How Islaam Came to Nigeria

Nigeria has an estimated population of 140 million and over 75 million of these people are Muslims. With that population, Nigeria ranks as the 5th nation with the highest Muslim population after Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh! How did Islaam enter into this enclave, how did it enter and take root in the hearts of men and how has it maintained this firm root?

The Entity Nigeria Flanked by the lands of Dahomey [now Republic Of Benin] which was the eastern end of the ancient Songhai Kingdom on the west and the Cameroons on the east, Nigeria is the vast land of about 923,768 sq km which is inhabited by the largest number of black people on earth and named after one of the longest rivers on the African continent, River Niger. Nigeria has the Atlantic Ocean to its south with the modern day Niger Republic running for 1,497 kilometres of its northern border [Chad Republic borders the remaining 87 kilometres of the northern border.

The entity known as Nigeria today was a part of the region which was generally known in the wake of Islaam as Bilaad as-Soodan or Bilaad at-Takroor (The Land of the Blacks). Within the confines of Nigeria were cities such as Katsina, Kano, and Sokoto amongst others which were directly influenced by previous major West African kingdoms such as the Ashanti [Ghana] and the Songhai and Malian kingdoms.

There was also the Kanem - Bornu Kingdom whose culture and civilization extended beyond the borders of present-day Nigeria. The southern part of the two rivers that defines Nigeria is predominated by the Yorubas to the west and the republican but insular Ibo communities to the East. To the west and north-east of Nigeria were extensive kingdoms renown for their civilization; and they had significant impact on the civilization and growth of adjoining nation-states of Nigeria. History records that commercial interactions existed between Northern Africa and the Kingdoms South of it - West Africa.

There were famous trade routes with roots in Morocco, Libya, Tarblus, Tunis and Egypt connecting the various commercial capitals of the various kingdoms such as Ashanti, Mali, Hausa, Yoruba and the Kanem Bornu kingdoms amongst others.

While the Maghrebee traders from North Africa brought silk, saddles, salt, swords, textile materials amongst others for sale, they purchased gold, hides and skin, ivory and slaves from their West African counterparts. These trade routes became quite useful in the propagation of Islaam in the region. Nigeria has an estimated population of 140 million and over 75 million of these people are Muslims. With that population, Nigeria ranks as the 5th nation with the highest Muslim population after Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh! How did Islaam enter into this enclave, how did it enter and take root in the hearts of men and how has it maintained this firm root?

We will attempt to present general answers to these questions through the following four phases of Islaamic Dawah: Phase One: Islaam Enters The African Continent Phase Two: Yan Doto Phase Three: Islaam takes Root Phase Four: Revival & Renaissance PHASE ONE Islaam On The African Continent About 600 years after the Ascension of Nabiyy Eesa (alayhi salaam), Allaah raised the seal of all His Prophets and Messengers (alayhimus-salaam)  Muhammad bin Abdullaah (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) to renew and perfect the call to mankind to worship none but his Creator; the call of Islam. Only five years -later, Islaam had reached the African continent: some of the opposed and oppressed Muslims had to escape the worst of treatments from their immediate idol worshipping Arab community and had to take solace in Abyssinia. Some of them were there for at least twelve years freely practicing their Deen without fear.

In fact, An-Najaashee (Negus) - the overall leader of the Abyssinian Kingdom, not only supported the Muslims, he also reverted to Islaam from Christianity together with some senior members of his leadership. However, no extensive conversions of others were made and there was no noticeable spread of lslaam beyond Abyssinia. At any rate, all the Companions were to later leave Abysssinia to join their brethren at the establishment of Islaamic rule in Madeenah. Jihad Into Africa During the reign of Umar bin al-Khattaab (RA), the second Khalifah after the Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), the control of the Romans over Egypt were put down one after the other.

From Farmaa, to Balbees to Munif which was the seat of Muqauqis (the title of the Egyptian ruler) at the time and known in history as the city where Pharaoh lived to Raodah and others. The governor of Misra, Abdullah bn Abee Sarh, was permitted by Uthmaan bn Affaan (RA) to proceed into North Africa in 25H (648 CE) with an army of people from Egypt and Madeenah including some of the most learned men ever in the in the history of Islaam.

