Jihad: A Religious Or Political Movement?

Jihad: A Religious or Political Movement?

It is now held in some quarters that political considerations outweighed the religious considerations in the minds of the jihadists. According to the view, Jihad was political movement in the guise of religious reform. How far is this true? That Usuman Dan Folio was prompted by genuine religious motives to embark on the jihad, there is no doubt.
So, at the initial stages of the jihad the religious motive – the desire to revive true Islamic practices and to establish an ideal Islamic society in Hausa land predominated.

Later however, the jihad which began as a movement for religious reform became more political and less religious in character. This is not surprising for even in Usuman’s mind, the political motive was a strong as the religious.
He realized that if a religious reform was to be achieved, the decadent and corrupt Hausa political system must be overthrown. Hence, in his attack on the Hausa rulers, he condemned not only their reversion to pagan practices but also their corrupt and oppressive governments.

Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that to Usuman, the political objective – the overthrow of the Hausa states – was a means to achieve a religious end – the revival of true Islam in Hausa land. Unlike Usuman however, many of his supporters joined the jihad for political not religious motives. For instance, many of the Hausa “talakawa” or common folk regarded the jihad as a revolt against the oppresive rule of the Hausa aristocracy. Similarly, many of the cattle Fulani who were in the main either pagans or indifferent Muslims joined the war out of tribal loyalty and because they saw in it an opportunity to Seize political power in Hausa land.

In the same way, the flag bearers commissioned by Usuman to carry out the jihad in their respective areas though more of establishing themselves as emirs than of establishing true Islam. For as soon as they had seized political power, the began to tolerate pagans in their emirates and to condone those pagan practices which they had been asked to root out.

Again, the greed with which the Fulani leaders carved out for themselves, a host of others states outside Hausa land such Nupe, ilorin, Bauchi, Gombe, Katagum, Missau, Adamawa, Keffi, Nasarawa, lafia and others, showed that the quest for political domination was uppermost in their minds.

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Trimingham says that Usuman retired from public life because his motive of conquest for Islam reform was thwarted by the politically ambitious flab bearers who carved out personal states for themselves and this made it impossibe for him to establish a true Islamic administration.

Moreover, the attack on Bornu clearly illustrates the ascendancy of the political motives over religious. For Bornu was once of the few places in the Sudan where orthodox Islam was still practiced. If therefore, the jihadists aimed only at religious reform, then there was no justification whatsoever for attacking an avowedly Muslim state. El Kanemi of Bornu, himself a reform ruler wrote to Muhammad Bello (Usuman’s son and successor) asking why he allowed the jihad to be carried into Bornu. He accused the Fulani of trying to seize political power in the guise of religious revolt. In the light of the above argument, one is inclined to agree with El Kanemi that the jihad which began as a movement for religious reform later degenerated into the quest for political control of Hausa land by the Fulani.

However, though it is true that political considerations later on outweighed the religious, the original aims of the principal reformers Usuman should be lost sight of.

The Jihad and Unity in Northern Nigeria

The jihad has often been referred to as a religious movement which brought unity to northern Nigeria.
To what extent is this true? There is no doubt that the jihad unity to northern Nigeria. An examination of the political and social conditions in northern Nigeria before and after the jihad will illustrate this point that before the jihad, northern Nigeria comprised several independent petty Hausa and some non-Hausa states which had no community of interest and were turned asunder by internecine wars. Most of these states were under rulers who were either pagans of indifferent Muslims.

Consequently the unifying effect of the universal concept of Islam could not operate. But the jihad of Usuman brought political unity to northern Nigeria. According to Trimingham, “The region between the Niger and the Chad was for the first time given a semblance of political unity through the Islamic movement.” Bornu, however, was not brought under the Fulani empire, but is soon developed ties of religious brotherhood with Sokoto. The Fulani empire comprised more than fourteen states each under an emir who owed political and religious allegiance to the Sultan of Sokoto and Emir of Qwandu.

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The administration of the empire strengthened its political unity. All the emirs except one were Fulani and uniformity was provided by the adoption of the Hausa system of administration in all the emirates. The jihad also brought religious and cultural unity to northern Nigeria. Usuman’s jihad established an Islamic empire here and the country has remained predominantly Muslim in religion and culture ever after. The Islamic basis of the empire provided the country with. Arabic as its written lingua franca, a common Islamic culture and a common pattern of education in koranic schools. The result was the development of a community of interest among the people of the various states where such interest had never before existed.

However, the unity brought by the jihad had certain limitations. The organization of the empire was decentralized.
Each emirate remained virtually independent in its internal administration as Sokoto and Gwandu exercised little Control over them, for instance in matters of succession to the throne as Zaria and Kano.

Moreover, complete unity in Hausa land was not achieved. Important sections of Hausa land especially in Kebbi, Gobir and Katsina which were not completely conquered continued to organize revolts against Fulani rule.

Furthermore, the empire was based on Islam and there fore limited to those who shared the Islamic faith. The pagans of the Bauchi Plateau remained outside the scope of this symbolic unity. Thus,though the jihad brought a considerable degree of unity to northern Nigeria, it should be noted that unity was not complete.

After British conquest of northern Nigeria the British assumed the universality of the Islamic Unity and tried to apply a uniform system of administration throughout the country but this proved difficult especially outside Hausa land.

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