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In Remembrance of Sheikh Usman’s Islamic Revival

By Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi
In the name of Allah who states "Those who, should We establish them in the land, will keep up prayer and pay the poor – rate and enjoin what is good and forbid evil; and Allah’s is the end of affairs" Q22:41.

May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His noble servant, our master Muhammad (s) who said “Allah will always raise for the Muslims at the beginning of every century, a reformer who will renew their religion for them" – a famous narration, by Abu Da’ud.


About two weeks back, the resource forum of the Islamic movement in Nigeria commemorated the birthday of sheikh Abdullahi Dan Fodio, the famous scholar and younger brother to the great reformer, sheikh Usman (may Allah have  mercy on them). The programme was scheduled at the time of his birthday which took place on Monday, 22nd Jimadal – Ula, 1180 AH.

The event witnessed several presentations covering his biography, scholarship, bravery and the significant role played in the great Islamic revivalism led by his elder brother Sheikh Usman.

As an annual event, the rationale behind the programme was to review the role of Sheikh Abdullah in the socio – economic reform of Hausa land (presumably northern Nigeria) which the Shehu led that dislodged tyranny of then sarakai who subjected masses to all forms of oppression and enslavement. And to learn generally from the success of the Islamic revival which lasted for hundred years before the advent of Europeans who destroyed the system and put in place their British colonial legacy.

I was able to put some lines last year at the event of the Shehu’s birthday which coincided with the hundred year’s anniversary after the popular amalgamation of 1914. Although, I could not do the same at the right time until now during  his brother’s Sheikh Abdullahi as is better late than never.

He was born and brought up in Marnona in the present Sokoto under the tutelage of his scholarly father Sheikh Muhammad Fodio, elder brother Sheikh Usman and many other scholars.

In the Shehu’s  jihad for societal reform, beside his moral support to the entire followership, he was the first to pay allegiance where he demonstrated bravery, patience and strategic maneuvers to the successful end.

In terms of scholarship, Sheikh Abdullahi was identified with unique brilliance, patience and retentive memory. In fact, he was believed to have authored 170 books in different fields of education. His works are still used as reference materials in the leading libraries of Sudan, Egypt and other prominent areas.


To the best of our knowledge, Shehu was the greatest righteous servant of Allah that ever lived in this region.  But for the Islamic revival he led, no one could precisely tell the destiny of Hausa land in terms of religious inclination. He was also the most significant historic figure whose life and works are unavoidably studied  in the pre – colonial Nigeria.

According to Lady Lugard, page 238 and H. A. S. Johnson, xiii, the Hausa land occupies an area roughly from latitude 90 to 140N and longitude 40 to 110E. It is part of West African savannah and is bounded to the north by Sahara and to the south by the rain forests. It constitutes the largest single bulk, among linguistic groups that occupy the sector between Lake Chad to the east and the middle Niger to the west.

The Hausa land was a very wide plain with a lot of myth and legends. It was simply related to the widespread story of an Arab, Abu Yazid, otherwise known as Bayajidda, that came to Daura and audaciously killed a big serpent called Sarki in the only well of the town deterring people from drinking water. As a result of that the Queen married him, and gifted him another lady and both gave birth to male children one after the other whose sons were later known as Hausa and Banza bakwai respectively. These children were the first kings of the various towns in the land.

Apart from the Hausas who were the majority in the area, Fulani was greatly noticed in the entire West African sub region from which Shehu descended.  The tribe migrated from Futa – toro, in Senegal and settled in Kwoni in Gobir.

The Shehu was born from a highly refuted home of letters at Marata in December, 1754. His father Muhammad Fodio was a widely recognized Islamic scholar, as the word Fodio meant jurist or scholar in Fulfulde.

Islam has arrived the land long ago, so the rationale was not to import the religion but to cleanse and protect it from abuses by different categories of people. It is good to notify that Hausa land as presented above was not a united political entity but different states under various kings who were bent on amassing wealth and expanding their powers. Sarki, those days was like a creator for the unquestionable powers he possessed. He could kill and usurp people’s property including wives and children.

It was in a clear confrontation of his unconditional authority that Shehu interpreted the Islamic testimony of faith as “babu sarki sai Allah” meaning there is no king as Allah” an expression considered  insolence and threat to the unchallenged authorities of then Sarakuna who were highly rooted in cultism, corruption and selfish military campaigns for territorial expansion.

It was against these and other abuses that Shehu fought to cleanse Islam, a religion totally opposed to tyranny and all sorts of injustice at all times.

Jihad, although commonly misinterpreted and misused is a revival movement for societal reform. It is not an outright war against non Muslims for the acceptance of Islam. Never, Shehu obviously fought on defensive ground against Hausa kings who were Muslims but deeply engaged in dirty innovations and oppression.