Notable amongst them were some of the Muhaajiroon and Ansaar such as and the likes of Abdullaah bn Abbass, Abdullaah bn Amr bn al-Aas, Abdullaah bn Zubayr, Abdullaah bn [aafar, ai-Hasan and Hussayn amongst others. They were joined by the eminent companion - Uqbah bn Naafibn Aamir al-Juhanee who was later entrusted with the leadership of the deputation.

Thus, the Companionsdawah on the African continent did not leave out any difficult or easy terrain except that they traversed it. Allaah blessed their efforts and Islaam spread across the north of Africa and westwards to its south. By 47 AH (670 CE), the magnificent centre of knowledge and dawah [call to Islaam] had been established known as the city of Qayrawaan. Companions On The Soil Of Nigeria? As earlier mentioned, trade links that predated the advent of Islaam were already established between the Northern and Western Africa.

Thus, while the physical jihad subdued some of the cities of North Africa; the Companions carried Islaam on the wave of the jihad of dawah accompanied by trade into the adjoining cities and deep into the West African Region. Ash-Shaykh Abdullaah bn Foodee (RAH) wrote, Verily, the entry of Islaam to the West - West Africa - was in the first century of Hijrah (of the Prophet SAW) in the hands of the eminent Companion Uqbah bn Naafiwhen he came to one of the tribes of Room and invited them to Islaam and their king accepted without any fight. Uqbah married the daughter of that king - her name was Baj Mong from whom he had children who were raised in the lands of their mother and spoke the language of their father ... " (Tazyeen al-Waraqaat in Al-Islaam fee Nigeria).

The Companion (RA) continued the spread of the deen moving westwards through Soos until the Atlantic on the extreme west of Africa where, after getting the feet of his ride to the shores of the sea he said, "O Allaah bear me witness that there is no passage here. Were I to find one I would have gone through it." Then, he moved southwards (deeper into West Africa) and on his way back, he encountered the Sanhaajah (Songhay people around Mali and parts of Guinea) and also got into the city of Takroor (present day Senegal and Gambia) as well as the settlements of ancient Ghana.

Many people of these kingdoms accepted Islaam in the hands of the companion (RA). (AI-Islaam fee Nigeria). Did the illustrious Companion, Uqbah bn Naafi bn Aamir al-Juhanee, reach present-day Nigeria in that wave of dawah of the first Islaamic century? The answer appears to be; Yes, he did.Muhammad Naasir al-Mukhtaar AIKabara quoted that the author of the book Aathaar al-Bilaad (The History of the Cities) said that Uqbah bn Aamir came to Kwwaar. They used to mention Kwara as kwwaar." (Risaalatu al-Jaliyyah limakaanati Nayjeeriyyah al-Ilmiyyah Qabla kiyaanati Daolati Sokoto). AI-Imaam Yaaqoot al-Humawee (d.626) also mentioned the efforts of Uqbah bn Aamir in Kwara with a narration of his relation with the ruler of the people there at the time. (Mujam al-Buldaan).

The eminent companion Uqbah (RA) died on his way back to Qayrawaan. (AI-Islaam fee Nigeria). From this, it is safe to conclude that some of the northern parts of Nigeria as well as the tip of its south-western part received Islaam directly in the age of the glorious Companions.


Yan Doto in Zamfara Moosah bn Nusayr, Zuhayr bn Qays AbdurRahmaan bn Habeeb bn Abee Ubaydah bn Uqbah all led the Muslims at one time or the other to West Africa. The kings of Banu Umayyah were never uninterested in the condition of the Muslims in the region just like they were interested in the northern parts of Africa which followed Egypt in its Islaamic historical evolution.

