The Distinctive Features and Characteristics of the Nigerian Islamic Manuscript Heritage

The Distinctive Features and Characteristics of the Nigerian Islamic Manuscript Heritage

The Distinctive Features and Characteristics of the Nigerian Islamic Manuscript Heritage, Dr Auwalu Anwar, Department of History at University of Kano, Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Distinctive Features and Characteristics of the Nigerian Islamic Manuscript Heritage, Dr Auwalu Anwar, Department of History at University of Kano, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

he speech was given at the international scientific symposium organized by the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema on the theme of “The African Islamic Heritage: Memory and History” on 22-23-24 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1443 H, corresponding to 29-30-31 October 2021 in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

Auwalu Anwar[1]


This paper highlights the uniqueness and distinguishing parameters of the Nigerian Islamic Manuscript Heritage, which correspond to the three historic phases witnessed by Muslim communities in the country, namely: the introduction of the religion and the gradual evolution of its intellectual and political institutions; the renewal efforts culminating in the outbreak of the Sokoto Jihad in 1804 and the subsequent establishment of the Sokoto Sultanate; and some developments associated with the colonial and postcolonial periods. The dominance enjoyed by members of the established Sufi brotherhoods especially Qadiriyya and Tijjaniyya, in the religious space, at different stages in the period under consideration is also reflected in the narrative.


It may not be an exaggeration to say about seventy percent of Nigeria’s landmass is replete with the rich vegetation of Islamic manuscript heritage at varying degrees of identifiability, availability and accessibility. The introduction of Islam into Nigerian areas at different times since the 11th century had established a flourishing Islamic culture and tradition in the numerous Muslim communities especially in Kanem-Borno, Hausaland and Yorubaland. This, in turn, produced centres of excellence in Islamic scholarship and gradually transformed many political institutions to be Shari’a compliant. The renewal efforts by outstanding scholars, culminating in the emergence of the Sokoto Jihad Movement in 1804 and the subsequent establishment of the Sokoto Sultanate had given the religion of Islam a boost in terms of literary production, ritual purification and the transformation of political institutions. This paper, therefore, aims to identify the distinctive features and characteristics of the Islamic manuscript heritage, which gave various Muslim communities in different Nigerian areas unique characteristics through their intellectual and literary productions as change agents in the evolution of their Islamic identities. However, since it is not possible to handle such a vast phenomenon within a restricted medium, like this paper, satisfactorily; it may be more appropriate to make a cursory examination of the general framework and comment on a few sample areas with the hope to detect possible variations in their emphasis and specialization in the production and preservation of those invaluable materials. In other words, an attempt to evaluate different aspects of the heritage in the selected communities under consideration will be made for ease of reference, better comprehension and reconstructive convenience.

Tradition of Islamic scholarship

The culture of Islamic manuscript in Muslim communities of Nigeria evolved simultaneously with the introduction of the religion into the respective areas, which they populated. The introduction of Islam into Kanem could be dated back to the 11th century during the reign of Mai Hume Jilmi in about 1069 A. D. This was when a Muslim scholar known as Muhammad b. Mani succeeded in introducing Islam to the court. According to Muhammad Nur Alkali:

The emergence of the Muslim scholar… was no doubt the result of the gradual penetration of Islam in the land of Kanem well before the eleventh century. The earliest appearance of Muslims in the neighbourhood of Kanem occurred in about 666/7 A. D. when famous Muslim leader Uqba Ibn Nafi led Muslim forces to the Kawar oases. The Muslim conquests of this period, which started from the Ridda (apostasy) wars in Arabia, were aimed at the expansion of the Dar-al-Islam (the house/abode of Islam)… The basic philosophy of the Sayfawa rule did not emerge in the practical sense until after the acceptance of Islam by the court and its adoption as a state religion. In Islam the Mais found a unifying force and a convenient set of rules to administer their people.[2]

The history of Islam in Kanem pre-dated that of any other polity or people within the Central Sudan considering the volume of evidence available to justify such a claim. Abdullahi Smith explains that:

In Kanem the performance of the pilgrimage appears even in those early times, to have had a greater importance than in any other part of Sudan…. In about 1240 A. D. Kanembu scholars founded their own madrasa (educational institution) in al-Fustat, for the study of the Maliki law and for the accommodation of visitors to Cairo from their country.[3]

One of the major problems associated with the study of Islam in most of the Hausa states before the 19th century Sokoto jihad is the scarcity of reliable sources. The accounts presented by the leaders of the jihad had left many questions unanswered and often subject to many interpretations.

However, some of the Hausa states such as Kano, Katsina and Zaria had evolved an appreciable Islamic culture long before the jihad. For instance, the history of Kano during the time of Sarki Muhammadu Rumfa (rul. 1463-1499) was remarkable for the consolidation of Islam as a state policy even if not as a state-religion. This was the time when the celebrated scholar Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Abdulkarim al-Maghili of Tlemcen, visited Kano. Al-Maghili was earlier in Songhay where he served as a close adviser to the ruler, Askia Muhammad Toure. He was also in Katsina around 1488, where he was believed to have converted its ruler, Ibrahim Maje, to Islam. While in Kano:

Al-Maghili was said to have written a document on politics for the guidance of Muhammad Rumfa. He also built the Sharifai Mosque and his descendants are still the custodians of the mosque.[4]

The arrival of al-Maghili in Kano was, in fact, part of the continuous process of Islamization rather than its commencement. What perhaps made al-Maghili more popular was the importance and recognition accorded to his work: Risalat al-Muluk (also referred as Taj al-din) “The Crown of Religion Concerning the Obligations of Princes,” in the fields of law and politics. Besides him, there were other learned and respected scholars, such as al-Suyuti from Egypt; Ahmad b. Muhammad Aqit of Timbuktu (the great ancestor of the famous Ahmad Baba), who taught in Kano c. 1487 A. D. as well as Makhluf al-Balbali, who died sometime after 1534 A. D., all of whom equally contributed to the establishment of a solid tradition of Islamic scholarship and learning. Moreover, it was further observed that in the period 1509-1565 A. D.:

More scholars came with more books. These texts included al-Shifa by Qadi Iyad, which praises Muhammad, a basic Maliki legal text, Mudawwana, by Sahnun, and two Hadith collections: the Jam al-Saghir by al-Suyuti, and the Sarmaqandi by Abd Allah al-Darimi al Sarmaqand… in Kano, there is no evidence of… a rejection. Any turning away from Islam during the centuries preceding the Jihad involved not so much a rejection of Islam, as a limited understanding of it.[5]

Evolution of Islamic manuscript heritage

Expectedly, the evolution of Islamic educational and political institutions in Kanem-Borno, Hausaland and Yorubaland went hand-in-hand with the quest for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge on the basic principles of the new religion; and the burning desire for the provision of necessary facilities, including literature, teachers, advisers, administrators and other functionaries for the smooth running of state affairs. This is what gave rise to the sourcing, preservation and mass production of relevant materials in order to meet an ever-increasing demand by the emergent class of Muslim intelligentsia and the nobility, who in turn were the custodians of the Islamic ethos; and important agents in the production and expansion of its manuscript heritage in the different communities, which were later incorporated into the present nation-state: Nigeria.

The pioneering production of Islamic manuscript heritage in the numerous Muslim communities of Nigeria were, understandably, for the purpose of quenching the thirst to worship Allah according to His commandments as expounded by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, which are recorded in his traditions: the Sunnah. For this reason, the texts of the Qur’an and Hadith being the two principal sources of Shari’a constituted the core substance of the Islamic manuscript heritage in the possession of all the respective communities under consideration. It may be helpful, therefore, to explain that in a number of accounts on the Islamic manuscript heritage, the terms: Arabic manuscript and Islamic manuscript have been used interchangeably, demonstrating the close affinity between the domains of the two concepts. In an overview of the Arabic writings of Central Sudanic Africa, the compiler of a seminal book on the subject, John O. Hunwick, gives useful background information on the development and antiquity of Islamic manuscript heritage in different parts of Nigeria, which needs recounting here. According to him, the history of literary composition in Arabic extends over a period of eight hundred years in this region. The first known writer in Arabic was a grammarian and poet of Kanem, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Kanemi, who was active c. 1200; at the present time scholars are still using Arabic as the language of their doctrinal polemics, of their Islamic teaching manuals and of the poetry they so frequently write in praise of the Prophet, in praise of Sufi leaders, and to eulogize departed friends, colleagues and patrons.[6] Similarly, the earliest centres of Arabic Islamic teaching to emerge in Central Sudanic Africa were Gazargamu, the capital of the rulers of Borno from the 1480s, Katsina and Kano, in both of which Wangara (Dyula) merchants and teachers from Mali settled from the mid-fifteenth century, if not earlier. He also reveals that Kanem Borno was undoubtedly the earliest area of Central Sudanic Africa where a teaching and scholarly tradition developed. Kanem-Borno have had this advantage partly because one of the earliest trans-Saharan trade routes led down from Tripoli through the Fezzan to the state of Kanem just north of Lake Chad and the earliest Islamic and Arabic influences entered the greater Nigerian region by this path.[7]

