The Administration of Zakat in Colonial and Post Colonial Nigeria



Dr. Usman Bugage


Zakat as a due from the wealth of the Muslim rich meant for the poor, irrespective of their colour, ethnicity or religion, is too well known to warrant a definition. But Zakat as an Islamic institution, anchored within the Islamic world-view and designed to fulfill definite objectives, may not be as well known and may therefore deserve a few words. Islam, to be sure, is not just about the salvation in the hereafter, it is first about salvation in this world, for only then can one work towards his salvation in the next world. To survive in this world, man needs certain requirements.

Muslim jurists have classified these requirements into three: Daruriyyat (necessitates), Hajiyyat (conveniences) and Tahsiniyyat (refinements). Necessities are held to include the protection of Nafs, man’s physical existence, the provision of things like food, clothing and shelter; protection of Din, religion; Aql, mind; Nasl, progeny or pedigree; and Mal, property.[1] Conveniences include things which improve on the quality of life and remove bearable hardship and difficulties. Refinements, on the other hand, add beauty and elegance to life without transgressing the limits of moderation as defined by the Sharia. The Jurists are all agreed that, it is the collective responsibility of the society to ensure and guarantee the necessities of man in whatever circumstances and provide for conveniences where the resources of the community permit.[2]

Goals and Objectives of Zakat

Islam as law (i.e. the Sharia) seeks to protect man’s basic needs without which he cannot perform basic acts of worship and work towards his salvation. These, as we have just seen, are his life, his religion, his mind, his progeny and his property. But it is the Zakat as an institution which guarantees him these basic needs. Being the practical religion it is, Islam is not content to simply provide the legal protection, but proceeds to create the provision through which this legal requirements are satisfied. Islam places this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the Muslim community especially its leadership.

The Prophet of Islam (SAW) has informed us in several ahadith that the position of rulers in the next world will be directly related to how happy and prosperous their followers have been here.[3] Similarly the Prophet informed us that Allah will not be happy with a community in which one of its members slept on an empty stomach. Umar b. Khattab (R.A) took this further and holds any community in which its member starves to death, responsible for murder.[4]

Islam as a message seeks to answer the three basic questions that have confronted mankind from the dawn of time; the origin of man, the meaning and purpose of human life on earth and the ultimate destiny of man. In answering these questions, Islam informs man that he is not a result of some cosmic accident but a deliberate creation of his Lord, Who has created him with a clear mission on this planet and to Whom is his ultimate return to render full accounts of his stewardship on earth. [5] Qur’an, which, as the name suggests, is to be read constantly, reminds man consistently about the transient nature of life on earth, lest the lure of the world blinds him from his mission and ultimate return.[6] But it is Zakat which actually purifies him from selfishness and greed, so that his heart is cleansed of the lure of this world and is prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve his ultimate mission on earth.

Islam as a system seeks to establish and maintain Justice, Adl on earth and build a humane and cohesive society. Protecting people form hunger, ensuring social security and preserving human honour and dignity are essential elements of a strong and humane social order. Hunger, the Prophet of Islam is reported to have said, is the worst of deprivations. Zakat is that institution which saves man from starvation, guarantees socio-economic justice in society, and procures for man the environment that allows him to preserve his dignity and pursue the purpose for which his Lord created him. By increasing the productivity of the community, Zakat also discourages envy among its members and promotes peace and social cohesion, making the Ummah a model for mankind.[7]

Thus Zakat has been designed to serve definite goals in society. The first of these is the elimination of poverty. This saves and preserves not only human life but also human dignity and in doing so facilitates the worship of Allah and fulfilment of man’s mission on earth.[8] Secondly Zakat reconciles the heart of the poor from envy and ill-feeling towards the rich. For they know that they have a definite share in every wealth in the community. Zakat makes the poor share holders in the wealth of the rich whose dividends depends on the safety and growth of that wealth. It therefore generates understanding, peace and love between the haves and the have-nots, making it absolutely unnecessary for the proletariat to take arms against the bourgeoisie. Thirdly Zakat purifies the heart of the rich from greed and selfishness making it easier for man to play a greater role in the development of his community and to make his wealth available for the cause of Islam, the cause of justice. Fourthly by institutionalising social security and eliminating strife and social tension, Zakat strengthens the moral fibre of society, promotes social cohesion and engenders political stability in society. Fifthly, by bringing about redistribution of wealth, the institution of Zakat not only ensures social justice in society but it mobilises resources making it available to the poor and thus improving the productive capacity of the community. By increasing the productive capacity of the community it enhances the overall economic growth of the Ummah, eventually empowering it to fulfil its ultimate mission of leading the world community.[9]

Perhaps we can now understand the distinguished position accorded to Zakat in Islam. The Qur’an mentions it almost every time Salat (prayers) is mentioned. The Qur’an equates failure to meet the needs of the poor and orphans, which Zakat represents, to denial of religion. [10] The hadith made it the central of the five pillars of Islam, coming immediately after Salat. Abubakar al-Siddiq, the first of the rightly guided Caliph, considered those who refused to pay Zakat as having left Islam and went to war to bring them back to Islam and collect Zakat, on behalf of the poor. Since then the institution of Zakat has been a prominent feature of the Muslim community. During the time of Umar b. Khattab, the second Caliph some states like Yemen did succeed in eliminating poverty through Zakat, and proceeds had to be brought back to Madina as there was no one in Yemen to receive it. This situation appeared to have continued for the most of the early history of Islam, for at the turn of the first century of the Hijra, Egypt under Umar b. Abdulazziz could not expend its Zakat as there were no poor people to receive it. Zakat, just like Salat, has remained a feature of Muslim communities of every time and clime. Our part of the world was not an exception, as the historical records of the pre-jihad Borno and Hausaland have shown.[11] When the Sokoto Caliphate came into existence following the Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio, the institution of Zakat, expectedly, took a distinguished position in the socio-economy of the state.

Zakat in the Sokoto and Borno Caliphates

The Sokoto Jihad was motivated by the gross ignorance of the populace about Islam and the tyranny and oppression, particularly in respect of excessive taxation, confiscation of property and wanton attacks and arrests of subjects by the Hausa rulers.[12] Having campaigned vigorously against these inequities and inspired by the ideals of the Khilafa Rashida, the architects of the Sokoto Caliphate, took great care to ensure that the state was founded on very firm foundations of justice and equity. [13] Even before the jihad Shehu Usman had made a formidable critique of the decadent and unjust order in Hausaland and drawing on the works of some of the prominent scholar of the region, like Shurb al-Zulal of al-Barnawi, he had articulated the Islamic alternative in his Kitab al-Farq. By 1806, barely two years after the jihad had began, Shehu Usman, working in between battles, completed the Bayan Wujub al-Hijra ala al-Ibad in which he spelt out the policies as well as the structures of the new Islamic state emerging on the ruins of the Hausa States. Later his brother, the jurist and conscience of the revolution, Shehu Abdullahi Dan Fodio, wrote his Diya’ ulu-l-Amr wa-l-Mujahidin, reinforcing the Bayan of Shehu and spelling out details with his characteristic meticulousness. [14] Abullahi’s Diya’ al Hukkam, written in Kano, has particular details on the collection and administration of Zakat. Much later Muhammad Bello, on whose shoulders the responsibility of implementation of these policies actually fell, joined in with works like Tanbih al-Sahib ala Ahkam al-Makasib, Usul al-Siyasa and several others.[15]

By the time the jihad was over, some parts of Borno had been annexed to Sokoto Caliphate and what had remained of Borno had become revitalised under a new leadership that was eager to meet the new Islamic expectations. Among the new offices created in the Sokoto Caliphate was the post of the Sa’i whose main responsibility was to collect the Zakat.[16] It is significant to note that the role of Sa’i was not limited to the collection of Zakat, but often included the administration of nomads and the settling of their disputes.[17] This makes the Sa’ino ordinary tax collector, for not only is he familiar with the terrain and the people but as a settler of disputes he needed to display fairness and command respect. TheSa’i had a whole team of other officials, the jakada and the village heads, working with him who were given clear guidelines of what to collect, when to collect it and how to collect it. [18] Care was taken to see that wealth and zakatable items were not taxed twice or taken in a manner which ignores fairness to the giver of Zakat. Abdullahi Dan Fodio in particular emphasised the well-known stipulation of the Sharia that “when assessing the Zakat, people’s houses and property should not be investigated, but the tax collector will relay on the taxpayers word, unless the person in question was known to be untrustworthy”.[19] Wealth from Zakat was kept separate from other revenues accruing to the state since the Zakat was bound to be expended strictly along the lines specified by the Qur’an.[20]

