing that occupied most of his attention was the intellectual decline. “During the last five hundred years” Iqbal observed, “religious thought in Islam has been practically stationary. There was a time when European thought received inspiration from the world of Islam. The most remarkable phenomenon of modern history, however, is the enormous rapidity with which the world of Islam is spiritually moving towards the West. There is nothing wrong in this movement”, Iqbal believed, “for European culture, on its intellectual side, is only a further development of some of the most important phases of the culture of Islam. Our only fear”, he cautioned, “is that the dazzling exterior of European culture may arrest our movement and we may fail to reach the true inwardness of that culture.”(6) He attempted to reconcile reason and revelation, physics and metaphysics in a way that went beyond al-Ghazali, and in so doing tried to develop an epistemology which would enable Muslims to come to grips with this dichotomy. He argues for example, “No doubt the immediate purpose of the Qur’an in this reflective observation of nature is to awaken in man the consciousness of that of which nature is regarded a symbol …..It is our reflective contact with the temporal flux of things which trains us for an intellectual vision of the non-temporal …. The Qur’an opens our eyes to the great facts of change, through the appreciation and control of which alone it is possible to build a durable civilization.”(7) He further argues: “Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science. Science may ignore a rational metaphysics; indeed it has ignored it so far. Religion can hardly afford to ignore the search for a reconciliation of the oppositions of experience and a justification of the environment in which humanity finds itself. … But to rationalize faith is not to admit the superiority of philosophy over religion. Philosophy, no doubt, has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is of such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its own terms”.(8) “Religion is not physics or chemistry seeking an explanation of the nature in terms of causation; it really aims at interpreting a totally different region of human experience – religious experience – the data of which cannot be reduced to the data of any other science. Infact it must be said in justice to religion that it insisted on the necessity of concrete experience in religious life long before science learnt to do so. The conflict between the two is due not to the fact that one is, and the other is not, based on concrete experience. Both seek concrete experience as a point of departure.”(9) Iqbal’s approach was unconventional and many of his contemporaries may have been uncomfortable about his characteristic boldness, which naturally attracted some criticism. Fazlur Rahman’s worry was not however in Iqbal’s approach but in its content. While admitting that Iqbal’s was the only systematic attempt at a coherent body of metaphysical thought informed by the Qur’an and that Iqbal had certain basic and rare insights into the nature of Islam as an attitude to life, Fazlur Rahman, however, felt that his work “cannot be said to be based on Qur’anic teaching: the structural elements of its thought are too contemporary to be an adequate basis for an ongoing Islamic metaphysical endeavor”.(10) Well, Iqbal’s work like all other human works are not unassailable. Iqbal himself may have looked forward to other minds who could continue to address the issue further and had occasion to complain that the Ummah was not producing minds who “by divine gift or by experience, possess a keen perception of the spirit and destiny of Islam, along with an equally keen perception of the trend of modern history.”(11) The significance of Iqbal’s contributions lie not only in the fact that he gave fresh insight to a perennial problem but also, and more profoundly, because he began a systematic diagnosis, that he began the construction of an epistemology that attempted to abolish a dichotomy which had defied solution. Another scholar who seems to share much with Iqbal is Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Nasr may not be as unique to his generation as Iqbal was, but he is certainly a cut above many of his fellow Muslim scholars. He has spent the best part of the last half a century waging a solo campaign against Western scientism and humanism as well as against Muslim apathy and complacency. Nasr lives in an age of Islamic movements, but he has chosen to live above their immediate agendas maintaining his long term vision beyond the little principalities the movements seem obsessed with, albeit at great cost. Nasr, a leading authority in Sufism and the philosophy of science, is today, perhaps, the most prolific Muslim scholar around. A great majority of his works revolve around the theme of the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane and the crisis this has generated, or as he would say, the plight of modern man. But in dealing with this very important issue the thrust of Nasr’s contribution has been to restore a unified epistemology in which both physics and metaphysics will not only compliment each other but also, and most importantly, lead to the ultimate reality which is at once absolute and infinite. In his words: “The sensualist and empirical epistemology, which has dominated the horizon of Western man in the modern period, has succeeded in reducing reality to the world experienced by the external senses, hence limiting the meaning of reality and removing the concept of ‘reality’ as a category pertaining to God. The consequences of this change in the very meaning of reality has been nothing less than catastrophic, ….” The most catastrophic effect being on the self, as he continues to argue, “In a society in which the lower self is allowed to fall by its own weight, in which the Ultimate Self and the way to attain it are forgotten, in which there is no higher principle than the individual self, there cannot but be the highest degree of conflict between limited egos which will claim for themselves absolute rights, usually in conflict with the claims of other egos – rights which belong to the self alone. In such a situation, even the spiritual virtue of charity become[s] sheer sentimentality.”(12)

Grappling With the Problem II

Thoroughly grounded in both the Islamic as well as the Western intellectual tradition, Nasr has always, as he continues to do, made the most severe criticisms against Western epistemology, criticism which cannot be ignored. He continues to warn the West not against refusing Islam but against resisting and opposing the sacred and the consequences of the spiritual crisis that this generates, as of the toll this will take, not on the West alone, but on the whole of humanity. He also cautions the East in general and Muslims in particular against blindly copying the West especially in this era of rapid industrialisation and calls for discernment. “If this discernment is not used”, Nasr warns, ‘Oriental societies will continue to eat the bread crumbs and the refuse left from the banquet table and possibly the “last supper” of the industrialised world’.(13) Nasr’s solution seem to lie in a two pronged attack in which both the Islamic as well as Western epistemology have to be thoroughly revised and restored so that the balance between the sacred and the mundane can be achieved. The significance of Nasr’s efforts lies in the fact that he operates on the frontiers of knowledge and not from the rear and he cannot therefore be ignored by the experts. It is also significant that Nasr’s concern reaches out for humanity as a whole, rather than just Muslim Ummah alone. This may look too ecumenical for some, but it does allows him not only a larger audience but re-establishes Islam’s concern for humanity and, therefore, corrects an impression that contemporary Muslim parochialism has created. His criticism of the West is not because they do not apply Islam but because they pose a danger to the whole of humanity, in echoing this concern Nasr unfolds an aspect of Islam’s message which has been buried in the debris of Muslim past, an aspect which is crucial if Islam is to be a hope for humanity.

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is one very interesting contemporary scholar in more ways than one. He has spent the best part of his life time addressing this problem of dichotomy in knowledge. A philosopher, a linguist with a strong Sufi vision and taste, al-Attas has provided an unusual insight into what he will prefer to call westernisation and which to him is the source of secularisation. One of the gravest consequences of secularisation, and the root of our problems as Muslims today, Al-Attas believes, is the loss of Adab, what Nasr calls desacrilisation of knowledge. “The chief characteristic symptoms of loss of Adab within the community”, al-Attas believes, “is the process of levelling.” By levelling he means “the levelling of every one, in the mind and the attitude, to the same level of the leveller. This mental and attitudinal process, which impinges upon action, is perpetrated through the encouragement of false leaders who wish to demolish legitimate authority and valid hierarchy so that they and their like might thrive. This Jahili streak of individualism, of immanent arrogance and obstinacy, as he calls it, led what he calls the Modernist and Reformers of our times, including those who masquerade as Ulama’, to censure “the great ulama of the past and men of spiritual discernment who contributed so much to the knowledge of Islam”. Al-Attas is not saying that the ulama should not be criticised, rather, as he put, “No doubt it is possible to concede that the critics of the great and learned were in the past at least themselves great and learned in their own way, but it is a mistake to put them together on the same level – the more so to place the lesser above the greater in rank as happens in the estimation of our age of greater confusion.”(14)

The solution al-Attas proposes, rather predictably, is a return to what he keeps referring to as adab, but this is not adab as it is widely understood today. Rather, this is an adab which with the Islamization of a large part of the world during the Abbasids period, “was further evolved to extend itself beyond Arab literature and culture to include the human sciences and disciplines of other Muslim peoples, notably the Persians, and even to draw into its ambit the literatures, sciences and philosophies of other civilisations such as the Indian and Greek”. But then as al-Attas admits, “during the Abbasi period also, the restriction of the Islamised meaning of adab, which was in the process of unfolding itself, had begun – no doubt due, among other causes, to the urbanity that prevailed, and the attendant officialdom and bureaucracy”.(15) This may mean that the concept of adab itself, has to first be Islamised. It is under the ambience of this reislamised adab, as it were, that the Islamization of knowledge is to be undertaken. Al-Attas then proceeded to argue that “since in Islam the purpose of seeking knowledge is ultimately to become a good man, as we have described, and not a good citizen of a secular state, the system of education in Islam must reflect man and not the state.” Since the university represents the highest level of learning, designed to reflect the universal, true to his Sufi background, al-Attas believes the university must be a reflection of not just any man but the Universal Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil), which in Islam is realised “only in the sacred person of the holy prophet”.(16) With man at the centre, al-Attas suggested the familiar dual categorisation of fard ayn and fard kifaya and a matching schemata of man, knowledge and the university.(17) While the religious sciences constitute the fard Ayn, the rational intellectual and philosophical sciences constitute the fard kifaya. It is this latter category that apparently needs to be Islamised, each branch, al-Attas insists, “must be imbued with Islamic elements and key concepts …this process constitutes its Islamization”.(18)

Grappling With the Problem III

 Fazlur Rahman is another scholar who cannot be ignored, even though he has not been at the forefront of the debate as his colleagues above, preferring, it seems, to be a detached observer taking liberty to differ with others on a subject which he has always taken to heart. Fazlur Rahman spent a good part of his career addressing the issue of revitalising or rethinking Islamic thoughts very much in the way Iqbal attempted. He seemed to have believed that there was no other short cut and any such efforts are simply escapists, but he was still nonetheless ready to examine them. In his view, all the efforts from the time of Abduh to date fall into two categories. “One approach is to accept modern secular education as it has developed generally speaking in the West and to attempt to “Islamize” it – that is, to inform it with certain key concepts of Islam.” The other approach, combining a variety of developments, “can be summed up by saying that they all represent an effort to combine and integrate the modern branches of learning with the old ones. … The most important of these experiments are undoubtedly those of al-Azhar of Egypt and the new system of Islamic education introduced in Turkey since the late 1940s.”(19)