By the late sixteenth century there was evidence of the establishment of a local scholarly tradition in the historical writings of the Chief Imam Ahmad b. Furtuwa, who was active around 1575. However, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many notable Bornu scholars were of Fulani extraction, whose ancestors had probably arrived in Borno and Bagirmi, migrating from Mali, in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. Some of them were mobile beyond the territory of Borno, visiting other places including Kano and Katsina. Jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (tawhid) and Arabic language were the principal fields of both study and composition, though there was considerable literary activity in poetry of eulogy, elegy, satire and pietism.[8]

In Hausaland, both Kano and Katsina attracted scholars from North Africa and from older Islamic centres such as Walata and Timbuktu in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Both cities were major commercial centres whose dynasties had adopted Islam relatively recently, and for both reasons scholars found them attractive places of residence. Kano’s status as a major centre of scholarly writings was enhanced with the blossoming of the Tijjaniyya there in the twentieth century, its best-known author before that time being the immigrant scholar Abdullahi Suka with his active contribution around 1660. His long poem on Islamic praxis and piety, Atiyyat al-mu’ti, is still reproduced and studied. Likewise, Katsina benefited from the immigration of scholars from Borno, such as Muhammad Masanih (d. 1667) and Muhammad al-Wali (c. 1688), while another of the great scholars of the period, Muhammad b. al-Sabbagh (called Xan Marina, c. 1640) probably had Arab ancestry. Similar to Kano, Katsina was visited by the North African scholar Muhammad b. Abd al-Karim al-Maghili (d. 1504) and also by Ayda Ahmad al-Tazakhti (from Tizakht near Walata d. 1529-30), who became qadi of Katsina, and Makhluf al-Balbali (d. after 1534), a scholar of the northern Saharan oasis of Tabalbala. All of these left behind some writings. The subjects on which the Katsina scholars wrote were similar to those of their colleagues in Borno, perhaps not surprising given the close connections between the two areas. There was also interest in esoteric knowledge. The Katsina scholar Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Fullani (d. 1742) was a celebrated exponent of numerology and talismanology, whose books are still being published in the Arab world.[9]

Other centres of excellence in religious studies and the production of Islamic manuscripts emerged in the late nineteenth century. For instance, Zaria emerged as a teaching centre with an important school led by Umar al-Wali and his descendants. Teaching institutions were established in Bauchi and Bida as well as Lokoja on the confluence of the Niger and Benue. Each of these has produced a number of scholar-authors. Scholars of Nupe origin have tended to move on to the larger and better-endowed centres, migrating either northwards to Zaria or Kano, or southwards to Ilorin, a city established as the most southerly emirate of the Sokoto Sultanate in the 1830s. In the twentieth century Ilorin emerged as one of the major centres of Islamic teaching in Nigeria, providing an effective bridge between the centres of Hausaland and Borno on the one hand, and new centres in Yorubaland such as Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode and Lagos on the other. Two Ilorin scholars have been especially active in promoting Arabic and Islamic education, not only within the city but also more widely in southwestern Nigeria. Muhammad Jum’a Alabi, known as Taj al-Adab (b. 1923), founded a number of Adabiyya schools, and his pupils have carried on the tradition. Muhammad Tukur Kamal al-Din (b. 1907) founded the Ansar al-Islam Society, an educational organization for the propagation of Islam, while his Azhar Institute of Ilorin provides higher education in Arabic combined with some offerings in “secular” subjects.

The outstanding Ilorin scholar and one of the greatest that Nigeria has produced in the twentieth century, was Adam Abd Allah al-Iluri (d. 1993), who established himself at Agege on the outskirts of Lagos in the 1940s and founded an Arabic college there and later started a printing press. He made a considerable contribution through his voluminous writings on a wide variety of topics including history. The same is true of Sharif Ibrahim Salih Al-Husainy of Maiduguri (b. 1938), whose voluminous output includes many works of history as well as scholarly treatises on Tijani Sufism and a biographical guide to Tijani scholars to whom he is affiliated through his lines of mystical and scholarly discipleship.[10] Having sketched the general framework in the evolution of Islamic manuscript heritage since the pre-colonial period among Muslim communities in Nigeria it may also be useful to further comment on the content of the initial religious texts, which largely constituted the substance of the heritage before sample case studies on specific areas of specialization in selected communities are considered. The Arabic and Islamic manuscript heritage of Nigeria falls into a number of broad categories, including research and teaching, polemical, devotional and “secular.” The research and teaching or academic prose consists mainly of works of commentary and explication, treatments (often in verse) of disciplines or sub-disciplines, and encyclopaedic works. They belong mainly to the disciplines of jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, Arabic grammar and biography. The jurisprudential literature generally deals with specific areas or problems (masa’il) – ritual purity (tahara), worship (salat), inheritance (mirath) and sales being the most common. However, al-Najib b. Muhammad of Anu Samman (d. after 1596) wrote two complete commentaries on the Mukhtasar of Khalil b. Ishaq, while Abd Allah b. Muhammad Fodiye wrote an Alfiyya on the principles of jurisprudence.

Topical problems have also been discussed. In the seventeenth century, for example, the lawfulness of tobacco was the subject of two treatises by Muhammad al-Wali b. Sulayman al-Kashnawi (c. 1688); in the mid twentieth century the lawfulness of broadcasting recitation of the Qur’an was the subject of an exchange of views between the Senegalese Tijani leader Ibrahim Niasse of Kaolack (d. 1975) and the Emir of Zazzau Ja’afaru (reg. 1937-9). Qur’anic exegesis rarely covers the whole of the Qur’an, but tends to deal with short suras, such as the Fatiha or Surat al Ikhlas, the exception being Abd Allah b. Fodiye’s Diya al-ta wil, Abu Bakr Gumi’s Radd al-adh’han ila ma’ani ‘l-Qur’an, which was published in Beirut in 1979 at the same time with its Hausa version published by the World Muslim League, Saudi Arabi; and a published Hausa tafsir by Nasiru Kabara. Abd Allah b. Fodiye also wrote two substantial works on the sciences of the Qur’an, al-Miftah li’l-tafsir and al-Fara’id al-jalila. This same author also wrote large verse works on Arabic grammar, al-Bahr al-muhit and al-Hisn al-rasin; in similar vein are al-Durar al-lawami of al-Tahir b. Ibrahim al-Barnawi (d. after 1745) and Murwi al-sadi, a verse treatment of the the Lamiyyat al-af’al of Ibn Malik written in 1734 by a certain Muhammad b. Salih.[11]

Different varieties of Qur’anic manuscript in Borno

The history of Qur’anic studies and production in Kanem-Borno pre-dated that of any other community in Nigeria. In fact, the influence of the Bornoan tradition on Qur’anic studies in Hausaland is so glaring that the ijazah (certificate of competence) of most renowned Qur’anic scholars in the area is traceable to Borno. There are multiple stages in the production of copies of the Qur’an, manually, in Borno and each of these stages communicate a slightly different but authoritative idea about the position of Borno as a leading light in the continuous reproduction and preservation of the divine manuscript.

Firstly, there are plain Quranic texts that are manually produced by students, who reached the end of their memorization career in the rote learning process and had to prove their level of expertise by writing their own copies of the Qur’an off-hand without any error whatsoever. The abundance of copies of the Qur’an in the community is not an excuse for someone that has reached such a level of excellence not to write his or her own copy of the text, which could always be disposed of or kept at the discretion of the author. These types of plain copies of the Qur’an are of tremendous significance in reconstructing the history of the Islamic manuscript industry in Nigeria. They are identified and classified in terms of the writer, time and place of writing and any other details if available. They record the history of the region’s Quranic calligraphy. They document diverse forms of the evolution of script systems used in the region, especially the kufic script which is the dominant form of writing. The different copies of the plain Quranic texts also indicate the level of mastery of the Qur’an as they are reproduced from memory. In addition, the plain Quranic texts are also sources of studying Qur’anic artistry. Stationery components of such texts like the paper type, the varieties of the ink utilized varying from the ordinary black aduwa to the colored ink or yambar as they are called in the Kanem-Borno tradition are also vital areas for scholars in the relevant fields.

