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DAN FODIO, USUMAN (c. 1754-1817), Nigerian religious leader and reformer. Shaykh `Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn `Uthman ibn Salih, known to the Hausas as Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio, was born into a family of Muslim Fulani clerics in the Ha6e (Hausa) kingdom of Gobir in present-day northern Nigeria. The family had abandoned the nomadic way of life several generations earlier and was dedicated to the teaching of Sunni, Maliki Islam. By the end of the eighteenth century Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio had inspired the Muslim Fulani to begin the jihad al-qawl (“preaching jihad”) addressed to the Ha6e aristocracy of Gobir and its neighbors. This aristocracy, nominally Muslim, was in the Fulani view polytheistic, given to “mixed Islam,” maintaining animist practices while at the same time adopting elements of Islam. Such mixed Islam was common in the aftermath of the collapse of the medieval Islamic empires of the Sahel.

Usuman Dan Fodio

The preaching jihad, which extended over several years, demanded the political and cultural surrender of this faintly Muslim, largely animist establishment to the strictly orthodox practice of Sunni, Maliki Islam. This the Ha6e refused. In an escalating climate of tension, hostilities broke out between the Muslim Fulani and the Ha6e in 1804. Shehu Usuman, adopting certain precedents from the struggle of the Prophet Muhammad against the polytheists ofMecca, solemnly elevated this conflict to the status of a “holy war of the sword” that must necessarily follow the “preaching jihad” when the latter fails to be effective.The campaign was conducted not by the Shehu himself, a scholarly and somewhat reclusive mystic, but by his brother Shaykh `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad, equally scholarly but a hardheaded legalist who proved himself a brilliant field commander. He was unenthusiastic about the Sufi mysticism espoused by his brother Shehu Usuman and more inclined to the strict construction of the shari`ah.

The jihad was successful. The “Sokoto caliphate,” a centralist Islamic polity to which provincial jihadist emirs owed allegiance, took the place of the hodgepodge of Habe principalities that had preceded it. While the Islamic shari’ah cannot be said to have been imposed on this polity with total conformity-much pagan practice did survive-its writ was nevertheless substantial. By the time the British occupiedNigeriaearly in the twentieth century, there was no doubt that what they took over was a Muslim society governed by shari `ah law.

The jihad had two other immediate consequences. First, it transformed Islam from a tolerated minority religion into the official religion of the state. Second, it elevated the Islamic scholars from their previous position as mere advisers of polytheistic rulers who engaged in mixed Islam to a place as the sole custodians of political power and the arbiters of social behavior. The jihad also altered the trade patterns of Hausaland by destroying the old centers of trade and setting up new ones.

The significance of the jihad for present-day Islam inNigeriarests more with Shaykh `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad than with his mystically inclined brother Usuman, who initially inspired the jihad. The latter was a Qadiri Sufi given to visions and other liminal experiences greatly revered in his day. With the rise of modern Islamic fundamentalism, while he still enjoys reverence, he has been largely superseded. His brother `Abd Allah, the down-to-earth legalist, whose platform was not mysticism but strict adherence to the letter of the shari `ah, has become the admired exemplar for the present generation of Islamic radicals in northernNigeria. [See alsoNigeria; Sokoto Caliphate.]


Hiskett, Mervyn. The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of the Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio.London, 1973. The most complete biographical discussion that is readily available.

Martin, B. G. Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth-CenturyAfrica.Cambridge, 1976. Helpful introduction in the context of African Muslim movements.

Sulaiman, Ibraheem. A Revolution in History: The Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio.London, 1986. Important Muslim interpretation by a prominent Nigerian Islamist scholar.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/dan-fodio-usuman/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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