By Yusuf AbdulLahi
As noted earlier, Islam came to Hausa land very long before the Danfodio’s jihad. The spread of Islam to the region was actually due to activities of propagators that took it upon themselves not circumstantial traders. Therefore, the essence of the Jihad was not to introduce Islam to the region but rather to purify it from bad innovations practiced in its name. Beside Islam however, there were animism and traditional beliefs. However, consequent to sincere practice of the religion especially by Shehu and his disciples many of them accepted Islam.
With his gifted intellectual capacity and insightful leadership, Shehu had travelled widely in Hausa land publically preaching and teaching. The popular name Shehu – originally Sheikh – identified with him was an scholarly title referring to a noted scholar whose actions are a reflection of his knowledge. Large crowd would always gather wherever he went to preach in Gobir, Kebbi, Zamfara and any other place as the case might be. Gradually, people began to respect him and follow his ideas devotedly.
In addition to his charismatic personality and able leadership, his august lieutenants Sheikh Abbullahi Gwandu -younger brother- and Muhammad Bello -son- played very significant roles not only at the initial stage of the Islamic revolutionary process, but throughout and after the Shehu’s life as the closest associates and most influenced by his teachings. Very interestingly, Sheikh Abdullahi has authored many books in Islamic and Arabic disciplines that remained valuable referential materials in various Universities of Sudan and Egypt to date!
Another widely recognized contributor to the change especially in the cultural aspect was his popular daughter Nana Asma’u – mai ‘yan taru – who authored tens of poems which made a lot of impact not only to the moral excellence of women but men inclusive. Her books collected and compiled by Jean Boyd are more easily obtainable in Britain and America than Nigeria. Apart from the commons, Shehu has communicated to sarakai on the need to obey the actual teachings of Islam and avoid bad innovations. In the cause of the call, he was believed to have visited courts of some sarakai with whom he had some historic relations.
As people increasingly answered him, the sarakai whose unlimited power was challenged began to fight him and his disciples. The Gobir king was the first to provoke Shehu’s people, usurp their properties and attempted to assassinate him. He perpetually campaigned against the call and some of his troops captured Shehu’s disciples including women and children which they sold out as slaves. There were many instances in which the Shehu’s people were seriously maltreated including murders through hitherto raids, but he asked them to exercise patience and continue their call towards Allah. When the persecution went to extreme he prepared for self defense.
Eventually, the King of Gobir ordered Shehu to take only his family and leave the town leaving all his followers. Shehu’s response was: “I will not part with my people, but I am prepared to leave along with all those who wish to follow me”. Thus hijra was embarked upon in 1804 as he described in many of his books. The Jama’a followed to join up from different areas. The king instructed his officers to confiscate the possessions of anyone following Shehu. They raided, killed and captured many of his disciples and properties in the name of booty. Sequel to that, they informed Shehu of the extreme oppression in Gobir and environs pledging their loyalty to obey his commands on the teachings of the noble Qur’an and the prophetic Sunna. They promised to fight back in self defense and with great determination and firmness, they set out against their oppressors. As a strategy they dug a ditch round Gudu from the example of what happened during the prophet’s time when they were informed of the king’s arrangement to raise allied forces to exterminate them.
A widely noticed triumph of Shehu was in the confrontation with the Birnin Kwanni warriors who raided from the East. Their leader was killed and many men captured. Shehu’s people also fought against Sarkin Gobir Yunfa’s army at Tafkin Kwato who were humiliated and dispersed. Their chief finally fled. After series of wars’ Tafkin kwato, Tsuntsuwa and many others, the Sarakai armies were ultimately defeated as a promise of Allah. After the defeat of Gobir’s king, other Hausa kings were asked to help the religion but they refused. And with the help of Allah, Shehu and his people emerged victorious despite their physical weaknesses. Consequent to the success, Shehu began to put in place a judicious Islamic order covering all socio-economic aspects of the society. That was the base of the historic justice, moral, intellectual, economic and infrastructural development of the caliphate. Sokoto became the caliphate headquarters and Shehu remained the spiritual guide, father and teacher. Nothing changed in his socio-economic life after the victory. To the end, he evidently lived a very simple and righteous vicegerent of Allah on earth.
On the other side, administration, control and management of the large caliphate was very challenging. So as Shehu continued guidance on the teachings of the holy Qur’an and Sunna, his lieutenants were tasked with other responsibilities. The duo – Sheikh Abdullahi bin Fodio and Muhammad Bello were strategically stationed at Gwandu and Sokoto respectively. It is very important to stress a point here that the success of the Shehu’s grand Islamic reform was not a substitution of leadership from a king to another. Not at all, Shehu himself was not a king; he was a devoted Muslim and most renowned influential Islamic scholar in this region. The same thing with Sheikh Abdullahi Gwandu, Muhammaed Bello and other lieutenants.
All assigned administrators in major towns were humble Islamic scholars far away from arrogance. They tried their best to live as vicegerents of Allah enjoining what was good and forbidding the evils. Therefore, Shehu was represented by well trained disciples in various towns often referred as “Tutocin Shehu Mujaddadi”. These representatives included Malam Musa Zaria, Malam Zaki Katagum, Malam Ummarun Dallaje Katsina, Malam Sulaimanu Kano Malam Yakubu Bauchi and Malam Dan tunku Kazaure among others. They were popularly referred as Umara -leaders at their entrusted capacities.
Ethnologically, Umara is the plural form of Arabic word Ameer -leader traceable in the tradition of the Prophet of twelve leaders to come after him. Ideologically, they were not kings. It was this popular word Ameer the colonialists called Emir.
The Shehu’s administration was run on a full scale Islamic Sharia legal system which generally revolutionized the society for the historic socio- economic stability enjoyed by the region. We may briefly have a look at the achievements of Shehu’s revolutionary reform;
To be continued.