19th Century Islamic Movements (19th Century Jihad)

19th Century Islamic Movements

The Sokoto Jihads

The Fulani jihad led by Usuman Dan Fodio in the Central Sudan (Northern Nigeria) was the first and most successful of the Islamic Revolutions f the 19th century in the Sudan. It’s chief political consequence was the Fulani conquest of the most of what later became Northern Nigeria.

Conquest Of Hausa Land

The Fulani conquest of Hausaland began with Usuman’s first victory over the army of Yunfa, king of Gobir at Tabkin Kwatto in 1804. The effect of this victory was tremendous. Yunfa at once warned other Hausa kings of the growing Fulani danger as the Fulani excited by Usuman’s victory were rallying to his banner in large numbers. Alarmed, the Hausa kings began to attack the Fulani communities within their states. The result of this unprovoked attack was to rally the discontented Fulani throughout Hausa land to the support of their Kinsman Usuman. The jihad had thus become a racial as well as a religious war.

In 1805, leaders of Fulani communities all over the north came to Usuman. He gave flags or symbols of authority to each leader en joining him to conquer unbelievers in his area and establish true Islam. Following this, Kebbi, Zaria, Katsina, Gobir and Kano fell to the Fulani jihadists between 1805 and 1809. By the end of the latter date, the conquest of Hausa land was almost complete. That year Usuman retired from active life leaving his Muhammad Bello and his brother Abdullahi to continue the jihad.

Conquest Of Non-Hausa States

The fulani jihad was extended to pagan areas outside Hausa land where there existed considerable concentrations of the Fulani.


Here a Fulani teacher Mallam Dendo exploited a disputed succession to the throne and gained power about 1810. Though he never took the title of Etsu, he allowed the rival claimants to rule but as puppets. After his Death in 1832, his son became king and took the title of Etsu.’


This was the period when the Oyo empire was disintegrating and the Fulani seized the opportunity to gain power in Ilorin. The kakanfo or General of the Oyo army, Afonja, was governor of Ilorin. In 1817, he revolted against the Alafin and tried to achieve independence with the help of a Fulani teacher Mallam Alimi. The Mallam brought in Fulani and Hausa troops who helped Afonja to achieve the independence of Ilorin. Soon after Alimi’s death in 1831, Afonja was overthrown and killed by Alimi’s sons and the eldest- Abdussalami became the first Fulani ruler of Ilorin.


The spread of the jihad to Bornu led to uprising of Fulani communities in the western provinces of the Bornu empire. The result was the establishment of the small emirates of Hadeija, Katagum and Damturu.
But in Bornu itself, the Fulani jihadists met with the stoutest opposition. They made three attempts to bring Bornu within the Fulani empire, but all failed- thanks to the able military leadership of Muhammed El Kanemi. In one of these attempts, Gwoni Muktar led a fulani force which took Ngazaragamu the capital of Bornu in 1808. The Old and blind Mai Ahmed fled from his capital. Mai Ahmed then appealed to a learned Kanembu scholar Muhammed El Kanemi who recaptured the capital from the Fulani invaders, killing Gwoni Muktar. Mai Ahmed was restored but died in 1810 and was succeeded by his son Mai Dunama. In 1811, another Fulani flag bearer Ibrahim Zaki captured Ngazaragamu again but he was once more driven out by El Kanemi’s forces. Thus Bornu was saved from Fulani conquest.

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The Fulani expanded south-eastwards to Adamawa. In 1806, a fulani Modibbo Adamu having received a flag from Shehu Usuman returned home and rallied round himself the Fulani settlers in the area. He easily overcame the weak pagan tribes of the area. The result of the Jihad here was the establishment of the Fulani emirates of Yola and Muri and the disappearance of the decadent Jukun empire.

Factors For Success Of The Fulani Conquest

One reason for the success of the Fulani was lack of unity among the Hausa kings who were in the habit of quarreling and warring one against the other. Gobir was at war with katsina in the 1750s, while Zamfara and Kano fought for supremacy in the 1760s. The feeling of animosity and jealousy which these wars engendered between states made it difficult for them to cooperate and combine effectively to resist the Fulani menace. It was this lack of Unity rather than the military weakness of the Hausa states that was responsible for Fulani victory.

A second factor which contributed to Fulani victory was that Usuman and his Fulani followers adpoted the strategy of isolating the various Hausa states and conquering them one after the other. Usuman did this by appointing flag bearers whom he instructed to carry out the jihad in their respective areas. As a result most of Hausa states were engaged in the jihad almost at the same time, and this made combined action against the Fulani jihadists difficult.

Thirdly, by commanding each flag bearer to make himself emir in his territory in the event of a successful jihad, Usuman provided a strong incentive for the successful prosecution of the war. There is no doubt that the quest for power became a powerful motive force among the leaders of the jihad.

A fourth factor which is often missed is the point that the nomadic Fulani who formed the bulk of the Fulani armies,were better militarily organized than most of the Hausa communities or states. This was because in the course of their migration, they were often exposed to frequent attacks by local Hausa kings and the Tuareg.
Naturally they organized their encampments on defensive basis with strong and well equipped militia to defend men and cattle in times of attack.

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Again, their light cavalry was superior to the heavy Hausa cavalry both for attack and defense. It was this military experience which the cattle Fulani called into play when they responded to Usuman’s call for a holy war.
Closely connected with Fulani military superiority is the organizing ability of the leaders of the jihad – Usuman, his son Muhammed Bello and his brother Abdullahi. The credit for the strategy of isolating the Hausa states and thus preventing their combined action goes to Usuman himself. But the credit for the actual prosecution of the war on the battle field goes to Muhammed Bello and Abdullahi.

Fifthly, social factors also played an important role in the Fulani victory over the Hausa states.
In the first place, it has been pointed out above that following Yunfa, king of Gobir’s warning to the Hausa rulers about the growing Fulani danger,those rulers launched a general persecution of the Fulani in their respective states states. This resulted in a general Fulani rising which plunged the whole of Hausa land into a state of war. The Fulani were thus fighting for self preservation and avenging a racial grievance. In the second place, the Hausa kings could not count on the support of their peasant subjects whom they had alienated by their oppressive taxation and arbitrary government. The peasant population or “talakawa” naturally rallied to the support of Usuman, who had been condemning these cruel practices, for they looked on him as their deliverer.

Finally, it should be realized that the intellectual and religious factor was important for the success of the jihad.
Usuma through his preaching and his many books fired his followers with a fanaticism and determination which was generally responsible for the success of the holy war. Muhammad Bello and Abdullahi continue the tradition of intellectual and religious appeal to their followers through their many books and pamphlets. It can there fore be said that military, social, intellectual and religious factors combined to make Fulani success in the jihad possible.

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