Uthman dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate

Map of Sokoto caliphate

 PANONIAN / CC / Wikimedia Commons

In the 1770s, Uthman dan Fodio, still in his early 20s, began preaching in his home state of Gobir in Western African. He was one of the many Fulani Islamic scholars pushing for the revitalization of Islam in the region and the rejection of allegedly pagan practices by Muslims. Within a few decades, dan Fodio would rise to become one of the most recognized names in nineteenth-century West Africa.

Hijra and Jihad

As a young man, dan Fodio's reputation as a scholar grew quickly. His message of reform and his criticisms of the government found fertile ground in a period of growing dissent. Gobir was one of several Hausa states in what is now northern Nigeria. There was widespread dissatisfaction in these states, especially among the Fulani pastoralists from whom dan Fodio came.

dan Fodio's growing popularity soon led to persecution from the Gobir government, and he withdrew, performing the hijra—a migration from Mecca to Yathrib—as the Prophet Muhammad had also done. After his hijra, dan Fodio launched a powerful jihad in 1804, and by 1809, he had established the Sokoto caliphate that would rule over much of northern Nigeria until it was conquered by the British in 1903.

Sokoto Caliphate

The Sokoto Caliphate was the largest state in West Africa in the nineteenth century, but it was really fifteen smaller states or emirates united under the authority of the Sultan of Sokoto. By 1809, leadership was already in the hands of one of dan Fodio's sons, Muhammad Bello, who is credited with solidifying control and establishing much of the administrative structure of this large and powerful state.

Under Bello's governance, the Caliphate followed a policy of religious tolerance, enabling non-Muslims to pay a tax rather than try to enforce conversions. The policy of relative tolerance as well as attempts to ensure impartial justice helped earn the state the support of the Hausa people within the region. The support of the populace was also achieved in part through the stability the state brought and the resulting expansion of trade.

Policies toward Women

Uthman dan Fodio followed a relatively conservative branch of Islam, but his adherence to Islamic law ensured that within the Sokoto Caliphate women enjoyed many legal rights. dan Fodio strongly believed that women too needed to be educated in the ways of Islam. This meant he wanted women in the mosques learning.

For some women, this was an advance, but certainly not for all, as he also held that women should always obey their husbands, provided that the husband's will did not run counter to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad or Islamic laws. Uthman dan Fodio also, however, advocated against female genital cutting, which had been gaining a hold in the region at the time, ensuring that he is remembered as an advocate for women.

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Thompsell, Angela. "Uthman dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate." ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/uthman-dan-fodio-and-sokoto-caliphate-44244. Thompsell, Angela. (2021, October 2). Uthman dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/uthman-dan-fodio-and-sokoto-caliphate-44244 Thompsell, Angela. "Uthman dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/uthman-dan-fodio-and-sokoto-caliphate-44244 (accessed June 6, 2023).