Tuesday, May 8, 2012
19th Century Jihad States of West Africa
The term “jihad state” refers to the states of West Africa which flourished particularly during the 19th century under French colonial rule and were founded on the basis of the Islamic jihad. These states are an interesting phenomenon, as they are a cultivation of multiple circumstances and the result of the extreme instability of the regimes which they replaced. It is difficult to piece together the exact conditions which allowed the widespread influence of these states to develop as rapidly as they did, however there are several factors that certainly played a large role in the creation of these states.
In order to understand the full implications of the existence of these jihad states, it is important to first understand the history of the states themselves. Though the presence of jihad states was not a specific attribute of the 19th century, these states certainly were much more numerous and more prominent during this century. Some were larger and more influential than others, and though many of these states were somewhat connected they all arose independently.
The Fulani are a group of people primarily found in West Africa. They are scattered throughout most of the western part of the continent, however they hold no majority in any country (Britannica.) The Fulani are an essential part of the history of jihad states in West Africa. Though they are not by any measure the only citizens who were calling for reform in the 19th century, they provide a strong Islam-oriented backbone for these movements. The Fulani becoming militarily and politically active had a direct and decisive impact on the creation of many jihad states, some larger and more prominent than others.
-Uthman Dan Fodio
Uthman Dan Fodio is likely the single most important figure in the history of the West African jihad states. He was the necessary spark that set off the events which led to the creation of these states, as well as a political and religious figurehead for the movements. He had the most direct impact on the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate in present day Nigeria. Dan Fodio’s involvement with the creation of Sokoto began with Bawa Jangworzo. Bawa was the leader of Gorbir, a large city-state in Hausaland. He hired Dan Fodio as a tutor for his children, bringing him into his court and therefore giving him prestige. Bawa himself was not a Muslim, however he was tolerant of Dan Fodio’s preaching. This made it possible for Dan Fodio to build a name for himself and gain followers throughout the city of Gorbir. Dan Fodio did not often preach to leaders or particularly powerful people for that matter. He generally directed his preaching to the ordinary people, rallying support for change and pushing Islam as the medium for that change.
When Bawa died, so did the official approval of Dan Fodio (Collins 166.) He began to attract continuously more negative attention and was forced to leave the court. After Bawa’s grandson Yunfa came to power, the situation between Dan Fodio and the ruling elite had become incredibly tense. At one point Yunfa calls Dan Fodio to his court and pulls a gun on him in what was likely a moment of rage. The gun allegedly backfired, burning Yunfa’s clothing but leaving Dan Fodio unharmed (Waldman 347.) Obviously, this incident only served to increase Dan Fodio's status in the eyes of his supporters. Shortly after this incident, it became apparent to Dan Fodio that there was no reasoning with Yunfa, and jihad seemed imminent (Waldman 349.)
The key to Dan Fodio’s success, and indeed the reason for the complexity of the issue, can be broadly defined by his transition from preacher to militant reformer. Dan Fodio was clearly among other things a very intelligent and charismatic man. His rallying was highly effective, and his influence spread rapidly through the city-state. The jihad which he was eventually the head of was not planned from the beginning. Dan Fodio began as a preacher, then as an advocator of reform within the Hausa system, transitioning into a military leader only when completely necessary (Waldman 334.) The foundation within society that Dan Fodio had aligned for himself through his reputation and connections became essential to his transition into leadership. He had established a basis which he could use to his advantage. Dan Fodio never had a plan, which was the reason he was successful. Like many great leaders in history, Dan Fodio simply seized and utilized opportunities he had created for himself throughout the years. Basically, he made decisions based off of educated improvising. As a result, it was possible for him to be flexible in his tactics during an event that was nearly unpredictable. The establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate would not have been possible without Dan Fodio.
