Islam in Nigeria

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Nigeria has the largest Muslim population in West Africa. The CIA estimates 50%[1] while the BBC estimates slightly over 50% (2007).[2] Muslims in Nigeria are predominantly Sunni of the Maliki school of thought. However, there is a significant Shia minority, primarily in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Sokoto states; (see Shia in Nigeria). A smaller minority follow the Ahmadiyya, a reformatory sect originating in 19th-century India. In particular Pew Forum on religious diversity identifies 12 percent as Shia Muslims.[3]


Islam was introduced to Nigeria through two geographical routes: North Africa and the Senegalese Basin. The origins of Islam in the country is linked with the development of Islam in the wider West Africa. Islam was first documented in Central Sudan by medieval Islamic historians and geographers such as Al-Bakri, Yaqut al-Hamawi and Al-Maqrizi and later works of Ibn Battuta and Ibn Khaldun offered more notes about Islam in West Africa.[4]

Islam grew in North-Est Nigeria, in particular the Kanem empire as a result of trade between Kanem and Northern African regions of Fezzan, Egypt and Cyrenaica in the eleventh century.[4] Muslim merchants from the North sometimes remained in settlements along trade routes, this merchant class would later preach the message of Islam to their host communities. The first documented conversion of a traditional ruler was in the eleventh century, when Mai Ume Jilmi of Kanem was converted by a Muslim scholar whose descendants later held an hereditary title of Chief Imam of Kanem.[4]

Writings by Ahmad Fartua an Imam during the period of Idris Alooma provided glimpse of an active Islamic community in Bornu[4] while religious archives showed Islam had been adopted as the religion of the majority of the leading figures in the Borno Empire during the reign of Mai (king) Idris Alooma (1571–1603), although a large part of that country still adhered to traditional religions.[5] Alooma furthered the cause of Islam in the country by introducing Islamic courts, establishing mosques, and setting up a hostel in Makkah, the Islamic pilgrimage destination, for Kanuris.[6]

In Hausaland, particularly Kano, Islam is noted to have penetrated the territory in the fourteenth century from West African traders who were converted by Tukulor Muslims from the Senegalese basin and Muslim traders from Mali Empire. Muhammed Rumfa (1463 - 1499) was the first ruler to convert to Islam in Hausaland. 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 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 conqueror, Uqba ibn al Nafia (622–683), whose Islamic conquests under the Umayyad dynasty, during Muawiyah's and Yazid's time, spread all Northern Africa or the Maghrib Al-Arabi, which includes present-day Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco.[7]

Islam in Southern Nigeria[edit]

Islam also came to the southwestern Yoruba-speaking areas during the time of the 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.[8] 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[9] that the conquest of North Africa by the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate between AD 647–709 effectively ended Catholicism in Africa for several centuries.[10] 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 century. Large-scale conversion to Islam happened in the 17th century.[citation needed]