Secondly, another format for the reproduction of the Qur’anic manuscripts is the genre of ajami translated Quran or Qur’an rendered to tarjumo in the Barnoan tradition. These are copies of the Qur’an rendered into highly technical Kanuri language using the ajami writing format. Kanuri was the first language in the region to utilize the ajami writing format and tarjumo Quran works constitute an important component of the manuscript heritage.

Thirdly, there are also commentaries of the Qur’an by local scholars in the region in the familiar tradition of tafsir. These differ from tarjumo, which were translated texts while these commentaries are tafsirs or exegesis of the Qur’an in Arabic. Both partial and complete versions of this subclass of documents are important in the identification and preservation of the distinctiveness of the Nigerian Islamic manuscript heritage. Finally, in addition to tafsirs, annotations of various levels also exist. There are some copies of the Qur’an with these notes sometimes pertaining to statistical occurrences of Qur’anic phrases (or haraji). At times, they represent anecdotal expansions and explanations of the Qur’anic text. These classes of documents should be considered and further studied having given the Islamic manuscripts heritage of the Bornoan community special distinctive features and characteristics of their own in the Nigerian context.[12]

Undoubtedly, Qur’anic studies and the technology for its textual beautification and preservation commenced from but certainly did not end in Borno. For instance, Andrea Brigaglia has observed that most of the extant studies on Islamic manuscript heritage in sub-Saharan Africa aim more at serving literary and historical purposes, and focus entirely on the textual dimension of the manuscripts while a holistic approach to the study of these documents should, ideally, also examine the different aspects of the manuscripts, that is: the materials, the technologies, the practices and the communities involved in the production, commercialization, circulation, preservation and consumption. This should be with the objective to expand our still scanty knowledge of the different manuscript cultures that the African continent has developed and that often can still be considered as living traditions.[13]

In the context of Qur’anic manuscript heritage in Nigeria, while Brigaglia confirms the pioneering status of the Bornoan tradition still calls attention to the uniqueness of the contribution made by Kano in promoting Qur’anic calligraphic technology in Nigeria. The appreciation resulted from his fascination with the rare expertise demonstrated by “a legendary calligrapher of Kano city: Mahiru Sharif Bala of Gabari ward.” Thus, he argues “for the existence of a specific ‘Kanawi’ script”, which is an extension of an earlier style known as “Hausawi” already in pre colonial times, and used today for the realization of Qur’ans and decorative copies of religious books, which is characterized by a maximization of the thickness of the traditional styles of the Central Sudan.[14] He further describes the uniqueness of Bala’s style that stood him out as the best among his contemporaries:

Sharif Bala’s Qur’ans always follow the Medinan reading of Nafi’ in the transmission of Warsh, and feature, along with the black ink used for the consonantal body of the text, vowels in red, hamzat al-qat in yello, hamzat al-wasl in green, and titles of suras and marginal notes in red. Verses are not numbered, but are divided by a verse – marker (aya), with additional marks signaling groups of five verses (khumsa) and groups of ten verses (‘ushra, in Hausa, Kuri, “circle”). Additional decorative elements, also typical of the wider Nigerian tradition of Qur’anic calligraphy. [15]

Content of jihad literature in Sokoto

An unprecedented large-scale production of Islamic manuscripts occurred in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, associated with the renewal efforts and jihad campaigns of Usman Xanfodio (d. 1817), his brother Abdullahi (d.1826) and his son Muhammadu Bello (d. 1837). These triumvirate leaders of the Sokoto jihad movement had produced over three hundred works in prose and verse. Besides writing in Arabic, Xanfodio also composed poetry in Fulfulde and Hausa. Some of his poems in Fulfulde were translated into Hausa by one of his sons, Isa. His daughter Asma’u was also a poet in Arabic, Fulfulde and Hausa. His Waziri, Gixaxo xan Laima was a talented Arabist and writer, as were his various successors (all descendants of his) down to Waziri Junaidu b. Muhammad al-Bukhari (d. 1997), author of numerous works of history and a diwan of poetry. The triumvirate leaders of the jihad wrote in most of the Islamic disciplines: fiqh (jurisprudence), tawhid (theology), tasawwuf (Sufism), tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), hadith (Prophetic traditions), lugah (Arabic language), adab (manners), wa’z (paraenesis), tibb (medicine), and ta’rikh (history), often, in fact, writing works that crossed these disciplinary boundaries.[16] The social milieu that necessitated the jihad in Hausaland and the process of its execution have been preserved in the writings of the triumvirate leaders of the jihad. For instance, the polemics between Borno and Sokoto on the legality or otherwise of extending the jihad to Borno is documented in Muhammadu Bello’s Infaq al-maysur.

Frankly, like the works produced by other scholars in this part of the Muslim world, the efforts of the jihad leaders were based on the jurisprudential principles expounded by the Maliki School with strong affinity to the Ash’ari theological creed within the larger Sunni community. This was in addition to the deeply rooted conviction in the concept, content and context of tasawwuf being at the foundation of most of the religious activities of those scholars throughout their careers. The methodology adopted in the promotion of jihad ideas and the pursuit of its ideals gave boost to the use of local languages such as Fulfulde and Hausa for the purposes of mass enlightenment and mobilization of the people. For instance, Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya indicates that Bello Sa’id has confirmed Usman Xanfodio composed more than four hundred and eighty (480) poems in Arabic, Fulfulde and Hausa. Out of this number, twenty-five (25) were in Hausa while thirteen (13) were translated from Arabic or Fulfulde to Hausa, making the total of his poems in Hausa that had so far been recovered to be thirty-eight (38). Besides Xanfodio, his brother Abdullah, some of his children and followers had also written many poems on different aspects of Islam as the following list indicates:

  1. Usman Xanfodio 25 poems
  2. Abdullahi Xanfodio 8 poems
  3. Muhammadu Bello 1 poem
  4. Asma’u Xanfodio 17 poems
  5. Isan Kware Xanfodio 7 poems
  6. Maryam Xanfodio 3 poems
  7. Khalil son of Abdullahi 2 poems
  8. Sa’idu son of Bello 3 poems
  9. Mamman Tukur 3 poems
  10. Dikko son of Bagine 2 poems
  11. Abdullahi Maiboxinga 2 poems
  12. Waziri Bukhari 2 poems
  13. Salihu Xan Zama 2 poems
  14. Mallam Danho 2 poems

The above list is by no means exhaustive as another research conducted by Sutura Sa’id Mukoshy on Asma’u Xanfodio revealed her poems that have been recovered so far to be forty-six (46) in Fulfulde, twenty-two (22) in Hausa and ten (10) in Arabic. In addition, a close examination of the Hausa poems composed by Xanfodio and his followers in the nineteenth century could be broadly classified into five thematic areas: fiqihu (jurisprudence), wa’azi (paraenesis), bege/yabo (praise of the Prophet), Sufanci (Sufism) and ilimi (education).[17]

British conquest of the Sultanate

The last issue to discuss here is not about the use of Hausa poetry for the teaching of religious education but its usage to resist the imposition of colonial rule through the conquest and destruction of the Sultanate institutions in 1903. During the occupation of Sokoto by the British

forces in 1903 a large number of Arabic letters written by various Emirs and Chiefs of the Sultanate were found in the house of the blind old Waziri of Sokoto, the famous Bukhari. The issues discussed in the letters include: political and military institutions in Hausaland as viewed from the Muslim leaders’ perspectives, while others were of interest as source materials for the history of various parts of the Sultanate and Borno. For instance, a letter written to the High Commissioner by the Sultan of Sokoto, which was received around May 1902 had left no one in doubt about the ideological framework within which the authorities in Sokoto envisaged the two parties to relate:

From us to you. I do not consent that any one from you should ever dwell with us. I will never agree with you. I will have nothing ever to do with you. Between us and you there are no dealings except as between Muslims and Unbelievers (“Kafiri”) War, as God Almighty has enjoined on us. There is no power or strength saved in God on high. This with salutations.[18]

The importance of these letters to the Islamic manuscript heritage of Nigeria is intrinsic in the perspectives of their writers of the inherent religious character of the forces in conflict, which guided and directed all their plans, strategies and actions. For instance, in Letter No. 125 from the Emir of Kano to the Waziri of Sokoto, the Emir was delighted that the leaders in Sokoto accepted his advice:

That both we and you seek for a plan which will be of assistance to our religion and to earth and heaven… that we leave this country all of us this is my clear conviction – as these dogs have surrounded us and threaten to overcome us.[19]

However, it is clear the nobility in Sokoto did not agree on any specific course of action when conquest of the Sultanate was imminent. For instance, contrary to the advice given by the Emir of Kano proposing emigration from the land, Letter No. 128 from Muhammadu Marafa (Maiturare), son of Sarkin Musulmi Ahmadu to Sarkin Musulmi Muhammadu Attahiru, the former has a different opinion as to why he cautioned the Sultan not to mention the possibility of emigration, which would be perceived as abdication of responsibility and abandoning the people in their hour of need:

I earnestly beseech you; in God’s name let no one hear a suggestion of our departure from your mouth in this land, as this would mean ruin for our affairs. Our subjects and people, who are within the boundaries of our land, would certainly throw off their allegiance to us on hearing such news.[20]

When Sultan Attahiru I finally accepted the rationale or necessity to emigrate from Sokoto, which by the original criterion of the jihad campaign had become the land of unbelief or the abode of war by the religion of its new rulers, he composed a purposeful poem to mobilize his subjects: Waqar zuwan Annasara qasar Hausa (On the Arrival of the Christians in Hausaland). According to Shea and Abba, the poem was not simply a justification or explanation of the emigration, which he led, but also a summons for others to join and a rebuke for those who collaborated with the Christian conquerors.[21]

Activities of Sufi brotherhoods in Kano

Kano as a city, emirate or province has played an important and strategic role in the numerous transformations that took place at different times in the history of the country. As a terminus of the trans-Saharan trade route, the commercial nerve-centre of the Sokoto Sultanate and the industrial headquarters of Northern Nigeria, Kano has emerged as a melting pot of ideas: both political and religious. This was what made Kano a leading opposition centre in the politics of postcolonial Nigeria.

The two leading Sufi brotherhoods in Kano: Qadiriyya and Tijjaniyya had a long and proud history in the promotion of Islamic education and the provision of religious guidance among their members. The Qadiriyya was introduced into Hausaland by al-Maghili in the fifteenth century. Its gains and prestige were consolidated in the nineteenth century with the emergence of the Sokoto jihad movement and the establishment of the Sultanate. The three principal leaders of the jihad: Usman Xanfodio, Abdullahi Xanfodio and Muhammadu Bello were members of the Qadiriyya. They have also written books on different aspects of tasawwuf. On the other hand, there has been no definite date of the introduction of the Tijjaniyya into Hausaland. However, it was generally agreed that the Tijjaniyya was introduced into Hausaland by Umar al-Futi when he visited Gwandu, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Zaria and Bauchi on his way to Mecca in 1825.

In the twentieth century, two developments in the Tijjaniyya, which also provoked some reactions in the Qadiriyya, had accelerated the production of Islamic manuscript along partisan lines in Kano. In the early twenties, the crack in the leadership of the Tijjaniyya between scholars of the Madabo School (Madabawa) and their rivals from the Salga School (Salgawa) had divided the membership of the brotherhood into two hostile groups. In 1923, in accordance with the advice of Sharif Muhammad al’Alami, a Moroccon Tijani scholar, some influential Tijjanawa in Kano decided to establish a central zawiya that would unite members of the brotherhood and provide them with strong leadership in the ancient city. It was subsequently built in Qoqi ward and Muhammadu Salga was appointed its Imam and principal al-Muqaddam of the brotherhood in Kano. Perhaps, Salga authored his famous treatise: Al Su’al wa’l-jawab (Questions and answers) on the rituals of the Tijjaniyya around this period.

Having once stayed at the Madabo School as a senior student when he first arrived in Kano, Salga’s appointment as Imam of the mega zawiya did not please some members of the brotherhood. Not long after his appointment, some rival scholars wrote a secret petition against him alleging he was affiliated to the dreaded Mahdiyya movement and had accumulated a lot of weapons with the intention to lead an uprising against the colonial administration. As a result of this allegation, Salga was investigated and his house was searched but nothing incriminating was found against him.[22] Realising why he was a target, Salga resigned his appointment, returned to his house in Sanka ward and continued teaching his disciples from there.[23] From that time, he started to question and challenge some of the conclusions reached by the Madabo School on certain death rituals and funeral procedure, which had for long been observed and accepted as the norm in Hausaland. This, eventually, cemented their parting of ways.

The Madabawa-Salgawa debate

The criticisms against the Madabo School by Muhammadu Salga were primarily on the accusations that most of the rituals associated with the dead, ranging from the very manner of its burial to the mode of receiving condolences, which were sanctioned by the Madabawa ulama, could not be established by the Shari’a. The conflict between the Salgawa and the Madabawa reached its climax with the production of a book entitled Risalatus-Su’ali anil mayyati wa salatil janazati wad-dafni wad-du’a’u lahu by Muhammadu Salga, questioning the basis of those practices.[24] The book also shed some light on what the author believed to be the basis of those practices, as well as what made them un-Islamic. The book seemed to be a response to some accusations leveled against him by a section of the Madabawa ulama, probably including the Babban Malami himself.[25]

The efforts in responding to the array of criticisms made against the Madabawa scholars led to the writing of another book: Hujattul Ulama’il-Madabawiyyi[26] by the erudite and prolific Adamu Abdurrahman Suyuxi, popularly known as Malam Cindo. The author expressed his displeasure with the approach adopted by Salga in giving his advice, which was perceived as an attempt to embarrass Madabawa. He also gave some reasons as to why they found most of those practices to be lawful. He further expressed his surprise as to why the Madabo School should be criticized for the absence of any specific nassi to support the lawful practices of its members.

The defence of the Madabawa articulated by Malam Cindo neither convinced nor impressed the Salgawa. This, consequently, led to the expansion of the scope of the issues in contention, to cover other areas of religious practice and scholarship. For instance, Muhammadu Salga wrote another book reiterating his earlier arguments entitled: Al Ajawabatul Muqaddama Li Sahibi Nasril Bid’ah. Another highly respected scholar, from his School, Mahmud b. Al-Hasan Sanka, wrote two books: Sabilul Muhtady (163 stanzas in verse), in the form of a dialogue between a student and his teacher on issues needing clarification; and Ithbatu Aqadamil Mustarshidina. A student of Salga and Sanka, Abubakar Atiku, rendered the questions, which b. Al-Hasan asked their teacher, Muhammadu Salga, into Hausa (ajami) verse with extensive commentaries entitled: Ijabatus Sa’ili Fi Kasirin Minal Masa’ili, it was produced in 243 stanzas, in strict compliance with the principles of the Maliki School, on 21st September 1927.[27] Naturally, the expanded scope led to the production of more books by members of the two Schools involved in the controversy, out of which about ten have so far been identified, but the actual number of manuscripts generated through the debate remains largely unknown, or at best speculative up to now.[28]

For instance, in his critique of the rejoinder written by Malam Cindo, Muhammad Sani Kafanga authored a book entitled: Al’Adillatus Sunniyyah Fir-Raddi alaxxa’ifatil Bid’iyyah in which he rejected one of the major sources on which the Madabawa heavily relied: the opinion of members of the past generations. Kafanga even sarcastically questioned whether or not Cindo was merely referring to the rituals and practices performed by his great-grandparents, who might not necessarily be learned in religious sciences. Furthermore, he also examined and commented, negatively, on other issues raised in Cindo’s response to the criticisms made by Salga against the Madabawa ulama.[29]

Another scholar from Madabo, Muhammadu b. Mustafa (also known as Malam Na Duwala, of Arzai ward) had authored a book in verse: Qada’un Niza’i, which was certainly produced before Cindo’s Hajjatul Ulama’il in support of the Madabawa. This book is hardly available in any form today. In response to him, Tijjani Usman wrote: Tuhfatul-Atba’i Fir-Raddi Ala Manzumat Ulin Niza’i.[30] His second book on the issues in dispute was, An Nasai’hul Murshidah Li Tarki Ma Yaqa’u Fil Jinazati Minal Mafsadah. The interest generated in the democratization of the debate by Atiku when he rendered the poem composed by b. Al-Hasan on the issues into ajami as indicated above made other disciples of the Salga School to further reduce the issues into Hausar boko (Hausa written in Roman script) for wider circulation among Western-oriented Hausa Muslims. For instance, Mudi Sipikin wrote two of such poems, namely: “Tambayoyi a Kan Sadakar Uku da Sadakar Bakwai da Sadakar Arba’in da Sadakar Shekara” and “Wasiyya Sipikiyya.”[31]

