Book Review of ‘The African Caliphate’ – Author: Ibrahim Sulaiman

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This is a book about tajdiid and jihād that follows the example set by the Prophet Muhammad صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم and those who patterned themselves after him, up until the time the Muslims became overwhelmed by the arrival of non-Muslim Europeans  and their eventual occupation of the Muslim lands in the 19th and 20th Century.  The author has chosen to write about ʿUthmaan dan Fodio, a pure scholar who through the method of tajdiid revived the knowledge of the Sunnah, fought a lawful jihād, established dar al-Islam and instituted proper Islamic governance in Hausaland during his time.

Tajdiid can be translated from Arabic to mean: ‘revival, restoration, resuscitation, regeneration and jihād can be translated from the Arabic to mean: exertion, striving, going through pain for the sake of something, a struggle or battle to defend dar al-Islam against its enemy, unbelief, innovation or rebellion against Allah; or a battle to defeat kufr and to establish Islam in its place.

Islam, which is Sunnatu-l-laah (Allah’s perfect command) and Sunnah Muhammad (Prophets perfect behavior) was sent down by Allah and was established by His Messenger, as the perfect balance of social transaction and governance.

Islam is established and revived by a classical pattern of action or behavior which began in the time of the Prophet Muhammad صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم and the first three generations of Muslims. That pattern is daʿwah for non-Muslims, tajdiid for the Muslims, hijrah, and jihād followed by the establishment of governance or government.  If after a number of generations there is a decline in the practice of Islam, the Prophet is reported to have said in a sound hadiith, “At the beginning of every century, Allah will send a mujaddid (a reviver, regenerator, resuscitator, one who does tajdiid) to regenerate their religion for them.”

Thus, this is the pattern, the model of Islam established by the Messenger of Allah صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم and re-enacted through out the history of Islam by those genuine and upright scholars who came after him. Shaykh ʿUthmaan ibn Fūdī known as dan Fodio or simply Shehu Usman was one of those scholars who chose to meticulously followed this pattern and model.

Islam had been in Hausaland which included Kano, Katsina, Zaria and Gobir among other states, since its arrival there around 15th century C.E. During his reign, Muhammad Rumfa the Sultan of Kano (d. 1499) under the guidance of Muhammad bin Abdul Karīm al-Maghīlī, strove to see that the pure practice of Islam and true Islamic governance were well established there. However, by the 18 century during the era of Shaykh ʿUthmaan dan Fodio, the practice of Islam had greatly degenerated in Hausaland.

The Islamic practice of the rulers of Hausaland had become corrupt. As a result, these rulers failed to save their nations from moral and social decay and used every means to ruin all constructive efforts to revive and regenerate Islam as a pure practice for the worship of Allah. All aspects of the practice of Islam in Hausaland had become corrupted and Hausa society was continuously sinking into decline and turmoil.

Yet, by the very fact that the practice of Islam had already been established in Hausaland, and then fell into corruption and degeneration, and its rulers were judged by Shehu ʿUthmaan and the fuquhaa’ that were with him to be mukhalliṭuun (those who mix the practice of Islam and the practice of kufr together), and the fact that in Hausaland, there were people who denied the the resurrection, ridiculed Islam, worshipped idols, disrespected Allah and denied the Prophethood of Muhammad – this behavior coming from both those who professed Islam and those who rejected it – Shehu ʿUthmaan did not start out by calling for the forcible overthrow of the government or social order’ in favor of a ‘new system, but rather, he realized what was needed everywhere in Hausaland was the work of tajdiid (the restoration) of Islam and the Sunnah. His first objective therefore, was the education of the masses and to stop the innovation and un-Islamic practices among them, then at a much later stage he decide to go the rulers of Hausaland and explain true Islam to them and encourage them to follow it.

In the book the author demonstrates that through out his mission, Shaykh ʿUthmaan, used the blueprint left behind by the Prophet and the first three generations of Muslims, which showed him the correct approach to opposing the decadent and crumbling old order which supported and upheld corrupt customs and the abominable mukhalliṭ (syncretic) behavior in Hausaland. Shaykh ʿUthmaan aided by the members of his Jamaaʿah, eventually cleansed Islam in Hausaland of the corrupt practices and innovation that had crept into it over a long period of time, and they restored Islam to its place of honor and brought back the practice of Islam in Hausaland to its pristine purity.

