Islam Throughout the World: Nigeria

World Contributor
Abuja National Mosque
Photo 188512961 © Wirestock |

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a state in West Africa, on the coasts of the Gulf of Guinea. Its neighbours to the west and east are Benin and Cameroon, and to the north it borders Niger. Nigeria is the leading oil producer on the African continent. In 2014, overtaking South Africa in terms of GDP, Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa.

Nigeria is a secular state, but Muslims make up 50% of the population here, so Nigeria can be called a Muslim country. Muslims in Nigeria practice Sunni Islam in the Maliki madhhab (traditional madhhab for West Africa). In the north of the country, where the absolute Muslim majority lives, Sharia law has been in force since 1999.

Spread of Islam in Nigeria

Islam came to West Africa in the most peaceful way, through trade. Within the northern belt of Africa (in Egypt, Tunisia, on the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea and among the Berbers of Morocco) the armies of the Caliphate asserted the true faith through armed struggle against idolaters. Under the Umayyad caliphs, by 715, all of North Africa was Islamized. But further south, along the entire length of the continent, from the Atlantic Sea to the Arabian Peninsula, lay the great Sahara Desert.

No army could cross it. But where an army cannot pass, the camels of trade caravans will. Arab merchants, and with them Islamic preachers and Sufi dervishes, crossed the Sahara and saw beyond its southern edge states inhabited by African black-skinned nations: Hausa, Fulani, Sonnike, Yoruba. So, starting from the 10th century CE, Islam began to gradually spread in West and Central Africa, when the rulers of African states and the leaders of African nations began to convert to it.

Different roads

After the end of the colonial period in the middle of the 20th century CE, modern African states were created on the territories of the former colonies. However, their boundaries differed from those of ancient tribal unions and states. So, the Fulani people turned out to be dispersed over several countries, namely, Mauritania, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea. The Sonnike people ended up on the territory of Burkina Faso and again in Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal.

The Hausa people now live in Cameroon, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, and so on. The leaders of all these peoples adopted Islam in the 10th-11th centuries CE, therefore all Hausa, all Fulani, all Sonnike from then to the present are Muslims. Accordingly, all modern states in which they live also became Muslim.

Acceptance of Islam in Nigeria

In addition, Islam was accepted by the rulers of ancient states that were located in the territories of these nations (West and Central Africa). These are the empires of Ghana (6th-13th centuries CE) (does not correspond to modern Ghana), Mali (neither corresponds to the modern state) (1240-1645), Kanem (900-1390), Bornu (1390-1808) and the Islamic Sultanate of Sokoto (the core of modern Nigeria) which replaced it in 1808, Songhai (1460-1591). Islam has become the ubiquitous religion of West Africa. All the states formed in the territory of this region in the modern period inherited Islam from these ancient empires and sultanates.

By embracing Islam, the rulers pursued not only spiritual goals. Islam contributed to the strengthening of trade with the Muslim countries of the East, from which a vast amount of goods came to Africa. One can probably say that this way of spreading Islam in the world is the ideal model of its propagation, when it presents itself as a combination of the highest human values to follow and an offer of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Ethnicity and conversion

The Hausa and Fulani peoples, who constitute the ethnic majority of Nigerians, have been devout followers of Islam since ancient times. At the beginning of the 19th century they formed the Islamic state of Sokoto in Nigeria, where Sharia law was observed and all the prescriptions of the Muslim faith were zealously fulfilled. The ruler of Sokoto was called the caliph, and his governors were called emirs. The Sultans of Sokoto are still the spiritual heads of Muslims in Nigeria.

At the end of the 19th century, the territory of Nigeria became a British colony. The Yoruba people underwent increased Christianization, as a result of which, after gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria as a country made up of several territories was religiously mixed. Since 1990, Islam has become increasingly important in Nigeria.

All public events began and ended with Muslim prayers. Almost every Nigerian knew at least one Muslim prayer and could list the Five Pillars of Islam. However, in the past 10 years, the number of Christians in Nigeria has grown and exceeded the number of Muslims. The spiritual head of the Muslims of Nigeria is the Chairman of the Supreme Council for Fatwas and Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Dr. Ibrahim Salih, Supreme Mufti of Nigeria.