At any rate, some independent scholars also commented on some of the issues under consideration by stating their own opinion without necessarily belonging to either of the camps. For instance, the genius blind poet, Aliyu Namangi belonged to this category. He was very critical of the position supported by the Madabawa in his condemnation of their perspectives based on what he considered appropriate and lawful by the provisions of the Shari’a. Namangi was also a Tijani scholar from Zaria but aligned to neither of the groups in their struggle for influence and identity.[32]

The Madabawa-Salgawa debate gradually degenerated into the casting of aspersion against one another by some zealot members of the two rival institutions and at that point the substantive issues at stake were pushed to the background. In addition, it should be highlighted that the issues on which those scholars disagreed were neither among the major pillars of Islam nor central to the basic doctrines of the Tijjaniyya brotherhood to which both factions belonged. With the expansion of the grounds on which the scholars differed, the production of more manuscripts with partisan objectives continued. Sadly! Neither of the two institutions had preserved many of the literature produced at that period nor the descendants of the authors rescued such invaluable Islamic manuscript heritage to be in their possession today. However, books written by Malam Cindo alone, in that tempestuous period included the following:

  1. Fatuhur Rahamaniyyah Li’islahi Mathalibi Al’Adillah al Sunniyyah.
  2. Hidayatul Murshidi Ila Nudibi Li’amuwatil Muslimina. 3. Fathul Alimul Hakeem.
  3. Al-Masa’ilul-Muskitati Al-Kubra Fi Intisaril-A’immati Al-Uzma. 5. As’ilatu Huruful Gussa.
  4. Nailu Gayatil-Amany Fi Jam’i Masa’ili Su’aly.
  5. Tahsisul Marami.
  6. Jami’us Su’ali.
  7. Zailul Muskiti.

 Although the Madabawa-Salgawa debate was between two rival groups of the Tijjaniyya, the Madabawa were in close alliance with the Qadiriyya scholars throughout the period but especially those associated with the leadership of Nasiru Kabara in the brotherhood. While some scholars of the Madabo School were also practicing members of the Qadiriyya, including a few that emerged as Babban Malami such as the present occupant of the office, still the School was represented by members of the Tijjaniyya from among its products throughout the debate.

The Qabd-Sadl controversy

By 1937, the split between the Madabawa and the Salgawa became fully institutionalized and complete. The Salga School emerged as a very powerful rival institution, challenging the leadership of the Madabo School in Kano. Muhammadu Salga died in 1938. However, a year before his demise in 1937, the Emir of Kano, Abdullahi Bayero together with his Wali, Sulaiman and Galadima, Abdulqadir, met with an influential Senegalese leader of the Tijjaniyya, Ibrahim Niasse, at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina during pilgrimage and they became friends.

Bayero and Sulaiman renewed their silsila of the Tijjaniyya from Niasse[33] and he was invited to visit Kano by the Emir. With the death of Salga, his son Abdullahi succeeded him as leader of the Salgawa. When Niasse visited Kano immediately after the war in 1945, his presence was unnoticed since nobody knew him apart from those he met during the pilgrimage. However, he left his book behind entitled: Kashif al-Ilbas an faydat al-khatm Abi l-Abbas,[34] which was his first major work and a biography of Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani. This book removed all doubts about his credentials as a major leader of the Tijjaniyya, the expected Caliph of al-Tijani and the custodian of the secrets of Al-Faidha, which is the True Face of tasawwuf in the Tijjaniyya.

In 1946, a year after Niasse’s visit to Kano some Salgawa scholars, having already submitted to his spiritual authority, visited him in Kaolack, Senegal. The first public appearance of Ibrahim Niasse during his second visit to Kano in 1951 generated a lot of comments and controversy, particularly the crossing of his hands over his chest (qabd) when leading a Friday prayer. Before this period, most scholars of the Tijjaniyya were not observing qabd in prayer. They preferred praying with their arms at their sides (sadl). However, a few scholars initially identified with the practice

of qabd included Nasiru Kabara and Abubakar Mahmud Gumi. When Niasse was seen to have approved of qabd in observing prayer both Gumi and Kabara withdrew from the practice. In fact, they turned into its critics. Similarly, the Madabawa scholars and other Tijjanawa, who did not submit to the leadership of Niasse teamed up with the Qadirawa, under the leadership of Nasiru Kabara, to oppose him. Thus, the emergence of Niasse as the new leader of the Salgawa had brought him directly into the centre of their conflict with the Madabawa, creating a new division in the Tijjaniyya and among the larger Muslim community in Nigeria.

Although scholars of the Maliki School were more familiar with sadl in West Africa, Niasse chose to promote qabd, which he found to be more consistent with the expressed teachings of the Prophet. At a point, he authored a book to establish the roots of the practice in the Prophetic traditions entitled: Raf’ al-malam amman rafa’a wa qabada iqtida’an bi Sayyad al-anam. The qabd-sadl controversy had taken a life of its own, escaping out of the intellectual orbit, and landing into the midst of political intrigues and rivalry between partisan communities identified with contrary political beliefs, ideas and ideologies as represented by members of the ruling party at the northern regional level: the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the opposition Northern Elements

Progressive Union (NEPU) with its headquarters in Kano. The uneasy relationship between the political institutions: traditional/ modern, as represented by the Sultan and his Council in Sokoto Province, and the emergent Tijjaniyya-Ibrahimiyya community in Sokoto, represented by the followers of Niasse with their religious symbols was, since the appearance of Niasse in the Fifties, largely characterized by continued occurrence of disturbances in which members of the brotherhood accused the Sultan for taking repressive measures against them at the slightest opportunity. In 1949, unaware of (or perhaps insensitive to) the political volatility of inter-tariqa relations in Sokoto, Sharif Hussain b. Umar, a descendant of Ahmad al-Tijani, visited Gusau, where he publicly initiated people into the Tijjaniyya and apparently refused to respond to a call by the Sultan Abubakar III to pay him a courtesy visit in Sokoto. Soon after he left, the Sultan unleashed his reaction, ordering for the demolition of all Tijjaniyya Mosques in the province. In their response, many Tijjaniyya scholars composed invective poetry either in Arabic or in Hausa praying for God’s immediate decision to befall their enemy. For instance, a disciple of Abubakar Atiku residing in Qaura Namoda, Malam Muhammadu Babba na-Birnin Magaji authored: Bathth al-haniq (Outburst of Rage) and his teacher – Abubakar Atiku – upon receiving news of the Tijani repression, also composed his 55-verse Arabic invective against the Sultan of Sokoto known as al Khanjar al-Rabbani fi dhabh a’da’ tariqat al-Tijani (The Divine Dagger, slaughtering the enemies of the tariqa of al-Tijani.[35]

One of the previously unstudied Tijani sources on the nature of relationship between the Sokoto aristocrats, who were leaders of the Qadiriyya and the followers of Ibrahim Niasse, was a neglected manuscript of about twenty-five pages authored by a certain Muhammad al-Bukhari (known as Malam Buhari or simply as Malam Liman) b. al Zubayr al-Rumi (d. 2003), a scholar who was residing in Tsafe, at the time of the incident narrated in the manuscript. The text, written in Arabic and entitled, al-Risala al-sijniyya fi bayan waqi’at ahl al-tariqa al-tijaniyya al-sakinin fi al-ard al-khariba al-khabitha ard Sukutu (The Epistle from Prison, explaining the events occurred to the people of the tariqa Tijaniyya living in the land of devastation and evil, the land of Sokoto) in the year 1955, was written by the author while serving a prison term in Gusau.[36]

In 1965, another communal crisis erupted in Argungu, Sokoto Province, which the authorities also perceived as Tijjaniyya inspired leading to the hasty decision by the government to ban all qabd-practicing Imams from leading congregational prayers in public mosques in the whole of Northern Region of Nigeria. This controversial order pushed the conflict between the followers of Niasse and their opponents to a new phase in literary production. Nasiru Kabara wrote a book to support sadl: Qam’ul Fasadi fi Tafdilis-sadli alal qabadhi fi hazihil Biladi.[37] Kabara’s book provoked instant responses from the followers of Niasse within and outside Nigeria. For instance, one of the Mauritanian disciples of Niasse, who replied Kabara was, Sayyid Ahmad Mahmud ibnush-Sharif Muhammadil Kabir Al-Mauritany Al-Tijany. His book was entitled, Qam’ul-fasadi fi Qad’i Khuza’abalati: Qam’il Fasadi. Muhammad Sani Kafanga’s response was entitled, Sabilur Rashadi fir-Raddi ala Mu’allafi Qam’il Fasad.[38] A disciple of Shehu Usman Maihula, Muhammad Mustafa Sani Al-Kanawy, responded to Kabara and his book was entitled: Qaulus Sadadi fir-Raddi ala Shubuhati Sahibi Qam’il-Fasad.[39] Whereas the followers of Niasse were responding to Kabara with the objective to invalidate his arguments, other scholars from the Qadiriyya came to his rescue in the hope to establish his claims. For instance, Ali b. Muhammad Al-Kumasy wrote two books: Dalilus Sadili fi Sunnati Ashrafil Awakhiri wal Awa’ili[40] and Fathul-Hakamil Adli, Li Ithbati Sunnatis-Sadli.[41] Al-Kumasy’s criticism of Kafanga’s alleged use of foul language did not silence the latter from active participation in the debate. Kafanga authored additional books in the continuing polemics including the following: Faslul-Maqal fil-wadhi’i wal-irsal and Mir’atul Haqqi.

