Sokoto Caliphate is an Islamic spiritual community in Nigeria, led by the
Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar.
Sokoto Caliphate in 1893.
during the Fulani Jihad
in the early
1800s, it was one of the most powerful empires in sub-Saharan
Africa prior to European conquest and colonization. The caliphate
remained extant through the colonial
period and afterwards, though with reduced power.
are traditionally a nomadic
, pastoral community, herding cattle
, populating grasslands between the towns
throughout West Africa
. With increasing
trade, a good number of Fulani also have settled in towns, forming
a distinct minority.
The Fulani became mostly Muslims
, as were the
rulers of most of the states in the region the Fulani inhabit. The
Islam of the rulers of these states was quite fragile, however, and
they quickly reverted to the nationalistic animist
religions when threatened. Over the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries the Fulani began to launch scattered uprisings against
rulers who were oppressing them. These established a number of
small, and usually briefly lived, emirates in the west of the
The most powerful states in the region were the city-states of
. They had large Fulani
populations, who were generally considered second class citizens.
Over the centuries, however, the Hausa
and Fulani had become quite integrated. One of the more marginal
Hausa states was that of Gobir
. Poor and on
the periphery of Hausaland, it was ruled by a remnant of the
empire. This rule was noted
for its despotism towards both the Fulani and the Hausa
One of the most revered religious scholars of the region, Usman dan Fodio
, an urbanized Fulani, lived
in Gobir. With the initial approval of Bawa
the ruler of Gobir, he was allowed to found a religious community
. In exchange, dan Fodio blessed the
monarchy and educated Bawa's nephew and heir Yunfa
. When Yunfa became ruler, however, he decided to
revoke the autonomy of dan Fodio's community and have dan Fodio
Degel was defended, but unable to stand up to the army of Yunfa -
dan Fodio and his followers retreated to Gudu
From exile dan Fodio called for a jihad against oppressors
throughout the region that became the Fulani
. As a result, dan Fodio was joined by large numbers of
Fulani and also many Hausa, this sparked a general uprising in
Hausaland and most of the region's governments quickly fell. Dan
Fodio was proclaimed as ruler of the new caliphate.
Growth of the caliphate
From this base in Hausaland the Fulani rapidly spread throughout
the region. The open plains to the west were annexed, to the south
the Fulani captured the northern section of Yorubaland
. They were blocked in the east by
the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu
Since Fulani strength was centered on powerful cavalry they could
not expand very far southwards, however, as the horses were
ineffective in the forests of the region and could not withstand
the diseases of those latitudes. It became the largest state in Africa
stretching from what is today Burkina Faso to Cameroon.
The new empire was organized into a series of emirates that were
loosely controlled by dan Fodio. Under him the empire was split
into two divisions, one ruled by his brother, the other by his son.
In 1815 dan Fodio retired from the Sultanate and the empire passed
to his son Muhammed Bello
up the new capital at Sokoto, turning it
into a major centre.
The empire in the nineteenth century is
often referred to as the Sokoto Caliphate
Fodio's brother Abdullahi dan
Fodio continued to rule in the west, and this position, known
as the emirate of Gwandu, was passed
to his heirs but remained subordinated to Sokoto.
In addition to its military prowess, the empire became known for
its scholarship. Bello, Abdullahi, and dan Fodio were all
considered great scholars and despite ruling such a vast state, all
three continued to produce a sizable output of poetry, and texts on
religion, politics, and history. While scholarship continued in the
empire after Bello's death it became divorced from political life.
Over time, the empire also became far more Hausa in character, with
the Hausa language becoming the official language.
The empire continued to be an economic success. Hausaland, now
unified, reached a level of unprecedented prosperity and the region
remained safe from raids by Saharan nomads.
Sultan of Sokoto was paramount, the Emirs controlling the other
cities, especially Kano, steadily
increased in power during the nineteenth century.
In 1893 a
crisis of the succession saw the rulers of Kano rise to
Decline and fall
The empire began to collapse under pressure from European
colonialism that destroyed traditional trading patterns and armed
neighbouring states. In 1903 both Sokoto and Kano were sacked and
the Empire collapsed, being divided between the French and
Colonization and modern caliphate
The colonizers preserved the Fulani emirate system as the local
rulers were given considerable autonomy by the British. The
Sultan of Sokoto
remains to this
day the main religious leader of Nigerian Muslims, and the position
is still held by descendents of dan Fodio.
- Johnston, Hugh A.S. Fulani Empire of Sokoto. London:
Oxford University Press, 1967. ISBN 019-215428-1.
- Stilwell, Sean. Paradoxes of Power: The Kano "Mamluks" and
Male Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate, 1804-1903.
Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2004. ISBN 0-325-07041-5.
Usman Dan Fodio
List of Sunni Muslim