Islam in Nigeria

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Islam is one of the religions practiced in West Africa. Nigeria has one of the largest Muslim populations in West Africa, 50.4% of Nigeria's population.[1] However, other sources give a little lower estimate of 50%.[2][3][4][5][6] Muslims in Nigeria are predominantly Sunni in the Maliki school, which is also the governing Sharia law. However, there is a significant Shia minority, primarily in Sokoto State (see Shia in Nigeria). A smaller minority follow the Ahmadiyya Islam, a reformatory sect originating in 19th century India. In particular Pew Forum on religious diversity identifies 12% as Shia Muslims while 3% as Ahmadi Muslims.[7]

Islam came to Northern Nigeria as early as the 9th century CE, and was well established in the Kanem-Bornu Empire during the reign of Humme Jilmi. It had spread to the major cities of the northern part of the country by the 16th century, later moving into the countryside and towards the Middle Belt uplands.

However, there are some claims for an even earlier arrival. The Nigeria-born Muslim scholar Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Abdul-Fattah Adelabu has argued that Islam had reached Sub-Sahara Africa, including Nigeria, as early as the 1st century of Hijrah through Muslim traders and expeditions during the reign of the Arab conquror, Uqba ibn al Nafia (622–683) whose Islamic conquests under the Umayyad dynasty, in Amir Muavia and Yazid periods, spread all Northern Africa or the Maghrib Al-Arabi, including present-day Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco.[8]

Islam also came to the southwestern Yoruba-speaking areas during the time of Mansa Musa's Mali Empire. In his Movements of Islam in face of the Empires and Kingdoms in Yorubaland, Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu supported his claims on early arrival of Islam in the southwestern Nigeria by citing the Arab anthropologist Abduhu Badawi, who argued that the fall of Koush southern Egypt and the prosperity of the politically multicultural Abbasid period in the continent had created several streams of migration, moving west in the mid-9th Sub-Sahara.[9] According to Adelabu, the popularity and influences of the Abbasid Dynasty, the second great dynasty with the rulers carrying the title of 'Caliph' fostered peaceful and prosperous search of pastures by the inter-cultured Muslims from Nile to Niger and Arab traders from Desert to Benue, echoing the conventional historical view[10] that the conquest of North Africa by the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate between AD 647–709 effectively ended Catholicism in Africa for several centuries.[11] Islam in Ancient Yoruba is referred to as Esin Imale (religion of the malians) as the earliest introduction of the religion to that region was through Malian itinerant traders (Wangara Traders) around the 14th - 15th Century. Large-scale conversion to Islam happened in the 18th-19th Century.[citation needed]

History of Islam in Nigeria[edit]

Spread of Islam[edit]

Islam was first documented in Nigeria in the 9th century.[citation needed] Religious archives showed Islam had been adopted as the religion of the majority of the leading figures in the Bornu Empire during the reign of Mai (king) Idris Alooma (1571–1603), although a large part of that country still adhered to traditional religions.[12] He furthered the cause of Islam in the country by introducing Islamic courts, establishing mosques, and setting up a hostel in Mecca, the Islamic pilgrimage destination, for Kanuris.[13]

Fulani War[edit]

Main article: Fulani War

In the early 19th century, Islamic scholar Usman dan Fodio launched a jihad, the Fulani War, against the Hausa Kingdoms of Northern Nigeria. He was victorious, and established the Fulani Empire with its capital at Sokoto.[14]


A fringe group, led by Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine, started in Kano in the late 1970s and operated throughout the 1980s. Maitatsine (since deceased) was from Cameroon, and claimed to have had divine revelations superseding those of the Prophet Muhammad. With their own mosques and a doctrine antagonistic to established Islamic and societal leadership, its main appeal was to marginal and poverty-stricken urban in-migrants, whose rejection by the more established urban groups fostered this religious opposition. These disaffected adherents ultimately lashed out at the more traditional mosques and congregations, resulting in violent outbreaks in several cities of the north.[citation needed]


Main article: Quranism

Non-sectarian Muslims who reject the authority of hadith, known as Quranists, Quraniyoon, or 'Yan Kala Kato, are also present in Nigeria.[citation needed] 'Yan Kala Kato is often mistaken for a militant group called Yan Tatsine (also known as Maitatsine), an unrelated group founded by Muhammadu Marwa. Marwa was killed in 1980. Marwa's successor, Musa Makaniki, was arrested in 2004[15] and sentenced in 2006,[16] but later released.[17] And another leader of Yan Tatsine, Malam Badamasi, was killed in 2009.[18] Notable Nigerian Quranists include Islamic scholars Mallam Saleh Idris Bello,[19] Malam Isiyaka Salisu,[18] and Nigerian High Court Judge Isa Othman.[20][21]

Islam in Nigerian society[edit]

The national mosque during Harmattan

Two features of Islam are essential to understanding its place in Nigerian society. They are the degree to which Islam permeates other institutions in the society, and its contribution to Nigerian pluralism.[original research?] As an institution in emirate society, Islam includes daily and annual ritual obligations; the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca; sharia, or religious law; and an establishment view of politics, family life, communal order, and appropriate modes of personal conduct in most situations.

Thus, even in 1990, Islam pervaded daily life.[citation needed] Public meetings began and ended with Muslim prayer, and everyone knew at least the minimum Arabic prayers and the five pillars of the religion required for full participation.[citation needed] Public adjudication (by local leaders with the help of religious experts, or Alkali courts) provided widespread knowledge of the basic tenets of sharia law—the Sunni school of law according to Malik ibn Anas was that primarily followed.