 As the Tijjanawa and the Qadirawa engaged one another in the qabd sadl controversy with the former putting more emphasis on the use of hadith texts and the latter depending more on the accepted tradition of the Maliki School, some Madabawa scholars bounced back into the arena in alliance with the Qadiriyya scholars. For instance, Malam Cindo produced a number of books in support of sadl, which included: Bisharatus-Sadili, ala mazhabil Imami Malik Al-Fadhil.[42]Surprisingly, another scholar of the Madabo School, who accepted the teachings of Muhammad Salga as superior in the context of the debate, known as Uwaisu b. Abba, wrote an instant rejoinder to Cindo entitled, Maqami’ur Raddi wad-Daf’i ala munkiril’qabdhi war-raf’i. Immediately Malam Cindo saw Uwaisu’s response, he composed a book of verse with couplet stanzas entitled: As-Suyuful Qawadi’u li qad’i Hujaji Sahibil Maqa’i. To show support for his teacher, a disciple of Cindo, Abubakar Al Kumudhwy, enlarged the book by adding three lines to each stanza. He entitled the expanded text: Takhmisu Kitabis-Suyuful Qawadi’i li qad’i Hujaji Sahibil Maqa’i. To supply answers to issues raised in the process of the debate, Cindo wrote a follow up book: Hujajus-Sadilina wa Ijabatus Sa’ilina ala Sunnatis Sadli.[43]

Besides the principal leaders of the Qadiriyya and the Tijjaniyya engaged in the battle of wits through the debate, other scholars had also written a number of books to support or oppose either of the sides. For instance, a certain Haruna Muhammad wrote, Ikhtisarul-Mathnuniy wal Battar fi nahri man Ankara rijhanal-qabdhi war-raf’i fi mazhabi Malikin rahimahul-Lahu. Another author known as Muhammad Al-Mushry entitled his book: Rad’u Assinnatil-Augad an Ahlis-Sunnati war-Rashad. Yet, a leading scholar of the Tijjaniyya, who enriched the literary production of the period, Abubakar Atiku, came up with another book entitled, As-Sarimul Mashrafy Maslul alal Munkiri Gabiyi.[44]

It may be relevant here to observe that the resort to imagery of weaponry and the symbolism of violence in the choice of book titles by The disputing scholars were certainly indicative of the accumulated tension bottled-up by the warring parties, as well as the precarious nature of the socio-cultural and political contexts into which participants in the controversy lived and operated. Central to the opportunity enjoyed by the Sufi scholars in dominating the arenas of the two debates relating to funeral rites and the proper positioning of hands in prayer, was the use of classical Arabic as the medium for communication. However, with the introduction of the use of Roman script to write in the Hausa language, liberal scholars who had the dual advantage of having both traditional religious knowledge and some form of Western education broke that monopoly. Discourse among the ulama gradually migrated from the pages of religious texts to the pages of newspapers. The ordinary Hausa Muslims for its inclusiveness and the democratization of the discourse welcomed this development as beneficial to their immediate needs.

The bickering among Sufi scholars of the Qadiriyya and the Tijjaniyya began to subside as from 1969 to early 1970 with the emergence of Abubakar Mahmud Gumi with his anti-Sufi ideas and teachings through the Kaduna-Zaria based government media outlets but especially the Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo newspaper and the Radio Kaduna platform. Gumi’s Nasiha series in Gaskiya and the sustained airing of his religious programmes including the famous Ramadan tafsir had brought him into face-to-face conflict with tariqa leaders across Nigeria. For instance, in 1972, Gumi published his controversial book: Al-Aqidah al-Sahihah bi Muwafaqat al-Shari’a in which he invalidated the authenticity of Sufism in Islam. Scholars of the Qadiriyya and the Tijjaniyya came together and took him up by insisting tasawwuf is rooted in the provisions of the

Shari’a as the third level in the hierarchy of religious structure and divine consciousness: al-ihsan. Further, in response to Gumi’s book, Nasiru Kabara wrote: An-Nasihatus-Sariha fir-raddi ala Aqidatis-Sahihah. Muhammad Sani Kafanga authored, Al-Minahul-Hamidah fir-raddi ala fasidil aqidah. Abubakar Atiku’s defence of a popular prayer in the litanies of the Tijjaniyya: Jauharat al-Kamal, was a book entitled, Risalatu Tanbihil-Ikhwani bi takzibi sahibil-khabali Ad-da’ini li Jauharatil Kamali fis-salati ala Sayyadir-rijali.[45]

The appearance of Gumi had changed the narratives as well as the content and direction of religious polemics among Nigerian Ulama. Before his emergence, religious scholars were having quarrels on issues that did not challenge the reality of tasawwuf in Islam. From the time he published his major anti-Sufi manual in 1972: Al-Aqidah al-Sahihah to date, Sufi oriented-Muslims in the country have been put on the defensive, struggling to absolve themselves from the accusation of reprehensible innovation in religion. However, this apparent setback does not prevent the Qadiriyya and the Tijjaniyya from getting new initiates, on a daily-basis. At any rate, a more comprehensive engagement with Gumi for his offensive against the doctrines of tasawwuf and the activities of Sufi brotherhoods was perhaps the corpus production of a rejoinder to all aspects of his criticisms by Sharif Ibrahim Salih al-Husainy in 1982, which was published in Cairo with the incisive title, Al-Takkfir: Akhtar Bid’a Tuhaddidul al-Salam Wa al-Wahdah Bayn al-Muslimin Fi Nayjiriyya.

The significance of Ilorin

As a buffer state between the northern and the southern parts of Nigeria Ilorin presents unique features and characteristics in its Islamic manuscript heritage, different from what obtains in either of the two power blocs in the country. In his preface to a book on Arabic Manuscripts in the Ilorin Emirate, the Vice Chancellor of Kwara State University, AbdulRasheed Na’Allah has revealed that the characteristics of Ilorin Arabic manuscript is informed “by the multilingual and multicultural nature of community,” which in turn makes Ilorin to have “a separate and distinguished identity from the West African Sudani manuscript.” This uniqueness qualifies it to be named “Ilorini, connoting its inherent specificity and plurality of language, style and culture.” To drive his point home, Na’Allah elaborates on the richness of Ilorini:

Even Ilorin manuscripts written in Yoruba (from the ancient Ilorin) have diverse characters, and this also is the case with Ilorini manuscripts in Hausa, Fulfulde, Baruba and other languages. Ilorini manuscript is beyond just the nature of traditional Arabic, or the specific Arabic writing dialect adopted, it also contains the aesthetic nature of the designs and the meanings thereof.[46]

The history behind the establishment of Ilorin and its later incorporation into the structure of the Sokoto Sultanate in 1823 might explain some of the reasons for the peculiarity in its Islamic manuscript heritage as indicated above. According to the editor of the book,

Moshood Mahmood Jimba, as far back as the eighteenth century groups of itinerant scholars had arrived and settled in Ilorin from different directions including Kanem-Borno, Sudan, Mali and Hausaland. These had established centres of religious activities and scholarship in an area known as Oke Suna in Ilorin. The head of this settlement was a renowned

a scholar from Borno, Tahir Sholagberu and another man of letters, Matase, was serving as Imam in the community. However, the roots of societal transformation and development on the principles of Islam were first planted in Yorubaland through the efforts of one of their leading scholars, Salih b. Janta (popularly known as Shehu Alimi, d. 1823). He was an itinerant scholar of Fulve extraction, who founded a jihad movement in Yorubaland and settled in Ilorin even before his later engagement with leaders of the Sokoto jihad. The Bornoan influence on the intellectual and religious character of Ilorin is quite strong. For instance, some of the important families of scholars, who traced their lineage to Borno included Abubakar Omoiya of Soro area in Isale-Gambari, Maikabara of Itakudinmo and Onagun of Ita-Egba all in Ilorin township. Their ancestors were part of the early scholars who arrived from Borno and settled in the ancient Oke Suna area.[47]