The administration of Zakat itself did not appear to have posed any particular difficulty in Both Sokoto and Borno Caliphate. If anything European explorers like Clapperton who were in the Caliphates were as astonished as their later day colonial officers were embarrassed by the way citizens of these states insisted in paying up their zakat as and when due.[21] Fascinated by the zeal at which the zakat was paid and the simplicity with which it was collected, many scholars have been keen to unravel what in our contemporary world would look puzzling. Some scholars have suggested that over and above the religious reasons, Zakat is a tax which leaves no room for argument in assessment. Its simplicity and proportionality invited no disaffection. Furthermore the social and economic significance of the Zakat is fully appreciated by both the payer and receiver.[23] Village granaries from zakat proceeds for example acted as security against crop failure which in places like Maradi and Kano appeared often either from drought or pests. In Kano, to the astonishment of Clapperton, the blind were settled in one quarter, Unguwar Makafi, and their needs were met from the zakat funds, so they never had to roam the streets as is our lot today. [24] All these must have helped to bring the message of the institution of zakat for all and sundry, including intruders such as Clapperton. This appeared to have been the arrangement throughout the two Caliphates. As the tempo of the jihad waned with time, however, the high standards set by the architects of the Caliphate may not have been maintained. But, in the main, the Zakat as a prominent institution remained part of the two Caliphates until the arrival of the British colonial army.[25]

British Colonisation

The story of British colonisation of Nigeria is too familiar to warrant recounting here. The naked force used and the barbarism displayed has long destroyed the myth that they were on a civilising mission. The way the invading army went about imposing all manners of taxes and plundering anything of value that their covetous eyes sight, betrayed their real mission – plunder. After labouring in vain in his Dual Mandate, Lord Lugard, the British colonial governor, had to concede, though not in so many words, that Britain was not in Africa for reasons of pure philanthropy. [26] That they were prepared to go to any length to realise their mission is clearly echoed by the words of Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary. Writing in 1897, Chamberlain said, “We ought – even at the cost of war – to keep the hinterland of the Gold Coast, Lagos and the Niger territories… I do not think we ought to yield a jot of threat.”[27]

As soon as the British established full control they went about combing the whole area for anything of immediate or potential value and imposing as many taxes as they could possibly levy. They introduced several new taxes, some of which had been previously abolished by the Sokoto Caliphate. Some of these taxes include,Kudin kasa, Jangali, Custom duties, Caravan Tolls, Hawkers Licences, Kudin Suand Native Liquor Licences (in non-Muslim areas). [28] Apparently dazzled by the abundant wealth in the hinterland, the various British Residents sent to head the provinces were urging Lord Lugard to hasten the imposition and collection of taxes. G.N. Barclay, the Resident of Yola, wrote, apparently soon after taking up his appointment, in a dispatch to Lugard, that, “In farm produce and cattle Yola is rich and will prove a valuable acquisition in the near future.” [29] He therefore urged Lugard to begin the imposition of taxation, arguing that it was easier to strike when the iron was still hot, adding: “That taxes should be imposed immediately a race is conquered”, for “in the face of defeat people will gladly acquiesce to any reasonable terms from the conqueror which if imposed after a long period of immunity they may be disposed to grumble at or even rise against, …..To put it vulgarly”, Barclay continued, “they do not know what game we are playing. They are therefore awaiting with curiosity and a good deal of anxiety a declaration of the government policy and intentions.” [30] Or so Barclay thought!

C. L. Temple the Resident in Kano made a similar appeal to Lugard. Arguing his case with a touch of imperial philosophy, Temple wrote: “All authority of native over native and all recognition of authority by natives was based on collection and payment of some kind of material tribute, i.e. rents, taxes, presents” hence authority can only be established if “taxes were regularly collected, paid and accounted for”[31]

The case of Yola and Kano appear to have been typical of the rest of the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno. After initial hesitation, Lugard granted the Residents the permission to begin to collect taxes. As the grip of British occupation army grew firmer with time, these taxes were increased both in their number as well their burden. In course of colonisation, this plunder had the effect of not only depleting the resources of the natives but also undermining the authority of the native rulers and stifling the economic independence and creativity of the native, as all activities are now marshalled towards the satisfaction of the insatiable British imperial desires. Putting it in other words Tukur concludes that: “the taxes imposed by the British, far from being fewer, more rational and lighter than the pre-colonial taxes as was claimed by the British, were in fact more in number and heavier in incidence than the pre-colonial taxes, that many of them were baseless and arbitrary, some of them having as their primary purpose not the provision of revenue to the Colonial Administration and the Native Authorities, but the creation of a colonial economy devoid of an indigenous industrial base and geared towards the production and export of unprocessed raw materials. We have also seen” Tukur adds, “that throughout our period British Residents and Assistant Residents were very much involved in the assessment and collection of these taxes than people are led to believe by the theoreticians of “Indirect Rule”.” [32]

The Fate of Zakat in the Colonial Period

In imposing these heavy and ever increasing taxes on the natives, the British, it would appear, must have hoped that the Muslim subjects would find it impossible to pay Zakat. This then would have starved the religious rulers and scholars of funds and all the religious institutions like schools that were relying on this source would have collapsed and died a natural death. Things did not quite worked out that way as Muslim subjects continued to pay Zakat and the Emirs continued to collect it. Having under taken not to interfere with religion, the British were keen to show that they would abide by their words and would not want to come out categorically to stop the payment of Zakat. But when what appeared to be their first strategy did not work, they found it expedient to come out, if indirectly, to stop the payment and collection of Zakat. They issued a directive that apart form the taxes imposed by the colonial government no other ones were to be collected.

The Emirs predictably protested. “The Shehu of Borno, for example, argued that stopping him from collecting the Zakka would amount to a departure by the British from their undertaking not to interfere with religious matters, adding that at any rate the peasants themselves would object to being relieved from paying it.” When the news reached the Sultan of Sokoto that the British were intending to make the collection of Zakat “illegal”, the Sultan asked J.A. Burdon, the British resident in Sokoto to write to Lugard and appeal to him not to interfere with Zakat. [35] Other emirs presumably protested and eventually the British relented but under two conditions: “That its payment on the part of the peasants and cattle owners should be voluntary and that the British would be given a quarter of the Proceeds.”[36] The emirs acceded to these conditions and the collection of Zakat continued, but not for long.

To the British, the payment of Zakat by the Muslim subjects was more than a matter of economics. Their wish to abolish it appear to go beyond the need to starve the emirs of such material resources that could confer on them some financial independence and therefore some measure of autonomy. The Payment of Zakat was seen as compliance to the dictates of Islam and its collection by the Emirs and their agents was seen as a recognition of the Emirs religious and moral leadership. Both of these tend to delay and eventually subvert loyalty to the British, and at a time when they were trying to find a foothold in the colony this must have been perceived by the British to be a risky business. Thus they continued to find ways they could discourage and eventually abolish Zakat.

In 1907, the British decided to increase the general tax, but informed “clearly” the Emirs and District Heads, “that the [increased] General Tax includes the Zakka and is not in addition to it” [37] Thus trying to incorporate what ever zakat may be given into the coffers of the British and at the same time stop any ruler from collecting any Zakat, creating a de-facto abolishment of Zakat. Expectedly this order was not obeyed, “two District Heads in Sokoto were caught collecting it and the Sultan was promptly ordered to depose them on that account, an order which he obeyed. The two District Heads were the Sarkin Burmi of Bakura and the Ardon Dingyadi.” [38] From Yola, the Resident, G. W. Webster, reported that “corn Zakka is paid by a large percentage of the population over and above the regular taxation.”[39] Webster was keen to clarify, in his report to the Governor General, that people have been sufficiently informed of the abolition of Zakat, yet after paying the General Tax, “several people anxiously enquired if they might also pay the Zakka to the District Head, what became of it, was not their affair, but pay they must as a matter of religion.” “I do not pretend”, Webster added with a tinge of worry, “that this feeling is the universal spirit but I think there is a strong local feeling of the religious importance of the payment of zakka.”[40]

Seeing this tenacity of the Muslim subjects to continue to pay Zakat, G. W. Webster urged the British to “recognise its payment [once more] and take our share.” Having began to appreciate the role of Zakat, Webster was kind enough to suggest that in “this case a percentage of the total tax should be laid aside for charity act.” [41] The Governor General did not, however, buy Webster’s suggestion. He may have felt that whatever gain they may make by taking “their” share could not contain the danger posed to their rule by this rather tenacious religious feelings. The Governor finally moved to make the collection of Zakat “illegal and those chiefs caught demanding or accepting it were liable to being accused of extortion and punished accordingly.” [42] This finally sealed the fate of the Zakat under the British colonial government.