Society, the Shehu said, should return to the Sunnah, which is the fitrah (natural disposition) of the human being. Thus, he started his mission with the process of tajdiid, commanding the good and prohibiting evil, a process which was aimed at educating the people, changing their view of the world, transforming their character, social behavior and political allegiance.

This was the most crucial phase in the entire tajdiid process. The Shehu also saw tajdiid as a process of moral refreshment and intellectual rejuvenation and the resuscitation of the knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and their practice. As long as the ummah would sink from time to time into degenerative and weak state, the need for tajdiid would remain. As a scholar who undertook the task of social change, Shehu Uthmaan believed that the salvation of the ummah in general and Hausaland in particular rest solely in the revival of a social pattern based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

The Shehu’s ambition and his declared goal, his purpose, he continually reiterated as previously stated, was to bring about a transformation of society by calling people to Islam, commanding the good and prohibiting evil, and working to destroy the negative affects of innovation (bidʿah) that had crept into the social fabric which also included establishing, once again, the supremacy of the Sunnah. As a true mujaddid, Shehu ʿUthmaan had as his ultimate ambition, the establishment of a society that followed as closely as possible the Madinan society during the time of the Prophet and the first three generations.

The hijrah which followed the Shehu’s work of tajdiid and subsequent jihād was not a hasty recourse to arm confrontation. Recourse to armed confrontation is allowed only when all the possibilities for a peaceful education of the people have been exhausted. The Shehu knew all to well, that it was necessary for a mujaddid and anyone who who undertook the work of tajdiid to first establish roots in the hearts of the people and in the social fabric of society before it ventures into a confrontation.

The Shehu attributed hasty recourse to armed confrontation, to delusional worldly intrigues that was satanically inspired and connected to ambition and love of power. True, authentic and correct jihād is born out of restraint, because rushing to achieve success through armed confrontation when one is in a position of weakness is ruled out as an Islamic strategy. As long as there exists the possibility, to disseminate Islam peacefully, the scholar must maintain the peace and utilized all peaceful methods at his disposal. If the situation changes from what is possible to what is impossible, the next course of action is for the scholar to make hijrah to another area of safety (dar al-Islam) where he can continue his efforts peacefully.

Recourse to armed confrontation is allowed only when all the possibilities for a peaceful education of the people have been exhausted or dar al-Islam comes under the threat of attack or more appropriately, when one has mustered sufficient strength to confront the prevailing order, because once the fighting begins, it does not stop ‘until the war lays down its burden’ as Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an 47:4.

It was only after the hijrah to Gudu and the Hausa rulers threatened the Muslims with razi’ah (the infliction of heavy losses) and extermination that the Shehu declared jihād. The jihād would become a struggle to both establish and revive Islam in Hausaland. The jihād was declared against four kinds of kings who who under the Islamic legal ruling were considered to be kuffaar: the unbelieving king who never was a Muslim, the unbelieving king who professed Islam for outward show only, an apostate king who abandons Islam and return to unbelief, and the king who outwardly remains Muslim, but mixed the practices of Islam with the practices of unbelief.

The jihād fought by the Shehu and his followers was not a revolution. There is no question that dramatic and wide-reaching changes took place in the people’s actions and ideas, and so under those circumstances, the jihād in Hausaland might be seen as a revolution, however the Shehu’s jihād was fought to overthrow kufr, whereas, if it was a revolution in the sense of insurrection and coup d’état, the battle would have been fought merely to overthrow kings. The kings of Hausaland weren’t fought because they were defenders of corrupt monarchy. They were fought because they were defenders of kufr. Another reason why the Shehu’s jihād, was not a revolution is because the jihād he fought was a conflict between truth and falsehood and not a confrontation between individuals or economic philosophies or bankrupt political systems. It was a conflict between two orders, two diins: diinu-l-Islam and diin-l-kufr, a conflict between those who wanted to empower Islam, and its pure practice and method of governance, on the one hand and those who wanted kufr to continue to prevail in every aspect of the social and political transaction on the other. jihād is a command from Allah while revolution is based on the ambition of men.