When the dynasty of Banu Umayyah fell, and their leaders and major supporters were killed, while some of them fled to Andalusia (Spain), like AbdurRahman ad-Daakhil and some of them came to Northern Africa like Idrees bn Abdullah al-Alawee and so many others came to West Africa and as ash-Shaykh Aadam al-liory (RAH) puts it, "Their names are written in the forgotten scrolls of history." In West Africa, the impact of this wave of emigration was at best tepid and could not build on the foundation laid by the dawah of Uqbah bn Naafi bn Aamir! A notable part of the second phase of Islaam in Nigeria is the foray of a 5th descendant of the illustrious Companion and the 4th Caliph, Ali ibn Abee Taalib, the nephew and in-law of Prophet Muhammad (sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallam)! He was al-Imaam Yahyabn Abdullah bn ai-Hasan al-Muthanna bn ai-Hasan bn Alee bn Abee Taalib who came from Madeenah al-Nabawiyyah to West Africa together with a number of his followers. He settled in Yan Doto. Yan Doto is an ancient city between Chafe and Gusau in modern day Zamfara State, Nigeria.

There, al-Imaam Yahya established an Islaamic community in the year 180 AH (about 781 CE) taking legal judgments based on the positions of al-Imaam Maalik bn Anas (RAH). This happened while Imaam Maalik, to whom the maaliki School of Islaamic Jurisprudence is attributed, himself was alive in Madeenah. (ムAynaan an-Naddahataan fee Tareekh an-Naijeeriyah as quoted in Risaalatu al-Jaliyyah limakaanati Nayjeeriyyah al-lImiyyah Qabla kiyaanati Daolati Sokoto).

Popularly known as Dan Madeenah amongst the people, al-Imaam Yahya established learning circles where the people were taught the sciences of Islaam. He is reported to have authored some precise poetic stanzas (about 146 stanzas) on Zuhd (asceticism). His students and others in his entourage taught the people Islaam and the city became a major learning centre until the periods of the establishment of the .lslaamic Region over Northern Nigeria by ash-Shaykh Uthmaan bn al-Foodee (RAH).

According to Muhammad Naasiral-Mukhtaar AI-Kabara, the exploits of Dan Madeenah is documented in a book on the Scholars of Yan Doto by the Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto! PHASE THREE: Islaam Takes Root Neighbours, Traders & Daiyahs The seeds of eeman [faith] sown by the Companions and their Successors grew rather slowly in West Africa. Like the Chinese bamboo, the underground growth of the new Muslims took another four centuries before its luxuriant foliage became manifest in the region.

This is in contrast with the steady growth that was witnessed in North Africa from the time of the jihad of the Companions. Three key reasons were responsible for this slow growth - opposite to the same reasons that led to the rapid and enduring growth of Islaam in North Africa. These reasons are: establishment of the rule of Allaah, the establishment of several centres of learning as well as dawah troops to spread Islaam to the towns and hinterland and the adoption of Arabic as the official language of the region! All three were absent in West Africa until the 5th Century after Hijrah [11th Century CE] in Songhai, Mali and Ashanti Kingdoms.

Ashanti Kingdom The Ashanti Kingdom of Ghana was known in history as a centre for gold and it formed one of the major commercial centers for the famous ancient African trade routes. The kingdom included present day Ghana and parts of present day Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. This trade, coupled with the seeds sown by the first wave, eventually brought about a strong presence of Islaam in the kingdom. This was strengthened by the presence of several scholars, daiyahs and centres of Islaamic learning. By the time the Ashanti kingdom collapsed under the Muslim ruler, al-Lamtooney Abubakr bn Umar, several of the scholars [and their students as well ordinary Muslims] migrated to near-by lands such as Katsina and Kano.

Mali Kingdom The Mali Kingdom which arose from the remnants of the Ghana Kingdom under the leadership of Maree Jaatah [5th Century AH; 11th Century CE] expanded to the Takroor region (present day Senegal and Gambia) and Songhai. Islaam in the Kingdom at the time was practiced as the religion of the kings and nobles. The most popular of the Malian kings was Mansa [meaning King] Moosah bn Abubakr; enormously wealthy and famed for having taken 70,000 people on pilgrimage to Makkah on foot. This remarkable feat led to the spread of Islaam to all regions of West Africa ; including Nigeria. The Malian kings consciously established centres of Islaamic learning [such as in Timbuktu & Jenne] and sent daiyahs to near and far regions such as Songhay, Borno, Hausaland and Yorubaland.