In examining both these approaches, Fazlur Rahman did not quarrel so much with the principle as with the methods so far adopted and the results so far realised. In respect of the Islamization of knowledge for example, he says, this can only be really fulfilled if and when “Muslims effectively perform the intellectual task of elaborating an Islamic metaphysics on the basis of the Qur’an”. For, as he argues: “An overall world view of Islam has to be first, if provisionally, attempted if various specific fields of intellectual endeavor are to cohere as informed by Islam”. For the sake of clarity, metaphysics, for him, “is the unity of knowledge and the meaning and orientation this unity gives to life”. To further illustrate his point, he pointed to how Ash’arite theology, wayward as he believes it was, was able to permeate, with remarkably efficiency, intellectual disciplines of Islam, like law, Sufism and even the outlook on history. But today, he observes, while there is no dearth of conferences and books on “Islam and this” and “Islam and that”, which he admitted occasionally contain valuable insights and ingenuity, these feverish activities, as he calls them, are often apologetic and don’t add up to much.(20)

As for the other approach, one of integration, this too, has not worked according to Rahman, “because of the largely mechanical character of instruction and because of juxtaposing the old with the new”. This, for him, is primarily because the whole process of integration has been caught up in a vicious circle: unless adequate teachers are available with minds already integrated and creative, instructions will remain mechanical and sterile, even when the students are good; but on the other hand such teachers cannot be produced on a sufficient scale unless an integrated curriculum is made available. This vicious circle Fazlur Rahman argues, “can be broken only at the first point – if there comes in to being some first-class minds who can interpret the old in terms of the new as regards substance and turn the new into the service of the old as regards ideals. This, then, must be followed by the writing of text books on theology, ethics and so forth.”(21) This vicious circle is further compounded by the peculiar relationship between religion and politics and the pitiable subjugation of the former to the latter. This pernicious phenomena of secularism, as he calls it, brought the secularist to power, who, alienated from Islam, “becomes all the more confirmed in his cynicism about men of religion, the dislocation between their aims and their claims, even though secularism itself may be a child of incurable cynicism about man’s real nature.”(22)

There are of course a number of other scholars who have made significant contributions and who are still doing so on this subject: scholars like Adullahi Smith, a historian of the Sokoto Caliphate; Khurshid Ahmad, Nejattullahi Siddique and Umar Chapra in the field of Islamic economics; Ahmad Ibrahim Umar, Abdul Karim Souroush both in epistemology and the philosophy of science, the relatively younger but promising others like Pervez Manzoor, Ziauddin Sardar and Abdulwahab el-Affendi, who have and still are producing plethora of writing on the subject among others. But since this is not a survey, much less an exhaustive one, we need not detain ourselves further, especially when we shall have cause to refer to some of these efforts in due course. It will suffice for now to say that the four we have examined thus far, with others in their trail, appear to be the pioneers of the current drive for Islamization of knowledge. It may also be said that so far not much has been produce which substantially supersedes the works of these prominent figures. Most of the thoughts and ideas of these pioneers especially in respect of what is popularly called today the Islamization of Knowledge, perhaps with the exception of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, are not as widespread as the works of the latter generation of scholars. It is the IIIT however which recently really popularised the idea, taking it far and wide, not only through its conferences held in many corners of the Muslim world, but also by the numerous writings it has generated on the subject. They have done this essentially by moving the subject from academic circles, where it is discussed in the privacy of ivory towers, to the popular arena thus pushing it on the agenda of the various Islamic groups and movements. It is necessary, therefore, to examine the ideas of the IIIT on this subject.

The Approach of the IIIT

The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) has in the last one and a half decade or so held several conferences and published a corpus of material on the Islamization of knowledge.(23) This has not only popularised the subject and recruited more people than ever before but it has also raised great hopes and expectations. But for the purpose of our analysis, one of this publications Islamization of knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan is perhaps the most important.(24) Couched in eloquent prose, the book makes for easy and pleasant reading. It is very easy to share the concerns it raises but not the diagnosis, much less the conclusions. The work does not appear to have been informed by the earlier attempts of Iqbal, Nasr, Attas and Fazlur Rahman, and the attempt to identify what it constantly refers to as the ‘malaise’, tends to be more descriptive than analytical. The introduction on page xiii says that “ the plan formulated by the Institute to tackle the crisis of thought in the Muslim world has been based on the conviction that the crisis involves two dimensions: the intellectual thought processes and the estrangement between the Ummah and its legacy”. Chapter One which addresses the problem and tries to identify the malaise of the Ummah, has three sections: A, the Malaise of the Ummah, which is hardly one page and largely a catalogue of complaints of an Ummah which “numbers over a billion people; that its territories are among the most vast and the richest; and that its potential in human, material and geopolitical [resourses] are the greatest …”.(25) Section B commences on the following page, and addresses ‘Major effects of the Malaise’ and contains a few paragraphs each on ‘Political Character’, ‘Economic Character’, and ‘Cultural Character’. The last section entitled the ‘Core of the Crisis: the Malaise of Thought and Methodology’, similarly has a few paragraphs on each of the issues addressed, ‘The Present State of Education in the Muslim World’ and ‘Lack of Clear Vision’. Here again it seems to be comprised of more complaints: “the colonialists devised a well thought out and well-planned strategy … National independence gave the secularist educational system its greatest boost … today students are cynical lethargic and mistrust all leaders”.(26) Under the entry on ‘lack of vision’ it observes, “that teachers in Muslim universities do not possess the vision of Islam and, therefore, are not driven by its cause is certainly the greatest calamity of Muslim education”.(27) Perhaps, and even after agreeing with all the observations, one will still ask what then is the problem? Admittedly, later in the work there are numerous references to intellectual crisis and methodological problems, but again it is difficult to pin down the problem, or even the crisis much less its core. But failure to pin down the problem is not as dangerous as mistaking the symptoms for the disease. The danger of mistaking symptoms for the disease are too well known and the risks too great to be ignored.

Even if the disease has been established and defined, we still need to go further and deeper to establish its aetiology if we are to succeed at combating it, this is particularly so with diseases which have over the years become deeply conceited and chronic. But here again the attempt does not go deep enough. Mention is made of the Tartar invasion and the Crusaders (p. 23) but then we are suddenly returned to the contemporary period of Kamal Attartuk, (p. 24) a jump of centuries, all of which are crucial in the aetiology of the malaise. True, the major ulama’, particularly the fuqaha, are mentioned but again there doesn’t appear to be any attempt to capture the complex atmosphere under which these methodologies were developed and the intellectual challenges and methodological problems they had to contend with. It thus leaves us uncertain and ill-informed about the genesis of the malaise we wish to remedy.

While the complaints tend to blame the West and some veiled enemies of Islam for all the woes of the Muslim Ummah, the attempts to assure Muslim readers of the capacity of the Ummah to tackle this crisis often, if unwittingly, tend instead to idealise the Ummah. This tacit and perhaps unconscious idealising is further worsened by an apparent reluctance to look at the weaknesses of the Ummah especially those that are likely to pose serious obstacles to any attempt at recovery. The dangers here are perhaps fairly obvious. Idealising tends to conceal weaknesses that need to be considered for the purpose of recovery; it also engenders oversimplification of the task ahead and make people complacent in procuring provisions or to rest on their oars too early, having been oblivious of the gravity of the task and having underestimated the journey. It also tends to raise high and early expectations giving room for early disappointment.

Chapter Five of the work plan, entitled, ‘Agenda of the Institute’, after listing an eight point agenda, proceeds to expound on the stages of the agenda under seven headings. In an earlier paper produced by him at 1982 conference, Faruqi presented the same idea under Section V, ‘The Work Plan’; there, however, five objectives were itemised and 12 steps identified.(28) The latter makes for easier reading while the former is far less precise and rather cumbersome. The first objective in the work plan, for example reads “to create awareness in the Ummah of the crisis of ideas. This involves enlightening the Ummah about the place and methodology of the crisis of Islamic thought in the perspective of its cultural and civilisational existence.” The first objective in Faruqi’s paper reads, “to master the modern disciplines.” Similarly the steps as expounded in both documents, even when they make easy reading, will nevertheless leave the reader wondering what precisely is intended or how exactly it is to be carried out. The steps (whether seven or 12) taken together, from the mastery of modern disciplines to the mastery of Islamic legacy, then a critique of both and a recommendation for the rewriting of modern disciplines along Islamic lines which are then disseminated through the writing of textbooks, reads very much like a dream. Mastering the Islamic legacy may be easy to understand, but how do we really master the modern disciplines? The document does not elaborate upon this, but the impression one gets is that it is as easy as going to a university ( a Western one I suppose) to obtain a doctorate, but certainly this is not mastery of the discipline. So where does the mastery begin? This looks like a gross oversimplification of a very arduous and tedious process which may spread over half a century or so, for before one can hope to master a subject one has to first walk ones way to the frontiers of the discipline. This requires such levels of seriousness, dedication and resources that are simply not on the ground for now.

In setting out the “agenda objectives” the Work Plan has the sagacity to appreciate that “its success does not exclusively depend on the efforts of the Institute” and has therefore invited “every sincere Muslim, indeed, all concerned Islamic organisations struggling to re-establish Islamic order and civilisation” to partake in this “plan for Islamising Knowledge; for reforming the contemporary mode of Islamic thought; for reviving its methodology; and for restoring its dynamic originality, creativity and ability”.(29) Some Muslim individuals and institutions have since responded. A university in Nigeria, for example, recruited a substantial number of graduate assistants for the purpose, but it is difficult to see how someone just grappling to understand the subject itself, much less master it, could Islamise it. Where the Islamization of the disciplines has begun, it has already gone to the ridiculous level of Islamising the English language. One is not sure why English has been chosen for Islamization or how that is going to be done or which language will follow next, perhaps English, French, then German, Russian, Chinese …? It is amazing how the obvious link between language and society can be so recklessly ignored. Even al-Attas who feels very strongly about languages will not encourage this futility, for he knows only too well that language is nothing but an expression of the culture and world view of a people. As he once observed, “language, thought and reason are closely interconnected and are indeed interdependent in projecting to man his world view or vision of reality”.(30) The IIIT cannot be held responsible for what people make of their objectives; Taha Jabir, a, if not the, leading figure, makes this very clear in a recent paper.(31) But the significance of this paper, which appears to be an update to the Work Plan, is in clarifying the contemporaneous and experimental nature of the scheme, stripping it of what ever finality some may have inferred on it. The Islamization of knowledge school, as he calls it, “is keenly aware of the workings of time on ideas as they pass from stage to stage and mature, and is therefore the first to point out that the “Islamization of knowledge” is not to be understood as a set of axioms, or a rigid ideology or a religious movement”.(32) In fact, he went further by inviting people to make contributions that can enrich this idea. One cannot agree more, but it is by criticism that ideas are enriched and not by praise. In fact it seems necessary to re-examine the whole idea of the Islamization of knowledge not only to separate the chaff from the grain, as it were, but also to put the challenge in perspective. It is in this light, that a few issues are being raised below, for what they are worth.