Because of its strategic position, Ilorin became a major centre for Islamic scholarship and the direction to which Muslim scholars in the whole of southern Nigeria were attracted. With its subsequent incorporation into the Sokoto Sultanate, Ilorin became increasingly influenced by the traditions of Arabic and Islamic learning in the Sultanate. It was similarly influenced by the learning traditions in Mali, introduced by the Malian traders and scholars, who first brought Islam to Yorubaland; as well as the Bornoan tradition introduced by the scholars of Oke Suna settlement. With this solid foundation in Arabic and Islamic scholarship Ilorin became not only a centre of learning, but also a big repository for Arabic and Islamic manuscripts. For instance, people kept records of transactions, official and personal correspondence in Arabic and ajami. It was believed that nearly every home in Ilorin had its own family manuscripts repository. The Muslim scholars of Ilorin were regarded as the most learned and most productive in the whole of southern Nigeria, and the content of their manuscripts covered the spiritual and the mundane.[48]

The Islamic manuscript culture in Ilorin went through different stages of evolution, transformation and development. However, the most remarkable milestones in such a long process of metamorphosis included the exemplary foundation laid by the scholars of Oke Suna settlements before the arrival of Shehu Alimi in 1817; the arrival of Alimi saw a boost in teaching and preaching more than in literary production; the influx of more scholars from the north when Alimi’s two sons: Abubakar and Shitta ruled Ilorin in succession between 1823 and 1860 saw the greatest expansion in the production of manuscripts largely resulting from the tradition of the Sokoto jihad. Some of the important scholars in this category were Abubakar Bube, Ahmad Bigore Abdullahi Badende, Rufogo Nakaratu, Salihu Malam Bagobiri and Kumburi Karatu. Similarly, the era of Muhammad al-Jami’ al-Labib (Taj al-Adab, d. 1923) saw the beginning of local production of Arabic and Islamic manuscripts. He authored six books mainly on syntax, grammar and prayers. He was followed by Ahmad b. Abubakar Omoikokoro (d. 1936), the author of the oldest and the most authentic history of Ilorin to the present: Ta’lif Akhbar al-Qurun min Umara’ Balad Ilurin.[49]

Having dwelt on the genesis, development and transformation of the earlier scholastic communities in Ilorin and the evolution of the famous Ilorini manuscript, it may be appropriate at this point to briefly comment on the distinctive features and characteristics of that invaluable heritage as it stands today. Regardless of its uniqueness and appeal, the Ilorini suffers from certain observable defects. For instance, in most cases, the manuscripts lack some basic pieces of information such as the identity of authors or copyists. The anonymous writers were also unmindful about the importance of the cover page, title page and date of production. Page numbers were replaced by use of the first word of the following page at the extreme end of the left side at the bottom of the current page, otherwise known as “matashi.” In addition, another observable feature of the Ilorin manuscripts was the use of both the Maghribi and the Barnawi

scripts with their pronounced characteristics such as the following:

  1. The horizontal dimension of the script is emphasized to the detriment of the vertical one, and the graphemes vary a little in height.
  2. The graphemes rest on a continuous, straight, horizontal baseline.
  3. The spacing between the graphemes is regular and neat.
  4. The diacritic dots are usually thick.
  5. The script is constantly serifless.[50]

A thematic study of the extant manuscripts in Ilorin has revealed that protective, fortune-seeking and ‘spiritual arsenal’ popularly referred to as asiri/kundi dominate the production. The reason might be before the coming of Islam the pagan culture was full of the veneration of polytheism and voodooism. The Muslim scholars had to resort to the use of spiritual powers to subdue pagan practices and establish the superiority of Islam. Mass production of the Qur’an followed as every Muslim wanted to own a copy. Literary production was also taken seriously even though most of the poetry being produced was imported from outside the Emirate. Books on syntax and grammar such as Afiyyat Ibn Malik were patronized. Many literary works from the ’Yanfodio were popular and in high demand, thus encouraging their reproduction on regular basis.

The Ilorin Arabic and Islamic manuscript culture did not, surprisingly, encourage the production of certain genres of literary works. For instance, from the volumes of different categories of literature available one still finds curious gaps in the scarcity of books on balaghah (rhetoric), mantiq (logic) and arud (prosody). In addition, works on tajwid (science of recitation of the Qur’an) and tib al-tashrih (anatomical medicine) are totally missing. Curiously, the types of works that are available in the custody of Ilorin scholars included poems of the pre-Islamic, early Islamic and part of Umayyad period. Works of medieval scholars of different fields are also available. However, works of ‘Asr al-Duwailat (the era of fragmentation of the Muslim world into smaller states) and al-‘Asr al-Hadith (modern era) did not actually get to them at all. The sixty-six (66) sample manuscripts recovered from fifty-one (51) different families across the Emirate indicate that the materials fall into seventeen fields of study namely: Qur’an, tafsir, Hadith, fiqh, life history of the Prophets, literature, prosody, tawhid, nahw, sarf (morphology), balaghah, philology, letters (personal and official), science, kundi (spiritual medicine), medicine (herbal), ajami and records. The volume also includes the excerpts of Dala’il al-Khayrat of Ile-Maikabara, Ita Kudinmo, which dated back to 1736 C. E.[51]


This paper has discussed the uniqueness and distinguishing characteristics of the Nigerian Islamic manuscript heritage. The establishment of Islamic educational and political institutions since the Introduction of the religion into Kanem-Borno, Hausaland and Yorubaland, which gradually led to the evolution, growth and expansion in the production of Arabic and Islamic manuscripts, has been indicated. The distribution of specialized manuscripts to different parts of the country at different times, corresponding to three phases in its history, namely: the period of Islamization; the Sokoto jihad era; and twentieth century developments have also been examined. Qur’anic studies and the production of different varieties of the text have been evaluated in the context of Borno, with additional notes on Qur’anic calligraphic technology from Kano. In the case of Sokoto, emphasis is on the content of jihad literature and how the Sultanate reacted to colonial intrusion in 1903. The activities of leaders of the Qadiriyya and the Tijjaniyya in their rivalries and changing alliances in Kano, up to the appearance of anti-Sufi ideas and forces are explained. The uniqueness of the Ilorin Islamic manuscripts as demonstrated in the writing preferences of Ilorin authors, reflecting the multiculturalism of the city itself has been presented.


[1] Presented at International Conference of the Mohammad VI Foundation of African Oulema, on African Islamic Heritage: Memory and History: The Written Heritage as Case Study, 29-31 October 2021, Abuja.

[2] Muhammad Nur Alkali (1978): “Kanem-Borno under the Sayfawa: A Study of Origin, Growth and Collapse of a Dynasty.” Ph. D. (History) Thesis, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, pp. 39-41.

[3] Abdullahi Smith (1983): “The Legend of the Seifuwa: A Study in the Origins of a Tradition of Origin,” in Bala Usman and Nur Alkali, eds., Studies in the History of Pre-Colonial Borno. Zaria: Northern Nigerian Publishing Company, p. 21.

[4] Muhammad Sani Zahradeen (1983): “The Place of Mosque in the History of Kano,” in Bawuro M. Barkindo, ed., Studies in the History of Kano. Ibadan: Heinemann, pp. 57-66.

[5] John Edward Philips (1982/85): “The Islamization of Kano Before the Jihad,” in Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya, ed., Kano Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 43-44.

[6] John O. Hunwick, et al. (1995): Arabic Literature of Africa, Vol. II: The Writing of Central Sudanic Africa. Leiden: E. J. Brill, p. 1.

[7] Ibid. pp. 1-2

[8] Ibid. p. 2.

[9] Ibid. pp. 3-4.

[10] Ibid. pp. 4-5.

[11] Ibid. pp. 8-9.

[12] For details, see Tijani El-Miskin (2007): “Northern Nigeria’s Intellectual Heritage: Methodological Perspectives on Retrieval, Preservation and Access,” in Tijani El Miskin, et al, eds. Nigeria’s Intellectual Heritage: Proceedings of an International Conference on Preserving Nigeria’s Scholarly and Literary Traditions and Arabic/Ajami Manuscript Heritage. Kaduna: Arewa House, A.B.U., pp. 36-51.