Thus, till date Islaam is typically referred to by the Yoruba as the religion of the people of Mali (Esin Imale). This atmosphere saw scholars moving into the region from the various parts of the Islaamic world. The major tasks they shouldered were to invite the idol worshippers to Islaam, purify the belief of the few who were already Muslims, respond to the matters that arose amongst the Muslims by giving verdicts [fatawa] and properly establishing those who were already grounded in the various Islaamic disciplines which they mastered. In fulfilling these responsibilities, they established learning centers in the various areas especially in the major trade centers such that those who migrated on the trade caravans either benefited from the learning sessions as teachers or as students.

The major learning centers included - Yan Doto (Zamfara State), Kano, Borno, Kashina (Katsina), ZakZak, and Kulum Fardu amongst many others. The ensuing civilization reached its peak in the 14th Century CE [8th Century AH] but subsequently declined, although history records that some of the scholars still taught in parts of the kingdom around the 16th century CE. Songhai Kingdom The Songhai kingdom evolved out of the remnants of the glorious Malian Kingdom but it continued the legacies it inherited as far as the spread of Islaam is concerned. The kingdom centred on the region of Dahomey but also included Dendi, Jenne and Bussa regions of north-western Nigeria, Timbuktu, (in present day Nigeria) with its capital at the ancient city of Gao.

Muhammad bn Abeebakr at-Toorey (Toure) was one of the successful rulers of the kingdom. He was known to be a righteous person from Zender (present day Chad) but resided in Songhai. He established Islamic law and arranged a large number of Muslims to be trained as Qaadis (judges). Under his patronage, eminent Muslim scholars were attracted to Timbuktu, which became a great seat of learning in the 16th century CE. Timbuktu has the credit of establishing the first Muslim university called Sankore University in West Africa. Some of the cities in present day Nigeria also directly benefitted from this rule of Islaam.

The civilization collapsed in the 16th century CE. All these were to the precursors to the real growth of Islaam in Nigeria. PHASE FOUR: Revival & Renaissance Renaissance of Bn Foodee Ash-Sheikh Uthmaan bn Foodee (RAH) was born in the mid 17th century CE (I 168 AH) in the City of Gobir, into a family with a long Islamic tradition. He learnt the Quraan at his fathers feet at a very early age and proceeded to study elementary fiqh and Arabic language. He also learnt from other scholars at the time. Allaah blessed Uthmaan bn Foodee with the ability to express himself well at an early age, and he would move through different areas of Hausaland teaching the people. He focused on giving the people basic Islamic education and he was well-versed in classical Arabic, Hausa, Fulani language and Tuwadic language, which made him more capable of speaking to masses of people in their own language.

He taught many other different Islaamic concepts to the people focusing on teaching matters of belief (Aqeedah), fiqh, the life of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) and other basic rudiments. For over thirty years, Shaykh Uthmaan bn Muhammad Fodio prepared a generation of Muslims - Scholars and their Students, conscious and learned of their deen along with other disciplines. The dawah produced a plethora of writing that was unprecedented! Shaykh Uthmaan, his brother Abdullah and his son Muhammad Bello (RAH), together authored some three hundred works of varying fields and sizes, and the literary culture they instituted continued to turn out more authors.

Indeed many of the Umaraa (sing. Amir) who headed the various emirates after the jihad were renowned scholars who continued to learn, teach and write until the beginning of the 19th Century [ 14th Century AH]. The movement was confronted by those who did not want that worship be dedicated to the Lord of the Universe. This led to the jihad in which Allaah aided the believers and gave them total but swift victory. Thus, over a short period, the regions of Katsina, Zaria, Gombe, Kano, Adamawa, Daura, parts of Nupeland and parts of the Borno Kingdom had been overcome by the renaissance. The subsequent revival of the deen from this period also spread to parts of Yoruba land and subsequently to about every other part of the entity now referred to as Nigeria and beyond.