Though the faithful continued to find ways of paying Zakat and the Emirs and District Heads continued to receive it throughout the colonial period, [43] the whole exercise remained hazardous. No demand can be made of it, since any individual or community not prepared to pay could report the person making the demand to the British and the person could then be tried for extortion. In this way the British succeeded in not only abolition Zakat, but more importantly in abolishing or at least discouraging, the expression and fulfilment of religious obligations, of which Zakat is only one. In this and several other ways, some to subtle to discern, the British supplanted the practice of Islam, subverted Islamic values and paved the way for the entrenchment of secularism, which was to disengage State from religion and to confine Islam to a private affair. This gave them sufficient freedom to restructure the Nigerian economy, education, law and administration along European lines, making us forever dependent and never free to be ourselves again, or so they wished and planned for.

The Fate of Zakat in the Post-colonial Period

Under such circumstances one can imagine what the fate of Zakat would be. There may have been no particular law which made Zakat illegal, but there was perhaps no need for one, since enough measures had been taken to preclude even the thoughts of it. Even when poverty and destitution grew to levels previously inconceivable, problems which the Zakat has been specifically designed to solve, one state government after another went about groping for solutions. Even in overwhelmingly Muslim states, like Kano, where the bureaucrats and the society are Muslims, no one had the courage (or is it the audacity) to propose Zakat as the solution and to proceed to organise its collection and distribution. These experts many of them academicians from our universities were groping for solutions and true to their training they propped up the familiar Western solution. Some of them, one would like to think, as Muslims believe that such Islamic solutions as the Zakat may be most appropriate, but the inferiority complex on the one hand and the secular nature of government may have prevailed upon them to suggest something else. “It is this widespread acceptance of this myth of the essential superiority of secularised European thought and practice in the field of human affairs” as Abdullahi Smith rightly observed, “which constitute the most formidable obstacles in the way of extricating the contemporary world from the corruption into which it is plunged” [46]

Meanwhile the ordinary Muslims continue to take out Zakat from their wealth, amounts or quantities they think fit, when they think fit and distribute it as they think fit. Many are not quite sure how to take out Zakat from modern financial transactions and instruments. The Ulama’ have not been very helpful in satisfying the inquires of many of the faithful eager to discharge their obligations. And all this time no one has deemed it necessary to create a competent institution that can advise Muslims on Nisab of Zakatable items and the appropriate amounts and quantities to be taken out in the variety of forms that wealth exist today. We deemed it fit to have Pilgrim Welfare Boards, even if we can not run them properly, but for some curious reasons, we never saw the need to have their equivalents in the case of Zakat, which is the third of the five pillars of Islam. It will be interesting to find out why was there silence over such an important matter. Could it be that the Ulama’, who are clearly the greatest beneficiaries of this Zakat anarchy, are enjoying it? Or are the Ulama’ out of their depth in modern business transactions and would rather allow this disorganised fashion of payment of Zakat then wake up to the challenge? Or is it part of the symptoms of the secular disease that has afflicted the Muslim Ummah and eaten deep into its fabric? It is not for me to determine this, but we certainly need to find out why.

Many Muslims have been worried over this important issue and during the last three decades or so have made efforts here and there to address the issue, especially as the number of beggars keep rising and the quality of life keep deteriorating and otherwise well to do are finding themselves increasingly pauperised by the day. But like most of the responses of Muslims to challenges during this period, these have been feverish, to say the least. Two such efforts however appear to have the potential to address the problem adequately. One of this was the National Conference on Zakat held in December 1981 in Kano. The idea of this conference started in the circles of members of the Bayero University Muslim community, but it was soon taken over by the Ulama’ and by the time the conference was over there were already three hundred people in the committee formed to collect and distribute the Zakat. This, naturally, did not inspire the rich who were to give their Zakat to such a committee. Since then this effort seems to have gone into oblivion. Some of the papers presented at the conference[47] were very good and deserved to be published and circulated widely, so that some of the issues raised could be shared and pursued further, but this did not appear to be the priority of the committee that inherited the conference.

The other worthy effort was a special session of Fatwa Commission of the Centre of Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria which took place in November 1990 at Bagauda Lake Hotel, Kano. The Fatwa commission gathered prominent scholars to address the seemingly simple issue of whether Zakat is compulsory for tubers like Yams and Cassava. Though the fatwa appear specific but it touches on a very important issue, updating our fiqh (jurisprudence) on Zakat. The fatwa was actually a test case on the readiness of our scholars to appreciate the dynamic nature of fiqh as contrasted with the Sharia which enshrines the immutable principles. About a dozen scholars made submissions [48] and majority of them took the view that there was no Zakat for these tubers. Many of them based their views on Maliki texts written some centuries ago by authors who lived their lives either in desert or temperate zones where these tubers don’t grow. The fatwa says more about the preparedness of our Ulama’ to appreciate the dynamic nature of fiqh than about these tubers.

The Future of Zakat

From the efforts so far, it would appear that the future of Zakat in Nigeria will hinge around three major factors. The competence and credibility of our Ulama’, the courage of our leadership and the enlightenment of the wider Muslim society. One is not sure about what can be done about the competence and credibility of our Ulama’ or even the courage of our leadership, but the two incidences above do not give one much hope. But perhaps something can be done about the enlightenment of the wider Muslim society. While conferences like this one, is one way of creating enlightenment, it is certainly not enough. Publication of relevant literature is an absolute necessity. Research should particularly be intensified to sustain the supply of literature and update ourselves with developments in other Muslim countries particularly Sudan and Malaysia where so much has been achieved in this regard.

Some Challenges

If and when we come to organise further conferences or undertake research to address the issue of Zakat, there are certain areas we may need to pay particular attention to. These include:

  • List of Zakatable items – At the time of the Prophet (S. A. W.) the list of Zakatable items may have been just about a dozen. But as Islam spread to incorporate other lands and climes, as society developed and became complex and as Allah’s wealth for mankind continues to unfold, this list naturally grew into dozens. There is nothing to suggest that this list should stop growing and remain stagnant, if only because Islam is still spreading, society is developing and becoming complex, especially in this computer age, and Allah’s wealth is still unfolding. We therefore need to review the list in our fiqh texts in the light of the key aya (verse) of the Qur’an, “O ye who believe! give of the good things which you have (honourably) earned, and of the fruits of the earth which we have produced for you, and do not even aim at getting anything which is bad, in order that out of it you may give away something, when ye yourselves would not receive it except with closed eyes. And know that God is free of all wants and Worthy of all praise.”[49]
  • Prioritisation in Distribution – The key aya (verse) of the Qur’an (9:60) which spells out the eight recipient of Zakat is very clear. But neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah deemed it necessary to specify what proportion each category of recipient will receive. This has apparently been left for every community to determine. Some Ulama’ have made efforts to prioritise the distribution but it appears to be a matter for every community to address its peculiar circumstances in such a way that the overall objectives of Zakat, especially the eradication of poverty, are achieved. In the Sudan, for example, the technical committee of their Diwan al-Zakah (Zakat Board), has suggested, 25% for Fuqara’, 25% for Masakin, 10% for Employees, 5% for Converts, 5% for debtors, 20% for the way of Allah, and 10% for the wayfarer.[50] One of the categories, ‘those in bondage’, has been completely ignored. Some would, however, argue that this category is still valid today since people in Palestine (especially members of the Intifada) or Kashmir or Moros in Southern Philippines will easily qualify for ‘those in bondage’.[51] The issue here is that we need to develop a prioritisation that will allow us to address our peculiar needs.
  • Distribution and Productive Capacity – In distributing Zakat we need to appreciate the need not only to eliminate poverty but also to raise the productive capacity of individuals as well as to boost the wealth of the community. We may need to find ways of ensuring that we do not keep a large body of destitute who are permanently dependant on the Zakat for the rest of their lives. Rather we should aim at providing the poor with such resources as will make him not only independent of Zakat but transforming him from a receiver of Zakat to a giver of Zakat. This has been done successfully in the Sudan today. The very process of boosting this productivity itself may need to be engineered to meet the basic needs of the community such as food security, appropriate technology etc.

