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Shehu Usman Dan Fodio and Islamization of Hausas Through Jihad

Shehu Usman Dan Fodio and Islamization of Hausas Through Jihad

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Published by Amnah Khalid

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Published by: Amnah Khalid on Nov 21, 2010
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In contemporary time, jihad is often understood as the violent process of waging war againstnon-Muslims. Muslims themselves have promoted it as a form of cleasing of external influencesfrom the Islamic personality at an individual level. However, historically in West Africa, jihadwas used as a pattern of Islamization to eradicate paganism and African culture to homogenizesociety as a whole to become a part of the Islamic Ummah. Islamization as a process occurred inevery age and time through revivalist movements that challenged particular order. Knowledgeand Islamization in relation to society is understood as the transformation of the public sphere interms of mass distribution of Islamic symbols and the increase of political representation of Islam. In other words, it is the contention of purporting an Islamic worldview by introducingIslamic values and method into educational institutions, science and politics.
Advent of Islam in west Africa
Islam made inroad into West Africa by trade, intermarriage and pilgrimage. Following the Arabconquest of North Africa, the Berbers accepted Islam and carried it across the Sahara to thekingdom of Soninke. The transmitting of Islam through culture explains its peaceful process of conversion, but its success laid in the Africanization of Islam. It proved its rational basis,simplicity and adaptability and tradition of scholarship. It was common, like in Gao that peoplewere pagans and their king a Muslim and so the court customs remained Pre -Islamic. Likewise,in Ghana Muslims lived in separate quarters under the protection of a pagan king who seek their  prayers in overcoming plots, wars, and drought. It was difficult to rule over a powerful minorityMuslim community who monopolized trade and had extensive foreign relations but also had to please the pagan majority. Ibn Battuta's (1352-1353 A.D) accounts firmly placed Islam in thekingdom of Mali. He describes the political system as a struggle of influence between paganismand Islam especially when religion appealed differently to different social groups.Ritualism was prevalent and offering prayers was regarded the main tenet. There were no Kadi tosettle disputes and the community litigated before a preacher to settle through conciliation. The
Quran was regarded as a source of blessing instead of a revelation of the divine law. The ulemawere also of two kinds; those close to the king that integrated into the socio-political system of the state who accepted the realities of compromise and presented Islam in dilute and mild forms.The other kind maintained high standard of scholarship well connected to other centers of learning and more interested in the application of Islamic Law. They presented a normativeIslam, different from the practiced and so were in a position to deal with kings in an independentcapacity. The radical break with the past could not be accomplished through evolution; an armedrevolution was necessary. Therefore if the kings cannot turn to be true Muslims then the onlyway was for the ulema to become chief to make an Islamic state. Therefore, a median positionwas adopted in political system and the change to Islam came between 1785-1898 through the jihad of , Usman Dan Fodiyo, Ahmad b. Muhammad, al-hajj Mahmud, al-hajj Umar al-Futiwhich spread the tijani message, al-hajj Muhammad al- Amin of Gambia, Samory Ture innorthern Ghana. It was these great Muslim leaders of the states of the Sudan that Edward Blydenspoke so highly of in a London suburb on the anniversary of Liberian independence in 1874.Blyden summoned up the great characteristics of the Muslims and the Islamic spirit of  brotherhood in the following words:'They read constantly the same books, and from this they derive that community of ideas and thatunderstanding of each other which gives them the power of ready organization and effectiveaction. Without the aid or hindrance of the foreigners, then they are growing up gradually andnormally to take their place in the great family of nations, a distinct but integral part of the greathuman body, who will neither be spurious Europeans, bastard Americans, nor savage Africans, but men developed upon the basis of their own idiosyncracies and according to the exigencies of the climate and country.The result was the set up of centralized Islamic polities, although strictly speaking it did notresult in theocries rather the moving of Islam to the center as the source of state legitimacy. Itreduced paganism to the lowest rungs of society and thus forcing pagans to convert. This systemremained intact until colonial occupation.What were the customs and practises that led to Jihad and Islamization of the region?
 From Ibn Battuta's account of African native culture it can be deciphered that it was tribal.African polytheism involved human sacrifice and the use of human organs to make charms andamulets.Paganism dominated the supernatural forces that reigned on earth, sky, forest and water.They derive their genealogy from the the maternal uncle and neither does a man pass on hisinheritance to his sons but to the sons of his sister.The free mixing of genders in which men didnot experience jealousy and women continued to have friends and companions after marriage.Women were not veiled and not modest in the presence of men inspite of their perseverance in prayer and would not even in ramadan cover up. On marriage they could not travel with men andwhen they did ,only permitted within a set territorial boundary. They ate animals not rituallyslaughtered or permitted like dog, donkey.Many pagan tribes were cannibals and Ibn Battutarelates that once when a woman was offered as a hospitality by a king she was slaughtered andeaten .The pagan belief system, believed in a high god not actively connected with everyday lifeof men but connected to them through a chain of supernatural forces that controlled destiny .TheUbangiji was the high god and the supernatural forces were Iskoki that acted as the medium of agood relationship between god and men, through rituals which were often sacrifices or  possession of being. It supported a class of priests skilled in the mysteries of Iskoki ,that were politically powerful since the king was made the center of public rituals.This is known as theBori-cult .The people were most humble before their king and little injustice was found among them. Thegood is that they are regular in prayer and particular even with their children, especially on theoccasion of Friday prayer even the poorest among them washes his clothes and wears white to goand pray. They learn Quran by heart and punish those who would not learn by chainingthem.They make fetters for their children when they appear on their part to be falling short intheir learning of Quran by heart, and they are not taken off from them until they do learn byheart. I went to visit him on id day and his children were tied up for this reason.
Early Islam in northern Nigeria

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