Air transport has made the hajj more widely available. Upper-income groups went several times and sent or took their wives as well.[citation needed]

Sheikh Adelabu has claimed an even greater influence of Islam in Nigeria. He cited Arabic words used in Nigerian languages, especially Yoruba and Hausa names of the days such as Atalata (Ar. Ath-Thulatha الثلاثاء) for Tuesday, Alaruba (Ar. Al-Arbi'a الأربعاء) for Wednesday, Alamisi (Ar. Al-Khamis الخميس) for Thursday, and Jimoh (Ar. Al-Jum'ah الجمعة) for Friday. By far Ojo Jimoh is the most favourably used. It's usually preferred to Yoruba unpleasant word for Friday Eti, which means Failure, Laziness or Abandonment.[22] Maintaining that the wide adoption of Islamic faith and traditions has succeeded to lay impacts both on written and spoken Nigerian vernaculars, Sheikh Adelabu asserted nearly all technical terms and cultural usages of Hausa and Fulani were derived from Islamic heritages, citing a long list of Hausa words adopted from Arabic. In furthering supports for his claims, Sheikh Adelabu gave the following words to be Yoruba's derivatives of Arabic vocabularies:[23]

  • Alaafia i.e. Good, Fine Or Health(y) from derivative Al-Aafiah (Ar. العافية)
  • Baale i.e. husband or spouse derived from Ba'al (Ar. بعل)
  • Sanma i.e. heaven or sky adopted for Samaa` (Ar. السماء)
  • Alubarika i.e. blessing used as Al-Barakah (Ar. البركة)
  • Wakati i.e. hour or time formed from Waqt (Ar. وقت)
  • Asiri i.e. Secrete or Hidden derivative of As-Sirr (Ar. السرّ)

Organization of Nigerian Islam[edit]

Nigerian Islam is not highly organized. Reflecting the aristocratic nature of the traditional ruling groups, there were families of clerics whose male heirs trained locally and abroad in theology and jurisprudence and filled major positions in the mosques and the judiciary. These ulama, or learned scholars, had for centuries been the religious and legal advisers of emirs, the titled nobility, and the wealthy trading families in the major cities. Ordinary people could consult the myriads of would-be and practicing clerics in various stages of training, who studied with local experts, functioned at rites of passage, or simply used their religious education to gain increased "blessedness" for their efforts.

Sufi brotherhoods, a form of religious order based on more personal or mystical relations to the supernatural, were widespread, especially in the major cities. There the two predominant ones, Qadiriyah and Tijaniyah, had separate mosques and, in a number of instances, a parochial school system receiving grants from the state. The brotherhoods played a major role in the spread of Islam in the northern area and the middle belt.

Sa'adu Abubakar, the 20th Sultan of Sokoto, is considered the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims.[24]

Muslims among various ethnic groups in Nigeria[edit]

There is no a consensus data for adherents of faith in Nigeria. However, Joshua Project, the Christian evangelic ministry of the U.S. Center for World Mission provides its own table list for the Muslim populations of the larger ethnic groups in the country as follows.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ name="cia-rel"
  3. ^ "Mapping The Global Muslim Population" (PDF). Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  4. ^ "Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  5. ^ CIA – The World Factbook – Nigeria
  6. ^ Mapping the Global Muslim Population
  7. ^ "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity". Pew Forum on Religious & Public life. August 9, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012. 
  8. ^ Works of Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu at Awqaf Africa, Damascus: Islam in Africa – West African in Particular, and Missionary and Colonization in Africa see
  9. ^ Abduhu Badawi: Ma'a Harak ul-Islam fi Ifriqiyah (Siding Islamic Movement in Africa) 1979 Cairo page 175
  10. ^
  11. ^ Mawsuaat Al-Islam Al-Kubrah (The Big Encyclopeadia of Islam) Volume 2 page 939 and volume 3 646 and Abduhu Badawi: Ma'a Harak ul-Islam fi Ifriqiyah (Siding Islamic Movement in Africa) 1979 Cairo page 177
  12. ^ Kenny, Joseph (November 1996). "Sharia and Christianity in Nigeria: Islam and a 'Secular' State". Journal of Religion in Africa (BRILL) 24 (4): 338. doi:10.2307/1581837. JSTOR 1581837. 
  13. ^ Lapidus, Ira Marvin (2002). "Islam in West Africa". A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press. p. 405. ISBN 0-521-77933-2. 
  14. ^ "Usman dan Fodio". Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. 
  15. ^ KAYODE FASUA (Mar 3, 2013). Maitatsine: Tale of religious war in the North. National Mirror Online.
  16. ^ J. Peter Pham, 19 Oct 06.In Nigeria False Prophets Are Real Problems, World Defense Review.
  17. ^ Timawus Mathias. Musa Makaniki: Discharged and acquitted. Daily Trust, Wednesday, 09 May 2012 05:00.
  18. ^ a b Abiodun Alao, Islamic Radicalisation and Violence in Nigeria, Retrieved March 1, 2013
  19. ^
  20. ^ Philip Ostien, A Survey of the Muslims of Nigeria's North Central Geo-political Zone, Nigeria Research Network, Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  21. ^ Muhammad Nur Alkali, Abubakar Kawu Monguno, Bellama Shettima Mustafa, Overview Of Islamic Actors In Northeastern Nigeria, Nigeria Research Network, Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  22. ^ A lecture by Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu of Awqaf Africa London titled: The History Of Islam in 'The Black History' at
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^ The Muslim 500: "Amirul Mu’minin Sheikh as Sultan Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar III" retrieved May 15, 2014
  25. ^ [2]

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