Concluding Remarks

We have first attempted to establish the significance as well the goals and objectives of the institution of Zakat. We then saw how the institution of Zakat became suffocated by the British colonial government. This was not only to maximise their plunder of the native resources but also to discourage and supplant the practice of Islam and eventually pave the way for the entrenchment of neo-colonial structures that were to give permanence to their mission. During the post-colonial period, the institution of Zakat did not fare any better. The prevailing secular atmosphere did not only discourage the revival of the institution but in fact eroded and subverted Islamic values plunging the Nigerian society into deeper troubles. There is clearly both the necessity as well as the urgency to develop an effective mechanism for the collection and distribution of Zakat. We can and indeed ought to organise a kind of Zakat Board at various levels of our society. But knowing the quality of our leadership, and the competence and credibility of our Ulama’ or lack of it as it were, we should know where to pin our hopes. Such efforts as this seminar may well be the beginning of the revival this all important institution. But for these efforts to bear fruits we must overcome our apathy, complacency and mental lethargy.


[1]The primary objective of the Sharia is to guarantee man these basic necessities without which life on earth will be impossible. This precisely why the violation of any of these needs attract ahadd , capital punishment. Thus murder, whether through violence, poisoning or starvation; apostasy, which terminates religion; taking alcohol or psychotropic drugs, which deprives man of his mind and senses; adultery or fornication, which undermines marriage, and mixes and confuse progeny; theft or robbery, all attract capital punishment.

[2]Dr. Ziauddin Ahmad has delineated these arguments with admirable brevity and clarity. See his Islam, Poverty and Income Distribution, Leicester, The Islamic Foundation, 1991. P. 19-20.

[3] “Abu Sai’d reported the Prophet of Allah (P.B.U.H.) as saying: The most beloved of men to me, the nearest of them with me in the assembly on the Day of Resurrection would be a just ruler and the most hated of men to me on the Day of Resurrection and the severest of them in punishment will be quite an unjust ruler.” in another hadith he was reported to have said, among other things, “Beware, whoever has been made a guardian of the affairs of my Ummah and he is kind to them in their needs, Allah would be kind to him for this on the Day when he will be in need. And whoever hides himself from them in view of their needs, Allah would hide Himself from him ignoring his need.” See Abu Yusuf Kitab-ul-Kharaj, Abid Ahmad Ali (trans.), Lahore, Islamic Book Centre, 1979. P. 12-13.

[4] On the responsibility of leaders, “Abu Burdah reported that ‘Umar b. Khattab wrote to Abu Musa: The most virtuous of the rulers in the sight of Allah is one through whom his people prosper and the most wretched of the rulers is one through whom his subject become destitute. Guard yourself that you should deviate, then your governors too will deviate, and you will become in the sight of Allah like the beasts which always fix their gaze in it seeking thereby fatness and in their fatness lies their death.” Ibid. P. 23.

[5] See for example, Q. 2:30 and particularly the commentary of Sayyid Qutb in his Fi Zilal al-Qur’an and Maulana Maududi in his The Meaning of the Qur’an. See also Q. 3:185, 20:15, 53:39

[6] See for example, Q. 7:51, 3:196, 6:32, 29:64 and 63:9-11.

[7] Q. 2:143.

[8] The Prophet is reported to have said that faqr, poverty, is the closest to Kufr, unbelief. He is also reported to have prayed , “Oh Lord! I seek Thy refuge from Kufr (unbelief and infidelity) and from Faqr (poverty and destitution) …. and seek Thy refuge from qillah (paucity) and dhillah (humiliation).”

[9] Studies conducted in Syria and Sudan a few years back, when payment of Zakat was voluntary and distribution skeletal, has shown that up to 3-4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was transferred to the poor every year. See Ziauddin Ahmad, Islam, Poverty and Income Distribution., Op. Cit. P. 52. For details see M. Anas Zarqa, ‘Islamic Distributive Scheme’ in Munawar Iqbal (ed.) Distributive Justice and Need Fulfilment in An Islamic Economy, Islamabad, International Institute of Islamic Economics; Leicester, The Islamic Foundation, 1988 Pp. 163-216.

[10] “Have you seen him who denies the Religion? It is he who harshly repels the orphan and does not urge others to feed the needy.” Q. 107:1-2.

[11] For details see Tijani Garba, ‘Taxation in some Hausa Emirate’, Unpublished Ph D. thesis submitted to the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, 1986.

[12] Shehu Usman has made an extensive criticism of these inequities in many of his works, particularly in his Kitab al-Farq Bayna Wilayat al-Muslimeen wa Wilayat al-Kafirun. One of the first things the Shehu did after the Jihad was the abolishing of these unjust taxes, such as Jangali, Gaisuwa, Rinsuwa, etc.

[13] As they abolished these unjust taxes, the leadership of the Sokoto Caliphate reorganised the taxation system to conform with the Sharia and the ideals they had been fighting for. Some of these ideas are to found in such works as the Bayan by Shehu Usman, Diya’ ulu-l-Amr of Abdullahi and Usul al-Siyasa of Muhammad Bello.

[14] Other works of Abdullahi Dan Fodio which discussed these ideas at greater length and detail include the Diya’ al-Sultan and Diya’ al-Hukkam. For an exposition on some of these works see Ishaku Aliyu ‘Aspect of Political Administration in Sokoto Caliphate with Special Reference to Diya’ al-Sultan of Abdullah ibn Fodiyo’ and Abubakar A. Gwandu ‘Legal Aspects of the Sokoto Caliphate’, both in Ahmad Kani and Kabir Gandi (eds.) State and Society in the Sokoto Caliphate, Sokoto, Usmanu Dan Fodio University, 1990.

[15] The Tanbih is a work on political economy, while the Usul al-Siyasa, as the name suggests is a work on politics in which the author articulated the Islamic political philosophy and Institutions. Other works in which Muhammad Bello took up these issues in greater detail include his Ghayth al-Wabl and Kitab al-Tahrir. Both have been edited and translated into English, the latter is currently under publication in the UK.

[16] Several scholars have reported that the Sa’i was one of the earliest officials appointed by Shehu Usman. See M. Last, Sokoto Caliphate, London, Longman, 1976 P. 143-7. See also M.G. Smith, Government in Zazzau 1800-1950, Oxford, O.U.P. 1960. Pp. 51, 103.

[17] Tijani Garba reported that “One of the first appointments made by the first Emir (Zaria) Mallam Musa (1808-1821) was Sa’i who was to administer the nomads, settle their disputes and collect the cattle tax which was the Zakat ……….”. See Tijjani Garba, ‘Taxation in Some Hausa Emirates” P. 115.

[18] For details see Tijjani Garba, Ibid. P. 71.

[19] Abdullahi b. Fodio, Diya’ al-Hukkam (trans.), Pp. 14-19. Paraphrased in Ibid. P. 51

[20] For details see Ibraheem Sulaiman, The Islamic State and the Challenge of History, London, Mansell Pub. Ltd. 1987. P. 50-55. See also Sule A. Gusau, ‘Aspects of Islamic Economy in the Sokoto Caliphate’ in Ahmad Kani and Kabir Gandi (eds.), State and Society in the Sokoto Caliphate, op. cit. Pp 171-192.

[21] See Tijjani Garba, ‘Taxation in Some Hausa Emirate’, P. 113.

[ 22] See Ibid. P. 114.

[23] See Ibid. P. 175, quoting Palmer in Kano Annual Report for 1910.

[24] See Ibid. P. 175, quoting Clapperton in Bovill (ed.) Mission to the Niger, P. 661.

[25] See M. M. Tukur, ‘The Imposition of British Colonial Domination on the Sokoto Caliphate, Borno and Neighbouring States: 1897-1914: A Reinterpretation of Colonial Sources.’ Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Submitted to the Department of History, A,B.U. Zaria. July 1979.

[26] “Let it be admitted from the outset that European brains, capital and energy have not been, and never will be, expended in developing the resources of Africa from motives of pure philanthropy; that Europe is in Africa for the mutual benefit of her own industrial classes, and of the native races in their progress to a higher plane; that the benefit can be made reciprocal, and that it is the aim and desire of civilised administration to fulfil this dual mandate.” Lord Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. London, 1965. P. 617.

[27] Quoted in Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa: the White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent, from 1876-1912. Random House, New York, 1991. P. 504

See M. M. Tukur, ‘The Imposition of British Colonial Domination …… ’, op. cit. P. 531.

[28] “Yola Provincial Report No. 8 for June 1902” Yola Prof A1. NAK cited in ibid. P. 535.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Kano Provincial Report for the Half Year ended 30th June 1909”, SNP 7/10 No. 3635, NAK, cited in ibid.

[31] M.M. Tukur, op cit. P. 627-8.

[32] Ibid. P. 579.

[33] W.P. Hewby, “Bornu Provincial Monthly Report for September 1903.” Cited in ibid.

