Islaam in Yorubaland

Shaykh al-Aalim; popularly known as Shehu Alimi, is presumed to be the missionary who went to Yorubaland to propagate Islaam. Shehu Alimi, whose real name was Saalih was a Fulani from Niger Republic. He arrived in the old Oyo towards the end of the 18th century which was about the same time that Uthman bn Fodio began his missionary activities in the North of territory known as Nigeria today. Within a short time of his arrival in Oyo, Shehu Alimi established a high reputation for piety and Islamic scholarship. This won him scores of adherents who were thirsty for Islamic knowledge. He preached against the futility of offering sacrifices to the Yoruba gods and taught the practical benefits to be gained by worshipping Allaah alone.

So successful was Shehu Alimi in invigorating Islaam in that part of Yorubaland and so tremendous was his impact on the life of Oyo Muslims that the Alafin became jittery over the development. In reaction, the Alafin consulted the oracle which foretold danger if the Shehu was not expelled from Oyo. By that time, Shehu Alimi had travelled extensively in the area, particularly to Oyo, Iseyin and Ogbomoso over a period of years.

However, the question is, was it Shehu Alimi who brought Islaam into Yorubaland? His effort in the propagation of Islaam is in no doubt, yet historical reports "indicate that much of his work was about religious reformation and rejuvenation as well as scholarly development. There are reports indicating that there was a sizable Muslim population in Oyo prior to the arrival of Shehu Alimi.

The precise time Islaam was introduced in the area is not certain but what is fairly certain is that in the seventeen century, mention was made of Muslims in Yorubaland. A Hausa scholar called Abdullaah Muhammad b. Massanih (d. 1667) in a book titled: Shifa Ruba fee Tahrir fuqaha which he addressed to the "the learned men of Yoruba" explaining to them the Islamic method of determining sunset. This would suggest that there was "a fairly well established Muslim community in Oyo by the second half of the 17th century at the latest.

There are also indications that the celebrated Basorun Gaa, a foremost political figure in Oyo Empire during the second half of the 18th century, courted the Muslim community in Oyo for support in his struggle against the Alaafin Abiodun. So who brought Islaam into Yorubaland? The answer may not be too far from the numerous other Muslim scholars who had at one time or another ventured into the Yoruba hinterland to propagate Islaam well before the arrival of Shehu Alimi.

The earliest set of Islamic scholars who had gotten to llorin prior to the arrival of Shehu Alimi were mainly Kanuri migrants. They lived at Okesuna (lit. the hillock of Sunnah) and their leader was Mallam Abdullaah Tahir, nicknamed Solagberu. Solagberu travelled extensively as an itinerary preacher covering a vast area of the northern provinces of Yorubaland.

He eventually made Ilorin his permanent base. Solagberu built up Okesuna as an exclusive community of Muslims in lIorin before the arrival of Shehu Alimi. The reputation of Okesuna as a mini-centre of Islamic tradition attracted many other migrant Muslims from different parts of Yorubaland. After the arrival of Shebu Alimi, the spread and propagation of Islaam throughout the Yorubaland heightened. In addition to the scholars who had arrived before Alimi, three new sets of Islamic scholars emerged and took active part in spreading Islaam throughout the Yorubaland.

These were Islaamic scholars of Fulani origin. They include scholars such as Shaykh B. Sanni, Shaykh Maliki, Shaykh Ismail and others. Then, there were also some scholars of Malian origin who joined Shehu Alimi at Kobayi such as Shaykh Yuusuf. The third group of Islamic scholars who migrated to lIorin after the arrival of Shehu consisted of scholars of Sudanese origin. They formed the core of Islamic scholars at Agbaji. Sherrif Musa, the progenitor of the Agbaji Mallams whose origin was traced to Saudi Arabia came to lIorin from Sudan. The town in Sudan from which the scholars migrated to lIorin was called Arbaji. Establishment of Schools for Islamic Studies Shehu Muhammad al-Takuti and Shehu AbuBakar Bube were two pioneer Islamic scholars in lIorin who were neither Kanuri, Fulani nor Sudanese migrants.

AI-Takuti was a Nupe migrant and AbuBakar was Hausa. They were among the first, after Shehu Alimis arrival, to establish formal Quranic institutions of higher learning in lIorin. Another prominent Islamic scholar who established a school was Shehu Muhammad.Ahmad b. el-Gore (Belgore as the name is commonly written today). He was a Fulani like Shehu Alimi.

His knowledge was highly and widely acknowledged. His area of specialization included Taisir, Hadeeth and Fiqh. Kokewu Kobeere However, one scholar whose effort in the propagation of Islaam deep into the Yoruba hinterland also towers very high was Shehu Muhammad Ameen Salisu. A Nupawa, Shehu Muhammad was popularly known as Kokewu, Kobere a nickname derived from his popular song: "Kokewu, kobeere, bawo ni yio se la?" (Meaning: he does not have the knowledge of Islaamand does not seek it, how will he gain salvation.") Shehu Muhammad toured Yorubaland extensively, preaching Islaam. He was very active in Ekitiland, especially Ikere-Ekiti, Ibadan, Abeokuta and Lagos. According to Professor Gbadamosi in his doctoral theses.

He noted further: "In Abeokuta, for instance, kokewu Kobere preached both in the mornings and evenings in the course of his stay in that town, especially in the time of Ramadaan. He proved to be an eclectic preacher, fearlessly denouncing the pagans and the Ogboni as vermin - egbin Ie je and encouraging all to convert to Islaam, the way of salvation. He composed ditties embodying his message and this made his fame spread far and wide. "His successes gave the non-Muslims no comfort. On several occasions, the Ogboni came down in formal formation to challenge him, his group of assistant preachers, audience. "Nevertheless, the Muslim group remained steadfast, always chanting their shahaadah.

The Ogboni soon gave up the unequal struggle, leaving the Muslim group undaunted and apparently invigorated. The preacher continued preaching and converting more people. This was not an isolated experience for this singular propagator of Islaam in Yorubaland. In Ijebu-Ode, he was openly confronted by the Osugbo; and in Ekiti, he was assailed by the Egungun - as they all saw how he literally depleted their ranks."

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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