Finally, we will quote the author of this work, Ibraheem Sulaiman who himself has succinctly and eloquently written in Chapter Five of this book about the difference between the genuine process of tajdiid and the mere effort to effect change by a political revolution:

“If tajdiid were merely a matter of political revolutions or change of leadership, then there are quicker ways than the recourse to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but tajdiid is the transformation of the heart, of human disposition and of the destiny of man itself which clearly transcends the attainment of political power. To believe that a quick political ascendancy is all that Islam is about is to cast a vulgar look at a sublime system. What Islam wants is an enduring transformation, which cannot be realized by a social hurricane which brings destruction and consumes even what it claims to rectify.” pp. 76-77.

On another note, the tendency of certain non-Muslims writers and scholars, who as outsiders to Islam writing about Shehu ʿUthmaan dan Fodio and the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate, is to concentrate on the jihād in Hausaland while ignoring the prevailing conditions of corruption and the degeneration of Islamic practice in Hausaland, and the work of tajdiid initiated by Shehu Usman to rectify the situation. This often occurs, because it is not the responsibility of non-Muslim writers and scholars to defend Islam nor is it their responsibility to present the life and work of Muslims such as Shaykh Uthmaan dan Fodio in a light or manner that reflects the whole truth.

This book on the other hand has been authored by a Muslim scholar, who does not have the disadvantage of standing on the outside of Islam looking in or the disadvantaged of being restrained by restrictive and ‘straight-jacketing’ academic or publishing requirements and technicalities that are found in the writings of some non-Muslims and Muslims who write about Islam and Muslims. This book, thus is a seminal work on the subject of tajdiid and jihaad and ‘a must read’ for Muslims who are seriously interested in understanding the methodology of tajdiid and the methodology used to conduct lawful jihād, that are found in the Kitaab wa-s-Sunnah.

Non-Muslims also stand to benefit from reading this book. Non-Muslims have been bombarded by the media and other would-be commentators with the term ‘jihād’ out of the context of its correct meaning, application and reality. This book puts jihād as a methodology back into its proper context. It clarifies that tajdiid, hijrah and then jihād is the sequential pattern of action that has been carried out by the people of knowledge, since the time of the first generation of Muslims up until the time of the arrival of the European colonial powers in Muslim lands. This book confirms that jihād has proper rules of engagement and conduct, and that jihād is a last resort measure coming towards the final stage in the process of the establishment or reestablishment of Islam, and not the first or only resort for Muslims.

Buy ‘The African Caliphate’ now from  Diwan Press (Just press the link)

Scholarship and Revolution: An Examination of the Impact of a Tradition of Tajdīd on the Sokoto Caliphal Leader

Scholarship and Revolution: An Examination of the Impact of a Tradition of Tajdid on the Sokoto Caliphal Leader

by

Dr. Usman Bugaje

European scholarship has for a long time wallowed in the infatuation that African history and literature are nothing but reaction to or extension of its history and literature. As late as the nineties scholars in the field of African literature had occasion to complain that “Islam had been ignored, unseen or glossed over. And yet, in the works of many African writers Islam provides the key components.” (1) Professor Bernard Lewis, a leading Western historian of Islam, has himself expressed concern over “this recurring unwillingness to recognise the nature of Islam or even the fact of Islam as an independent, different and autonomous religious phenomenon.” (2) In Bernard Lewis’s opinion, “Modern western man, being unable for the most part to assign a dominant and central place for religion in his own affairs, found himself unable to conceive that any other peoples in any other place could have done so … to the modern western mind, it is not conceivable that men would fight and die in such numbers over mere differences in religion; there have to be some other “genuine” reasons underneath the religious veil.” (3) It is heartening, therefore, to note that studies on the Sokoto Caliphate have continued to gradually if grudgingly, concede to Islam the central role it played in the motivation as well as the management of the revolution.

Reform and revolution or tajdid, to use a more familiar Islamic term, is as old as Islam itself. The word tajdid may not have been used by the Qur’an, but the ahadith are unmistakably explicit. To appreciate tajdid we must recall the fact that the Islamic world view is premised on the principle that man from the time Adam (AS) left the garden has been promised guidance in form of Messengers to be sent, the last of who was Muhammad (SAW). The finality of prophet hood which is very cardinal to Islamic belief system is precisely what made tajdid necessary since human society will continue to be prone to stagnation and decline. “The birth of Islam”, as Muhammad Iqbal, the great philosopher noted, “is the birth of inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition. … The abolition of priesthood and hereditary kingship in Islam, the constant appeal to reason and experience in the Qur’an, and the emphasis that it lays on Nature and History as sources of Human Knowledge,  are all different aspect of the same idea of finality.” (4)It is significant that it was the Prophet Muhammad that was to declare that “certainly Allah will raise for this community, at the head of every hundred years, one(s) (man) who will renew (yujaddid) for her, her religion.” (5) Since then, the desire among Islamic scholars to meet this expectation has been on the increase, giving birth to a tradition of tajdid in the Muslim community. Scholars of old had since looked out for a mujaddid and had developed numerous criteria and a compendium of mujaddidun of every age, land and clime.

