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19th Century Jihads and social justice, security and prosperity

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The Jihads in the 19th century West Africa were a series of revolutions or holy wars that characterized the history of the region sweeping from 1804 in Hausa land, 1818 in Masina and 1815 in Futa Jallon area under the leadership of Uthman Dan Fodio, Seku Ahmadu and Al-Hajj Umar respectively because of the un fair conditions in society. These wars were intended to open a period of social justice, security and prosperity in trade for all me who accepted Islam as seen below;

Official corruption, heavy taxation, confiscation of subject’s properties, oppression of the poor in general and slavery which instilled perpetual fear, was as much a source of discontent to the Muslim as to the non-Muslim subjects. This state of affairs led to tension and frustration especially to the Muslim subjects, as Smith quite rightly observed:

“The position was frustrating for Muslims were generally conscious of being culturally far superior to the pagans. Their religion, of course, left them in no doubt about this, and on the practical level they were likely to be superior citizens, knowing much more about the world than did the pagans, and conserving a vital monopoly of literacy.”

( C. Smith, p.169)

Another evidence comes from the fact that the Jihads were intended to purify Islamic norms, which were to bring honesty to society. After the decline of Mali and Songhai empires, there was decline in Islamic faith in Western Sudan. Islam religion was mixed with pegan practices like over drinking and marrying non-Moslems, a situation that could compromise the honesty and evenhandedness in society. Historians A. Ajayi and Michael Tidy contend that ” most of the ruling dynasties especially among the Hausa state, Islam sat lightly on them and all sorts of un-Islamic practices such as illegal taxation, enslavement of Moslems and unlawful seizure of property were going on.” (Adu Boahen , A. Ajayi & Michael Tidy, p. 44)

Most of the rulers of western Sudan were tyrants who mistreated, oppressed and suppressed their subjects and they failed to administer justice with impartiality. It was therefore the desire of the Jihdists to free the people of west Africa from oppressive regimes. Thus, the Jihads were a movement for social justice reform. Uthman, Dan Fodio for example, an agreement in which Moslems were granted freedom from jail and freedom for Moslem men to wear turbans and the women to wear veils” (Adu Boahen , A. Ajayi & Michael Tidy, p. 48s)

On the economic scene, the 19th century Jihads had strong economic attributes. Governments in western Sudan had been over taxing their subjects for example in the town of Fulani, merchants always complained of heavy taxes in their trade while Fulani pastoralists were opposed to high taxes on their cattle. This forced them to jump, aboard the jihad’s Bang wagon to eliminate all these. In writing about the economic results from the Jihads, Ajayi e-tal write that ‘the establishment of a uniform of government in place of many competiting ones a reduction in internecine wars that had characterized the history of the Hausa states… Peace and order reigned in most parts.. and this greatly stimulated agricultural and industrial activities” (Adu Boahen , A. Ajayi & Michael Tidy, p. 49)

Even the cruel method of collecting the taxes that existed before the Jihads was provoking that fundamentalists could not stand it. It was ruthless in operation and tax collectors used to whip people in the collection of taxes and imprisoned others. This was greatly resented by the Sudanese subjects and they rose up against the regimes of the day and to end the ruthless method of tax collection.

Coupled with the above is that the wealthy Fulani felt that their wealth was insecure under the Hausa rulers who were openly jealous of the Fulani wealth. They therefore sought to establish a government, which would guarantee security to their property.