Yorubas came in contact with Islam around the 14th century during the reign of Mansa Kankan Musa of the Mali Empire. According to Al-Aluri, the first Mosque was built in Ọyọ-Ile in AD 1550 although, there were no Yoruba Muslims, the Mosque only served the spiritual needs of foreign Muslims living in Ọyọ.[citation needed] Progressively, Islam came to Yoruba land, and Muslims started building Mosques: Iwo town led, its first Mosque built in 1655 followed by Iṣẹyin, in 1760; Lagos, 1774; Ṣaki, 1790; and Oṣogbo, 1889.[citation needed] In time, Islam spread to other towns like Oyo (the first Oyo convert was Solagberu), Ibadan, Abẹokuta, Ijẹbu-Ode, Ikirun, and Ẹdẹ before the 18th-century Sokoto jihad.[citation needed] Several factors contributed to the rise of Islam in Yoruba land by mid 19th century. Before the decline of Ọyọ, several towns around it had large Muslim communities, unfortunately, when Ọyọ was destroyed, these Muslims (Yoruba and immigrants) relocated to newly formed towns and villages and became Islam protagonists.[citation needed] Second, there was a mass movement of people at this time into Yoruba land, many of these immigrants were Muslims who introduced Islam to their host.[citation needed] According to Eades, the religion "differed in attraction" and "better adapted to Yoruba social structure, because it permitted polygamy"; more influential Yorubas like (Seriki Kuku of Ijebu land) soon became Muslims with positive impact on the natives.[citation needed] Islam came to Lagos at about the same time like other Yoruba towns, however, it received royal support from Ọba Kosọkọ, after he came back from exile in Ẹpẹ.[citation needed] According to Gbadamọṣi (1972; 1978 in Eades, 1980) Islam soon spread to other Yoruba towns, especially, during the intra-tribal wars-when there was a high demand for Islamic teachers-who dubbed as both Koran teachers and amulet makers for Yoruba soldiers during the intra-tribal wars in Yoruba land.[citation needed] Islam, like Christianity also found a common ground with the natives that believed in Supreme Being, while there were some areas of disagreements, Islamic teachers impressed upon their audience the need to change from worshipping idols and embrace Allah.[citation needed] Without delay, Islamic scholars and local Imams started establishing Koranic centers to teach Arabic and Islamic studies, much later, conventional schools were established to educate new converts and to propagate Islam.[citation needed] Islamic religion no doubt, impacted Yoruba culture significantly, according to Ahmad Faosy Ogunbado, "Ifa (oracle) consultation is Islamized to Istikhara (inquires prayer).[citation needed] Celebration of oriṣa festival is transformed or replaced with celebrating eid-el-fitri and eid-el-kabir." Women and men outlook is modified as polygamy is curtailed or modified into "four at a time" while prefixed oriṣa names were changed to "Olu" (Ọlọrun) plus Bunmi, becomes Ọlọrunbunmi.[citation needed] Traditional shrines and ritual sites were replaced with Central Mosques in major Yoruba town and cities.[11]

Fulani War[edit]

In the early 19th century, Islamic scholar Usman dan Fodio launched a jihad, which is called the Fulani War, against the Hausa Kingdoms of Northern Nigeria. He was victorious, and established the Fulani Empire with its capital at Sokoto.[12]


A fringe and heretical group, led by the cleric 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]


Non-sectarian Muslims who reject the authority of hadith, known as Quranists, Quraniyoon, or 'Yan Kala Kato, are also present in Nigeria.[13] '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[14] and sentenced in 2006,[15] but later released.[16] And another leader of Yan Tatsine, Malam Badamasi, was killed in 2009.[17] Notable Nigerian Quranists include Islamic scholars Mallam Saleh Idris Bello,[18] Malam Isiyaka Salisu,[17] and Nigerian High Court Judge Isa Othman.[19][20]

Islam in Nigerian society[edit]

The national mosque during Harmattan

Two features of Islam essentially concern 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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 is usually preferred to the unpleasant Yoruba word for Friday Eti, which means Failure, Laziness or Abandonment.[21] 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:[22]

  • 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)


According to a 2010 by Pew Research Center, Muslims in Nigeria overwhelmingly were positive towards Islamic religion playing a large role in politics. A majority of Muslims in Nigeria favoured stoning adulterers, whipping and cuttings hands for crimes like theft or robbery and the death penalty for those who abandoned Islam.[23]

Influence on culture[edit]

Historically, Islam fostered trade relations between North Africa and West Africa. Arabic traders from Tiaret during the Rustamid dynasty were involved in commerce with Audoghast. This trade routes went further south into the Kanuri and Hausa states of Northern Nigeria. Sharia was also introduced into Northern Nigeria has Islam spread across the region. In addition to law and trade, Islam had some influence in spreading the choice of dressing, language and choice of names.[24]