-The Sokoto Caliphate
The events that occurred after the death of Bawa definitely accelerated the shift of power from the Hausa government into the hands of the jihadis. Nafata was the next in line for leadership after Bawa. Nafata almost immediately began prosecuting followers of Islam, going so far as to ban everyone under his control from converting to Islam. He completely turned against Uthman Dan Fodio, forcing him to retreat into his community of loyal followers (Waldman 346.) When Nafata’s son Yunfa came to power, the government became even more aggressive. Dan Fodio realized quickly that Yunfa could not be reasoned with and must be replaced. Jihad was declared because Dan Fodio and his community had to make the decision to fight or be destroyed (Waldman 349.) The movement gained momentum rapidly, with support spanning across members from all elements of society (Waldman 350.) This aspect of the jihad complicated things. Surprisingly, Islam was not particularly strong within the region. Dan Fodio’s followers, which consisted mostly of the Fulani were only a fraction of the revolutionary population. Religion was used by Dan Fodio to instill a sense of unity within the group and motivate the people to fight, but once the wheels were set in motion the rules of jihad were quickly forgotten (Waldman 351.) Nevertheless, and even after several defeats, the jihad was successful and established control over the Hausa state (Waldman 354.) The Sokoto Caliphate was the largest of the jihad states, and lasted formally from around 1809 (Waldman 333) to l903 when it was divided by colonial powers (Umar 135.) During the colonial era, Europeans became intrigued by the state and attracted many visitors (Umar 137.) Though the caliphate has been dissolved for quite some time, Sokoto and its neighboring states defined several borders which are still in place today (Cook 89.)
The creation of the Massina Empire was led by Seku Ahmadu, who drew his influence directly from Uthman Dan Fodio and the establishing of the Sokoto caliphate. In fact, Dan Fodio had made Seku a shaykh and sent him a flag prior to the revolt Seku led against the Bambara, the previous governing enitity (Ade 239.) Though this was not the only state created in the aftermath of Sokoto, it was the largest Fulani jihad state after Sokoto. Massina was not as long lasting as the Sokoto Caliphate, but was operating in full force from 1818 until 1862 when it was attacked by the Tukolors and defeated. As with Sokoto, Islam was not an overwhelmingly strong force in the region. However, Islam provided common ground for people to rally around, whereas the opposing side split due to struggles between themselves (Ade 245.)
-Futa Jallon and Futa Toro
Futa Jallon and Futa Toro are much older than the other Fulani states. Both were slave trade states until the abolishment of the slave trade in the late 18th century. Futa Jallon was a jihad state from the early 18th century until French occupation in 1896 (Britannica.) Futa Toro was under Muslim control by the latter part of the same century, in a revolution connected to the rebellion in Futa Jallon. Both of these states, though established much earlier, were not nearly as large or powerful as the Sokoto and Massina empires (Boubacar 95-105.)
The jihad states of West Africa were some of the largest and most powerful entities on that side of the continent. Considering they existed during a time of colonial interference, it is impressive that these states managed to stay intact, at least for as long as they did. Had colonial powers not eventually become fully involved in these empires, their fates would have been much different. By the time the Sokoto Caliphate was broken down and separated, it had been long established and did not show signs of falling apart on its own accord. These states were certainly an interesting occurrence. They were jihad states, led by a minority, and established on the basis of Islam in a time of crisis even though most of the population did not necessarily practice the Islamic faith. The remnants of these states still continue to have considerable influence on the region today. Even their borders remain to an extent, drawing not only political lines but ethnic and religious lines as well in a world where the empires themselves no longer exist. These jihadi movements have undoubtedly had a lasting impact on the condition of Africa throughout recent history.
Barry, Boubacar. Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge: The Cambridge Press, 1998.
Collins, Robert. Documents from the African Past. Princeton : Markus Weiner Publications, 2001.
Cook, David. Martyrdom in Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
[ZH22] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Fouta Djallon," accessed April 04, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/215288/Fouta-Djallon.
Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Fulani," accessed April 04, 2012, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/221697/Fulani.
Umar, Muhammad S.. Islamic Discourses on European Visitors to Sokoto Caliphate in the Nineteenth Century. Studia Islamica , No. 95 (2002), pp. 135-159
Waldman, Marilyn Robinson. The Fulani Jihad: A Reassessment. The Journal of African History , Vol. 6, No. 3 (1965), pp. 333-355