[34] J.A. Burdon, “Sokoto Report for July and August , 1905” Sokprof No. 575/1905. NAK. Cited in ibid.

[35] Ibid. P. 580.

[36] C. L. Temple, “Sokoto Provincial Report for Quarter Ended December 31st, 1907” Sokprof No. 1453/1908, NAK. Cited in Ibid. P. 580.

[37] Ibid. P. 581.

[38] G. W. Webster, Quarterly Report for June 1911″, Yolaprof Vol. 10, NAK. Cited in Ibid. P. 582.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. 583.

[42] Ibid.

[43] AMD, Kano, 26/5/74. Cited in ibid.

[44] M.M. Tukur, ‘Values and Public Affairs: The Relevance of the Sokoto Caliphal Experience to the Transformation of the Nigerian Polity’, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. 1977. P. 574-5.

[45] Abdullahi Smith, ‘Report to the Senate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Nigeria.’ Unpublished Report, 1983. Cited in Ibarheem Sulaiman, ‘Education as Imperialism’, in Z. Sardar (ed.) How we Know: Ilm and the Revival of Knowledge, London, Grey Seal Books, 1991. P. 59.

[46] Ibid. P. 60.

[47] These papers are in private hands, but should be available at the Research Data Centre, Bayero University, Kano.

[48] These unpublished submissions are available at the library of the Centre for Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

[49] Qur’an 2:267.

[50] Muhammad Bashir Abdulqadir, Nizam al-Zakah fi al-Sudan, Omdurman, Omdurman Islamic University Printing & Publishing, 1992. P. 192.

[51] M. A. Zaki Badawi, ‘Zakat and Social Justice’, in …….. P. 117.

Dr. Usman Bugaje prolific writer of on Nigerian and international issues. He has academic and non-academic published works as well as book reviews to his credit. 

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 04:18  Comments (7)  

The Tradition of Tajdid in Western Bilad Al-Sudan






900 -1900




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The Jihad of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio and Its Impact Beyond The Sokoto Caliphate

The Jihad oF Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio and Its Impact Beyond The Sokoto Caliphate

By Dr. Usman Bugaje


“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.”

Shaykh Abdullahi, the younger Brother of Usman Dan Fodio, and the conscience of the Sokoto Jihad, may not have meant it, but the verses he composed above, succinctly summarise their endeavour from start to finish. It all started with a group of young scholars who were rightly worried about the level of ignorance as well as injustices in their society. 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. Those movements that were to follow, invariably took similar path. It was a well trodden path, the path of the prophets of old.

This Jihad in Hausaland was what pulled the Hausaland from out of the abyss of corruption, decadence and insecurity, into which the Hausa states had sunk. It gave these states the security and stability which had eluded it for the best part of two centuries and restored to Islam its position of honour and respect. The Jihad also triggered series of similar Jihad Movements in the 19th century Bilad al- Sudan and beyond. These Jihad Movements were to salvage the societies of the region from decay and collapse and radically transformed their polities putting them once again on the path of Islam. This paper is not about the Sokoto Jihad as such, for this has been adequately addressed by other papers of the conference, rather, the paper is about its impact beyond the Sokoto Caliphate. It may still be necessary, however, to begin with some broad outline of the Sokoto Jihad, highlighting those aspects especially significant to its impact beyond the immediate theatre of the Jihad.

It was the good fortune of Hausaland and ultimately of the people Bilad al-Sudan (the land of the Blacks) that Allah raised among their ranks a scholar who was not prepared to accept the decadent status-quo with the usual fatalism, as the will of God, but saw it as his primary responsibility to change it. To be sure, Shehu Usman did not, and could not have, set out early in his life to organise a jihad and to establish an Islamic state and society. In fact little did he realise that his modest effort will lead to any event beyond his little state of Gobir. Even when he ventured out of Gobir to the neighbouring states, partly to source scholars and pursue his higher learning and partly to expand his enlightenment of the wider society, he clearly did not envisage much coming out of his efforts. But from 1774, at the young age of twenty, Shaykh Usman spent about two decades as an itinerant scholar, constantly moving from one place to the other teaching, writing and gathering an increasing following as his fame spread well beyond Hausaland. By the time he settled down at Degel, in the Hausa state of Gobir, about 1793, he found himself at the head of an expanding network of scholars and students, many of whom never met him in person, covering such areas as Masina and Segu in the West and Borno and Chad in the East, sharing his ideas of reform and yearning for change. This then is the movement, the Jama’a, as Shehu called his following, which in course of some three decades slowly but perceptibly eroded the old and corrupt order in Hausaland and having fought and won the Jihad, reordered their society and polities along Islamic lines.

By the end of the first decade, while a young man of about thirty years of age, Shehu’s name had become household in Hausaland. He had emerged at the head of a group of young scholars, yearning for change and sharing some revolutionary ideas. This naturally attracted for the Shaykh, the envy and wrath of the more established scholars. Some of these scholars took him up on a number of issues, especially some of the shaykh’s liberal ideas about women education and role in society and Shehu’s departure from the hair-splitting issues of ilm al-kalam and the dry as dust fiqh to the more relevant issues of understanding the basics of Islam and the elimination of Bid’ah (superstitions), corruption and injustices rampant in the society. The attack on the Shaykh was sometimes done in letters, poems and often in the form of insinuations. In most cases the Shaykh responded by writing, composing a poem or writing whole works. In this process alone the Shaykh wrote more than fifty works, as reported by his son and helper Muhammad Bello.

By the half of the second decade, Shehu Usman had emerged victorious in this intellectual debate that raged for nearly a decade. The intellectual leadership of Hausaland was gradually, if grudgingly, conceded to him. This leadership was in a way formalised in 1789 when Bawa Jan Gwarzo, the powerful king of Gobir, invited all scholars at the celebration of Eid al-Kabir, and showered them with gifts. Shehu was reported to have been given the lions share, in clear recognition of his leadership position. Not surprisingly, however, Shehu declined to accept the wealth showered on him and instead requested the king to grant him five wishes: the reduction of taxes, release of prisoners, freedom to preach, suspension of harassment by state officials especially in respect of women who wear proper Islamic outfit and same in respect of men who adore the turban as a mark of the new consciousness. By this singular act, unprecedented in his time, Shehu Usman earned himself a higher station yet. For the rejection of the gift earned him respect of the king, independence from the establishment and more profoundly endeared him not only to his followers but the ordinary people at large whose interest he identified with and stuck out his neck to protect.

By 1793, when Shehu saw the need to and eventually settled down at Degel, he saw how this small village swelled with scholars and students from all over the Bilad al-Sudan, and transform into a university town. By this time and in the course of nearly two decades of itinerant life, Shehu found it necessary to write a number of books delineating the basics of Islam, such as Kitab Usul al-Din, Kitab Ulum al-Muamalat, Ihya’ al-Sunnah, etc. Many of these books spread far and wide and became the standard texts of study in the growing number of schools and the expanding circles of students all over Hausaland and beyond. Thus while in Degel, Shehu had cause to concentrate on higher studies and found time specifically to attend to and groom women scholars. It was also here in Degel that he found the time to focus on the spiritual training of both his person and the community, often taking time off to go into khalwa. It was significant that Shehu found time for spiritual training only after he thought he had taken care of the basic and more fundamental aspects of Islam. And that even when he started he made sure he did not overemphasise it nor did he regiment the whole community to the Qadiriyya order, which he chose. In Degel Shehu found himself at the head of a large and ever expanding movement of scholars and students which required co-ordination.

If Shehu was oblivious of the potentials of his growing Jama’a, the Hausa rulers were certainly not. For Shehu, the growth of the Jama’a may only mean an end to the ignorance that propelled him into action in the first place and a hope for a more enlightened and therefore peaceful Muslim community. But for the Hausa rulers, every growth of the Jama’a represent a shrink of their power base and more seriously it represents a threat to the tyrannical and corrupt status-quo, where the rulers did as they pleased. Not surprisingly, the first salvo was therefore fired by the increasingly insecure ruling class whose constituency was shrinking and coming to extinction. This was precisely what started the jihad, a clash which was ultimately inevitable.