The Challenge in Perspective

 1. Delineation of the Problem

There doesn’t seem to be any problem in agreeing that the Muslim Ummah has a problem, some would say, a very serious one indeed. But there seems to be a problem in pinning it down. Even when we agree that the intellectual crisis is the at the root of the problem and therefore the most important and the most pressing consideration, it seems difficult to agree on the solutions. The Islamization of knowledge is at best one solution among others and for it, or any other solution for that matter, to survive, it has to face the scrutiny of all and sundry, adjusting and evolving, and eventually standing the test of time. In this matter the criticisms are more important than the praises. Praise, it should be pointed out, is particularly dangerous, especially when it comes too early, not only because it gives an idea of early victory and tends to make people rest on their laurels, but also because it sends the mind to sleep. So one should rather look at the problems associated with the Islamization of knowledge, and there are quite a number:

i. The very expression ‘Islamization of knowledge’, raises a number of questions. One can dismiss as cynical the suggestion that it portrays Islam as some kind of detergent that can be sprinkled, as it were, to cleanse knowledge of whatever impurities are thought to have soiled it. But it is certainly confusing for many of us whose limited reading suggests that all knowledge is from Allah, and that it is the intention of the seeker and the ultimate use it is put to, that makes it Islamic or otherwise. With this rather elementary frame of mind one starts wondering if it is knowledge that needs Islamization or the approach and utilisation of knowledge. In any case, knowledge, whether of religion or of nature is nothing more than the data we perceive as we interact with the texts of religion and the text of nature. Muslims, at least, believe that nature is a gift from God, very much like religion, it also comes as a text containing a message. Taha Jabir has simplified the matter when he beautifully explained the idea of two books, one of religion and the other of nature, and the necessity of reading both before we can claim to understand the universe we live in.(33) But while these books are divine, their interpretation and therefore understanding, as Souroush will say, is human and therefore fret with human infallibility. So it seems the best we can do is to Islamise our approach to knowledge, which then shifts our focus from knowledge as such to epistemology.

ii. Of the materials produced on the Islamization of knowledge, it has not been sufficiently demonstrated how exactly this knowledge is to be Islamised. Key concepts are said to be introduced into the disciplines, but it has not been shown how these key concepts will make chemistry different from what it is today, or indeed how sociology or history is going to be different. Admittedly, key Islamic concepts have been introduced into economics and a whole new discipline of Islamic economics is emerging, but even here there remain problems to be resolved.(34) But does that mean we could have an Islamic chemistry as a discipline? How different is it going to be from the chemistry we know? Does the problem we have with chemistry come from chemistry itself or from the chemist? Since chemistry is what the chemists make it to be, the problem is more likely to come from the chemists themselves. In all probability the problem emanates from the mind of the chemist, informed as it is by what Nasr calls a sensualist empirical epistemology. Similarly, the mind of the social scientist is informed and directed by modern humanism as usually understood and associated with the secularising tendencies of the Renaissance. The idea of humanism, as Nasr succinctly puts it, “means ultimately the substituting the “Kingdom of Man” for the ‘Kingdom of God” and making terrestrial man the ultimate and final arbiter and judge of truth and himself the reality which is of highest value.”(35) The problem, it seems, lies not so much with knowledge as knowledge as with the process or the philosophical assumptions that underlines its acquisition and use. Epistemology seems, therefore, to be the problem rather than knowledge as such. The expression ‘Islamization of Knowledge’ could, therefore be misleading in this respect.

iii. Sometimes one cannot help asking how can the Muslims Islamise what they don’t have? Today Muslims are no longer producers of knowledge (even of Islamic religious knowledge), they are only consumers, poor ones at that. The Islamization of knowledge can, therefore, create the impression that all Muslims need really do is to Islamise knowledge that others produce and not produce it themselves, as if the world of knowledge was going to wait for them. Knowledge like time is constantly on the move and waits for no one, in fact with the information explosion, knowledge seems to be moving faster than time itself. Elementary as some of these observations may seem, they appear to have engendered a frightening complacency for which the Islamization of knowledge is becoming an alibi. It tends to cheapen the challenge, lower the gaze, and make Muslims content with “Islamising knowledge”, rather than walking their way to the frontiers, where they once were and excelling as they once did.

iv. In redefining or delineating the problem, perhaps Muslims should go back and try to understand the challenge they are trying to respond to. Many will have no difficulty in agreeing that the greatest challenge the Muslim Ummah is facing today is the challenge of knowledge. We are living in a world where knowledge is the greatest capital. It may have actually been so all along. But today, more than ever before, the battle for survival and control is a battle of the brain and as Muslims ought to know, in a battle of the brain nothing will do but the brain. For the purpose of clarity, this is a challenge of knowledge, in the articulate words of al-Attas, “not as against ignorance; but knowledge as conceived and disseminated throughout the world by Western civilisation; knowledge whose nature has become problematic because it has lost its true purpose due to being unjustly conceived, and it has brought about chaos in man’s life instead of, and rather than justice; knowledge which pretends to be real but which is productive of confusion and scepticism, which has elevated doubt and conjecture to the ‘scientific’ rank in methodology and which regards doubt as an eminently valid epistemological tool in the pursuit of truth; knowledge which has, for the first time in history, brought chaos to the Three Kingdoms of Nature; the animal, vegetal and mineral.”(36)

v. Thus the problem at hand is not so much with knowledge as such but the epistemology. Though the sacred-secular dichotomy lies at the roots of epistemological problems, the solution does not end with the taming of the secular to recognise and appreciate the sacred, that, it would appear, is rather where the search for the solution begins. This is not only because, as Fazlur Rahman alluded, what is required is a coherent system which unites the two, a job he said Iqbal had began, but which requires much more work. But also and perhaps more fundamentally because sacred epistemology itself has its problems which must not be ignored. Stagnation in Islamic jurisprudence, fiqh, was nothing but the result of the stagnation of sacred epistemology which, Souroush believes was in turn because of the stagnation of “related disciplines, such as theology and history and the non-existence of some the decisive disciplines, such as sociology and the like”.(37) In addressing sacred epistemology, perhaps needless to add, Muslims must give a fresh and hard look at the assumptions of old, especially regarding the ash‘ariyya and mu’tazila positions, and be prepared to be even more charitable than previous generations, if only because the benefit of hindsight has allowed us to see the prejudices, partialities and political favouritism that went in to the debate and eventually determined its results. What is at hand is not a black and white, cut and dried issue but a complex phenomena. Souroush may have dramatised it when he said “Rationality, prejudice, egoism, truthseeking, obliviousness, greed, fallibility, partiality, complacency, easy going, acquisitiveness, and the like all have their due share in the science of religion and all influence it in one way or another. True, the revelation is Divine, but what about the interpretation of the revelation?” Put in his other words, what Souroush is saying is that “despite the firm belief of individual believers in their own interpretation of revelation, the caravan of knowledge, inspired with all kinds of complexities and contraries is breaking its way ahead, feeding on the controversies, competitions and cooperations of its members, irrespective of their individual desires and faiths. Our lot” he rested his submission, “is nothing but hope”. This, it must be added, is the hope of Rumi when he said “Naught but hope is possible”.(38) We don’t have to agree with Souroush, in any case, that is not the point in citing him here, the point rather, is to give us a glimpse of the ideas and the minds we shall have to put up with in our efforts to address the challenge of knowledge.

2. The Role of History

Muslims hardly need to be reminded of the significance of history, if only because the Qur’an is replete with it. The Islamization of knowledge being attempted now is in a way what was successfully and remarkably accomplished some ten centuries ago. Even though the context has changed, the issues appear to be the same and the principles are likely to remain the same. It is necessary, therefore, to have recourse to that history if only to avoid the mistakes of the past. Indeed, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt and George Makdisi has captured a number of these in his well researched work, ‘The Rise of Colleges’.(39) This is not the place to recall all these important details, especially when they have been so eloquently put by far more competent minds. But three issues may have to be mentioned even if briefly:

i. While the surge of intellectual activities in the 10th century was triggered by the great influx of the well known translation of Greek works, especially in philosophy and medicine, done during the reign of al-Ma’mun, the activities were sustained by individual scholars, supported by independent waqf and spurred by an atmosphere of scholarship.(40) The craving to learn and the desire to share knowledge combined to sustain a lively intellectual atmosphere which culminated into the formalisation of inaugural lectures in which any subject under the sun was possible. These lectures were often disputations on different subject matters. In 1055, for example, the Imam al-Haramain al-Juwaini, disputed in Baghdad with Abu Ishaq ash-Shirazi and then with Abu Nasr b. as-Sabbagh. “Ibn ‘Aqil, then 16 years of age cited as one of the subjects of disputation Juwaini’s theory of divine knowledge, denying God’s knowledge of the particulars, limiting it to the universal.”(41) In this way the Muslim world took the rest of the world by storm dominating the scene for the next five centuries. Three elements appeared to have been very crucial in this astonishing enterprise: the individual scholar, the waqf institution, and an intellectual freedom which made it possible for scholars to allow their minds full rein. Such disputations provided constant stimulation and presented a constant challenge to the mind, which having been frequently spurred had to marshal and develop its wit and rise to greater intellectual heights. This way great Muslim minds developed and excelled and naturally influenced the world around them.

ii. It is these great minds and their works that actually triggered the Renaissance, though once it took off it, rather naturally, imbibed the conflicts in its milieu and acquired a momentum of its own. Acknowledging this influence, and quoting other sources, Makdisi wrote: “The rise of universities was occasioned by a great revival of learning between 1100 and 1200, during which time, ‘there came an influx of new knowledge into Western Europe, partly through Italy and Sicily, but chiefly through the Arab scholars of Spain’. This influx of new knowledge has been described by Western scholarship. It has been detailed in a long list of books dealing mostly with philosophy and science that have been translated from the Arabic into Latin, so that it is generally agreed that Arabic scholarship made its contribution to the ‘great revival of learning’. Makdisi has tried with great success to capture the picture of a scholar from the then Muslim world visiting one of the emerging universities of the West. Far from feeling out of place both the visitor and his hosts will be as comfortable as fish in water.(42) Makdisi has also produced excerpts that vividly conveyed the influence and attraction of the Arabic language among the emerging Western scholars of the time. Understandably so, for it replaced the Greek and Latin as the language of scholarship, so a good knowledge of Arabic became a measure of one’s learning, perhaps in a way that knowledge of English or other European languages are today.(43) Such astonishing influence could not have been exerted if these Muslims scholars were operating from the rear, consuming rather than producing knowledge. This is not to say Muslims cannot rise intellectually to be on a par or even excel others, rather they cannot do it while operating from the rear, when they cannot impress, much less influence anybody.

