Sheikh Uthman dan Fodio: A Revolutionary Leader

Africa Contributor
uthman dan fodio

Uthman Dan Fodio was born in 1754 in Maratta, Gobir, Nigeria. Uthman was exceptionally and remarkably well read in the Arabic literature. He was a scholar, teacher, reformer, writer, military leader, religious leader and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate. During his lifetime, Uthman had no desire for worldly possessions, he was simple, pious and led an aesthetic life . These qualities made him stand out among other leaders of his time. Uthman Dan Fodio started to teach and preach at about the age of 20 and traveled extensively, this in turn led to the increase in his followers. He adopted lots of methods in order to get through to people including books. He wrote over a hundred of them, pamphlets, he composed poems which instructed people on the Islamic principles of daily life.

Rise of Uthman Dan Fodio

Within the 18th Century, Gobir as a dominant state began to deteriorate due to the fact that it was growing its power with military forces. These military forces were destructive and merciless and they led to the collapse of other neighboring kingdoms and states. Gobir was characterized by various forms of oppression such as financial immoralities much to the dismay of the masses. There were bribery and corruption. Unlawful tax collections, confiscation of properties, especially of the poor, forced labour, enslavement and other unislamic practices were rampan. From this society arose a reformer who sought to bring an end to the injustice taking place and alleviate the plight of the masses.

At this juncture Uthman and his works were very popular across the masses of Nigeria. He wrote unmatched works Arabic, Hausa and Fulfulde language. Worried with the growing audience that Uthman continued to amass, the then King of Gobir, Bawa Jan Gwarzo, invited him and tried to gift him, but Uthman rejected it and instead asked the king for five things.

Uthman Dan Fodio and his demands to the King

He asked

  •  For him to be allowed to call people to God
  •  Nobody, who intends to respond to his call, should be stopped
  •  To treat any man with a turban with respect
  •  Not to burden the subjects with taxes
  •  To free all the political prisoners

The King adhered to his requests and this further increased his audience and his popularity. With this Uthman cut himself and his growing community off from the jurisdiction of the King of Gobir. The move annoyed the king and he threatened to exterminate them. This enabled the new king, Nafata, to apply some disapprovals against the community including:

  • all converts should revert to their original faith
  • no man should become Muslim unless Muslim born
  •  nobody except Uthman should preach about Islam
  •  men should no longer wear the turban and women should not veil themselves anymore.

This move by the king propelled Uthman and his followers for a looming war against the state of Gobir.

His Jihad

Relations between both territories began to dwindle rapidly and Uthman began to prepare for war. Although the military forces that the Hausa kingdoms possessed were far greater than that of the mujahiddun, Uthman and his followers managed to acquire more wins than losses and this gave rise to the birth of the Sokoto Caliphate. Some of the factors that contributed to these wins include the role of Uthman himself. Not only was he diplomatic in his strategies, he also possessed excellent leadership qualities.

His simplicity and sincerity of purpose enabled others, whom he had earlier extended his Dawah to (like the states of Zamfara and Kebbi), to come to their aid when the Muslim faced extermination and fell into shortage of food and water . Also, as a result of the oppression they have been undergoing, most of them fought with the determination of the promise of justice that Islam offered. In addition , they made use of propaganda as a weapon. This was the idea that those that fought did so in the cause of Allah and whoever died while fighting will be granted a ticket to paradise. It was even rumored that Uthman was the mahdi himself and that the end of the world was close by. This propelled them to even fight with all of their strength. The King was killed and the city fell on the 3rd of October, 1808.

The Sokoto Caliphate

The jihad gave rise to a number of important changes including the collapse of Hausa states and surrounding communities. They were coordinated into a single unit known as The Sokoto Caliphate – which is the present home of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). The jihad also led to the collapse of the Sayfawa dynasty and the birth of the El-Kanemi dynasty in Borno. The Sokoto Caliphate became the base for Uthman, his son, Abdullah and grandson, Muhammad. Their standard of Islam was established and they ensured that it was the same in all other provinces. They did it by writing letters, pamphlets and books to guide the Amirs in the daily administration of their provinces. This led to the spread of Islam across Nigeria .

Uthman Dan Fodio’s Death

Uthman died at the age of 62, in Sokoto, in the year 1817, leaving behind impactful changes including the spread of Islam, new form of economic organizations, demographic changes and the writings of important books and articles.


(Wriiten by Zainab Sulaimon)

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