H.A.S. Johnston.
The Fulani Empire of Sokoto

London. Ibadan. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. 1967. 312 p.

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Chapter Three
Shehu Usuman dan Fodiyo

One of the Fulani who emigrated from Senegambia because of the troubled times was a member of the Toronkawa called Musa Jakollo. He made his way eastward and in due course arrived in Hausaland. On a calculation of known generations the date of his arrival there can be put at about 1450 1.
It is known that Musa Jakollo settled in Birnin Konni, a town in the province of Adar, and that his family stayed there for the next eleven generations 2. The Fulani conquerors are sometimes thought of as being shepherd kings, that is to say nomads who entered a settled community and soon afterwards seized power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Musa Jakollo's descendants, for example, may have been Pullo na'i when they reached Hausaland, but once they had settled in Konni they seem to have become TorooBe, still owning cattle, no doubt, but devoting themselves in the main to religion, law, and learning 3. They were already there when Askia's armies subdued western Hausaland, they saw the rise and fall of Muhammadu Kanta's brief empire, they heard the news that the Jukuns were at the gates of Katsina, and they witnessed the destruction of Zamfara.
What was perhaps most important of all, however, was that they had been in Birnin Konni for generations before the Gobirawa moved down from Aïr to the neighbouring country which is now called Gobir. This movement, as already noted, probably did not take place until the late seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, therefore, the nomadic days of the Toronkawa lay three centuries behind them and it was the Gobirawa rather than they who were the newcomers to the district.
To this family there was born, in the year 1755, a boy whose name was Usuman dan Fodiyo but who is usually known to history as Shehu, the Hausa form of the Arabic word Sheikh. At the time of his birth messianic prophecies are said to have been made about him and he himself seems to have been conscious from an early age that a great destiny awaited him.
Shehu's father, Muhammadu Fodiyo, was a man of piety and learning. Like most of the Moslems of North Africa and the Sudan, he was a Sunni and had been brought up in the Maliki School of jurisprudence. He also belonged to the Kadiriyya fraternity which was the oldest and most widespread of the Islamic orders 4. He saw to it that his sons, Shehu and a younger boy called Abdullahi, received the best schooling that was to be had. In those days education in the Sudan was based upon the study of Arabic and Islamic theology in much the same way that education in medieval Europe had been based on Latin and Christian theology. In the Moslem world, of course, theology embraced law as well as religion.
Elementary instruction in the basic subjects was to be had in the mosques and Koranic schools. There were no established centres of advanced learning, however, much less any Universities, and so those who wished to pursue their studies had to seek out the recognized Masters, wherever they might be found, and enrol themselves as their pupils 5. The flame that El-Maqili had lit burnt low, it is true, in the Courts of the Hausa Chiefs, but among the pious and learned there were still many to tend it and keep it burning brightly.
As with all Moslem boys, Shehu's education began with the study of the Koran which was taught to him by his father. Syntax and grammar he learned from Abdur Rabman dan Hamada, poetry and other subjects from Usuman Bindawo Bakebbi. He then spent two years with an uncle, Usuman Bibnuduwu, who played a leading part in moulding his character. After that he went to Agades, in the southern Sahara, and spent another year as a pupil of Mallam Jibrilu 6 who was then recognized as the most learned man in the central Sudan. Returning to Hausaland he next studied exegesis under Hashimu Bazamfare and another uncle, Ahmadu dan Muhammadu Amino, and finally the Moslem Traditions under yet another uncle, Muhammadu dan Raji 7.
Shehu was an apt pupil, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and he absorbed all that his instructors were able to teach him. We do not know exactly when he himself received the ijaza, or license to teach, but it was certainly conferred on him before he reached the age of twenty-five because by then he had become the instructor of his younger brother 8.
Shehu grew up in a period when the Gobirawa were at the height of their power. Their victory over the Zamfarawa and their annexation of northern Zamfara took place soon after he was born. The construction of their new capital at Alkalawa went forward while he was a child. Their aggressive attacks on neighbouring States continued during his boyhood. Finally, when he was a young man, they renounced their allegiance to Bornu.
In 1777, when Shehu was twenty-two, Bawa succeeded as Chief of Gobir. He was a son of Sarkin Gobir Babari, who had defeated Zamfara, and his nickname, “Jan Gwarzo”, showed that he was a man of unusual energy and drive. By the Fulani, however, he was considered a tyrant because of the severity with which he ordered jangali, the tax on cattle, to be assessed and collected. Those who tried to evade it, as to a greater or lesser extent the pastoral Fulani have always tried to do, had their cattle seized 9. As a result, there was friction and animosity. Some of the Fulani conceived such a strong sense of grievance that they reacted in their traditional manner, that is to say they pulled up their roots and departed 10. As for the Hausa rulers, they were probably left with the feeling that the Fulani were contumacious aliens who refused to accept the established customs of the country. Thus were the first seeds of serious discord sown.
If the tension between the Fulani and the Hausas was something new, the quarrel between strict Moslems and their laxer brethren had persisted for generations. Islam, as we have already seen, had been introduced centuries earlier and the Hausa Chiefs and ruling classes were all nominally Moslems. In fact, however, the impetus which El-Maqili had given to Islam at the end of the fifteenth century had soon spent itself. Early in the sixteenth century the memory of the devout and god-fearing Muhammadu Rumfa had been eclipsed in Hausaland by the spectacular successes of the rumbustious and worldly Kanta. In the seventeenth century worse had followed when the Moslem Hausas had been repeatedly and humiliatingly defeated by the pagan Jukuns. We know from The Kano Chronicle that the early Hausas tended to value religions according to their efficacy in worldly affairs 11 and we may surmise that these were among the factors that caused the zeal engendered by El-Maqili to evaporate during the succeeding generations.
The decay of Islam during this period did not pass altogether unheeded, it is true, and the commentary 12 of at least one reformer has survived, but he was probably a Kanuri, not a Hausa, and in any case his strictures were muted and seem to have made little impact. They do, however, serve to confirm that in the allegedly Moslem society of the central Sudan ignorance was rife and observance lax.
It has often been said that Islam is not merely a religion but a whole way of life, at once pervasive and demanding. Generally speaking, therefore, the people of Africa have found it easier to embrace this faith than to live up to its often exacting standards and observe its manifold and sometimes novel injunctions. Just as in Europe certain pagan rites were perpetuated in the Christian era in covert or transmuted form, so in the Sudan many ancient customs survived the establishment of Islam even when they were in direct conflict with its commands.
In Hausaland it was all the more natural that this should have been so because among the peasantry, who of course formed the bulk of the population, the proportion that professed to be Moslem was probably less than half 13 and even among them ignorance and superstition were still prevalent. For a man fired with religious zeal there were therefore two major tasks to be performed: the conversion of the heathen among the peasantry and the eradication of abuses among the nominally Moslem ruling classes.