Deep into Yorubaland As mentioned earlier, Yorubaland had generally benefited from the earliest exploits of the Companions RA and those who came subsequently both through teaching as well as through trade interactions. The trade caravans from North Africa extended southwards via Zaria and Nupeland to Old Oyo Empire, Dahomey, Kumasi and other areas along the West African coast. The imports from North Africa consisted mainly of items of clothing carpets, silk, perfumes books - especially the Quraan and other books based on the deen and horses which were in great demand throughout the region as well for military purposes. In return, Old Oyo sold cloth, leather and iron products and was one of gold from Kumasi.

All these no doubt made Yorubaland brought an influx of Muslims - teachers and students. Shaykh Aadam Abdullaah al-Ilory mentions that ash-Shaykh Muhammad bn Musnee al- Kashnaawee (d. 1078 AH; 17th century CE) had written the history of Yoruba land at the time titled "Azhaar ar-Rabba fee Akhbaar Bilaad Yorbaa." He stated that, Were we to have access to the book it would benefit us a lot concerning the history of this ancient land at the time." Yet, it is to be noted that the deen was not as pronounced in theses periods as it was in Northern Nigeria.

The rulers and the nobles of the society were still non-Muslims; rather Islaam was mostly the deen of strangers - the traders and a few settlers amongst the Malians, Hausas, Nupes amongst others and a few of the indigenous people. However, the host population was not antagonistic and Shaykh Muhammad an-Nupaawee [from Nupeland; the homeland of Oya, the Queen of Sango] constructed the first masjid [mosque] in the Ancient Oyo Kingdom in 1550 CE. Other Exploits Islaam was also known in Ketu, one of the largest ancient Yoruba cities, from one of the Berber teachers called Mallam Sofo at about 1860 CE.

At Iseyin the first masjid was built at about 1770 CE by Mallam Aboki who was a Kashnaawee (i.e. from Katsina) and the first masjid was built in Lagos in the year 1775 during the reign of King Adele the first. Iwo had its first masjid in 1775 CE during the reign of its Oba Muhammad Lamuye who even "appointed a Qaadi in his court to adjudicate in cases affecting his Muslim subjects in accordance with the Shariah." (AI-Islaam fee Nigeria by Shaykh Aadan al-Ilory and Shariah, the Islamic way of Life by Dr. Yasir Anjola Quadri).

It is worthy of note that throughout the centuries that Islaam got to Nigeria extending to more than half of the entity called Nigeria today as an established way of life, there was little trace of Christianity in any of these parts until the advent of full colonialism at the beginning of the 19th Century. Thus the Yoruba would say, "Aye la ba fa, aye la ba male. Osan gangan nigbagbo wole de." (We met Ifa in this world and we met Islaam in this world but Christianity is only of recent advent!) Subsequent Years Subsequent years saw Islaam making landmarks in the various Yoruba communities.

The 7th Akirun of Ikirun; Oba Aliyu Oyewole (d.1912 CE) appointed a Qaadi in 1910 CE. At Ede, Oba Habeeb Lagunju appointed someone called Siddeeq as a Qaadi who recorded court proceedings in Arabic up to 1913. Even under colonial domination, in the I940s the Muslim Congress of Nigeria addressed a letter from Ijebu Ode to the Chief Secretary of Nigeria demanding for Shariah Courts.

They complained that they have long been deprived of the use of the just and moral code prescribed for use by our Prophet for our guidance from generation to generation. "In Ibadan, the Muslims sent a memorandum to the Brooke Commission which was set up in 1948 and in it the Muslims maintained that "over four thousand cases of divorce ninety five percent of them between Muslims were handled annually by two native courts which separated couples like dogswithout regards to the instructions laid down in the Quraan." (Shariah, the Islamic way of Life by Dr. Yasir Anjola Quadri). This obviously shows that the majority of the people in Ibadan were Muslims. Is there a doubt that the Muslims of Nigeria are in need of another renaissance? NO!

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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