[13] Andrea Brigaglia (2017): The Arts and Crafts of Literacy: Islamic Manuscript Cultures in Sub-Saharan Africa. Berlin – Boston: de Gruyter.

[14] Andrea Brigaglia (2011): “Central Sudanic Arabic Scripts (Part 1): The Popularization of the Kanawi Script,” in Islamic Africa, Vol. 2, No. 2. Northwestern University Press, pp. 51-52.

[15] Ibid. p. 67.

[16] Hunwick, Arabic Literature of Africa, p. 4.

[17] For details, see Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya (1988): Hausa A Rubuce: Tarihin Rubuce Rubuce Cikin Hausa. Zaria: Gaskiya Corporation Ltd., pp. 51-58.

[18] H. F. Backwell, ed., (1927): The Occupation of Hausaland, 1900-1904: Being a Translation of Arabic letters found in the House of the Wazir of Sokoto, Bohari, in 1903. Lagos: Government Printer, pp. 13-14.

[19] Ibid. pp. 72-73.

[20] Ibid. p. 74. Maiturare later became Sultan of Sokoto (rul. 1915-1924).

[21] For details, see Philip James Shea and Isa Alqali Abba (2001): “The Implacable Irreconcilables: The Movement of the People at the Time of the British Conquest of the Sakkwato Caliphate,” in Fais: Journal of Humanities, Vol. 1, No. 3, April, pp. 40- 70. Kano: Bayero University. See also, Graham Furniss (1996): Peotry, Prose and Popular Culture in Hausa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd, pp. 200-207.

[22] Sani Yakubu Adam (2017): “Politics and Sufism in Nigeria: The Salgawa and the Political History of Kano State, Northern Nigeria, 1950-2011,” in Journal for Islamic Studies, Vol. 36, pp. 150-151.

[23] Auwalu Anwar (1992): Tasirin Siyasa A Addini: Tijjanawa Da Tirjanawa A Kano, 1937-1992. Zaria: Stronglink Nigeria Limited, pp. 5-6.

[24] For details, see Muhammad Salga (1956): Risalatus-Su’ali anil mayyati wa salatil janazati wad-dafni wad-du’a’u lahu. Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi Printing Press.

[25] Babban Malami means Great Teacher; it is the title of the leader of the Madabo School in Kano.

[26] Adamu Abdurrahman Suyuxi (n.d.): Hujattul-Ulama’il-Madabawiyyin, n.p.

[27] A single stanza is missing from the surviving manuscript of the poem. Atiku made it possible for non-Arabic speaking Hausa Muslims, who were in the majority, to be conversant with the basic issues in dispute among the learned scholars. For details, see Abubakar Atiku (1927): “Ijabatus Sa’ili Fi Kasirin Minal Masa’ili,” in Tahir Lawan Mu’az Attijjani (n.d.): Bara Ga Tijjani: Diwanin Wakokin Hausa Na Shehu Abubakar Atiku Sanka.” Unpublished manuscript, pp. 29-42. Although the title is in Arabic, the content is in Hausa.

[28] For details, see Suyudi Muhammad Hassan (2007): Madabo: Jami’ar Musulunci, Kano – Nijeriya, Vols. 1-2. Kano: Triumph Publishing Company Limited; and Suyudi Muhammad Hassan (2010): “Contributions of Madabo Scholars in the Development of Islamic Education in Kano State.” M. Ed. Dissertation, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

[29] Muhammad Sani Kafanga (n.d.): Al-Adillatus-Sunniyyah Fir-Raddi alaxxa’ifatil Bid’iyyah. Kano: Government Printing Press, pp. 19-23.

[30] For details, see Shu’aibu Mukhtar Shu’aibu (2017): “Kano ‘Ulama and the Scholarly Debate Culture: Features and Methodology: A Case Study of Tuhfat al Atba’ by Shaykh Ahmad Tijjani b. Uthman.” Ph. D. Thesis, Bayero University, Kano.

[31] For details, see Mudi Sipikin (n.d.): Tambayoyi a Kan Sadakar Uku da Sadakar Bakwai da Sadakar Arba’in da Sadakar Shekara. Kano: Good News Press; and Mudi Sipikin, “Wasiyya Sipikiyya (Sipikin’s Will),” in A. M. Jega, et al, eds. (2003): Mudi Sipikin: Selected Poems of a NEPU Activist. Kano: Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, Bayero University, pp. 172-175.

[32] See Aliyu Namangi (2012): Wakokin Imfiraji A Kammale, Vols. 1-9. Zaria: Northern Nigerian Publishing Company, pp. 55-60.

[33] For details, see John N. Paden (1973): Religion and Political Culture in Kano. Berkeley: University of California Press Ltd, and Anwar, Tasirin Siyasa.

[34] For an analysis of this book and on the concept of Al-Faidha in the Tijjaniyya, see Zachary Wright (2010): “Kashif al-Ilbas of Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse: An Analysis of the Text,” in Islamic Africa, Vol. 1, No. 1. Northwestern University Press; Marvin Hiskett (1980): “The Community of Grace and its Opponents, the ‘Rejecters:’ A Debate about Theology and Mysticism in Muslim West Africa with special reference to its Hausa expression,” in African Language Studies, Vol. XVII, pp. 99-140; Rudiger Seesemann (2011): The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentienth – Century Sufi Revival. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc; Zachary Valentine Wright (2015): “Living Knowledge in West African Islam: The Sufi Community of Ibrahim Niasse,” in Islam in Africa, Vol. 18. Leiden: Brill; and Andrea Brigaglia (2000-2001): “The Fayda Tijaniyya of Ibrahim Niasse: Genesis and Implications of a Sufi Doctrine,” in Islam et Societes au Sud Sahara.

[35] For details, see Andrea Brigaglia (2017): “The Outburst of Rage and Divine Dagger: Invective Poetry and Inter-Tariqa Conflict in Northern Nigeria, 1949,” in Journal for Islamic Studies, Vol. 36.

[36] For details on the significance and implications of qabd-sadl identity politics in northern Nigeria, see Andrea Brigaglia, “The Sultan, the Sardauna and the Sufi: Politics and Inter-Tariqa Conflict in Northern Nigeria, 1956-1965.” Presented at the Department of History, Bayero University, Kano on 25th January 2018 (forthcoming in BUK Journal of History).

[37] Muhammad Nasiru Kabara (n.d.): Qam’ul-Fasadi fi tafdilis sadli alal qabadhi fi hazihil Biladi. (n.p.).

[38] Muhammad Sani Kafanga (n.d.): Sabilur-Rashadi fir-Raddi ala Mu’allifi Qam’il Fasadi. Kano: Oluseyi Press. Al-Mauritany’s book was jointly published with this book.

[39] Muhammadu Mustafa Sani Al-Kanawy (n.d.): Qaulus-Sadadi fir-Raddi ala Shubuhati Sahibi Qam’il Fasadi. (n.p.).

[40] Ali bin Muhammad Al-Kumasy (n.d.): Dalilus Sadili fi Sunnati Ashrafil Awakhiri wal Awa’ili. Kano: Jola-Ade Printers.

[41] Ali bin Muhammad Al-Kumasy (1973): Fathul-Hakamil Adli, Li Ithbati Sunnatis Sadli. Cairo: Isa al-Babi al-Halabi Printing Press.

[42] Hassan, “Contribution of Madabo Scholars,” pp. 213-215.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid. p. 214.

[45] For details on the emergence of Abubakar Gumi as a champion of anti-Sufism in Nigeria and his strenuous struggle with the Sufi scholars, see Auwalu Anwar (1989): “Struggle for Influence and Identity: The Ulama in Kano, 1937-1987.” M. A. (History) Dissertation, University of Maiduguri, Abubakar Gumi with Ismaila A. Tsiga (1992): Where I Stand. Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd. Ibrahim Salih Al-Husainy (1982): Al-Takkfir: Akhtar Bid’a Tuhaddidul al-Salam Wa al-Wahdah Bayn al Muslimin Fi Nayjiriyya. Cairo: Mustafa ’l-Babi al-Halabi, Ibrahim Salih Al-Husainy with Auwalu Anwar (2021): Islam is Moderation. Ibadan: Safari Books Ltd.

[46] Mashood Mahmood Jimba, ed. (2019): Arabic Manuscripts in the Ilorin Emirate. Ilorin: Kwara State University Press, p. 11.

[47] Ibid. p. 17.

[48] Ibid. pp. 17-18.

[49] Ibid. p. 19.

[50] Ibid. p. 22.

[51] Ibid. pp. 22-24.

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