As early as 1797 or so, following the rise to power of a new king in Gobir, Napata, in 1796, the Jama’a started to face organised state persecution, in the form of physical attack, arrests and imprisonment. Having sensed danger, Shehu started to prepare the community for a confrontation that turned out to be inevitable. He composed a poem which was auspiciously in praise of Shaykh Abdulqadir al-Jaylani, in which he urged the community to acquire arms as it was Sunnah to do so. The tension continued to heighten and Yunfa who took over from Napata as the king of Gobir in 1803 only made matters worse. This prompted the Shehu to compose another work aptly titled Masa’il al-Muhimma in which he argued the necessity for hijra and the need to rise against a tyrannical ruler, but only when the community has the strength to do so. The mood of the community had changed and the Jama’a grew restive. Following a few skirmishes and a threat for an all-out attack on the community from Yunfa, Shehu called for a hijra to Gudu, a place on the boarders of Gobir. He wrote and circulated in the same year yet another document, this time titled, Wathiqat Ahl al-Sudan wa man Sha’ Allah min al-Ikhwan, arguing for the necessity for jihad and urging the Jama’a to come out for hijra and jihad.

The hijra itself started in February of 1804, and before the Jama’a could finish assembling at Gudu, they came under attack, first by Yunfa and consequently by other kings of other Hausa states, and the jihad began. Until April of 1806 when the Jama’a captured Kebbi, they had no base and had to be constantly on the move, carrying their families as well as their libraries, often pursued by their enemies. Yet in the thick of this no doubt tormenting confusion and daunting obstacles, Shehu and his brother Abdullahi still found time to write. In fact, it was in November 1806, at Kebbi, Shehu Completed one of the most voluminous of his works, the Bayan Wujub al-Hijra ala al-Ibad, a work of 63 short chapters that expounds on, not only the necessity of hijra and jihad, but the rules that govern them and how to set up and Islamic administration in the event of victory. Many battles were fought and by 1810, the jihad was in the main over. The Jama’a emerged victorious and found themselves at the head of an extensive area made up of several Hausa states and soon set about the task of reordering this vast polity, the Sokoto Caliphate.

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Zuhd (Abstention From the World) and Ṣabr (Putting Up With Hardships and Overlooking the Ill-Treatment, Harm and Wrongs Which Come From Others)

A Discussion About Zuhd and Sabr from the book ‘The African Caliphate’

Author: Ibrahim Sulaiman


… Zuhd, as explained by the Prophet صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم, has two elements: abstention from the world and keeping away from the possessions of other people. To abstain from the world means, among other things, that a person should live in it on the understanding that it is only a temporary abode, indeed, that it is in fact a place of trial and a place of preparation for the realm of reward and permanence which is the Next World.

Whatever one takes from the world, whether it be in the form of sustenance, power, knowledge or skill, and whatever other pursuits one undertakes in it, should all be seen as a means by which one is being tested by Allah, who will take the final account on the Day of Judgment. Nothing in this world, therefore, is an end in itself. Everything is given or taken by way of trial. The world itself will at some point cease to exist and give way ultimately to the everlasting life of the Hereafter.

Zuhd also involves, however, exerting the effort necessary to secure your own livelihood so as to be self-reliant and free from having to look towards what belongs to other people. Bello stressed in Jalā’ the need for people to preserve their integrity through self- reliance, saying: “The Prophet  صلّى اللّه عليه وسلّم said, ‘Take to trading, for it secures nine-tenths of wealth’… It is related that [Prophet] Isa عليه السلام met a certain person and asked him, ‘What do you do for a living’? He replied, ‘I engage in worship’. Isa عليه السلام then asked him, ‘In that case, who takes care of your needs?‘My brother,’ he answered. ‘Then,’ said Isa, ‘your brother is more of a worshipper than you are.’

In essence, zuhd means that one should ardently seek the realm of the Hereafter by mobilizing and channeling the materials of this world towards the accomplishment of the higher purposes of life and by living one’s life, as far as possible, in accordance with the injunctions of Allah. Equally, it means exerting the efforts necessary to make one self-reliant and self-sufficient, to obviate any need to sell one’s honor, or even as a last resort one’s religion, in order to live.

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


To achieve that moral and economic supremacy another quality is, however, essential: ṣabr. In a narrow sense, ṣabr just means patience, but in a wider sense, it embraces a number of attitudes, including endeavoring to live honestly and honorably in a situation where those qualities are not tolerated by the prevailing system and putting up with the hardships and disadvantages suffered as a result. The purpose of embodying this attitude is that it serves as a shining light in the midst of pervasive darkness. Ṣabr also means overlooking much of the ill-treatment, harm and wrongs which come from others and which are an integral part of human life. Allah has said in this regard that He has made some people a means to test others, in order to see which of them will exercise patience.

The most important form of ṣabr is the endurance of hardships suffered while striving on behalf of one’s religion. In their struggle against a decadent system, some people might lose social or economic privileges, some might lose their freedom, some their means of subsistence and some their very lives. In all these trials the most valuable weapon is ṣabr, because the path of religion is long, the steps hard and the efforts exhausting. Ṣabr means not personalizing any harm or injury suffered in the cause of Allah and not holding personal enmity towards those who inflict such harm, so that hostility will cease as soon as such an adversary opens his heart to the faith. It also entails overlooking temporary inconveniences and viewing such trials as moral training, not as a punishment from Allah.

The fruits of ṣabr are ready forgiveness, the lack of any other than ideological adversaries, the ability to overlook and overcome any obstacles placed in your path, and ultimately the attainment of your goal. Apart from knowledge and piety, there is no greater weapon for an individual striving in the cause of Allah than ṣabr.

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Shaykh Uthmaan Dan Fodio’s Position on Tasawwuf – From the book ‘ The African Caliphate’ by Ibrahim Sulaiman

Tasawwuf 1

Shaykh Uthmaan Dan Fodio’s Position on Tasawwuf

From the book ‘ The African Caliphate’ by Ibrahim Sulaiman

In addition to the general education that the Shehu imparted to his students and companions, there was also a more intensive and systematized spiritual training in taṣawwuf. The Shehu had a group of people – men and women – whom he brought up in the ways of sufism. His main aim, no doubt, was to create a core of saints whose inward temperament was harmonized with their outward disposition in such a way that their utterances, behavior and characteristics mirrored their inner beings. This nucleus of people eventually formed the inner core of the Jama‘a. It was to them that mightier affairs were entrusted.

If the Shehu were asked if taṣawwuf was necessary, he would reply in the affirmative. In his Uṣūl al-Wilāyah he said that in the early days of Islam there was no need for taṣawwuf as such, because the Companions of the Prophet had among them those from whom the rest could draw inspiration and who could serve as models for them. The proper Islamic attitudes to life were preserved and transferred from one generation to another until the time came when the moral tone of society changed and people sank into moral decadence. Then a systematized form of spiritual training (tarbiyah) was needed, to give individuals guidance toward intellectual and moral elevation in order to overcome the diseases of the soul that prevented spiritual development.

This kind of concentrated spiritual cultivation of individuals, the Shehu maintained, is traceable to the Prophet himself صلّى اللّه عَلَيْهِ وسلّم, who trained his Companions  in accordance with the disposition of each. He would say to one, “Avoid anger,” and to another, “Let not your tongue ever rest from mentioning Allah’s names.”

The Shehu elaborated that taṣawwuf entails securing from people a pledge, which has to be continually reaffirmed, that they devote themselves to moral rectitude and the search for knowledge following the example of the Prophet صلّى اللّه عَلَيْهِ وسلّم. In this desire to inculcate in people knowledge (‘ilm) and spiritual experience (ḥaqīqah), the ṣufis have added nothing to the general practice of Islam. They simply reinforce its demand for the performance of obligatory duties and avoidance of prohibited things.

The essence of taṣawwuf, as expounded in Uṣūl al-Wilāyah, is five-fold. It is to seek to attain that superior moral consciousness (taqwā) as a result of which a person behaves as if he is in the presence of Allah, so that, whether alone or with others, obligatory duties are always upheld and forbidden things avoided. The Sunnah should be followed in all its ramifications, manifested by good character and being a source of happiness and comfort to others.

You should not harm people or cause them unnecessary discomfort, while at the same time exercising patience and trust in Allah if they cause you harm. You should cheerfully accept Allah’s overriding will in all matters concerning your life, whether that entails prosperity or poverty. You should perfect the attitude of submission whereby, even in the most trying circumstances, you offer thanks to Allah, appreciate the perfect nature of His will and, in the hope of His mercy and succor, flee from the imperfect state of this world to seek refuge in Him.

Those goals are to be reached by taking the following steps: exercising zeal in seeking the highest of aims of worship; revering the sanctity of Allah by following His injunctions and avoiding His prohibitions; striving to perform your professional work correctly and skillfully in accordance with the Sunnah; carrying out your resolution about religion regardless of opposition; and finally acknowledging Allah’s favors by being thankful to Him so as to be graced with an increase in such favors.

