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West African Jihads

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The African Jihads

Jihad, the Muslim word meaning holy war. During the 18th and 19th centuries,

this word brought fear to anyone who did not fully believe in the Islamic state

and resided in West Africa. The Jihads of this era not only changed the faith

of many people, but also the landscape of West African democracy. Although

Islamic Jihads had occurred in the past, they never surmounted to the magnitude

of those of the 18th century. What factors and leaders caused the West African

Jihads, of the 18th and 19th centuries, to be so effective?

The people of West Africa were tired of governments who constantly over taxed

its constituents, and simply did not care for the well being of common

individuals. The Islamic religion, which was brought to Africa by Muslim

traders, provided individuals a new opportunity of promise, equality, and the

possibility of becoming a spiritual being. Islam embraced the majority of West

African people and became known as the dominant religion of the region.

During the end of the 18th century followers of the religion came to the

conclusion that it was simply not sufficient to have Islam be the dominant

religion of the area. They felt that Islam needed to be part of the government,

instead of having the separation of church and state.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Islamic population of West Africa united

with the common belief that under Sharia(Islamic law) the government would not

oppress individuals, and the law of the Koran would become the law of the land.

"The Sharia provided an alternative model of government with which to compare

and confront rulers." This movement, which focused on expelling the

non-Orthodox Muslim leaders of West Africa, is due to the leadership of Usman

Dan Fodio and Al-Hajj-Umar. These men paved the way for the expansion of Islam

through the creation of the Orthodox Sokoto and Tukolor Empires.

The rise of the Islamic Jihad and the expansion of both Empires, are at the

outset due to the oppression of the Fulbe people in the early 1700's. The Fulbe

were pastoralist nomads who at the time had settled in the region of Futa Jalon,

which is present day state of Guinea. In this region the Fulbe were oppressed

by the ruling pagan farmers, who considered them intruders to the land. These

pagan authoritarians subjugated the Fulbe people to extraneous taxes and

enforced several laws to keep them from trading. Due to these extreme

factors, the Fulbe looked to answer their miseries by turning to the religion

of Islam, which promised a better future.

The answer to the Fulbe problems came in the form of unification. As the

population of Fulbe increased in Futa Jalon, they began to forge together and

fight against their oppressors. Fulbe leaders united their people by

proclaiming that the ruling pagan people were not enforcing the Islamic

religion, and the only answer would be to proclaim a Jihad on the ruling

government. The Jihad of the early 1700's was fierce and competitive, but

finally ended in victory for the Fulbe. By this achievement the Fulbe created

a Sharia run government in Futa Jalon, and a safe haven for all who wanted to

live under Islamic rule.

The Fulbe victory in Futa Jalon is significant because not only did it create an

Islamic run society, but it also demonstrated that victory over a ruling

government could be attained through the use of a Jihad. This accomplishment

sparked great enthusiasm throughout the region, and gave a glimmer of hope to

those wishing to live under an Islamic fundamentalist society. An indication

of the enthusiasm was revealed by another Jihad in the south of Senegal. This

area, known as Futa Toro, was another enormous victory for all who believed in

the principles of Islamic Orthodoxy. These small triumphs inspired great

leaders who eventually toppled the formation of West Africa.

The first of these leaders was a man by the name of Usman dan Fodio. Usman was

born in the Hausa state of Gobir, in what is now northwestern Nigeria. While he

was still young, Usman moved south with his family to Degel, where he studied

the Koran with his father. Subsequently he moved on to other scholar relatives,

traveling from teacher to teacher in the traditional way, and reading

extensively in the Islamic sciences. One powerful intellectual and religious

influence at this time was his teacher in the southern Saharan city of Agadez,

Jibril ibn 'Umar, a radically Orthodox figure whom Usman respected greatly.

Umar educated Usman on the importance of Orthodoxy, and told him stories of how

the Fulbe defeated their oppressors



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