The Islamic town of Zinder: Roots of Damagram Sultanate

Africa Contributor
Islamic town of Zinder
Exterior view to Damagaram sultan residence and portrait of sultans guard in national uniform 24 september 2017 Zinder, Niger. © Sergey Mayorov |

The history of the Islamic heritage of Africa is an enriched and exciting one, and one of the most remarkable sites is the Islamic town of Zinder. It is situated in Niger. If you visit the town, you will feel the intermingling of the Islamic past and African cultures.

The history of the Islamic town of Zinder

From the inception of the 14th century, the area between the Niger river and lake chad saw the inhabitation of enriched Hausa kingdoms. Among these, Zinder was actually a quaint Hausa village. The people practiced Islam here. They were peace-loving and had a deep faith in our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

It was ruled by the Hausa empire until the Kanuri ruler seized it. The Kanuris are famous for establishing the Damagaram state. It was at first a feudatory of the great Kanem-Bornu Dynasty.

Very soon the state of Damagaram Sultanate started to expand. The rulers of the state conquered a huge number of Bornu states. At that time, the Islamic town of Zinder was on an essential trade route. It enabled several trades with other Muslim and non-Muslim provinces. Thus, under the rule of the Kanuri elites, the town became the capital.

Tuaregs were the first to be attracted by the prosperity of the Islamic town of Zinder. They came here along with their scholars and resources. The Kanuri rulers built exclusive quarters for them. The old Hausa people used to live in the old part of the city though.

By the year 1800, the city became the capital of a state which was as large as 75000 sq miles. The rule of Sultan Tanimoune Dan Souleymane in the mid and late 19th century initiated a phase of vehement expansion.

The French conquered the town

In the year 1890, France decided to expand their colonies into Niger. Previously they were established in Senegal. As said, the French army advanced towards the Damagaram state. In a battle that happened 10 km outside of Zinder, the Kanuri Sultan got defeated. Thus, the town of Zinder became the capital of French Niger till 1927.

What would you find in this heritage town?

Presently Zinder, which was formerly spelt Sinder, is the thirst largest city of Niger. It has a population of 235605 (2012 census). The old town of Zinder can be seen in the middle of the modern city. Many old houses can be seen there. These houses are decorated with caligraphies and African designs.

There are a lot of Madrasas or Islamic schools in this city. Here the students come to read and recite Quran and Hadeeth. The ancient markets are situated just beside the brilliantly colored Grand Mosque of Zinder.

The present administrator of this town lives in a royal palace in the old part of the city. The walls of this palace are decorated with painted wood and wood carvings.

The Islamic town of Zinder has three sectors. The northern part is known as Zango. It was the quarter for the Tuaregs. The Southern part is the old Hausa area known as Birni. The Sabon Gari or the modern town lies between these two.

The relation between the peaceful religion of Islam and the African culture is age-old. The Islamic town of Zinder only adds a few jewels to that old crown.