Shehu himself, his brother Abdullahi, and his son Muhammadu Bello were all prolific writers 14. Thanks to the books and papers that they left we have a clear idea of the nature of the abuses that Shehu later set out to reform.
First, in a work entitled Nasa'ih al-Ummat al-Muhammadiya, which was probably written in the period preceding the outbreak of the jihad 15, Shehu touched, among other things, on the reprehensible customs of the common people. Here he made special mention of the mixing of the sexes at social gatherings, the practice of allowing women to go to market while the men sat at home, the moral laxity at bridal festivals where women in their finery danced before men, the custom of salutation by prostration, and various abuses and aberrations in the administration of the law of inheritance 16. His strictures were not very severe, however, and he was concerned to admonish rather than to expose or denounce.
But in the Kitab al-Farq, a book which was probably written as a justification for the jihad when the war had already begun, but which has for its subject the Hausa scene in the period leading up to it, Shehu turned on the rulers with much greater severity and gave a catalogue of over twenty charges that he made against them. These can be classified into four unequal groups under the general headings of :

The first group, the charges of oppression, is the largest and embraces nearly half the total. It includes accusations that the ruling classes imposed taxes not sanctioned by the Shari'a, or sacred law, abducted the women they wanted without offering marriage, misappropriated the possessions of women who were wards of court, made forced levies of goods and money in the markets, commandeered pack animals without paying for them, sequestrated the goods of strangers who died in their territory, levied tolls on merchants and travellers, and conscripted men to their armies, allowing those who wished to buy themselves out to do so 18.
One of the three taxes that Shehu singled out here for condemnation was jangali, the cattle-tax which had been collected in Hausaland for generations past and which in recent years had become a bone of contention between the rulers of Gobir and the pastoral Fulani. He pointed out that it was not one of the seven forms of taxation recognized by Islamic law and he therefore challenged its legality. If the Hausa authorities troubled to justify their actions, they probably argued that, as the majority of the pastoral Fulani were not Moslems, the tax was a form of jizya, the levy that an Islamic State is entitled to impose on non-Moslem subjects 19. To this Shehu might well have retorted that jizya was supposed to be a poll-tax, not a cattle-tax, and that in any case there were no grounds for imposing it on Moslems, as more and more of the pastoral Fulani were now becoming. Whatever course the argument took, the support of a scholar and jurist of Shehu's standing must have had the effect of reinforcing the pastoral Fulani in their recalcitrance. At any rate, the dispute smouldered on and in the end had significant historical consequences.
The second group of charges in the Kitab al-Farq, those dealing with corruption, is much shorter. It includes accusations that the Hausa rulers could only be approached through intermediaries who had been softened with presents, that in the exercise of their administrative functions they expected sweeteners 20 to be made to them, and that in the courts they sold justice to the highest bidder 21.
The third group, also a small one, comprises the sins of self-indulgence and frivolity. It includes charges that the rulers lived in ornate and luxurious palaces, indulged excessively in concubinage, sometimes keeping as many as a thousand women, and permitted music, drumming, and abandoned dancing 22.
The fourth and last group is another large one and embraces a variety of offences against the Islamic code. Some of these, which relate to Moslem injunctions and prohibitions on food, drink, and clothes, appear at first sight to be of minor moment, but in those days no doubt carried more significance. Others, however, clearly had great political and social as well as religious importance. One such was the charge that the Hausa rulers exercised their power arbitrarily without regard to the law. Another was that they imposed illegal taxes over and above those permitted by the law. A third was that they often set aside the obligatory punishments prescribed by the law, such as death for certain classes of murderers, mutilation for thieves, and stoning or flogging for adulterers, and commuted them for the sequestration of goods 23.
To devout Moslems these charges were of course all the more heinous in that the law which the Hausa rulers were accused of flouting was no mere man-made code but the God-given and immutable Shari'a.