iii. It is important to reflect on some of the internal factors which suffocated learning or clipped intellectual wings and hemmed in the minds of the scholars. Accounts may differ in their detail but most agree that the first casualty was intellectual freedom and the total independence of the scholar. As political authority deteriorated they began to feel insecure and scholars became drawn into conflicts so loosing their independence. Views that could not prove their worth on the intellectual Platform began to take refuge with the court, often insinuating the curtailment of opposing views. Makdisi has brought some of these incidences to light as also an extract of Max van Berchem’s treatise which contains even more detail. “Thanks to the universal role of faqih” observed Berchem, “Sunnism spread into all levels of society. It causes a new spirit to be born, fatal to freedom of conscience, to all seeds of independence, but very useful to the sovereigns”.(44) It is tempting to dismiss this observation but the facts on the ground do not allow it. If it was not true then, it is certainly true today and here lies the relevance of history. Ziauddin Sardar may have had this in mind when he insisted that an Islamic university must be a normative Institution and proceeded to explain, for the avoidance of doubt: “A normative, goal seeking institution is not a ‘politicised’ institution that take sides with this or that political stance. It does not tilt as the universities in the post-Reformation Europe were expected to tilt towards Protestantism or towards Catholicism, or during the time of war they had to tilt against the enemy and all his works … Or as the universities of the Muslim world and in the West do nowadays, adopt a conservative garb under the conservative board of trustees or of a conservative government is in power ….. A normative academy owes its loyalty only to norms and values that shape its outlooks and goals.”(45) A tall order perhaps, but this is what makes the history even more relevant.

3. The Role of Attitude

Muslims today have, perhaps, one of the lowest literacy rates. Those who are literate among them have the poorest reading culture. Very little publishing activity takes place in the world of Islam today, but the quality, or lack of it as it were, of publications is certainly more disturbing than the quantity. This is certainly ironical for a people whose first word of revelation was the command to read! This negative attitude to reading, an obvious symptom of intellectual decadence, is particularly peculiar to this generation and contrasts sharply with the period when the Ummah produced great minds. When al-Razi in defending himself of an accusation of some intellectual deficiency reported that he wrote some two hundred works or when Ibn Sina informed us that he read all the books available in his time on a particular subject he wanted to master or that he had access to a library and read all the books in the library,(46) Muslims may find all this as strange as science fiction. It is thus easy to agree with Ziauddin Sardar when he says that: “Being a Muslim intellectual is a lonely and tough business. Half of the time, half of your audience do not know what you are talking about; the reminder of the time they are busy undermining everything you stand for and write about”.(47) Mernissi’s research experience was not any better as she discovered that, “What is most striking about museums in Islamic countries, whether in Lahore, Dakar, or Rabat, is the amount of dust on the meagre number of works one finds, and the monastic silence surrounding the few custodians on duty. You almost feel the need”, she continues, “to apologise for disturbing them, and the incredible number of bureaucratic steps required to make a photocopy or buy a reproduction makes you to want to leave empty-handed and go home to fantasize quietly about the past”.(48) Unfortunately it is not only in the museums that dust accumulates, even science and engineering laboratories in many Muslim countries are full of dust. Someone shocked at the sight asked a lecturer how they manage to teach science in the circumstances, and the lecturer retorted that they no longer teach science, they only teach the history of science.

“Since June 1990 the Saudis have signed arms contract with the Pentagon to the tune of $ 30 billion, “roughly equal to the amount spent by the American military on major weapons systems this year”.(49) And yet the country could not defend itself in the Gulf War and had to call in the Americans. “Among the nine largest purchases of arms in the world in 1983, four were Arab states: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Egypt. What the officials of this states ignore is that the age of fetishism is over, and importing military hardware increases dependence. Power comes from the cultivation of the scientific spirit and participatory democracy”.(50) One would add an annual defence budget is more than enough to finance several defence industries with all the research and personnel development that goes with it. It may be worth noting that after defence, the highest budgetary allocation often goes to the ministry of sports and not education. A country that executed a war for eight years without having to borrow, has, barely five years after that war, amassed a foreign debt of $30 billion with nothing to show for it.(51) One could go on, the list of these follies that underline contemporary Muslim, individual and collective attitudes, seems endless. Suffice it to say that with attitudes like these the Muslim world needs no enemies.

But by far the most devastating of attitudes is the Muslim phobia for ideas. It is perhaps not difficult to understand why monarchs, life presidents or some military dictators would want to get books and magazines censored or the movements in or out of certain people with certain ideas blocked. But it is especially difficult to understand why scholars should fear ideas. It is amazing how nearly a millennium after the fall of Baghdad, people are still being suspected of being mu‘tazilis, perhaps never in the history of humanity has a paranoia been so resilient. To this has now been added the salafi and Sufi labels and the study of aqidah, whatever that means, has been elevated to levels unprecedented in the history of Islam. All manner of institutions have now sprouted to protect this imaginary pet, books have been banned and students of some Islamic universities are literally under constant surveillance lest they read or listen to something that may affect their aqidah. The problem, to be sure, is not so much the obsession with aqidah as the morbid fear of anything new and the futility of it all in the days of CDROM and the Internet. Fazlur Rahman, after his nearly exhaustive analysis, concluded that the only way out of the vicious circle the Ummah appear to be caught in is the creation of first class minds, which he quickly added, cannot be produced at will, but could be generated by creating the necessary conditions that could nurture these minds.(52) An atmosphere where minds are insulated from ideas, intimidated to conformity, and denied opportunities to allow their thoughts full rein, is certainly not the place to grow first class minds. It rather provides a fertile soil for the growth of mediocrity, which too often masks as piety, leaving sycophancy as the only means to curry the favour of officials who are too content with their achievements to believe otherwise.

4. The Role of Institutions

The role of waqf Institutions in the development of educational institutions in the early history of Islam has been adequately dealt with by numerous works among them that of Makdisi. Even in the West it has been virtually the same story, understandably so, for a lot of the impetus for development came from the then Muslim world.(53) These works have obviated the need to dwell on the subject and leaves us with only two fairly obvious points to make. Now that they have all but disappeared, ways of resuscitating these must form a component of this drive to respond to the challenge of knowledge. In reviving them, care must be taken to avoid the partisanship which characterised the waqfs of old or even the more dangerous contemporary partisanship of madhhab, Sufi, Salafi or such frivolous creations of the idle, if pious, minds of today.

But there is another role of another institution which we ought not be oblivious of. Like Nasr argued, the science of today does not stand on pure scientific fact alone it has a whole army behind it.(54) The secular epistemology which has created it and under which it thrives has also created a range of institutions that reinforce and protect it and occasionally enforce it. In the rather more blunt words of Abdullahi Smith: “The reason why the new tradition of learning which these (Western) institutions represent, in spite of the way in which they run counter to the grain of human intellectual history … are so often unquestionably accepted … is no doubt a function of the enormous material power … whatever we may say about the moral basis of the human governments of the industrialised world of Western Europe and North America, there is no doubt at all about its colossal power …”.(55) This is not to suggest that Muslims should raise an army to protect their epistemology, in fact it is to suggest that they should dispense with having any. Ziauddin Sardar, when discussing his idea (or is it dream?) of an Islamic university seems to summarise the point, when he says: “Unlike the western university, which despite being guided in all its endeavours by values which are deliberately hidden, swept under the carpet so that they may not be noticed, an Islamic university boldly states the values and norms which shape its goals and academic work. This is not just a much more honest stance, it is also a less dangerous one”.(56) Ideas, at least we now know, can be far more powerful than sheer physical power, as the collapse of the Berlin wall amply demonstrated.

5. The Link Between the Islamization of Knowledge and the Islamization of Society There seems to be some kind of cold war between Muslim scholars and Muslim activists. After conceding that Muslim activists, members of contemporary Islamic movements, have helped in stemming the tide of secularism in Muslim countries, Fazlur Rahman, for example, believes that, that was all they have to offer Islam. The greatest weakness of neo-revivalism, as he calls the phenomena of Islamic movements, “and the greatest disservice it has done to Islam, is an almost lack of positive effective Islamic thinking and scholarship within its ranks, its intellectual bankruptcy, and its substitution of cliché mongering for serious intellectual endeavor.” “It has often contended,” he proceeded to say, “with a real point, that the learning of the conservative traditional Ulema, instead of turning Muslims towards the Qur’an has turned them away from it. But its own way of turning to the Qur’an has been no more than … picking upon certain selected issues whereby it could crown itself by distinguishing Muslims from the rest of the world, particularly from the West.”(57) Seyyed Hossein Nasr rarely expresses his reservations and when he has to it comes in some veiled reference but nevertheless strong enough to reveal some anguish. In the preface to his ‘Knowledge and the Sacred’, which were collections of lectures made soon after the Revolution in Iran, he could not hide his brush with the revolutionaries, as he related that, “When the invitation to deliver [the] Gifford lecture first reached us, we were living in the shades of the southern slopes of the majestic Alborz Mountains. Little did we imagine then that the text of the lectures themselves would be written not in the proximity of those exalted peaks but in sight of the green forests and blue seas of the eastern coast of the United States. But man lives in the spirit and not in space and time so that despite all the unbelievable dislocations and turmoil in our personal life during this period, including the loss of our library and the preliminary notes for this work, what appears in the following pages has grown out of the seed originally conceived when we accepted to deliver the lectures.”(58)

Similarly the activists have always held Muslim scholars with some disdain, looking down at their commitment and belittling their seemingly futile research. Even the IIIT, which was started by people who were first known more for their activism than their scholarship, were felt by some activists to have started the Islamization of knowledge as an alibi for not getting involved in political activism. This claim may be difficult to substantiate, at least from the documents of the IIIT, but that it could be made at all is significant enough. In a recently published interview with Taha Jabir, some of the questions asked betray this feeling that because the IIIT concentrates on thoughts it suggests therefore that it sees no value in the activities of Islamic movements.(59) An appreciation of the inextricable link between the Islamization of knowledge and the Islamization of society seems to have been lost, even as many Muslim mujaddids who brought radical changes in their respective societies were first and foremost scholars. It needs also to be appreciated that accessing power is not as difficult as staying in power. Ideas and creativity is what allows systems to last and not prowess. This has been amply demonstrated by Muslim history and is particularly so today. For identification and delineation of the problem and the synthesis of ideas are the domains of the intellectuals. In the words of al- Attas, “to lack of intellectuals is to lack leadership in the following areas of thinking: (1) the posing of the problems; (2) the definition of the problems; (3) the analysis of the problems; and (4) the solution of the problems. Even the posing of the problem is itself an intellectual problem. A society without effective intellectuals will not be in a position to raise problems.”(60) As Zia would argue, “Intellectuals are the only group in any society which systematically and continuously, in sharp contrast to the specialist and the professional, try to see things in wider perspectives, in terms of their interrelations, interactions and totality. This is why intellectuals have been at the forefront of new synthesis and thought. Most of the major changes and reforms in western civilisation, for example, have been brought about by the intellectuals … And what better evidence of [the] importance of intellectuals and their powerful influences can one give than by simply pointing out [how] the Soviet Union rules in the name of a single intellectual, Karl Marx, who spent most of his time in libraries …”.(61) But in this same example, we equally find evidence of the co-operation of scholars and activists before reforms can be realised or ideas actualised. The complimentarity of the scholars and the activists hardly needs any further emphasis in an enterprise where none can do without the other and only both can do.