Too often it is not realised that 18th and 19th century Hausaland, where the Sokoto Caliphal leaders lived and led their revolution, is heir to a tradition of scholarship and reform spanning nearly a whole millennium. From the 11th century when the Murabitun movement triggered waves of indigenous scholarship and reform, Western Bilad al-Sudan has seen the sprouting of centres of learning and the network of scholars putting the region at par with its peers around the world. The chain and network of scholarship linking the generations of scholars in the region is becoming increasingly clear as research grows. Abdullah b. Yasin and his military exploits used to be all that was heard of the Murabitun movement. But later research focusing on the likes of Imam al-Hadrami, the learned scholar brought by Abu Bakr b. Umar and made the Qadi of Azzugi, has thrown light on the development of local scholarship. The link between the murabitun scholars and Aqit family of Timbuktu has established the continuity of this tradition. The influence of Ahmad Baba, his Shaykh Muhammad Baghayagho, Shaykh Mukhtar al-Kunti al-Kabir and a host of them on the thinking of the Sokoto caliphal leaders is very evident from their numerous writings.

The Sokoto caliphal leaders were descendants of this network of scholarship and were taught first by their parents and uncles all of whom were scholars born of this great tradition of learning. It is fairly easy to understand where the inspiration of reform was coming from. It is important to also appreciate that when Shehu Usman started his career as itinerant teacher, he distinguished himself from his peers not so much for his learning like his sense of mission. His first ever writing was said to be a poem in praise of the Prophet Muhammad, as was common in the scholarly circle of his time, in which he was expressing his yearning to walk in the shade of the Prophet, reviving his Sunnah. It would appear that the seeds for reform must have already been sown from his early education; all that Jibril b. Umar, his revolutionary teacher, may have done was simply to water it.

Subsequent writings of Shehu Usman continued to emphasise the need, nay necessity of complying with the Sunnah, in worship as well as social conduct. It was not surprising therefore his major pre-jihad work was entitled Ihya’ al-Sunnah wa Ikhmad al-bid’a. Some, especially Arab scholars, have been tempted by this title to think that Shehu Usman’s movement had been inspired by the wahabi movement of the Arabian peninsular. As Fathi Masri had adequately argued (6), this is not tenable if only because the Wahabis are anti-Sufi and Shehu’s was unmistakably Sufi. The sources that Shehu drew upon in his Ihya are strongly sufi and largely from this chain of scholars who have been heirs to the Murabitun and Timbuktu tradition of learning. When Shehu later addressed socio-political issues his reliance on the leading scholars of the western Bilad al-Sudan became more evident. For example in addressing the issue of slavery and the classification of Muslims in the region, he drew very much from the works of Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu, especially his Kashf.

In the pre-jihad period when Shehu Usman had to prepare his community for an eventual confrontation and buttress his position on the need for jihad he had to rely very much on the works of Maghili, like the Taj al-Din fi ma Yajib ala al-Muluk, the Nasiha of Mukhtar al-Kunti and occasionally the Tafsir of Jalalyn of Muhalli and Suyuti, Ibn Khaldun’s al-Ta’rikh al-Kabir, the Takmila of Suyuti and similar works. His Kitab al-Farq drew heavily on Shurb al-Zulal of Shaykh al-Barnawi (Ajrami).

Even after the jihad when the task of running the Caliphate called for more discussion and writing, the caliphal leaders continued to draw from the works of the scholars of the region. Abdullahi’s Diya’al-Sultan drew substantially from Al-Maghili’s Taj alDin.

