West African jihads

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The jihad reforms that occurred across Africa during the 19th century had certain key aims. The reforms aimed to create Islamic states across Northern Africa. The reforms also aimed to counter socio-political problems, including under population and shortages of goods such as food and water, which together intensified existing economic problems. Furthermore, they also wanted to stop the European invasion of Africa and the Islamic world, as at this time many European nations were colonizing parts of Africa and Islamic empire such as the Ottoman were weakening. These aims were met with mixed results across the several jihad movements and resulting caliphates that emerged during the 19th century, as some were able to achieve these goals better than others.

Reform in practice[edit]

On developing a stable economy to finance development and bring prosperity to the population, some caliphates were largely successful. The Sokoto Caliphate under the control of Muhammad Bello and Wazir Gidado established a strong economy based on agriculture and artisan goods. This economic growth allowed them to fund political, educational and military development within the Caliphate which lead to it invading and conquering surrounding areas, increasing the number of people under its administration and so achieving the secondary aim of spreading the word of Islam. However, other groups, even within the Sokoto Caliphate, were not able to establish such a stable economy, such as under the Masina jihad of Shaikh Ahmad. During his conflict he struggled to establish a strong economy due to his lack of resources to safely guard the roaming cattle herds and as such, large parts of the military activity Hindered by a lack of military and economic resources, due to a more defensive strategy, the Masina jihad was less successful in conquering other areas and spreading its domain of control on the same scale as the Sokoto Caliphate. It can therefore be seen that the development of a stable economy and a strong armed force were largely linked, with different jihad movements having varying strengths in these departments, resulting in different levels of success.

In their defence against European invaders few groups were successful and, instead of defeating the invaders, many Muslim populations had to carry out mass migrations across northern Africa to escape. Those fighting under the jihad of Al-Hajj Vmar were forced to flee, as they were unable to push the French forces out of the Senegal River region.[1] This action heavily damaged the legitimacy of this jihad's leadership as it showed the people that their leaders could not protect them effectively. One benefit of this occurring however, was that it created a greater sense of Muslim identity and caused many Caliphates to increase their interactions with other Caliphates, unifying them against a common enemy and reducing the internal fighting amongst the different groups. So, although many of the Caliphates were unable to achieve their goal of being able to operate an effective military defence against European invaders, they were able to achieve the goal of increasing intra-Muslim relations and cooperation, by doing so increasing the sense of Islamic unity and identity.

When it came to the task of establishing strong and legitimate rule over the Caliphates, the Islamic protagonists were not always successful. In the Hamdullahi Caliphate there was a strong sense of legitimacy under the 30 years rule of Seku Amadu but he failed to name a successor.[2] This led to confusion and ultimately it was decided by council that his son should rule. Unfortunately for his son, this decree did not carry the same sense of legitimacy as if Amadu had himself selected his child. The son's plans actually differed from his father, especially on teaching, and as such he failed to gain the support of the older cohorts of the population.[2] This inability to maintain a consistent plan for the area damaged the legitimacy of the ruling classes. That having been said, many groups followed a hereditary ideal behind leadership and so the handing down of power by father to son was frequent across the Islamic groups and still retained legitimacy for ruling groups. This can be seen in the Sokoto caliphate were the main leaders, the Sultans, all belonged to the same family who descended from Usman Dan Fodio.

Jihad and society[edit]

Overall, the teaching and spreading of Islam across the area was a largely successful endeavour. Under the Sokoto Caliphate, large amounts of Islamic literature were printed and widely distributed. This literature not only made available to elite men but also was spread to other groups within society such as women, slaves and illiterate males. This wider distribution of Islamic texts across the caliphate led to a wider teaching of the desired Islamic practises and ideas that the leaders of the Caliphate deemed as being correct. The distribution from the Sokoto caliphate also became the inspiration for other jihad movements across the Hausaland region and heavily influenced how administrative structures were to be organised, if the jihad proved to be successful. The spread of Islamic law slowly took over from prior traditions, meaning more Islamist populations were formed, which forged older traditions in favour for Islam. The spread of Islam and its teachings was a large success, especially in Sokoto and Masina, and new Muslim societies were formed where Islamic ideals impacted law, politics and daily life.

The jihad movements of the 19th century were largely successful in their aims of founding their new societies. Strong economies were formed both in Sokoto and Masina, as were reasonably strong armed forces. The leaders and teachings offthe Caliphates were largely supported and enjoyed legitimacy in their rule. The spread of Islamic teachings spread across law, politics and daily life and resulted in the Muslim population growing. The obvious failure was that although they delayed it, they were unable to stop the European colonization of Africa and by the early 20th century most of the Islamic societies had been colonized by the British, French or Germans.


  1. ^ Last (1974), p. 21
  2. ^ a b Robinson (2000), p. 140


  • Last, Murray. "Reform in West Africa: the Jihad movements of the nineteenth century". In J. F. A. Ajayi & M. Crowder. History of West Africa. 2. Longman. pp. 1–29.
  • Robinson, David (2000). "Revolutions in the Western Sudan". In N. Levtzion & R. Pouwels. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. pp. 131–152. ISBN 9780821444610.