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Saturday 24 August 2019




Fula people, with Arabic and North African roots, adopted Islam early. According to David Levinson, adopting Islam made the Fulani feel a "cultural and religious superiority to surrounding peoples, and that adoption became a major ethnic boundary marker" between them and other African ethnic groups in Sahel and West Africa. Settled and nomadic Fulanis became political and warring entities, armed with horses and equipment of war from the north. The wars were not merely between Fula people and other ethnic groups, but also between the pastoral and sedentary Fulanis, where sometimes they worked in cohesion, and other times the Muslim Fulani leaders attacked the nomadic Fulanis as infidels.

The Songhai Empire rulers had converted to Sunni Islam in the 11th century and were a major trading partner of the Middle East and North Africa. The Fulani warriors, in the 15th century, challenged this West African trading state near the Niger River, but were repulsed. In 1493, Askia Muhammad led the Fulani people from western Sudan, and over time gained control of much that was previously Songhai empire, removing Sonni Baru who had attempted to protect the interests of pastoralists. Askia Muhammad won a control over the caravan trade routes in West Africa, but was overthrown by his own son, Askia Musa, in a coup in 1528.

The Fulani, after being the first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam, became active in supporting Islamic theology and ideology from centers such as Timbuktu. The Fula people who later became known as the Toroobe worked with Berber and Arabian Islamic clerics, charting out the spread of Islam in West Africa. The Fula people led many jihads or holy wars, some of which were major. These war efforts, helped spread Islam in West Africa and as well helped them dominate much of the Sahel region of West Africa during the medieval and pre-colonial era history, establishing them not only as a religious group but also as a political and economic force.


The Fulani War of 1804-1808, also known as the Fulani Jihad or Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio, was a military contest in present-day Nigeria and Cameroon. The war began when Usman Dan Fodio, a prominent Islamic scholar and teacher, was exiled from Gobir by the king Yunfa, one of his former students.

Usman Dan Fodio assembled a Fulani army to lead in jihad against the Hausa kingdoms of the North of Nigeria. The forces of Usman Dan Fodio slowly took over more and more of the Hausa kingdoms, capturing Gobir in 1808 and executing Yunfa. The war resulted in the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, headed by Usman Dan Fodio, which became one of the largest states in Africa in the 19th century. His success inspired similar jihads in Western Africa.

The term jihad movement means, the struggle for the defense of Islam or the holy war struggling for the defense of Islam. Jihad movement started in the period of 19th century for the aim of restoring Islamic faith and the following are the participants of this movement in western Sudan under Usman Dan Fodio: Shehu Ahmadu Lobbo and Al Hajj Umar and this movement created Islamic states like Sokoto, Masina empire, Tunisia, Egypt, Maghreb, Songhai, Bornu and others.

During 19th century a number of reformer movements emerged in West African States especially in western Sudan. The main aim is to restore the Islamic faith, the empire like Songhai and Bornu in Western Sudan had strong Islamic faith. The influence of Islam manifested itself differently in different societies and places that were conquered first in the Umayyad period and went on to become Muslim states as Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of Berber of Maghrib entered the Muslim world at an early date. Islam came later through missionary work. So Islam had an ambitious individual or community to strive to lead a virtual life and to extend Islamic community through jihad.

Jihad is the only war which means struggle for the defense of Islam. There are three most important jihads that western Sudan led by Othman Dan Fodio orchestrated and they were : Jihad of Futa Jalon and jihad of Masina also there are other people like Shehu Ahmadu Lobbo (Hamad Bari ) and Al Hajj Umar as several states emerged and those appeared in west Africa after 1800.


The Kanem-Bornu Empire had been in decline in the area from the mid 18th century. The result was the rise of a number of independent Hausa kingdoms throughout the region. Two prominent Hausa kingdoms were Gobir and Zamfara. However, warfare between the Hausa states and other states were constant for the later part of the 18th century, resulting in a harsh system of conscription and taxation. The Fulanis, a largely pastoral people, were often the victims of Hausa taxation, land control, and other discriminatory practices.


Usman Dan Fodio, born in 1751, joined a growing number of traveling Islamic scholars through the Hausa kingdoms in the 1770s and became quite popular in the 1790s. Originally, Dan Fodio's preaching received the support of the leadership of Gobir However, as his influence increased and as he began to advocate for self-defense arming by his followers, his favor with the leadership decreased. Sarkin Gobir Nafata, the king of Gobir, placed series of restrictions on Dan Fodio's preaching. In 1801, Sarkin Gobir Yunfa, a former pupil of Dan Fodio, replaced Nafata as king of Gobir. Yunfa increased the restrictions on Dan Fodio and exiled him from Gobir to the village of Degel. Crisis developed later in 1803 when Yunfa attacked and captured many of the followers of a group associated with dan Fodio. Yunfa then marched the prisoners through Degel, enraging many of Dan Fodio's followers who attacked the army and freed the prisoners. Yunfa gave Dan Fodio the option of exile before destroying Degel, which led to the large scale Hijra of Dan Fodio's community to Gudu. So many people went with him throughout the state that on February 21 1804, Yunfa declared war on Dan Fodio and threatened punishment to anyone joining him. His followers declared him to be the Amir al-Mu'minin, commander of the faithful, and denounced their allegiance to Gobir.


Several minor skirmishes preceded the forces meeting at the battle of Tsuntua. Although Yunfa was victorious and Dan Fodio lost a number of his men, the battle did not diminish his force. He retaliated by capturing the village of Matankari, which resulted in the battle of Tafkin Kwattoa, a major action between Yunfa and Dan Fodio's forces. Although outnumbered, Dan Fodio's troops were able to prevent Yunfa from advancing on Gunu and thus convinced larger numbers of people to join his forces.

In 1805, the forces of Dan Fodio, the jihadists, captured the Hausa kingdom of Kebbi. By 1807, the jihadists had taken over the states of Katsina and Daura and the important kingdom of Kano. In 1808, the jihadists captured Gobir, killing Yunfa in the battle.

With the capture of Gobir, the jihadists saw that they were part of a wider regional struggle. They continued with battles against a number of Hausa kingdoms and the Sokoto Caliphate expanded over the next two years. The last major expansion of the jihadists was the toppling of the Sayfawa dynasty in 1846.

Written by Obulose Chidiebere N.

Edited by Emilia Domendu
For Family Writers Press International

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