Sheikh Uthman bn Fodio was born born in Maratta in 1168 AH/ December 1754 CE, and his full name is Uthman bn Muhammad bn Uthman bn Salih bn Ayyub bn Harun bn Muhammad Gordo bn Muhammad Jabbo bn Muhammad Sambo bn Ayyub bn Bubab Bani bn Masiran bn Ayyub bn Musa who is called Jakolo who came from Futa Toro. The name Foduye is his father’s epithet, which is a Fulfulde word meaning “the learned” and the word “Dan” is the Hausa version of “son of”. The family of Sheikh Uthman bn Fodio, a family that is well known for Islamic scholarship, migrated from Futa Toro to Hausaland in the 5th century after Hijra.
Sheikh Uthman ibn Fodio studied under various teachers including his father. But one of the teachers that had the greatest influence on him was Jibril ibn Umar JIbril who was concerned about the level of decadence in the Hausa society. Sheikh Uthman bn Fodio was influenced by the concerns of his teacher, and he dedicated himself to the study of Islam, until it reached a point where he began to see himself as scholar. As mentioned by Bugaje (1979), about four issues preoccupied the mind of Danfodio in Hausa land, these are:
- Rigidity and venality of the Ulama
- Belief and unbelief
- Local customs and traditions
- Mass ignorance of Islam.
For this reason the focus of his teaching geared towards addressing these areas with a view to reform them so that people’s life style can conform to the Qur’an and Sunnah. When he reached the age of 20, he established his own school in Degel and together with his brother Abdullahi they started going to different towns and cities to preach.
As a result of the preaching, he started attracting followership. Degel became a centre of learning because people are coming to take lessons from him. However, this created an enmity for him against the scholars of the time who were worried about his popularity and his insistence on the Qur’an and sunnah. At this point Sheikh Uthman started writing, and it was reported that he wrote about fifty books at that time especially on the scholars who justify the corruption of the rulers, and he refused to listen to those who ascribe certain supernatural powers to him, because some rumours at that time were that he is a Wali and even flies. But what worries Sheikh Uthman ibn Fodio most is the ignorance of the society, in particular scholars who leave their wives and children in a state of ignorance without any knowledge of the deen.
When the teaching of Shehu became popular he extended the teaching to his head, Bawa Jan Gwarzo, Sarkin Gobir.
Shehu then moved to Zamfara and preached for five years. One of the scholars at that time attacked him for teaching women together with men, even though he separates them, and Sheikh said it is a great sin to leave women in ignorance and even a greater sin to leave them to mix in crowd and other non Islamic activities but deny them knowledge.
During the Eid of 1788, Bawa Jan Gwarzo invited all the scholars, and he gave them gifts and Shehu’s was the largest, but he turned it down and instead he said he has five demands:
- To allow him to call people to Allah
- Not to stop anyone who wants to respond to his call
- To treat with respect anyone with turban
- To free all political prisoners
- Not to burden the subjects with taxes
He continued with his teaching and it was at this period that he wrote Ihya’ussunnah wa ikhmadul bid’a Bawa Jan Gwarzo started becoming uncomfortable with the teaching of Shaikh Uthman bn Fodio while at the same time the students of bn Fodio became tired of the persecution and decided to call for confrontation with the authorities. However, Shehu stopped them requested them to be patient for a while.
While this is going on, Bawa Jan Gwarzo died and his successor, Nafata was alarmed by Shehu’s teaching, so he imposed three new rules:
- No one should preach except the Shaikh himself.
- No more conversion to Islam. Those who were not born Muslims should revert to their old religion.
- Men should not wear Turban and women should not wear veil.
Nafata provoked Shehu, he seized Shehu’s family as hostages and invited him to the palace, but the period Nafata fell sick and he died, his son, Yunfa, then took over.
Yunfa became more tyrannical than his father, yet shehu continue to avoid confrontation. At this point Shehu considered Hijra and wrote some of its conditions: some of which are to have an Imam, migrate from land of unbelief, they should only rise against the unbelieving ruler only if they have the power to do so, if their life is in danger, they should migrate where there is security, if there is seizure of property or bloodshed, they should leave to where is secure.
Yunfa started attacking the Muslim Community. He attacked a town called Gimbana in Kebbi state. The village was destroyed, the women were made captive, their property robbed, and many were killed. This result in a clash with Shehu’s followers. However, Dan Fodio was not happy. Yunfa ordered Shehu to leave, but shehu refused and instead opted to go on exile, though Yunfa Changed his mind, but shehu ignored him and went ahead to prepare for Hijra to Gudu.
People migrated en mass to Gudu. After which they gathered force and then fight back. It was at this stage that Dan Fodio asked them to appoint an Imam, and people adopted him, but he declined, but later he decided to accept after some reluctance. This was the beginning of the Caliphate with Shehu as the head.
Yunfa attacked Gudu, but the Muslims retaliated and defeated his army in Tabkin Kwatto, and by 1808 almost the entire Hausaland was captured from the Habe Rulers by the disciples of the Sheikh. Yet even under this condition Dan Fodio continued to write. It was in this circumstance that he wrote the book bayan Wujubul Hijra alal Ibad.
After the Jihad in 1810, danfodio withdrew from the leadership and left his son and brother to lead, while he continued with his scholarship.
In 1815 he moved to Sakkwato where he stayed until he went back to his lord in April 1817.
This is based on Muhammad Jameel’s lecture on Danfodio’s Islamic Reform and the Lessons for British Muslims, delivered at the Lewisham & Kent Islamic Centre, on 31st December 2007. The paper will be available soon insha'Allah. The audio version of the presentation can be downloaded from the Audio lectures section.