Agbada dressing in West Africa is commonly associated with Muslims and Mallams, Iborun (neck covers) is worn by many Muslims in Southern Nigeria during prayers and crochet hats were once mostly worn by Muslims to had performed the pilgrimage. Some Hausa and Yoruba expressions and words are also influenced by Arabic, the language of the Koran. Assalam Alaykun is a familiar expression for greeting by Muslims and Allahu Akbar is used as a call to prayer. Names such as Mohammed, Ibrahim, Yunusa, Lamidi, Aliu and Suleiman are commonly given to Muslim children.[24]

Traditional Islamic education[edit]

Before 1950s, the most common educational path of Muslim children in Northern Nigeria was Koranic education taught by Mallams.[25] Students converge in the compound of a mallam or at a Koranic boarding school where they recite the Koran and learn Islamic teachings. The teacher or Mallam as they are sometimes called in Nigeria was likely a graduate of a similar school and likely belongs to a sufi order. These teachers were well versed in Arabic and were influenced by the knowledge and traditions passed down from medieval Timbuktu and from other West African Islamic texts.[26] Traditional Islamic teaching was considered a duty to God and teachers sometimes depended on charity or patrons to make ends meet, meanwhile their students also assist the teachers in raising funds through door to door solicitations. In the period preceding Nigeria's independence, political leaders desired Western trained graduates to fill positions in government, subsequently, the introduction of a formal School of Arabic Studies in Kano to train Qadis and rise in Western education reduced the number of children attending the Koranic schools. In addition, Islamic studies was introduced into the primary and secondary school curriculum.[27] However, some parents still send their children to the traditional Koranic schools under the tutelage of a mallam. The students are provided shelter by their teacher and the pre-adolescents sometimes subsist through alms begging or house help jobs while those above fifteen learn a trade or do petty trading along with their Islamic studies. The studies can be rigorous with students studying the Koran for fourteen hours a day until they reach a level of maturity.[28] These students who are mostly from rural areas but studying in the city are called Almajiri in Nigeria, a transliteration of Al Muhajirun the Arabic word for emigrant and are sometimes looked down upon by their western educated Muslims uncomfortable with the alms begging lifestyle of many Almajirai. [29]


In Nigeria, Pew Research polled the views of Muslims on extremist groups. 45% favoured Hezbollah, 49% favoured Hamas and 49% favoured Al-Qaeda. Unlike Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Indonesia, Nigeria was the only country where Muslims were positive towards Al-Qaeda.[23]

Boko Haram[edit]

Boko Haram aims to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. Its first attak was directed towards the Bauchi prison in Septempber 2010.[30]

  • On the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276[31] female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria.[32] Responsibility for the kidnappings was claimed by Boko Haram, an extremist terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria. 57 of the schoolgirls managed to escape over the next few months[33]

Organization of Nigerian Islam[edit]