Concluding Remarks

Undoubtedly there is a strong case for the Islamization of knowledge. But whether the expression Islamization of knowledge is the appropriate term for what is needed to be done or not, is something that needs to be revisited and re-examined in the light of some of the reservations raised. This is to avoid an oversimplification which may engender naiveté, complacency and mediocrity, so that instead of facing the challenges squarely, the Ummah may end up escaping them. But even more importantly, the problem needs to be defined more precisely; we should be able to identify precisely the problem for which Islamization is the solution. Having defined the problem, the direction must also be mapped out clearly, for, as it has been said, if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.

Once the problem is pinned down and the direction charted out, it should be easier to begin the journey, long and arduous as it is bound to be. The issues raised here may not themselves be important, what is important is the response they may elicit. Indeed some of these little thoughts have been bared precisely to provoke the thoughts and perhaps the fury of greater minds, who in responding will take the Ummah, along with the rest of humanity, to greater intellectual heights. Needless to say, the Ummah needs these greater minds today more than ever before, and perhaps the best way to access them is to keep our doors open, especially for non-conformist and the not so pious, we may well discover that we have more to learn from them than we thought.

Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 04:41  Leave a Comment  

Religious Education in Nigeria – A Case Study

Religious Education in Nigeria – A Case Study

by B. Aisha Lemu

Islamic Educational Trust, Nigeria

The presentation gives a brief overview of religious education in Nigerian public schools as it relates to the concerns of the seminar. Emphasis is on Islamic Education.

Historical Background:

National curricula for religious education do not spring from nowhere. They evolve over time as a reflection of the needs, perceptions and historical development for the societies concerned. Nigeria is a country with a population believed to be over 120 million, of various ethnic groups. Religion often coincides with the ethnic group, but not always. Basically most Hausa-Fulanis in the north are Muslims, and most Ibos in the south-west are Christians. However, Yorubas in the south-west are both Muslims and Christians with Muslims slightly in the majority and there is a fair amount of inter-marriage. Exact census figures are hard to come by, but it would be safe to say that Muslims are over 50% of the population, the remainder being Christians and followers of African traditional religions.

Islam first entered West Africa through trans-Saharan Trade in the 9th/10th century. It spread among the rulers and the urban population and then gradually into the rural areas. Scholars established Qur’anic schools and for many centuries up to the colonial period, Islamic schooling was the formal educational system in Northern Nigeria. The north was solidly Muslim apart from pockets of African traditional religion in the remote or mountainous areas. With better transport and communications during the colonial period. Islam also spread faster in the south, particularly into Yorubaland down to Lagos and the sea.

The pattern of education in the south and the north has been different. Christian missionaries were allowed by the British colonial power to set up mission schools in the south from the early days, and Government schools also were generally Christian-oriented. Any Muslim student in these schools would be forced to study Bible Knowledge and in most cases attend church. Conversion was frequently a condition for admission. No teachers were provided for Islamic Studies. Muslim parents had a difficult choice – to allow their children to get a modern education at the risk of losing their faith, or to keep their faith and to lose the opportunity to rise high in Government or the modern administrative system. This gave rise to the establishment of private Islamic schools for Muslims in the southwest. However, their medium of instruction was usually Arabic, so their products were equally unable to join the mainstream of higher education unless they went to Arab countries for further studies. For these reasons the Christian missionaries and their students in the southwest went far ahead of the Muslims in western education, and tended to look down on the Muslims as backward. There was, and in some cases, still is, serious abuse of their educational and religious rights and marginalization of Muslims in national development.

In the north, the situation was different. The British here came face to face with the Northern Emirates – the legacy of the Sokoto Caliphate established by the great religious reformer Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. After subduing the northern region by military conquest the British established good relations with the Emirs and their people, and adopted Indirect Rule through the Emirs. Change in education came slowly with the gradual establishment of a few modern Government schools and Teachers Colleges for boys and later for girls. In order to make these schools acceptable to the people, Islamic Studies were taught with a farily traditional syllabus. The teachers were almost always the product of the traditional Qur’anic schools and the syllabus emphasized memorization of the Qur’an and Hadith, Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), the articles of faith and basic moral education.

For a long time Christian missionaries in the north confined their educational and evangelical activities in the remote, rural and predominantly pagan areas to avoid confrontation with the Emirs. The British even set up the old Sharia Law School in Kano for the training of Shari’ah Court Judges and Islamic teachers as early as 1933. Some of its graduates were subsequently given scholarships to study Arabic, Islamic Studies and Islamic Law at the University of London in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

I was privileged to teach at the Law School in Kano under its new name, School for Arabic Studies in the 1960’s after Independence and later to be the Principal of Government Girls College in Sokoto for 8 years in the 1960’s and 1970’s – one of the earliest girls’ secondary schools in the North.

By that time, missionaries had been free for some years to evangelize all over the north, but their converts were mainly among the pagan tribes on the plateau and other remote areas. My college which drew students from all over the north usually had a sprinkling of Christian girls, perhaps three or four per class. While the Government trained and provided Islamic Studies teachers, the missionaries used to send in their own teachers so that the classes divided for Islamic and Christian Religious Knowledge lessons. The school provided the books for both classes. Christian girls were taken to church on Sundays and there were no religious tensions unless the Christian girls insulted Islam, which happened only rarely.

As far as Muslims were concerned, Islam was the religion. Christians were regarded to have deviated from the truth, but as “People of the Book” their right to learn and practice their religion was recognized and there were generally peaceful relations with them in spite of the political stresses following the murder of the Muslim Prime Minister and the Muslim Premier of the Northern Region by Ibo and other southern Christian officers in the 1966 coup. These northern Muslim leaders had been very tolerant towards Christian missionaries from the late 40’s and thereafter, and even encouraged them to open schools for which they were given Government grants in aid.

In later years more and more Christian denominations piled in and in addition to the older churches – Catholic, Anglican etc. based overseas, numerous Nigerian based evangelical churches in due course began to spring up. Any member of a flock who fancied that he had prophetic or charismatic qualities would form a breakaway church of his own (from which he would derive substantial financial benefits).

This is why if you enter the town where I live you will see the approach road through the suburbs is fringed by hundreds of signboards directing people to these churches with titles like “Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries” and others offering hope and temporary escape from the harsh realities of life. Most of their religious services consist of singing, dancing, clapping, speaking in tongues and generally disturbing people in neighboring houses. Therefore when we picture Christianity in Nigeria we have to take into account these thousands of autonomous breakaway churches as well as the older denominations.

It is well known that Nigeria has periodic religious riots, but it is worth mentioning that these are not usually prompted by religious differences as such, but more by ethnic historical and political rivalries or grievances in which religious difference is a secondary issue. Even apparently religious issues such as the extension of Shari’ah into criminal cases only led to violence in areas where there were already ethnic/political problems. Otherwise Nigerian Muslims and Christians are quite used to living side by side as neighbors in peace and cooperation as long as they do not insult or throw scorn on one another’s sanctities. Even in the midst of recent violence in Kaduna, some Muslim and Christian neighbors protected one another from the rioters.

It is against this background that we turn to the syllabus for the teaching of religion in Nigerian Schools.

The Syllabi for Religious Education:

Syllabi for Islamic and Christian Religious Knowledge were drawn up by State and Federal Ministries of Education since the 1950’s. These syllabi prepared students for the subject in the West African School Certificate Examinations. The subjects were very popular.

In the case of Islamic Religious Knowledge there were no textbooks in English until about 1968 – 1970. The teachers, who were mostly traditional mallams (scholars) who passed through Arabic Teachers Colleges would use Arabic books, from which they would translate to the students.

With the production of books in English written to the syllabus, Islamic Religious Knowledge became much easier to teach. The Government-run post-secondary Advanced Teachers Colleges and Colleges of Education ran three year courses in Islamic Studies (as well as Christian Religious Knowledge) and the subject became widely available in the universities. Gradually the Arabic speaking Mallams were replaced at secondary level by English-speaking young teachers who were products of the mainstream educational system.

Around 1984 Nigeria changed to the 6-3-3-4 system (6 years primary, 3 years junior secondary, 3 years senior secondary and 4 + years university) and at the same time all syllabi were reviewed by subject panels set up by the Nigerian Educational Research Council, affiliated with the Ministry of Education.

I happened to be a member of the panel for Islamic Studies (as it was re-named). We were given a completely free hand to draw up new syllabi for schools, together with detailed lesson formats. Whereas previous syllabi had been quite traditional, we took as our guiding framework the question “what should a young Muslim know about Islam in order to live as a Muslim when he leaves school, on the assumption that he will not thereafter receive any more Islamic education?”

We therefore gave much more time to issues such as the rights of women in Islam, the rights and duties of the husband and wife, and to the moral teachings of Islam. We gave less time to the historical details of battles and dynasties and more to the civilizational values of Islam, as well as its impact on West Africa.

The way of teaching Islam and Christianity in Nigeria is expected to be confessional, that is, students are taught how to practice their religion as well as being taught about their religion. Muslim students are therefore expected to memorize portions of the Qur’an and Hadith and their meanings, to know how to perform the duties of prayer, fasting, zakat and hajj, to evaluate the evidence for the authenticity of the Qur’an and so on, as well as learning essential historical information.

The syllabus covers 3 sections as follows:

1.         Hidayah (Guidance)

            Sectioni A:      The Qur’an

            Section B:        The Hadith

            Section C:        Tahdhib (Moral Education)

2.         Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence)

            Section A:       Tawhid (Belief)

            Section B:       Ibadah (Worship)

Section C: Mu’amalat (Human Transactions) This includes Shariah, Marriage, Divorce, Custody of Children, Inheritance etc.