Shehu came as a fulfillment of Allah’s promise in line with the hadith quoted above. It  was recorded in the Infaq al – maisuur: by Muhammad Bello; C.E.J. London, 1957 pages 29 and 30 in which a woman saint, Ummu Hani prophesized “appearance of a saint who would reform religion, revive the Sunna and establish a community. He would be followed by those who agreed with him, and would be renowned far and wide. Both the common people and the nobles would  adhere to his command, and those connected with him would be known as the Jama’a. Their sign was that they would not tend cattle as was customary with the Fulani. Whoever witnessed that time should follow him”  



As such many reformers rose at different capacities making widely – recognized socio – economic impact to their immediate communities in grand Islamic revolutionary procedures.                                                                                                                                             


Shehu had a very wide history of scholarship beginning with his father, grandmother Khadijah and his most popular teacher and mentor Shaikh Jibreel. It is very interesting to note the latter’s full allegiance to the former in the great Islamic revolutionary process. He followed Maliki School of law and Qadiriyyah Sufi order and his home Degel, become a great centre of scholarship that was rallied round for those in quest of knowledge all over Sudan. He called people to the noble cause of holy prophet (s) for over thirty years (1774 – 1804).

Shehu would always speak the truth without any fear. The sheikh mentioned in Dhiya’ul hukkam, page 13 ”The caliph is appointed to safeguard the rule of law, to ensure justice and equality in such a way that the citizen gets his entitlements and the property and well being of orphans, the insane and so on are safeguarded”

And in Nurul Ahbab – on teaching of women he said “The caliph must ensure justice and equality in such a way that the citizen gets his entitlements and the property and well being of orphans, insane and so on are safeguarded. …..the teacher must not discriminate between the children of the rich and the poor parents …..the teaching of women daughters and slaves is obligatory”

Women were generally encouraged and greatly noted in scholarship and worship. In a Fulfulde poem dated 1837 verses 2-3 by Nana Asma’u daughter of the sheikh, expressed that Inna Garka – the shehu’s wife and mother of Sultan Muhammad Bello spent much of her time in meditation; at such times she did not speak and indicated replies by moving her head or hands. She left her room only for communal prayers. She owned nothing at all except those things necessary to life itself, like the clothes she wore and the utensils in her room.

In another Fulfulde poem verse 12, dated 1837 by Nana Asma’u, Aminatu Lubal and Muhammad Sa’ad older son of Shehu were highly noted in Sufism.

Beside his younger brother Sheikh Abbullah, son Muhammad Bello, other famous lieutenants, his popular daughter Nana Asma’u -mai ‘yan taru was  widely recognized contributor to the revolutionary process. She  authored tens of poems which made a lot of impact not only to the academic and 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.

Shehu has called on the Sarakai to follow the teachings of the holy Qur’an and forsake their bad innovations for which he visited some of their  courts in his quest for justice. Given his audacity, open mindedness and the teaming followership, the Sarakai  considered him a threat that must be got rid of. Thus, the Gobir king  began to harass his followers and attempted to assassinate him several times.

Thus hijra was embarked upon in 1804 as described by Shehu in many of his books. And the Jama’a  joined pledging their loyalty on the teaching of noble Qur’an and the prophetic Sunna to fight back in self – defense.

With great determination and firmness, the Jama’a set out against those who had continuously raided them. And after series of wars’ Tafkin kwato, Tsuntsuwa and many others, the Sarakai armies were ultimately defeated with  triumphant aid of Allah to Shehu and his people. With the tremendous success, Shehu put in place the judicious Islamic order covering all the socio – economic aspects of the society.

People were encouraged to avoid idleness and  engage in lawful businesses and occupations to sustain their living. That was why the society was self – reliant. Farming, trading, rearing, black smithing, pottery and sculpturing were among other means engaged by the people.

Generally speaking, colonialists and all historians have attested to the greatness of the caliphate in terms of education, self – reliance, stability and peaceful coexistence credited to the full scale application of the shari’ah.



In his prominent book,  Bishrul ahbaab, Shehu has prophesized the coming of a righteous servant that will reform this nation after it has been destabilized by the colonial interference. He  named him Ibraheemul magriby to appear amidst serious dilemma (beginning) around the year 1370 AH in a lengthy Fulfulde poem. His advent  is inevitable and will struggle to establish a similar Islamic judicious system through a grand Islamic revolutionary process. 


This is neither knowledge of the unseen nor a revelation but a miracle  in the light of the quoted authentic hadeeth as ascertained by saint Ummu Hani’s. The poem was read after Shehu has foretold the coming of colonialists to destroy the system he fought to establish.

The following questions might be raised; who is Ibraheemul Magriby? when will he prevail? what are his signs? And what is our obligation vis a vis his call to the guidance of Allah the creator and disposer of all affairs?


I hope this will serve as inducement for further researches. Time is the best witness and no doubt will tell. Allah knows best. 


Wassalamu alaikum warahmatullah!