It is no longer possible to see Shehu Usman and his team in isolation from this tradition whose seeds were sown from the time of the Murabitun and watered by the scholars of the region like Ahmad Baba, al-Maghili, al-Kunti etc, occasionally assisted by others like Sahnun, author of the Mudawwana, Ahmad Zarruq the Sufi of Misurata, Jalaluddin al-Suyuti etc. The mission and the vision of the Sokoto Caliphal leaders has been very much the extension into time and place of what had begun in the 11th century. This is not to deny the Shehu and his team their creativity. (7) The confidence of scholars like Ahmad Baba and Mukhtar al-Kunti who rate scholarship in the Western Bilad al-Sudan region much higher than the then North Africa and the Arab world did a lot to inspire the confidence portrayed in Shehu’s writing. It is instructive that Shehu and his team acquired their enviable level of proficiency in the Arabic language, the language of scholarship, without having to go to any Arab country, not even for Hajj. It was simply remarkable!

It is now necessary to look at the link between scholarship and revolution. What is it in scholarship that inspires or triggers revolution? Are scholars necessarily revolutionaries? Or as Thomas Hodgkins would put it, “When and why do scholars become revolutionaries? (8) It may, perhaps, be easy to see why scholars are revolutionary, but as to when they are and when they are not, this is certainly far more complex. The experience of the Western Bilad al-Sudan from the 11th to the 19th century provides us ample opportunity to probe further and to fathom this important area of research.

To understand why scholars are revolutionary perhaps we only need to examine the nature of Islamic scholarship in this region. As has already been observed, the leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate were heirs to a tradition of learning which goes back to the time of the Murabitun in the 11th century. Though this traditional was undoubtedly enriched by other traditions from Andalusia (Muslim Spain), Fatimid North Africa, Hijaz and even Asia in course of the seven or eight centuries, it has retained some of its unique characteristics; particularly the taste for thoroughness, courage, steadfastness, asceticism and humility. It may be useful to look at, even if briefly, the general characteristics of the Islamic tradition of learning. In other words, we should look at the genus of which this is only specie.

It is significant that the first word of the Qur’an was the command to read! The Qur’an is replete with passages which exalt learning and extol the search for knowledge. The sayings of the Prophet of Islam, the second most important source after the Qur’an, have continued to place learning on an unmistakably eminent pedestal, equating the path of knowledge with the path of paradise. Islam has clearly placed the highest premium on learning. “The Islamic idea of knowledge” as Abdullahi Smith rightly observed, “is universalist in nature – embracing the knowledge of God and His creation including the knowledge of anything to be found in the universe.” (9) Science and technology was not neglected but its significance was subservient to the ultimate purpose of life which learning itself sought to understand. “Traditions of learning such as these in which the primacy is given to the study of religious and moral issues, which defines science as the knowledge of God’s law, and truth as the unalterable content of that law” (10) is familiar to many. Indeed this tradition where God occupies the centre and purpose permeates learning predates the  Islamic era by several millennia and dominated the world view of the learned men of ancient Jewry and Christendom and informed the establishment of their universities down to Azhar (Cairo) and Cordova (Spain) in the 10th century and Oxford and Cambridge in the 13th century. What may not be familiar to many, but important to note, is the point in time and circumstances under which the departure from this tradition began and gave birth to a new tradition as today symbolised by our modern universities, epitomised by the London University. “London University”, as Abdullahi Smith had occasion to explain, “which received statutory recognition in the U.K. in 1820’s and began to be influential some 50years later, did not originate in the 19th century world of learning at all; but in the mercantile world of the industrial revolution which was then transforming human society in the countries of Western Europe and North America. Those who secured its foundation were not scholars in search for universal truth for the benefit of mankind, but businessmen in search of greater profits for their own benefit. The primary object of the university was to provide training in science and technology for the British industrial establishment to assist the latter in the competition in the foreign business interests (particularly Germany) … This industrial establishment was not in addition in need of theological and moral training as something separate, because, … they held the peculiar (and certainly erroneous) belief that the possession of wealth was itself a sign of God’s favour and that therefore, the way to walk in the way God had laid for them and increase his favour was to increase their wealth by hard work and improved technology.” (11)

Because of this strong moral content and the all pervading purposefulness, learning in Islam is not pursued for its own sake nor is it left to the student to take from pages of books, the presence and influence of the teacher is believed to be critical. This, in a way, is an extension of the influence of the Prophets who not only conveyed the divine message but lived it in their lives and therefore act as models of behaviour for the faithful. Character and learning were inextricably linked in this tradition of learning. For one to teach any subject matter, he must have had the leaf (ijaza) of another teacher who had himself been certified to teach same but another teacher. So the ijaza or certificate must necessarily contain the names of the chain of scholars who have taught (isnad). Essentially it is the isnad which validates the ijaza. Isnad is a kind of academic pedigree, enhanced by the presence in the chain of some prominent scholars, because of the value attached to the role of the teacher and the student-teacher relationship. It should perhaps be added here that teachers are usually living libraries in this tradition of learning.