3.         Tarikh (Historical Development of Islam)

Section A: Sirah (The Life of the Prophet Muhammad) plus the leadership of the 4 Righteous Caliphs

Section B: The Spread of Islam to Western Africa

 Section C: Contributions of Muslims to World Civilization

With regard to the relationship between Islam and other religions, or between Muslims and non-Muslims, these are not treated as a separate topic. However, under Tawhid (literally the Oneness of God) the matter of unity, trinity or multiplicity of God/gods is taught. The rights of “the People of the Book” to retain and practice their religions within an Islamic polity is also covered.

Under the section on the Prophet’s Da‘wah in Makkah (i.e. conveying the message of Islam to non-Muslims) emphasis is placed on the Islamic injunction: “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best…” (Qur’an 16:125)

Under the section on Da‘wah in Madinah the emphasis is given to the practice of peaceful da‘wah, “no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256), friendly relations with Christians in Ethiopia and with the Christian delegation from Najran, and the Qur’anic instruction not to insult the idol-worshippers or abuse their objects of worship. The section also covers the political rather than religious reasons for the breakdown of relations with the Jews of Madinah. The conditions under which the Qur’an allowed the Muslims to defend themselves against the Makkan idol-worshippers are explained, with the Qur’anic warnings against committing aggression and the directive to revert to peace if the enemy inclines to it (Qur’an 8:61 – 62).

Jihad is also allocated a section where its basic meaning is shown to be striving or struggling with one’s own self, or for social justice, or any righteous cause, or under certain conditions, an armed struggle or just war.

The syllabus also covers Islam and culture. It emphasizes respect and acceptance of the admirable aspects of pre-Islamic cultures (whether Arab, African, Asian, Western etc.) and rejection or reform of those aspects of pre-Islamic or modern culture which conflict with Islamic values.

This covers what may be regarded as an outline and highlights of the Nigerian National Syllabus in Islamic Studies at secondary level. The Christian Religious Knowledge syllabus likewise covers mainly doctrines and moral teachings, with a little on the early spread of Christianity.

Could these Syllabi go further in Promoting Tolerance?

I would say that they could, but with caution because of realities on the ground. It would be useful to have a component on Christianity in the Islamic Studies syllabus and a component of Islam in the Christian Religious Knowledge syllabus. However in the light of the rather low standard of teacher training and declining standards of education generally in Nigeria, as well as existing tension between Muslims and Christians, one must beware of opening a can of worms. If the teachers themselves are staunch Muslims or Christians, would they really be ready and able to explain the other religion objectively? Or would they take it as an opportunity to say why you should not be a Muslim or Christian? If on the other hand one were to invite a Christian teacher to tell the Muslim students what is Christianity, or a Muslim teacher to tell Christian students what is Islam, there would likely be an uproar from parents and religious bodies complaining about proseletisation in schools.

We already have this problem in some Government schools of mixed Muslims and Christians where some Christian teachers of “secular” subjects take time during the lesson to preach Christianity to all, and where some evangelical students particularly in boarding schools target individual young Muslim students and exert pressure on them to convert. This leads to a lot of ill-feeling and occasionally to riots which could even spread on occasion to the outside community. There are also parallel cases of Christian students converting to Islam, but there is no doubt that there is a lot more active evangelization by Christian staff and students than active Da‘wah by Muslim staff and students. The Government has therefore been very cautious in this area and has put the teaching of religious tolerance within the syllabus of Social Studies rather than within the religious syllabi. (It may be noted that under Nigerian Educational Law it is not permitted for a school child to change his/her religion without permission from the parents. However this is difficult to enforce, especially in boarding schools where the parents can not monitor what goes on. If a minor does convert, whether to Islam or Christianity it is quite common for the parents to cast him or her off, and refuse to continue paying schools fees or even paying for the maintenance of the young person.)

Private Schools

However these limitations of the National Syllabus do not stop private schools from doing what they see fit to promote a broadening of religious understanding and peaceful co-existence. In New Horizons College, Minna, run by the Islamic Education Trust with which I work, we have addressed this issue through a new subject which we have called “Islamic Perspectives”. This subject is designed to help students who are often confused by their exposure to the modern media as well as to some local traditional cultural influences. The objective is that they should be able to think as Muslims and view the modern world from an Islamic perspective, accepting what is good and leaving what is harmful.

Towards this objective we use books that present an Islamic perspective on life and on scientific knowledge and discoveries, and video cassettes on the history of civilization and religious belief, on the environment and on natural history (usually from BBC/ITV television series) that form the basis of discussion. One of the books studied has a chapter “Face to Faith” on relations with other religions.

In addition, all senior students do a course over two years called “Da‘wah and Dialogue for Peaceful Co-existence”. In the context of Nigeria this means peaceful co-existence with Christians. Students learn what is the Bible and how it was compiled, basic Christian beliefs and the early history of Christianity. They also learn how to treat other people’s beliefs with respect even if they disagree, and to discuss religion objectively without giving offence. The aim is not to convert but to develop a better mutual understanding. The students also learn how to discuss popular misconceptions about Islam held by some Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

However, it must be stressed that these approaches are being tested in a private Islamic School. It would not be easy to transfer them into Government secular schools as they do not have the funds or the ability to buy imported books and video cassettes from Europe, nor do they have resource persons of the right caliber and broad education to teach them. Moreover it is most doubtful that Federal or State Ministries of Education would recognize a non-formal subject that is not a part of the School Certificate Examination syllabus.

It may also be mentioned that, generally speaking, Muslim students know more about Christianity than Christian students know about Islam. This is because Muslims are taught to respect and revere all the Prophets from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (peace be on them all). They are accepted as true messengers of Allah and role models. Muslim students are also aware of areas of difference between Christianity and Islam in respect of Christian beliefs in Trinity, divinity or divine sonship of Jesus, original sin, vicarious atonement and on. There are also numerous Christian programmes on television sponsored by the churches which are also seen by Muslims. This knowledge does not flow both ways however. For example in the South-Eastern part of the country where Muslims are very few, the Christians know very little about Islam, which is seen as a Hausa religion that has nothing in common with Christiantiy.

 Would Changing the Syllabus Help?

In the mid 1980’s a group of agnostic humanists in some of the southern universities tried to replace Islamic and Christian Religious Knowledge with a syllabus called “Moral Education”, detached from religion so that Muslims and Christians could be taught in the same classes. This however raised the question of who would determine what was “moral” or “immoral” and what would be the religion or belief of the teacher of the subject. Both Muslim and Christian organizations protested against it on the grounds that religion is the source and ultimate sanction of moral values in this world and on the Day of Judgment. They advised the agnostics that if they wanted they wanted their syllabus for the small minority of unbelievers they could campaign for it, but that the vast majority of Nigerians are believing Christians and Muslims who want morality to be embedded in the context and teachings of religion. The Government accepted this position.

Religion is a very emotive issue in Nigeria and whatever change may be considered to make the teaching of religion in schools promote religious harmony, it must be done with sensitivity and in full consultation with all the stakeholders, otherwise it may backfire.

The teaching of the current syllabi in Government schools is in no way a part of the problem of religious friction. On the contrary, they help, in however small a way, to enlighten Christians and Muslims about the true teachings of their own respective religions and thereby protect them from false information. Religious friction is generated by adult chauvinists and bigots on both sides who are generally not a part of the school system. The children involved are mostly street children and other unemployed youth who probably never went to school or dropped out.

While there are ways to build bridges to foster tolerance and pluralism through schools, there is also a great need for a serious campaign among adults through effective use of the media by respected and responsible religious figures. There is growing resistance to UN-sponsored programs being fed into the educational system without due consideration of existing moral and cultural beliefs. In recent months it has been a Sexuality Education syllabus introducing children to various sexual practices and deviations. Details were reported in the press which caused uproar among parents and religious bodies and suspicion of who is really in charge of our educational system. Whatever is to be done in respect of religious plurality must be handled with the utmost care and consultation in order to promote mutual understanding, which cannot be achieved by fiat or force.

Published in: on August 7, 2012 at 20:22  Leave a Comment  

The Nature And Character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye


The Nature And Character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah b. Foduye


Professor. A. A. Gwandu

Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature and Character of Shaykh ʿAbd Allah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating this success Shaykh ʿAbd Allah Said:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

(Ibadan, 1963), p. 21.

2. Ibid, pp. 26, 84 – 85.

3. Ibid. p. 23,

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

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

6. Ibid, pp. 67 – 69.

7. T W pp. 30, 88 – 89

8. Ibid, pp. 55, 108.

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

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

10. Ibid, p. 198.

11. Ibid, p. 191.

12. T.W, pp. 61 – 62, 114.

13. Ibid, pp. 78 – 79, ]27 – 128.

14. Ibid, pp. 75,125.

15. Ibid, pp. 75, 125

16. Ibid, pp. 77, 125

17. Ibid,p.21.

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

19. Ibid, pp. 76, 126.

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

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

22. Ibid, p. 247.

23. Ibid, p. 251.

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

25. Ibid, pp. 56 – 57 – 109 -110.

26. D.H., p. 273.

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

28. Ibid, pp. 78, 127.

29. Ibid, pp. 70 – 72, 120 -122.

30. Ibid, p. 23.

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

The Sakwatto Model


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




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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. To treat with respect anyone with a turban. 

4. To free all the (political) prisoners. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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



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

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

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



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

2.See Alhaji (Dr.) Junaidu’s works.

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

4.See Kano Chronicle page 148.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

12.Ibid page 10..

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

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

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

15. Ibid. 

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

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




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

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

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

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

25. Abdullah Muhammad, Tayzin al-waraqat. 


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

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

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

28.See. Bayan.

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

1963, p. 120-121.