Shehu listed, in this order, number of ultimate qualities that should be inculcated: basic knowledge in the fundamentals of religion, jurisprudence and taṣawwuf; repentance (tawbah) from all sins, both spiritual and social; keeping aloof from people except for spiritual, educational or other positive purposes; waging war against Shaytān; striving against lower desires and restraining the self through taqwā; reliance on Allah in matters of provision and livelihood, that is, self-reliance; committing affairs in their entirety to Allah; cheerful acceptance of Allah’s judgment; patience (ṣabr), especially in times of trial; fear of Allah’s retribution at all times; love of Allah in all conditions and at all times; avoidance of eye contact at work; avoidance of conceit by calling to mind Allah’s unbounded favors; and constant praise and thanks to Allah.

Shehu described the nature of the training as the gradual cultivation of a person’s character through a systematic process supervised by a Shaykh until the whole being is positively changed by the good qualities being totally inculcated into the personality. This process is called riyāḍah. Shehu offered an insight into this method by saying, for instance, that if the student (murīd) were ignorant of the Sharī‘ah, the starting point in his training would in that case be his instruction in law and jurisprudence; if he were preoccupied with unlawful enrichment or was in a sinful political or social position, he should first be made to rectify that situation; even if he were sound in outward appearance, the diseases of the inward would have to be cured; if he were obsessed with personal appearance, he should be assigned such lowly chores as cooking until that obsession had been removed; if he were obsessed with food, he should be introduced to constant fasting until that obsession had been overcome; if he were in a hurry for marriage, in spite of being unable to  shoulder its responsibilities, that desire should be curbed with fasting and other exercises. Thus, the training would be in accordance with the intellectual and moral level of the individual concerned.

What differentiates this system of training from informal, personal education is that it is under the guidance of a realised shaykh. This raises the fundamental question of how one can distinguish a true shaykh from a false one. The Shehu offered the following guidelines in identifying a fraud: if he engages under any pretext in disobedience to Allah; if he is hypocritical and pretentious in exhibiting obedience to Allah; if he is greedy for wealth and worldly status and cultivates rich people; if he sows discord among Muslims and is disrespectful to Muslims in general. All these are signs that he is not genuine. A true shaykh is known by the soundness of his knowledge derived fundamentally from the Qur’an and Sunnah, by the nobility of his character, by his spiritual soundness, by a pleasing and easy disposition, and finally by his display of pure insight through interpreting the issues confronting him clearly.

Finally, there is the question of whether a shaykh is essential for the attainment of spiritual wellbeing. Not necessarily, the Shehu stated in Uṣūl al-Wilāyah. The collective spirit of an Islamic group – Ikhwān, as he called them – could take the place of a shaykh and, in any case, the ultimate purpose of taṣawwuf is that an individual should reach a stage in his “direct experience” of Allah in which he dispenses with the guidance of anyone else. Taṣawwuf is the process of training by which an individual is brought to spiritual maturity and then freed to seek his way to his Lord.

For Shehu Usman, taṣawwuf, as an integral part of Islam, is derived from two verses of the Qur’an: “But as for him who feared the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower self its appetites, the Garden will be his refuge.” (79:39-40)

Shaykh ʿUthmaan Dan Fodio’s Views on Educating Women from ‘The African Caliphate’ by Ibrahim Sulaiman

Shaykh ʿUthmaan Dan Fodio’s Views on Women’s Education from ‘The African Caliphate’ by Ibrahim Sulaiman

The Shehu had to reply several times to the objections and legal issues raised by his contemporaries among the ʿulamaa’. The debate moved from the narrow confines of women’s attendance of lectures to the wider issues of their education in general, their involvement in trade and professions and their going out of the house for their needs.

In taking a closer look at the Shehu’s replies and examining his views, we shall use three of his works: Nuur al-Albaab and Tanbiih al-Ikhwaan and Irshaad al-Ikhwaan ilaa Ahkaam Khuruuj an-Niswaan.

In Tanbiih the Shehu defended his allowing women to attend his lectures, saying it was justifiable and, indeed, sanctioned by law:

“I used to teach the men their individual obligations, and the women used to attend, staying behind the ḥijaab, and I used to prevent them from mixing (indiscriminately) with men. I kept on emphasizing in the assemblies my statement that such mixing of male and female is unlawful, so much that it necessarily became a matter of common knowledge. Then later, I assigned a specific day for the men, and a specific day for the women since this is better and safer. It is related in Ṣaḥiiḥ al-Bukhaari… that the women said to the Prophet,, “Men have gained an advantage over us in respect to access to you, therefore fix for us a day.” So he fixed a day for them in which they used to meet him, and he would exhort and instruct them.”

Women’s attendance of open-air lectures, he seemed to say in the Tanbiih, was not his own innovation. Other great scholars, who faced similar circumstances of prevailing ignorance, had either allowed it or expressly recommended it. Among them, he said, were the shaykh, the Imam, the learned Sidi Aḥmad ibn Sulaiman who was ‘a great saint’ and regarded as a Junayd of his generation. And no less an authority than al-Ghazali recommended the same. Even those – like Ibn Arafa – who were of the opinion that women should not go to lectures if it involved mixing with men, were referring to lectures dealing with knowledge that is not obligatory. In any case, by ‘mixing’ they meant actual bodily contact between men and women, and not occasions when they sit separately or when women sit in a separate apartment.

It is obligatory on a woman, he said in Tanbiih and Irshaad, to acquire a full knowledge of her religious obligations such as prayer, fasting, zakaat, ḥajj, as well as the more mundane matters such as trade and transactions. If the husband is not able to supply this knowledge, she is under an Islamic obligation to go out in search of it. “If he refuses her the permission,” the Shehu stated categorically in Irshaad, “she should go out without his permission, and no blame is attached to her nor does she incur any sin thereby.”

The ruler should compel the husband to get his wife educated as he should compel him to give her adequate maintenance; nay, knowledge is superior (to maintenance).”

But in spite of this sound Islamic position, ‘the devils among men’ still believed that women should remain at home in ignorance, knowing very well that ignorance could lead women to hell. In addition, such devilish scholars had remained silent in situations of moral and social decadence in which women freely engaged with men in drumming and dancing, and in which they displayed their beauty on festive days. If a woman could go as far as to ḥajj, why should she not go out to learn about her faith, which indeed, is a greater obligation than ḥajj, the Shehu asked.

The scholars who opposed women’s education, the Shehu postulated in Nuur al-Albaab, were merely hypocrites. They abandoned their wives, daughters and servants to ignorance, while they gave knowledge to other people. “How they could leave their wives, daughters and servants in the darkness of ignorance and error while they teach their students day and night! This is nothing but the pursuit of their selfish ends, because they teach their students only for show and out of pride. This is a great error.” The education of wives, children and dependents, he said, is an obligation while the teaching of students is voluntary. It becomes an obligation only when there is no one else to do it, and even then it is an obligation that is preceded by the obligation to educate one’s family and dependents.

Then the Shehu carried his argument straight to the women themselves. “Oh! Muslim women!” he exclaimed in Nuur al-Albaab:

“Do not listen to those who are themselves misguided and who misguide others, those who seek to deceive you by asking you to obey your husbands without asking you (first) to obey Allah and His Messenger. They say that a woman’s felicity lies in her obedience to her husband. They say so only to fulfill their selfish ends and fulfill their wishes through you. They compel you to do things which neither Allah nor His Messenger has originally imposed on you, like cooking, washing of clothes and similar things, which are among their numerous wishes, while they do not in the least demand of you to perform the real duties imposed on you by Allah and His Messenger. Yea! A woman is obliged by the consensus of the jurists, to heed her husband, in open and in secret, even if he is of very low social status, or even a slave, and she is prohibited by consensus to disobey him outrightly, except if he orders her to do an act which amounts to disobedience of Allah, in which case she must refrain from obeying him, as of necessity, because there should be no obedience to a creature in disobedience to the Creator. In addition, a woman is rewarded twofold for heeding her husband, yet, that is conditional upon her obedience to Allah and His Messenger.”

He lamented in Irshaad the failure of women to demand their rights to education in the same way that they would demand their right to maintenance and other basic needs. Women, like men, have been created for the sole purpose of serving Allah, which is not properly attainable without true education. The right to education, he seemed to be saying, has absolute preference over other rights. ‘Had the woman demanded her right from her husband in the affairs of her religion and taken her case to the ruler, and demanded that either he educates her in the affairs of her religion or extends his permission to her to go out to learn, it would have been obligatory (by law) on the ruler to compel the husband to do so as he would compel him to give his wife her worldly rights, since religious rights are superior and preferred.’