Through the creation and improvement of Islamic Education in the Sudan, Jihads displayed their intention of greatly expanding Islamic literacy especially in Hausa and Fulani speaking areas. Here, schools were built especially in areas of western Sudan. In regard to poor education before the Jihads, Ajayi writes “though learning and education did not die out in the western Sudan in the 18th century, it is never the less true that the tradition of scholarship had declined. Some of the mallams could not even read the Arabic language, the language of the Koran.” (A. Ajayi etal p. 45)

The political units the were later established by the Jihads are another justification that security and prosperity would be achieved. These units had better administrative machinery than the old regimes, they were more just, peaceful, orderly and less corrupt. This was a remarkable achievement for the Jihadist government as a fulfillment of their intended goals.” Uthman’s Jihad had far reaching consequences both inside and outside Hausaland. Politically it led to the establishment of a single Fulani empire in place of the many rival states in Hausa land.” (A. Ajayi etal p. 49)

Professor Ismail contends that the Jihads were for the social economic justice of all who had converted to Islam. He provided proof when he wrote:

“That there was an Islamic movement with all that Islam stands for by virtue of its universality, its openness, its tolerance, its justice and equity, its knowledge, recognition and provision for previous religions, its civilizations and history, shaking the socio-political order after successfully eroding its cultural and intellectual basis and that it had achieved all this by education and patient persuasion, precisely not to compromise Islam, is simply but subtly overlooked or ignored. Had that movement been conceived or presented on a tribal basis as some wants us to believe it would have been doomed to fail not to mention the fact that it couldn’t have found a place in Islam.”( A. S. Ismail, 1979. p.24)

Indeed the governors, the Jihadists, were simultaneously consolidating internal order and security, justice and equity without which the ideal they fought for cannot be realised. It should be added that this consolidation was unique, not simply because of its comprehensiveness not even because of its intensity but mainly because of the sincerity and the sense of mission with which it was carried out. The campaigns of Muhammad Bello and Dan Fodio for example with their captives and booty have been well noted by many scholars, what seemed to have escaped notice is this sincerity and sense of mission with which it was executed. Even if later generations turned it into a slave raiding exercise, the fact still remained that Bello was not fighting for captives or booty but for spreading Islam

From the social point of view, the fact that the Jihads brought great revival in and spread of Islam which had in turn meant great stimulus to education and learning shows that they were in intended for social economic justice. “This elevated the status of slaves and peasants and forced some nomadic peasants to become settlers.” (A. Ajayi etal p. 53) Historian Kevin Shillington like Ajayi contends that;

“Islam and Literacy spread more widely through the populations and the unity of Islam brought an end to the destructive wars of inter state rivalry. Trade flourished and Kano in particular became a major market center.”

However, there is also a case to show that Jihads were political movements under guise of social economic reform. The overthrow of Moslem administration is testimony to this. Another case also is that the mass killings, breakdown of societies and loss of property as a result of these Jihads reveal more than “purification” of society. Behind the banners of social-economic justice, there was also political agendas and robbery.

To crown it up, it can be noted that though there traces of injustice with in the course of the Jihads, like the violence that was manifested, these were not the intended goals but they were accidents typical in any revolution. A clear look at the causes and outcomes of the Jihads confirms that establishes a justification that the intention of the Jihads was to open a new period in west Africa of social justice, security and prosperity in trade for all men who accepted Islam.


Abdelkader, Dina. Social Justice in Islam. Herdon, VA: International Institute of Islamic

Thought, 2000.

(Adu Boahen , A. Ajayi & Michael Tidy, Topics In West African History, Longman Group Limited, 1965

A. S. Ismail, “Some reflections on the literature of the Jihad and the caliphate”, in Y. B. Usman (Ed.), Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate, (SHSC), Lagos, 1979

Fisher, Humphrey J. Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa. New York: New

York University Press, 2001.

H. F. C. Smith, A Neglected theme of West African History: the Islamic Revolution of the 19th century, J. H. S. N.(1961)

Kenny, Joseph. The Spread of Islam Through North to West Africa, 7th to 19th Centuries. Lagos: Dominican Publications, 2000.

Kevin Shillington, A History of Africa, Palgrave Macmillan, 1995

Mervyn Hiskett The Nineteenth Century Jihads In West Africa’ in J. Flint

(ed.), The Cambridge History of Africa , From 1790 to1870′, Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1985

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