In the Wathiqat Ahl al-Sudan, a manifesto which he almost certainly wrote himself and probably published on the eve of the war, Shehu drew distinctions between different types of offenders. First of all there were the backsliders and, a stage worse, the apostates. These could doubtless be found among all classes of society. Next there were the oppressors. They obviously belonged to the ruling classes and were guilty of the kind of abuses of power that had been described in the Kitab al-Farq. Then there were the warmongers and troublemakers. They are more difficult to identify, but were probably all those opponents of the movement who had recourse to force in order to suppress it or persecute its adherents 24.
In addition there was a class of learned men whom the reformers stigmatized under the name of ulama al-su'i and whom we may call the compromisers or equivocators. They were the men of learning who betrayed their cloth, stilled their consciences, and supported the ruling classes in their transgressions of the law, thereby providing them with a mantle of false respectability. Though often much less learned than they professed to be, it was through self interest rather than ignorance that they acted as they did. They were clearly a more or less permanent feature of society in the Sudan for El-Maqili had denounced them in his day and when Shehu appeared, three hundred years later, they were still there to plague him 25.
Among Shehu's teachers there were two who seem to have exerted a very special influence over him. One was his uncle, Usuman Bibnuduwu, with whom he had spent nearly two years of his adolescence and who was evidently a man of high principle and strong conscience. We are told that he was renowned for righteousness and for the fearless manner in which he forbade the wrong and upheld the right. We know, too, that his pupil took him as a model 26 and it is probable that he played an important part in setting Shehu's feet on the path of militant reform.
The other teacher who made a major contribution to Shehu's evolution as a religious reformer was Mallam Jibrilu dan Umaru. He was generally recognized as the outstanding figure among the learned men of his generation in the central Sudan, but he seems to have worn his learning lightly, because he is described as being so genial that one would have thought all men were his friends 27. There was another side to his character, however, and he was also the most rigid opponent of any form of compromise on religious questions 28.
One of the religious issues which had been sporadically debated in the Sudan for generations and which was now active again was whether disobedience, or in other words sin or backsliding, was sufficient reason for anathematizing a Moslem and casting him out altogether from the brotherhood of Islam. The problem was to determine when backsliding became apostasy and when disobedience became so blatant that it had to be treated as unbelief. These selfsame questions had been put to El-Maqili in Songhai at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the correspondence on the subject that followed between him and Askia Muhammad revealed the existence then of forms of oppression and corruption strikingly similar to those that were now troubling the reformers in Hausaland — the same oppressive rulers, venal jurists, equivocating scholars, and backsliding masses 29. El-Maqili's verdict had been uncompromising. Those who claimed to be Moslems but continued to practice paganism he had condemned aspolytheists and infidels. The equivocators and venal jurists he haddescribed as being more harmful to Islam than all the mischief-makers. And of the predatory rulers he had said that, while no Moslem should be anathematized merely because of sin, conduct such as imposing illegal taxes, levying tolls, and seizing the property of deceased travellers indicated not mere disobedience but rank unbelief 30.
In Shehu's day Mallam Jibrilu was ready to go even further and maintain that those who were guilty of such acts of disobedience as having more than four wives, allowing women to mix with men or go unveiled, or depriving orphans of their rights ought to be anathematized unconditionally 31. Shehu was subsequently to refute this particular doctrine and show that he himself upheld a more orthodox view 32. Nevertheless, Jibrilu's forthright assertion of these extreme views must have helped to prepare public opinion for Shehu's slightly more moderate but still advanced teaching. Furthermore, there is no doubt whatever that the later reformers, even if they were not prepared to go quite as far as Jibrilu, were profoundly influenced by him. Abdullahi wrote a panegyric in his honour 33. Bello described him as a lamp that had dispersed the darkness and revived religion in the land 34. And Shehu himself acknowledged his debt in the following lines :