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

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

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

32. Ibid. 

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

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

Sokoto Caliphate1

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


Professor Sambo Wali Junaid Department of Arabic 

Usman Dan Fodiyo University Sokoto

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

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

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

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

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

1. No one except the Shaykh should preach,

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

3. No man should wear a turban henceforth,

4. No woman should henceforth wear a veil.

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

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

The Islamic Concept of Leadership:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In another verse referring to Imamate, it reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Our’an says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concept of Leadership and Its Application in the Sakata Caliphate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Seminar Papers

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

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

2. International Seminar on “Intellectual Tradition in the Sakkwato

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

For similar or related articlesclick on the links below:

Tajdid 1

Tajdid 2


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

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

By S.S.Muhammad

Department of Political Science – Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto


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

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

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

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

Scholarship as foundation of Change:

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

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

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

Role of Scholars on the Jihad Leaders

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

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

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

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

The Shehu in his Tanbīh Al lkwān also noted that:

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

Muslim Scholars and the Jihadist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

End Notes

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

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

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

4 Uthman b Fodiyo, Tanbīh al-Ikhwān

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

6 Murray, Last. The Sokoto Caliphate

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

8 Abdullahi b. Fodiyo, Diyā aI Hukkām

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

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

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

Zaria. pp59-62

13 Smith, opt.cit.

14 Abdullahi b. Fodiyo. Diyā al- Umara

Journey to the Empire of Knowledge – Narrated By Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick

The Tradition of Tajdeed In West Africa

The Tradition of Tajdeed In West Africa

by Dr. Usman Bugage

Tradition in the Sokoto Caliphate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Al-Murabit Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Al Maghīlī Factor

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

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

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

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

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

The Tajdeed Movements of the 19th Century

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

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

Shehu Usman Dan Fodio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahmadu Labbo

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

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

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

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

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

Hajj Umar Al Fūtī

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

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

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

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

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

The Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Backbone

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

USMAN M. BUGAJE (23 June 1987)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Ibn Abi Zar in Ibid, p. 240

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19. Muhammad Bello, Infaq al-Maysur

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

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

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

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

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

25. Ibid., P. 139

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

28. Ibid., p. 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

35. Ibid.

The Education of Usman Dan Fodio: Chapter 2 of The African Caliphate

24598b22-715c-4624-9665-1506c41f0b04.jpg The Education of Usman Dan Fodio 

Chapter 2: The African Caliphate 

By Dr. Ibrahim Sulaiman

Shehu Usman was born into a highly cultured family in 1168/1754. His father was Muhammad ibn Salih, known generally as Fodio. His mother was Hawwa bint Muhammad ibn Usman. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Degel, where the young Usman grew up. In the Timbuktu tradition, the parents were invariably the first teachers and Shehu Usman received most of his education from his parents and relatives.

Our main sources concerning his education are Idaa’ an-Nusuukh  and Tazyiin al-Waraqaat of ʿAbdullahi Dan Fodio and Asaaniid al-Faqiir  of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio. In Idaa’ an-Nusuukh, ʿAbdullahi described his early education:

“The Shaykh read the Qur’an with his father, learned al-Ishriniyyah and similar works with his Shaykh, ʿUthman, known as Biddu al-Kabawi. He learned syntax, and the science of grammar from al-Khulaasah and other works, from our Shaykh Abd ar-Rahman ibn Hammada. He read al-Mukhtasar with our paternal and maternal uncle, Uthmaan, known as Bidduri.… This shaykh of his was learned and pious, well known for righteousness and the ordering of the right and the forbidding of the wrong, and for being occupied with what concerned him. He it is whom our Shaykh Uthmaan (Dan Fodio) imitated in states and in deeds. He accompanied him for nearly two years, molding himself according to his pattern in piety (taqwaa) and in ordering the right, and forbidding the wrong.”

Thus, the Shehu’s character was initially molded by Usman Bidduri. His inclination towards the career which eventually turned out to be the sole purpose in his life, and his keenness to call people to the way of Allah, were instilled in him by this shaykh. His influence on Shehu Usman was fundamental, enduring and far-reaching. Associated with this influence was that of Muhammad Sambo, who supervised part of Shehu’s early teachings. According to ʿAbdullahi, this scholar ‘used to attend (Shehu’s) reading of al-Mukhtasar – if he made a mistake, or let anything slip, this maternal uncle of ours would correct it for him’. Though he was away in the Hijaaz during most of the period of Shehu’s early activities his influence on the whole community was beyond question.

Continuing his account of the Shehu’s education, ʿAbdullahi wrote:

“Now Shaykh Uthmaan informed me that he had learned Qur’anic exegesis (tafsiir) from the son of our maternal and paternal uncle Aḥmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Amin, and that he was present at the assembly of Haashim az-Zamfari (i.e. from the Hausa state of Zamfara) and heard from him Qur’anic exegesis from the beginning of the Qur’an to the end of it… He learned the science of tradition (hadiith) from our maternal and paternal uncle, al-Hajj Muhammad ibn Raj... reading with him all of Ṣaḥiiḥ of al-Bukhaari. Then he gave us license to pass on all that he had recited of that which he had learned from his Shaykh al-Madani, the Sindi of origin, Abu Al-Hassan ʿAli.”

Muhammad ibn Raj’s knowledge of ḥadiith was indeed profound. He had studied each of the most important works of ḥadiith from an uninterrupted chain of authorities such as the Imams al-Bukhaari, Muslim and Maalik. The other of note was Salih Muhammad al-Kanawi, through whom Shehu Usman also traced his isnaads in Bukhaari, Muwaṭṭa and ash-Shifaa’.

ʿAbdullahi told us further in Idaa’ an-Nusuukh that the Shehu sought knowledge from Shaykh Jibril, and he accompanied him for almost a year until they came to the town of Agades. Jibril ibn ʿUmar’s influence was both intellectual and moral. In ḥadiith, for example, the Shehu traced his isnaad in all the essential ḥadiith works, notably Bukhaari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Muwaṭṭa and Ibn Majah. Jibril was his most important authority in fiqh (or science of law) and most significantly in the various aspects of taṣawwuf (spiritual training). His silsilah (spiritual genealogy) in this sphere of life and especially in the Qaadiriyyah order, and his silsilah in Dalaa’il al-Khairaat, are all traced, in Asaaniid al-Faqiir, through Jibril. There seemed to be no aspect of learning which the Shehu undertook in which Jibril ibn ʿUmar did not leave his indelible imprint.

The real significance of Jibril ibn ʿUmar is that he gave the Shehu the idea of tajdiid, the foundations of which he himself laid. He gave his student the intellectual, moral, spiritual and ideological training he needed for the gigantic work of tajdiid. Jibril later was the first to pledge allegiance to Shehu, even before the jihad. Despite certain differences of opinion the Shehu acknowledged his profound indebtedness to Jibril, which ʿAbdullahi quoted in Idaa’ an-Nusuukh: “If there be said of me that which is said of good report, then I am but a wave of the waves of Jibril.”

Influence, though of an indirect nature, was exerted on the Shehu by Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti, who was born in 1142/1729 and died in 1226/l811, and was thus a direct contemporary of the Shehu. Sidi Mukhtar belonged to a highly venerated Kunta family which over thirty years had produced an uninterrupted chain of scholars and saints, the most influential being Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti. Knowledgeable and charismatic, he soon became a veritable institution himself.

According to Abdal-Aziz Batran, Sidi al-Mukhtar attracted multitudes of students, people who sought his barakah and guidance, and scholars seeking enlightenment. He assumed the leadership not only of the Kunta family, but more significantly, of the Qaadiriyyah order, giving unity to branches that had been estranged for nearly two hundred years. Thereafter, he initiated an ambitious and, indeed, successful though peaceful, moral transformation of a large part of Africa.

Sidi Mukhtar taught that the study of taṣawwuf was essential as it was imperative for self-fortification and for achieving nearness to Allah. This nearness itself involves a progressive moral transformation of the individual under the guidance of a shaykh. He also taught that zuhd means giving as much attention to the mundane aspects of life as to the spiritual; wealth, therefore, was essential as it is the cornerstone for jaah, social standing and dignity, as well as for haibah, authority and respect. He wished for a return to the basic sources of Islamic jurisprudence, and for the teachings of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) of Muhammad to be reinstated. Moreover, he rejected exclusive adherence to one madh-hab and opened the door of ijtihaad to all who were juristically qualified.

Sidi al-Mukhtar believed that he was the mujaddid of the thirteenth century of the Hijrah whom Allah had called upon to renovate Islam and to restore the ummah to its glorious past not only in West Africa, but throughout the whole Muslim world… Like Aḥmad Baba before him, he expressed the opinion that several mujaddidun appeared periodically in different territories, including West Africa.”

We shall now look at some of the principal ideas of Sidi Mukhtar, namely his ideas on tajdiid, the ʿulamaa’ and taṣawwuf. Tajdiid is ‘the resuscitation of what has withered away of knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and the commandment of their observance’. So long as the ummah would sink from time to time into degeneration or turmoil, so long would tajdiid remain imperative.

In western Sudan, this degeneration (fasaad) was precipitated by the despot, Sonni ʿAli, who appeared in the ninth Islamic century and therefore necessitated, by implication, the tajdiid of Askia Muhammad. Further degeneration was brought about by the invasion of the Moroccan hordes who killed many of the inhabitants of western Sudan, slew the ʿulamaa’, captured as many as thirty thousand people and sacked the towns.

This destruction of life and knowledge of a large part of the western Sudan precipitated a moral and intellectual decline which necessitated the initiation of a new process of tajdiid throughout the region.

Tajdiid, Mukhtar said, could take various forms, and thus could be led by individuals with different emphases, depending on the prevailing situation. The mujaddid could be a statesman who would preserve the principles of the law, make justice triumph among the people and protect the lives and properties of the people, so that they could carry on their temporal affairs and their religious duties without any hindrance. The mujaddid could also be a zaahid who would remind the people of the world to come, call them to righteousness and renunciation of the world. Or he could be a pure scholar who would regenerate the knowledge of Sunnah and establish the authenticity of the Prophetic tradition. Few individuals could undertake tajdiid, for the standard of learning, coupled with moral sanctity, is extremely high. Sidi Mukhtar said of such a person:

“Assuming that all religious knowledge were forgotten, all literatures were burned and he were resorted to, he would have the capacity to resuscitate that knowledge and write similar books.”

It was the Sidi’s view that the center of gravity in the Muslim world had shifted to western Sudan by the eleventh Islamic century. In the century before, those who bad undertaken the tajdiid were firstly, the mujaddid of all branches of knowledge, al-Maghili; secondly, Jalaal ad-diin as-Suyuuti; thirdly, the zaahid, Sayyid Muhammad as-Sanuusi; and fourthly, the statesman, al-Hajj Askia Muhammad, but in the eleventh century, the three mujaddids that appeared in the Muslim world were, according to the Sidi, from the western Sudan. These were the faqih Ahmad Baba at-Timbukti, the famous ḥadiith scholar Muhammad Baghyu at-Takruri, and the ascetic Baba al-Mukhtar at-Timbukti. In the twelfth century, two of the three mujaddids that appeared were from western Sudan, the Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti himself and Shehu Usman Dan Fodio.