Learning in Western Sudan, where Sokoto Caliphate is located, is pursued with a total dedication. The scholar is more than just a teacher, he is also a mentor, a role model, a father figure and community leader, whose concern goes beyond just educational issues but tackles social, medical and marital problems of the community. A description of one of the great scholars of the region, Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu of his teacher, Muhammad Baghayogho (d.1594) gives us a glimpse of the scholar in this milieu.

“Our shaykh and our blessing, the jurist, the accomplished scholar, the pious and ascetic man of God  (al-abid), the mufti, a man among the finest of God’s upright servants and practising scholars,  … he was constantly busying himself in seeing to people’s need, even at the cost to himself, becoming distressed if they fell into adversity, settling disputes among them and giving good advise. Add to this his love of learning and his devotion to teaching and study, his love for men of learning and his own total humility, the aid he gave to scholars and the trouble he took for them, giving out the rarest  and most precious of his books … He had enormous patience for teaching throughout the whole day and was able to get his point across  even to the dull-witted never feeling bored or tired.” (12)

Here then is a scholar who lives not in the ivory tower but in the midst of the people and who seeks to serve them in so many facets earning thereby their confidence and reverence and easily the spokesman of the community. This moral capital which scholars build over time earns the scholar such powers that are out of tune with his or her rather meagre material resources. The powers of the scholar contrasts sharply with the social distance between the people and their rulers. The scholar carried on his shoulders the heavy burden of his students and the wider society, always concerned with their individual and collective welfare, ready and willing to give a helping hand. It is easy to understand  what Shehu Usman did at Magami when Bawa Jan Gwarzo, the dreaded king of Gobir, assembled the cream de la cream of Gobir and showered gifts on selected dignitaries on the occasion of the eid al-Kabir. Shehu not only declined to accept the lavish gifts but requested that, in its place, he is granted five prayers which included the release of political prisoners and the lightening of the taxation of the ordinary people.

This relation between the scholar and the people contrasts sharply with that between the scholar and the bureaucracy. First the scholar is financially independent of the state, the further away he is from the bureaucracy the more the respect he is accorded. The scholar is normally supported by the community through their zakat and sadaqat. It did not appear to be particularly difficult for the scholar to live on these scanty resources of the community, because the scholar is by definition an ascetic and in any case his life a hallmark of simplicity and humility. It was feared that once he is sponsored by the state he looses his independence and thereby sway in the event of any injustice and oppression. This is even when the rulers are deemed to be good Muslims, the assumption is that power corrupts. In some particular context relationship with bureaucracy could be seen to be reproachable. This was the case on the eve of the Jihad when there was clear tension between the Jama’a on one hand and Sarakuna (rulers of Hausaland) on the other and it was important that as lines are being drawn the jama’a knows where their leaders stand. Taking a stand and reinforcing his position by quoting strong authorities, Shehu wrote:

“Ibn al-Hajj has stated in his book al-Madkhal: ‘Let (the scholar) guard strictly against frequenting anyone belonging to the group of worldly men (abna al-dunya) … since the learned man should be the person to whom people come, not the other way round. It is no excuse for a learned man to frequent other people’s houses on the pretext of securing advantages for the masses of the people and the warding off harm … securing the need of the Muslims lies in total abstention from visiting worldly men, and in reliance upon Allah and recourse to him. (13)

We must not forget that Islam spread into the 12th century Ghana through the scholars of the southern wing of the Murabitun. The Qadi of Azzugi who was one of if not the first local author, was a prominent Murabit scholar. That Murabitun streak appeared to have remained a permanent feature of scholarship in the western Bilad al-Sudan of which Sokoto is an integral part. The exacting standards of Abdullahi b. Yasin, the tenacity of Abubakar b. Umar and the conviction and self-confidence of scholars, the likes of Imam al-Hadrami continued to cast their spell on scholarship in the region.

The absence of any social distance between the ordinary people and scholars; the distance scholars maintained between themselves and the temporal authorities and its bureaucracy; the Murabitun streak which emphasised compliance and sought thoroughness, combined to make the scholar in the western Bilad al-Sudan a potential revolutionary waiting for a cause. These three features help us to appreciate why scholars are revolutionaries. And this tradition has had an unmistakable impact on the perception of the role of scholars by the Sokoto Caliphal leaders.