Nigerian Islam is not highly organized.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Sufi brotherhoods, a form of religious order based on more personal or mystical relations to the supernatural, were widespread, especially in the major cities.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Sa'adu Abubakar, the 20th Sultan of Sokoto, is considered the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslims.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  2. ^ BBC: "Nigeria: Facts and figures" April 7, 2007
  3. ^ "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity" (PDF). Pew Forum on Religious & Public life. August 9, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Balogun, Ismail A. B (1969). The penetration of Islam into Nigeria. Khartum: University of Khartoum, Sudan Research Unit. OCLC 427362.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Lapidus, Ira Marvin (2002). "Islam in West Africa". A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press. p. 405. ISBN 0-521-77933-2.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Abduhu Badawi: Ma'a Harak ul-Islam fi Ifriqiyah (Siding Islamic Movement in Africa) 1979 Cairo page 175
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2016-03-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Mawsuaat Al-Islam Al-Kubrah (The Big Encyclopedia 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
  11. ^ Archived from the original on July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 16, 2014. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Usman dan Fodio". Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007.
  13. ^ Abdul Rauf Mustapha, Sects & Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria, James Currey, 2014, pp. 79
  14. ^ KAYODE FASUA (Mar 3, 2013). Maitatsine: Tale of religious war in the North. National Mirror Online.
  15. ^ J. Peter Pham, 19 Oct 06.In Nigeria False Prophets Are Real Problems Archived 2012-02-05 at the Wayback Machine, World Defense Review.
  16. ^ Timawus Mathias. Musa Makaniki: Discharged and acquitted. Daily Trust, Wednesday, 09 May 2012 05:00.
  17. ^ a b Abiodun Alao, Islamic Radicalisation and Violence in Nigeria, Retrieved March 1, 2013
  18. ^ Quranists (28 February 2012). "Quranists Nigeria: Hausa Debate on the topic: "shin alqurani ne ya tabbatar da hadisan annabi (SAW), a debate between two Islamic scholars, Mallam Saleh Idris Bello on the Quranic side and Mallam Musa Yusuf Assadussunah on the Sunni side" (part 1)". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  19. ^ Philip Ostien, A Survey of the Muslims of Nigeria's North Central Geo-political Zone, Nigeria Research Network, Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  20. ^ Muhammad Nur Alkali, Abubakar Kawu Monguno, Bellama Shettima Mustafa, Overview Of Islamic Actors In Northeastern Nigeria, Nigeria Research Network, Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  21. ^ A lecture by Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu of Awqaf Africa London titled: The History Of Islam in 'The Black History' at
  22. ^ Adelabu, EsinIslam The Muslim World Portal For Top News, Islamics And Information From The Awqaf The Society Of And Followers Of Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah. "Arabic-English Dictionary By Sheikh Adelabu (Ph. D. Damas) - Fully Conjugated Arabic English Lexicon With Simplified Entires - Alphabetical Entries Indexed For Arabic-English Dictionary Of Sheikh Adelabu (Ph. D. Damas) :: ألفبيات مادّات مفهرسة للقاموس العربي الإنجليزي للشيخ أديلابو - دكتوراه من دمسق - Alphabetical Entries Indexed For Arabic-English Dictionary Of Sheikh Adelabu (Ph. D. Damas) :: ألفبيات مادّات مفهرسة للقاموس العربي الإنجليزي للشيخ أديلابو - دكتوراه من دمسق". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  23. ^ a b "Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah | Pew Research Center". Pew Research. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2019-03-21.
  24. ^ a b A. R. I. Doi: Islamic thought and culture : their impact on. Africa . In: The Islamic quarterly 14 [1970], 104
  25. ^ Winters 1987, p. 175.
  26. ^ Winters 1987, p. 173.
  27. ^ Winters 1987, p. 176.
  28. ^ Winters 1987, p. 179.
  29. ^ Hoechner, Hannah (2011-12-01). "Striving for Knowledge and Dignity: How Qur'anic Students in Kano, Nigeria, Learn to Live with Rejection and Educational Disadvantage". The European Journal of Development Research. 23 (5): 712–728. doi:10.1057/ejdr.2011.39. ISSN 1743-9728.
  30. ^ "Boko Haram's Evolving Tactics and Alliances in Nigeria". Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. June 2013.
  31. ^ "Nigeria says 219 girls in Boko Haram kidnapping still missing". Fox News. 26 June 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  32. ^ The Chibok Kidnappings in North-East Nigeria: A Military Analysis of Before and After. Small Wars Journal. Volume 13, No. 4, 11 April 2017, Available here: Retrieved 18 November 2017
  33. ^ "Nigeria Chibok girls 'shown alive' in Boko Haram video". BBC News Africa. 14 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  34. ^ Schleifer, S. Abdallah, "Amirul Mu’minin Sheikh as Sultan Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar III" in "The Muslim 500, the World's 500 Most Influential Muslims" retrieved January 20, 2017


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