The Sidi attributed the decline of knowledge and the triumph of bidʿah (innovation) in the western Sudan in the twelfth and the thirteenth Islamic centuries partly to the activities of the corrupt scholars (ʿulamaa’ as-suu’), whom he grouped into as many as sixteen categories. They included those who had knowledge, but failed to put it into practice; those who presented an appearance of compliance with the outward religious duties, but had not eliminated characteristics such as vanity, hypocrisy, ambition, desire for political office and high rank; those who presumed that they had the exclusive right to guide the common people and yet entered into unholy alliance with the sulṭans, thus encouraging the sulṭans’ oppression of the people; those who engaged in jihad, but only to obtain fame and wealth; and those scholars who used false methods, such as music, to lure people into spiritual practices. The danger of those scholars, the Sidi said, could be seen from the ḥadiith of the Prophet:

“I fear for my ummah after me more from ʿulamaa’ as-suu’ than from the Dajjal’, and when asked who these were, he replied that they were ʿulamaa’ al-alsinah, ‘the ʿulamaa’ of the tongue.”

Sidi insisted that taṣawwuf is an indispensable aspect of Islam, but true sufism is none other than honest and sincere adherence to the Sunnah. “If the muriid observes the commands of the Shariiʿah and refrains from doing what is prohibited by it, truly and sincerely, Allah will open in his heart a portal whereby he can see (acquire) ʿuluumu-l-ḥaqiiqah. And if he adheres to the rules of ʿuluumu-l-ḥaqiiqah, Allah will cause to open a further portal within his inner self whereby he shall see the Kingdom of Heaven and realities of Allah’s might.” The combination of law and moral purification seemed to him the best way to practice religion.

The Sidi’s views on the use of music in sufism and on zuhd are worth noting. “Allah, the Almighty, is not worshipped by dancing and chanting… We the Qaadirii do not approve of dancing, frivolous playing and merry making because they are degrading to man’s dignity and damaging to his honor.” Zuhd does not mean squandering one’s wealth or declaring as illegal what Allah has decreed to be legal, such as taking up a profession or other economic pursuits. Zuhd is to dispense the world willingly when one possesses it and to be at rest in one’s heart when one loses it’. “The Companions of the Prophet,” he said, “possessed the world and held it like the trustworthy treasurer, kept it in the lawful manner and distributed it in the legal way. They neither clung to it nor had any inclination towards it.”

Sidi Mukhtar’s influence on the Shehu and his movement itself was first and foremost spiritual, for as the undisputed head of the Qaadiriyyah order to which the Shehu belonged and as a dynamic intellectual personality, he was bound to exert a deep influence over the Shehu. Some of the three hundred or so books and treatises he wrote were certainly brought to the attention of the Shehu, and his students and companions also made their own particular impact. Significantly, the Sidi used his vast and profound influence in support of the Shehu and his movement, a support that advanced the course of the jiihad in considerable measure.

We have mentioned some of the men who influenced the Shehu to indicate the kind of training he had, although it is impossible for us to know all of them. There are surely other personalities who contributed to the making of the Shehu in much the same way as those we have mentioned, but who are not known to us and may never be known. What cannot be denied is that the Shehu drank deeply from the great pond of knowledge which the western Sudan had to offer. It is to his credit that he sought knowledge wherever he could find it, and that even when he had grown important and more famous than most of the scholars, he still sat humbly before them, learning from them. He also learned the primary sources – the Qur’an and ḥadiith – from as many authorities as possible. At the end, of the day he had acquired not only a deep and indelible knowledge of these sources, but also the different interpretations that had been developed through several centuries.

The Shaping of a Character

The Shehu, from what we can understand, must have seen in al-Maghili a vigorous intellectual who had a deep knowledge in the sciences necessary for changing the intellectual precepts of people, and who had a noble character imbued with the requisite moral persuasion to sway even the most powerful of men. In al-Maghili, the Shehu saw how an individual, even though having refugee status, could effect a lasting change in the life of nations and set their history, almost single-handedly, upon a totally different course, by the sheer force of his intellect, his moral authority and his absolute reliance on Allah. He took time to study al-Maghili properly, taking from him, as faithfully as possible, the concept of tajdiid, of society and of government, as well as the nature of the ideological divide between Muslims and those who serve the cause of evil.

In al-Barnawi, as well as in a number of scholars of his time and especially those of the intellectual centers of Borno, Katsina and Kano, the Shehu must have seen the concept of an active, purifying and transformative jurisprudence, which even though it had been relegated to the background and lost its supremacy, could still serve as a potent forum for protest and mobilization for the revival of Islam. Indeed, the point that came out clearly in al-Barnawi was that what was wrong in respect of law was not so much the stagnation it had suffered as a result of the loss of genuine ʿulamaa’, as the neglect it had suffered in its abandonment by society. Law grows and develops through application.

In Sidi Ahmad Baba, who epitomized the spirit of the Timbuktu tradition, the Shehu must have perceived the role and place of the scholar in society. The scholar’s first responsibility is to acquaint himself with the basic knowledge of the sources, then of the law, then of different sciences that support the life of society, and then of history and so on. This will place him in a position to guide society in all essential areas and to put himself at the disposal of every segment of society. His second responsibility is to stand up boldly as the guardian of the conscience of society, preventing any assault or outrage against the values of society or against the sanctity of its beliefs and institutions. In this way, he serves as the force behind the preservation of the moral and social purity of society and respect for the integrity of the nation. The scholar’s third responsibility is to stand up for the poor and the oppressed, to defend their rights, and strive for the accomplishment of their aspirations. The scholar’s fourth responsibility is to stand up for the defense of the nation and enhance its integrity as a nation faithful to Allah and submissive to His laws. As an institution in himself and an active observer of events and history, the scholar is morally bound to warn his nation with all the power and means at his disposal against possible deviations from Islam and to state as clearly as possible the moral, political and historical consequences of such deviations. Finally, it is his responsibility to raise a generation of men and women capable of taking societal responsibilities, or of steering the course of society in a positive direction when the signs of degeneration are apparent.

When considering his teachers and contemporaries, the influence of Usman Bidduri should not be underrated. He was a scholar, who combined learning and piety, and who was dissatisfied with the prevailing corruption and felt the acute need for change, but who at the same time had the wisdom and patience first to sow the seeds of change. He quietly transferred his desires for change to a future generation, and died silently, leaving a legacy for the future. The Shehu, we are told, imitated him in almost all situations relating to his work, recognizing that restraint and patience, as well as a depth of understanding of the issues at stake, are essential ingredients for social transformation, but it was the learned and pious Jibril ibn ʿUmar who gave him the instruments with which to strive against the currents of the time. In Shehu’s studies of ḥadiith, in his efforts to acquire a deep knowledge of law and jurisprudence, in his studies and practice of taṣawwuf, in his endeavors to get a more intimate spiritual relationship with the Prophet, and in his endeavors to understand his society and work for its improvement, he found in Jibril a worthy and eager mentor. He learned the importance of restraint, of open mindedness and sympathy for the inadequacies of the common people, and from the reverses which his teacher had suffered in his attempt to change society too quickly.

Other scholars also left their marks. The supervision of his teachings by the saintly Muhammad Sambo, the vast knowledge of ḥadiith acquired from Al-Hajj Muhammad Raj and the important studies of the Qur’an and its exegesis from Muhammad al-Amin all influenced the Shehu deeply.

In Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti, he found the true embodiment of sainthood; a versatile and richly endowed scholar who had the view that concern for the world and the more lofty concern for the hereafter had to be combined in a single individual to create a saint. The Sidi also maintained that both temporal and spiritual matters should be brought under the single authority of Islam if the world were to be a better place in which to live. In him, Shehu Usman must also have seen a dynamic and revolutionary sufism concerned to secure for man a just society on earth and Allah’s pleasure in the hereafter. He must have seen in Mukhtar al-Kunti the extent to which an individual possessing sanctity and prestige could penetrate hearts and secure their allegiance for the task of creating a better society. It was to the credit of both the Shehu and al-Kunti that they did not view each other as rivals, but rather mujaddids; each engaged in the same endeavors in the cause of Allah; each employing slightly different methods.

There were many other aspects to the shaping of the Shehu’s personality. All that he had learned of the Arabic language, Qur’anic exegesis, science of ḥadiith were a mere introduction to the wider world of learning and scholarship. From the Mukhtasar of Khalil the Shehu moved further to drink from the great pool of jurisprudence of the Maaliki and the other three schools.

Although the Maaliki school was sufficient for his needs, he felt he should know the principles of other schools, for as he himself said, “there is no rule in Islam, other than that of mere convenience, that restricts a community to follow a particular school of law.”

Then, the Shehu ventured boldly in the world of sufism and learned and practiced the rites of several branches of the Qaadiriyyah, including that of Sidi Mukhtar al-Kunti. In addition, he read almost everything that reached him from the works of al-Ghazali, most especially the Ihyaa’ from which he derived much profit. His book, titled boldly as Ṭariiq al-Jannah, was but a summary of what al-Ghazali had written on piety and moral purification. Then he examined the works of other great ṣufi personalities – the sage Ibn al-ʿArabi, the saint az-Zarruuq, his teacher Ibn ʿAtta Allah, amongst others. He also studied other ṣufi orders, because as far as he was concerned, sufism, like Islamic jurisprudence, is but a tree with many branches.

The Shehu studied history, especially of the rightly-guided khilaafah and of Islam in general. He took special interest in the history of the western Sudan from which he perceived the inevitable confrontation between the forces of light and darkness in the region. The most important of Shehu’s personal efforts were in the studies of the Qur’an and ḥadiith. By investigating these two sources over and over again and by teaching some of them from the beginning to the end many times over, he acquired a deep knowledge of them. In his Asaaniid al-Faqiir, the Shehu leaves no one in doubt as to his tremendous knowledge of the ḥadiith – it seems that he had read and taught almost all the ḥadiiths contained in the authentic collections.

The result of all this made Shehu Usman a forest of knowledge, a jurist, a saint, “He grew up penitent and devout,” Muhammad Bello told us in Infaaq al-Maysuur, “possessed of pleasing qualities. And none was his equal. People trusted him, and flocked to him from the east and west.” Bello continues:

“He instructed the ʿulamaa’ and raised the banner of religion. He revived the Sunnah and put an end to heresy. He spread knowledge and dispelled perplexity. His learning dazzled men’s minds. He showed how reality (ḥaqiiqah) was to be reconciled with the Shariiʿah. For years he explained the Qur’an in the presence of learned and righteous men of importance, vying with them, through his reading and the different branches of his learning, in rhetoric, and in the knowledge of the authorities, and of what is written and what is abrogated. At the same time, he was pre-eminent in knowledge of the hadiith, and learned in its unfamiliar parts and different branches. Revered by both great and small, he was a Mujaddid at the head of this generation.”

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