« Then, by God, I know not, should we have been guided to the path of the Sunna, and to the abandoning of these blameworthy customs, had it not been for this blessed Sheikh? » 35

Another Islamic doctrine that must have influenced Shehu's evolution as a religious leader was the Messianic Tradition which taught that in every century God would send a reformer who would drive injustice from the land and renew the faith 36. This belief was common throughout Islam and would in any case have been known to Shehu. Again, however, it was specifically mentioned by El-Maqili in his correspondence with Askia Muhammad.

« And, accordingly, it is related that at the beginning of every century God will send a learned man to the people to renew their faith, and the characteristics of this learned man in every century must be that he commands what is right and forbids what is disapproved of, and reforms the affairs of the people and judges justly between them, and assists the truth against vanity, and the oppressed against the oppressor, in contrast to the characteristics of the (other) learned men of his age 37. »

There is no doubt whatever that Shehu was familiar with this correspondence, because he actually embodied it in one of his own works, the Siraj al-Ikhwan 38. Moreover, what must have given these old precedents a much greater significance in his eyes was the fact that they had been laid down at the time when Askia, proclaiming himself to be the champion of Islam, had seized power from the sons of his lax and backsliding predecessor, Sonni Ali. The civil war that had accompanied this coup had been recognized by El-Maqili as a legitimate jihad and declared to be not only justified but meritorious 39.

All these were matters on which Shehu, at the turn of the century, must often have pondered.

1. Hiskett, Introduction to TW, p. 5.
2. For the Family Tree see Table I in Appendix II.
3. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
4. The devotion of Shehu's followers to this brotherhood can be gauged from the fact that to this day town criers in all the towns and villages of Sokoto address the People as “Ya Kadirawa”.
5. Hiskett, Introduction to TW, p. 6.
6. Mallam is the title conferred in Hausaland on any man of learning.
7. Abdullah ibn Muhammad, Ida al-Nusukh (IN), edited and translated by M. Hiskett, BSOAS, vol. XIX (1957) 3, pp. 563-4. See also Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. pp. 9-10.
8. Abdullah, IN, p. 561.
9. Hopen, op. cit. p. 10.
10. Hopen, op. cit. p. 10.
11. K Ch (Palmer, pp. 107-8).
12 Muhammad b. Abdur Rahman's Shurb al-Zulal, probably written at the end of the seventeenth century. See Bivar and Hiskett, op, cit. pp. 118-39.
13. Bello, Inf M (Arnett, p. 2 1).
14. Kensdale has listed the following:

Author Works
Shehu 85
Abdullahi 75
Bello 93

and there are known to be more. See “Field Notes on the Arabic Literature of the Western Sudan” in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1955, 1956, and 1958.
15. Jihad means, in the Moslem sense, a holy war.
16. M. Hiskett, “An Islamic Tradition of Reform in the Western Sudan from the Sixteenth to the Eighteen Century” (AITR), BSOAS, vol. XXV (1962) 3, pp. 586-7.
17. Kitab al-Farq (KF), edited and translated by M. Hiskett, BSOAS, vol. XXIII (1960) 3, pp. 558-79.
18. KF, op. cit. pp. 558-79.
19. The Kano Chronicle describes jangali as jizya (Palmer, p. 119). See also Hiskett's Comments on KF, loc. cit. pp. 574-5.
20. In Hausa gaisuwa.
21. Shehu, KF (Hiskett, pp. 567-9).
22. Shehu, KF (Hiskett, pp. 567-2).
23. Ibid.
24. Wathiqat Ahl al-Sudan (WAS), edited and translated by A. D. H. Bivar, Journal of African History, vol. II (1961) 2, pp. 235-43.
25. Hiskett, AITR, pp. 580-1.
26. Abdullah, IN (Hiskett, pp. 563 and 575), and Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. pp. 9-10.
27. Bello, Inf M (Arnett, pp. 10-20).
28. Hiskett, AITR, p. 589. Alhaji Junaidu agrees with the view that Mallam Jibrilu and Usuman Bibnuduwu exerted decisive influence in shaping Shehu's thought and character.
29. Hiskett, AITR, pp. 578-83.
30. Hiskett, AITR, pp. 578-83.
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. Abdullah, TW (Hiskett, pp. 90-94).
34. Bello, Inf M (Arnett, p. 19).
35. Hiskett, AITR, p. 591.
36. Hiskett, AITR, pp. 583-4.
37. Ibid.
38. Hiskett, AITR, pp. 583-4.
39. Ibid.

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