The Fulani jihads (fl. 1725-1862) were holy wars fought mainly by the Fulbe or Fulani people of West Africa to spread Islam. It is why Guinea, Senegal, Mali and northern Nigeria are now heavily Muslim. The jihads did not bring Islam to West Africa, but their conquests and schools did spread it to the masses.
They ruled five main caliphates (I use the Wikipedia spellings in this post):
- Futa Toro (Senegal)
- Futa Jallon (Guinea)
- Kaarta (Senegal, Mali)
- Masina (Mali)
- Sokoto (Nigeria)
They reached their height in the early 1800s, later to be taken over by the French and British during the Scramble for Africa (1876-1914).
The Fulani were cattle herders from Senegal. By 1600 they had spread across the grasslands south of the Sahara all the way to northern Nigeria and Lake Chad. Not in a genocidal wave, like Anglo Americans, but as immigrants into other lands. That meant they were often outnumbered and taken advantage of, like being made slaves – a fact that would later help drive the jihads.
Islam: Some of the Fulani took to trade and learned of Islam. Islam had been in West Africa for hundreds of years, but by 1700 it was mainly the religion of merchants. Their Islam was highly syncretic or “impure”, keeping many older African beliefs and customs.
Rise of scholars: To help support and spread Islam, the Fulani founded schools in Futa Jallon. That led to the rise of scholars and missionaries and the founding of yet other schools across the Fulani belt.
The most famous scholars were holy men with huge followings who became the leaders of jihads:
- Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817) – took over the Hausa city-states, founding Sokoto
- Seku Amadou (c. 1776-1845) – founder of Masina, taking over the old imperial cities of Jenne and Timbuktu.
- al-Hajj Umar Tall (c. 1797–1864) – of Futa Toro, took over Kaarta and Masina.
- jihad – Muslims had a duty to overthrow rulers who were not Muslim or who practised an impure form of Islam.
- sharia – society should be remade according to Muslim law.
They in turn drew on the ideas of two earlier scholars:
- Muhammad al-Maghili (c. 1440 – c. 1505) – a Berber who helped to convert Fulani rulers. He divided the world into the house of Islam and the house of war. He shaped their idea of jihad (see above).
- Mukhtar al-Kunti (1729-1811) – of Timbuktu. His writings became the last word on religion – bringing war on Timbuktu twice!
Appeal: the Fulani jihad message had great appeal for:
- Muslims – who saw it as the will of Allah.
- Fulanis – who suffered under the French, Bambara, Hausa and Tuaregs.
- slaves – who were promised freedom.
Even non-Muslims and non-Fulanis, sick of unjust rulers or heavy taxes, were drawn to the cause.
Horses: What made all of this more than pie in the sky is that the Fulani had the best cavalry in West Africa.
Guns: What brought all of this to a crashing end is that the French and British could make more and better guns than the Fulani.
– Abagond, 2017.
- Book of Negroes – the hero is a Fulani woman from this time
- Songhay Empire – West Africa in the 1500s
- Scramble for Africa
- Anglo Americans