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Usman Dan fodio’s jihad is one of the most important 19th century jihads, it transformed the divided, largely non-Muslim Hausa states into a large united Muslim Fulani empire. Usman was a Fulani of the Toronkawa clan, born and brought up in Gobir, the north westernmost of the Hausa states. He advocated a return to pure Islam and condemned all non-Muslim practices. As his fame grew, he attracted a large number of followers at his base at Degel. The Hausa rulers of Gobir were far from devout Muslims and they practiced many of the abuses criticized by Usman, so it is not surprising that they began increasingly to regard him as a threat to their power. In the last years of the 18th century, the Sarkin of, continued the conflict. At the beginning of 1804 a crisis was reached with Yunfa threatening to attack Degel. On February 21st 1804 Usman and his followers fled from Degel to Gudu (thus making Gobir, Nafata took strong measures to try to reduce Usman’s influence and after 1802 his successor Yunfa an hijira just as the prophet had done), where Usman was proclaimed Amir-al-muminin (commander of the faithful) and a jihad was declared against the rulers of the Hausa states.
In Gobir the Jihad was a long, hard-fought war, the armies of Usman suffered several setbacks before the final victory was achieved with the fall of the Gobir capital, Alkalawa, in 1808. The jihad, however was not confined to Gobir. Fulani in all the other Hausa states rebelled against the Hausa rulers with the support of and acknowledging the authority of Usman.
By 1810, all the Hausa bokwoi states (e.g. Zaria, Katsina, and Kano) had been conquered by the jihadists and new Fulani dynasties established. Twice the Fulani attacked Bornu and seized the capital, but the warrior scholar al-Kanemi succeeded in rallying the forces of Bornu behind him and repulsing the Fulani. The western provinces of Bornu, however, (e.g. Gombe, Katagum) were conquered by the jihadists.
Along the rivers Niger and Benue new Fulani emirates were founded among the Nupe and in Adamawa.
Further to the south the Fulani seized control of Ilorin and large areas of the Oyo Empire.
CAUSES OF THE JIHAD
The immediate cause of the jihad was the conflict in Gobir between Usman and Yunfa, but the fundamental, long term causes are far more complex involving religious political and social factors:
A) Religious Factors
• Usman’s main concern was the reform, purification and expansion of Islam
• Corruption, excessive taxation and pagan practices existed throughout Hausa land.
• Some areas of Hausa land (e.g. Bauchi) were still entirely pagan. Therefore it was undoubtedly in many ways a religious revolt, a real jihad.
B) Political Factors
• The rich, well-educated fanatically Muslim Fulani Gida were frustrated by their lack of political power.
• To some extent the jihad was a racial war, almost all the leaders being Fulani.
• The cattle Fulani joined the revolt party to escape from the hated cattle tax, the jangali, but also partly because they wanted to assist their fellow Fulani.
Therefore, although some Fulani remained loyal to the Hausa rulers and many Hausa fought on the side of the Fulani, the jihad was to some extent a Fulani political and racial revolt.
C) Social factors
• The jihad was also partly a social movement many of the Hausa peasantry, the talakawa, supported the jihad because of the injustice, oppressive rule and high taxation imposed by the Hausa rulers.
WHY THE JIHAD WAS SUCCESSFUL
– The Hausa states were weak and divided. For the previous 200 years there had been almost continuous warfare between the Hausa states, for example during the last half of the 18th century Gobir fought against Katsina, Kano and Zamfara. This not only weakened the Hausa states, but also prevented cooperation between them so that the jihadists could defeat them one by one.
– The Hausa rulers could not rely on the loyalty of their subjects. Many of the Hausa peasantry supported Usman in the hope that he would rescue them from the high taxation and oppressive rule of the Hausa rulers.
– One of the most important reasons for the jihad’s success was the inspired leadership of Usman and his chief supporters, especially his brother Abdullahi and his son and ultimate successor. Mohammed Bello.
– Moreover, the jihadists’ believed in what they were fighting for and were convinced that they would go straight to paradise if killed fighting the holy war.
– The Fulani leaders in the different cities cooperated and helped each other and all acknowledged the leadership of Usman as commander of the Faithful.
RESULTS OF THE JIHAD
– Islam was purified, strengthened and spread throughout Hausa land. Without the jihad it is unlikely that Islam would hold the dominant position it holds today in the area.
– The old Hausa dynasties were overthrown and replaced by a single Fulani empire divided into emirates, ruled by Fulani emirs whose descendants still rule today. On Usman’s retirement in 1817, the empire was divided into two: his brother Abdullahi ruled the western half from Gwandu while his son Mohammed Bello succeeded to the title of Amir al-Muminin and soon asserted his supremacy. It was he who completed his father’s work by preserving unity, suppressing rebellions and providing the empire with an efficient system of government which kept the empire united and powerful throughout the 19th century.
– Then replacing of the warring, divided Hausa states by a strong unified empire greatly increased peace and stability, which produced a great improvement in trade.
– With the spread and reform of Islam went a great increase in education. Usman, Abdullahi and Mohammed Bello were all great scholars who placed great emphasis on learning.
– Usman’s jihad affected more of the Western Sudan than simply Hausa land. It was an important example and influence on other jihads, especially those of Seku Ahmadu in the 1820’s and al-Hajj Umar around the middle of the century.
– The attempts to spread the jihad to Boru brought al-Kanemi into prominence, and under his guidance Bornu was greatly reformed and strengthened.
– The spread of the jihad to Ilorin weakened the Oyo Empire and was a major cause of its collapse.

Source:
West African History
Paul Thatcher
1976

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