The Shehu’s uncompromising stand on women’s education, as opposed to the stand of some of his contemporaries whom he criticized in Irshaad for their lack of foresight (baṣiirah), stemmed from his role as a mujaddid. The Shehu’s moral and social transformation of society relied heavily on education. To neglect the education of women would have defeated the cause in two ways. Women formed not only an integral part of society, but also constituted its larger, more basic and more solid part. As the custodians of the home, which is the foundation of society, they are the most important factors in the stabilization of society. Secondly, women’s role in bringing up children imbued with the spirit and orientation of the emerging order, which would need at least one generation to take root, could not be over-emphasized.

The youth are the pillar of any process of Islamic revival, in so far as it is their energy and zeal that give it the requisite strength and vitality to challenge the prevailing order to the end. And the youth are principally formed by women.

We may also view the Shehu’s insistence on women’s education from another angle: as a restatement of the principle that education in Islam is not only a right, but also a duty. Every human being has been commanded by Allah to get education. Knowledge is the key to the understanding of Allah and the forging of the proper relationship with Him. It is the key to the understanding of Islam in its true perspective and in the understanding of the nature of life, of human relations and of existence as a whole. It is the key to the development of an individual as a complete personality. In this regard, there is no difference between man and woman. If a woman’s spiritual and moral development is in danger of being frustrated by her husband’s unjustifiable demands – which obviously stem from selfishness and high-handedness – Islam requires that she assert her rights and take whatever steps she deems necessary to safeguard her moral and spiritual well-being. If that puts her marriage at risk, so be it. For her success in the hereafter, which is greater and more enduring than the material things she could ever get from the world, should at all times be her priority.

There is yet another way of looking at this matter. The Shehu was aware that the cause he was advocating could well lead to future hardships for both men and women. Indeed, the hardships could lead to exile and loss of life for those who accepted his leadership. Yet, it was a cause that rested squarely on conviction, since nobody is deemed to have suffered or died in the cause of Allah who has no absolute faith in Allah and in the hereafter. It is only fair then that all those who would have to suffer in the cause of Allah should first be inculcated with the right faith and convictions and with the proper Islamic attitudes in order to enable them to have full benefit of their sufferings and hardships. This was perhaps one reason why the Shehu was absolutely insistent in his demand that both men and women should be properly educated about their beliefs and obligations.

He posed a question in Irshaad which runs thus: according to the law, women have to go out in search of knowledge which husbands cannot provide, should the scholar who cannot secure separate seating arrangements go into public to teach Islam, knowing very well that those women are bound to attend his lectures?; or should he do so, if he is well aware of the possibility of objectionable things being perpetrated as a result of women’s attendance? The Shehu answered in the affirmative, because those issues do not constitute a valid excuse to leave people in ignorance:

“Nay, he should go out, but he should prevent intermixing of the men and women, if such happens in his presence, and he should put men on one side and women on another side, and he should let them all know that inter-mixing of men and women is prohibited according to consensus… Indeed, the majority of the people are ignorant of the law, and if he goes out in order to change what he can of the social evils, his witnessing of other evils which he cannot change would not harm him.”

The logic seems to be that if people are not made conscious of the social evils which they are required to abandon, by not being given the opportunity to commit some of them in the presence of the teacher, how can they ever learn to abandon them? They need education precisely, because they do not know that such things are evil, or if they know, they lack the necessary moral and social consciousness to appreciate the magnitude of the danger such evils pose to the fabric of society.

Though education was the main theme of Shehu’s writings on women, he dealt with other matters too in his prolonged debate. For instance, should women engage in trade and the like? Ideally, he said, a woman’s needs should be provided for either by her husband or by other relations, so there would be no need to go out to the markets or sit in shops or similar places, but if there was no one to undertake ‘buying and selling’ on her behalf, she would be permitted by law to undertake it herself, but ‘she should do so without ornamentation (that is, she should observe moral and social restraint when she deals with men), for that is better for her in the eyes of her Lord and is more rewarding.’

We can look at this rule from two angles. First, women, like men, are entitled to a decent and dignified life, free from the humiliation of begging and dependence. Indeed, a woman is in greater need of economic protection since economic insecurity could lead her to the kind of life which undermines not only her own integrity but the very foundations of society. If such a possibility exists, then it becomes obligatory on her to seek the economic means she needs to preserve her integrity. Indeed, the insistence of Islam that women should have knowledge of some trade is meant to prepare them against such an eventuality.

Secondly, the Prophet stated that Allah permits women to go out for their needs. What constitutes these needs are not, however, specified, so it is left to those who represent the conscience of society to determine them, from time to time, as occasion demands, but of course, some needs, such as education, health and honorable livelihood, are basic and cannot be nullified by anyone.

Another important matter addressed by the Shehu was that of women going out in general. In fact, the Shehu stated in his introduction in Irshaad that he wrote the book in order to bring the two extreme groups – those who say that women are free to go out at all times like men, and those who say they should not go out at all – to the correct and middle course, and acquaint them with the rules formulated by upright scholars. This middle course, he said, implies that it is lawful for women to go out for their needs when it is legally necessary. At times this necessity will be of a worldly nature such as seeking a livelihood; and at other times the necessity will be of a religious nature such as going out in search of knowledge of their fundamental duties.

There are a host of issues dealt with in the Irshaad, such as women going out to attend the daily prayers, the Friday prayer and for ḥajj, funerals, visits and so on; and to each of these the Shehu gave a qualified approval in line with his balanced view. We would like to concentrate on his debate about women’s attendance at the mosque for daily prayers, for it demonstrates the way he handled the conflicting opinions of Muslim jurists.

Al-Ghazali says in al-Iḥyaa’: ‘It is necessary to prevent women from attending the mosques for the prayer if it is feared that men would be tempted by them. In fact ʿAishah, may Allah be pleased with her, did prevent them, and it was said to her that (her husband) the Messenger of Allah had not prevented them from attending the congregation. She said, ‘Had the Messenger of Allah known what the women would do after him he would have prevented them’.”

Some (jurists) conclude from this statement, as al-Qastalaani has said in al-Irshaad, that women should be prevented outrightly, but (others) have replied that ʿAishah, may Allah be pleased with her, was not in fact explicitly categorical on their being prevented, even if her statement indicates her preference for prevention. (It is argued) also that Allah knows absolutely well what women would do, yet He did not send any revelation to His Prophet to prevent them (from going to the mosque). If their behavior necessitated their being prevented from the mosques, it would also have necessitated their being prevented from going to other places, such as the markets as well. In addition, the offending behavior is found among some of them only, not in all of them. If prevention is necessary it should be confined to those who perpetrate offensive actions. Nonetheless, a woman’s prayer at home carries greater merit than her prayer in the mosque.

The Shehu scarcely came to a conclusion. he left his readers to make up their own minds. We should however remember his opinion that whenever jurists have made divergent rulings on an issue, then a person is free to take which ever of the rulings is agreeable to him, since religion should be easy.

We may at this stage consider some of the issues raised in this debate on women. The question of education raised by the Shehu relates mainly to women who did not receive education in their childhood. It is they who are asked to demand their rights, to education and to gain it by all possible means. The debate is applicable to young girls, for in a proper Islamic order, their education, like that of boys, is absolutely obligatory. Indeed, it is unthinkable that a Muslim society should allow a girl to grow to maturity without having been educated. Universal education for girls, as well as for boys, is the clear rule of Islam, and should be known to those with even the most elementary acquaintance with Islam.

The qualified permission for a woman to go out is based on three considerations. In the first place, she is basically responsible for the home and the upbringing of children. Whatever else she does outside is subordinate to this fundamental role. Indeed, she herself derives greater happiness and fulfillment from a stable and successful home than from anything else. Therefore, anything that might distract her from giving her full attention to the family is discouraged, except where it becomes absolutely necessary. In the second place, her own safety has been considered by Islam, since Islam regards the physical, moral and psychological security of women as the responsibility of society as a whole, of which her husband and her immediate relations take a significant share. In the third place, the qualified permission is made with due considerations to public morality. Since women evoke strong emotions in men, the interaction between the two must always be regulated. For example, the intimacy that exists between a husband and a wife necessitates a considerable display of social, moral and emotional restraint when they deal with other people. If they did not show restraint, discord and malice would result in society; and to the extent that man is almost always the aggressor, the woman carries a responsibility to minimize the possibility of that aggression. Yet, the same public morality which necessitates greater restraint from a woman may also require her to go out to assist in society. Who is better than a woman in teaching another woman, or in treating her ailment, or in solving her emotional and psychological problems?

Book Review of  ‘The African Caliphate


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


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



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


byDr. Usman Bugaje



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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