Now, as to when scholars become revolutionary, this is less easy to determine. We can, however, examine the elements which play the key role in determining when scholars opt for or out of a revolution.  Ordinarily it should be the magnitude of the challenge or stimulus. But it is not so much the level of threat to the faith and its values or the magnitude of oppression or injustice meted on the society like the scholar’s interpretation of his ability (istita’a) to respond successfully. The operational tool here is provided by the famous hadith of the Prophet on amr bi’l-maáruf wa’l-nahy an’l-munkar, which says, in effect, ‘Whoever amongst you sees anything wrong (munkar) he/she should set it right with his/her hands; if he/she hasn’t the ability to do it then he/she should set it right by raising his/her voice, if he/she hasn’t the ability to do as much, he/she should then register his/her disgust and abstain from it.’ The key word here is the ability, istita’a of the community concerned as understood by their leading scholars.

The different reactions we find in different settings and with different scholars all hinged around the respective scholar’s interpretations of what in his circumstances constitutes ability. The different schools of tajdid in western Bilad al-Sudan are largely the results of the different interpretations of the different scholars. To be sure this interpretation is not some theoretical exercise. It is a complex exercise which is both theoretical and practical, the more so for it often involves social consequences.  The scholars often examines the balance of forces on the ground, gauges the moral tone of society as well as the political mood before deciding on the ability or otherwise of the their community to choose a revolutionary path. Thus Shehu Usman Dan Fodio resisted confrontation with the Hausa establishment for several years despite the urging of members of his growing community, who thought that they were ready for confrontation. He may have thought that his job was essentially to educate the society and confrontation was not on the agenda. Even when the indications showed confrontation was likely, the shaykh may have thought that his community, the Jama’a was not quite ready to go through the rigour and deprivation a confrontation entails. He may have also realised that confrontation requires a much higher level of organisation and discipline than was available in the Jama’a at the time – a point vindicated by Abdullahi’s desertion of the army at the middle of the Jihad on account of the absence of discipline. Similarly Umar al-Futi insisted that the Talaba must master the Qur’an and imbibe the deeper aspect of sufi tarbiyya before venturing into armed struggle. Many such scholars who led armed struggles feared that pure political action which is not motivated by the desire to please God, is misguided and unworthy in the final analysis even if it may lead to spectacular material success. In fact, as one can glean from their writings, they must have felt that material success not back with adequate moral development, could lead to a disaster much worse than the one they wanted to flee from.

Admittedly there was a considerably measure of subjectivity in some of the decisions taken especially in the interpretations of istita’a. Thus two scholars given the same situation could arrive at two different, even opposing views. The practices in Borno for example, while admittedly wrong, did not, as far as al-Kanemi’s interpretation goes, warrant a jihad. But the sokoto Caliphal leaders, in their own interpretation, believed it did and hence the conflict. Similarly the case of Ahmad Labbo’s Masina and Umar al-Futi’s Segu, here one state took over the other.

This paper has set out to examine the relationship between scholarship and revolution in Western Bilad al-Sudan. Within the prevailing constraints, the paper has shown that the Link between scholarship and revolution in this region is an enduring one. It has also shown that this link has informed the minds of the leaders of, not only, Sokoto Jihad but those of similar jihads in the 19th century West Africa. While this supports the assertion that the history of the region, as indeed the history of the rest of Africa, had a momentum of its own, it also obliges the policy makers of the contemporary West African states to resist the simplistic Eurocentric understanding of their own societies. It is time they understand their own society for what they really are not what European scholars and their protégés claim they are. This gap between what our societies are and what our leaders think they are has often worsened the social distance that exists between citizens and their rulers, frustrated genuine human development and thrown our societies into deeper social and political crisis from which we seem never able to recover.

Shaykh Uthman Ibn Fodio and the Revival of Islam In Hausaland

SHAYKH UTHMAN IBN FODIO AND THE REVIVAL
OF ISLAM IN HAUSALAND

by

Dr. Usman Bugaje

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.

The Tradition of Tajdeed In West Africa: An Overview

THE TRADITION OF TAJDEED IN WEST AFRICA:  AN OVERVIEW

byDr. Usman Bugaje

 

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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