Caliphate was an independent Islamic Caliphate, in West
Africa. Founded during the jihad of the
Fulani War in 1809 by Usman
dan Fodio, it was abolished when the British defeated the caliphate
in 1903 and put the area under the Northern
Developed in the context of multiple, independent Hausa kingdoms, at
its height the
Caliphate linked over 30 different emirates and over 10
million people in the most powerful state in its region and one of the
most significant empires in Africa in the nineteenth century. The
caliphate was a loose confederation of emirates that recognized the
suzerainty of the "commander of the faithful", the sultan or
caliph. The caliphate brought decades of economic growth throughout
the region. An estimated one to 2.5 million non-Muslim slaves were
captured during the Fulani War. However, slavery in the Caliphate
was not the more common chattel slavery; slaves provided labor for
plantations and were provided an opportunity to become Muslims.
Although the British abolished the political authority of the
Caliphate the title of Sultan was retained, and remains an important
religious position for Muslims in the region to the current day.
Usman dan Fodio's jihad provided the inspiration for a series of
related jihads in other parts of the savanna and Sahel far beyond
Nigeria's borders that led to the foundation of Islamic states in
Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, and
1 Founding and expansion (1804–1903)
1.3 Growth of the Caliphate
1.4 Administrative structure
2 Decline and fall
Founding and expansion (1804–1903)
The major power in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries had been
the Bornu Empire. However, revolutions and the rise of new powers
decreased the power of the Bornu empire and by 1759, its rulers had
lost control over the oasis town of
Bilma and access to the
Trans-Saharan trade. Vassal cities of the empire gradually became
autonomous, and the result by 1780 was a political array of different,
independent states in the region.
The Fall of the
Songhai Empire in 1598 had also freed much of the
central Bilad as-Sudan, and a number of Hausa Sultanates led by
different Hausa aristocracies had grown to fill the void. Three of the
most significant to develop were the Sultanates of Gobir, Kebbi (both
Rima River valley), and Zamfara, all in present-day
Nigeria. These kingdoms engaged in regular warfare against each
other, especially conducting slave raids, and in order to pay for the
constant warfare levied high taxation on their citizens.
The Sokoto-Rima river system
The region between the
Niger River and Lake
Chad was largely populated
with the Hausa, the Fulani, and other ethnic groups that had
immigrated to the area. Much of the Hausa population had settled in
the cities throughout the region. The Fulani, in contrast, had largely
remained a pastoral community, herding cattle, goats and sheep, and
populating grasslands between the towns throughout the region. With
increasing trade, a good number of Fulani settled in towns, forming a
Much of the population had converted to
Islam in the centuries before;
however, nationalist and pagan beliefs persisted in many areas. In
the end of the 1700s, an increase in Islamic preaching occurred
throughout the Hausa Kingdoms. A number of the preachers were linked
in a shared
Tariqa of Islamic study.
Main article: Fulani War
Usman dan Fodio, an Islamic scholar and an urbanized Fulani, had been
actively educating and preaching in the city of
Gobir with the
approval and support of the Hausa leadership of the city. However,
when Yunfa, a former student of dan Fodio, became the Sultan of Gobir
he restricted dan Fodio's activities, forcing him into exile in
Gudu. A large number of peoples left
Gobir to join dan Fodio and as
a response on February 21, 1804,
Yunfa declared war on dan Fodio.
Despite some early losses at the
Battle of Tsuntua and elsewhere, the
forces of dan Fodio began taking over some of the key cities starting
in 1805. The war lasted from 1804 until 1808 and the forces of dan
Fodio were able to capture the states of
Katsina and Daura, and the
important kingdom of Kano in 1807 and
Gobir in 1808.
Caliphate was founded in February 1804 at
Gudu when Dan-Fodio was
proclaimed Amir al-Mu'minin, defender of the faithful. Usman dan Fodio
then declared a number of flag bearers amongst those following him,
creating an early political structure of the empire. In 1809,
Muhammed Bello, the son of dan Fodio, founded the city of Sokoto,
which became the capital of the
The jihads had created "a new slaving frontier on the basis of
rejuvenated Islam." By 1900 the
Sokoto caliphate had "at least 1
million and perhaps as many as 2.5 million slaves", second only to the
American South (which had four million in 1860) in size among all
modern slave societies. However, slavery in the Caliphate, just as
in the rest of the Muslim world, did not take on the form of chattel
slavery, and there was far less of a distinction between slaves and
Growth of the Caliphate
From 1808 until the mid-1830s, the
gradually annexing the plains to the west and key parts of Yorubaland.
It became one of the largest states in Africa, stretching from
Burkina Faso to
Cameroon and including most of Northern
Niger Republic. At its height, the
included over 30 different emirates under its political structure.
The political structure of the
Caliphate was organized with the Sultan
Sokoto ruling from the city of
Sokoto (and for a brief period under
Muhammad Bello from Wurno). The leader of each emirate was appointed
by the Sultan as the flag bearer for that city but was given wide
independence and autonomy.
Much of the growth of the
Caliphate occurred through the establishment
of an extensive system of ribats as part of the consolidation policy
of Muhammed Bello, the second Sultan. Ribats were established
founding a number of new cities with walled fortresses, schools,
markets, and other buildings. These proved crucial in expanding the
Caliphate by developing new cities, settling the pastoral Fulani
people, and supporting the growth of plantations which were crucial to
By 1837, the
Caliphate had a population around 10 million
Caliphate was largely organized around a number of largely
independent emirates pledging allegiance to the Sultan of Sokoto. The
administration was initially built to follow those of
his time in
Medina but also the theories of
Al-Mawardi in "The
Ordinances of Government". The Hausa kingdoms prior to the
caliphate had been run largely through hereditary succession for
The early rulers of the
Sokoto Caliphate, dan Fodio and Bello,
abolished systems of hereditary succession and preferred if leaders
were appointed by virtue of their Islamic scholarship and moral
standing. Emirs were appointed by the Sultan; they traveled yearly
to deliver allegiance and taxes, in the form of crops, cowry shells,
and slaves. When a Sultan died or retired from the office, an
appointment council made up of the Emirs would select a
replacement. Direct lines of succession were largely not followed
for Sultan, although each Sultan claims direct descent from dan Fodio.
The major administrative division was between the
the Gwandu Emirate. In 1815,
Usman dan Fodio
Usman dan Fodio retired from the
administrative business of the
Caliphate and divided the area taken
over during the
Fulani War with his brother
Abdullahi dan Fodio ruling
in the west with the
Gwandu Emirate and his son
Muhammed Bello taking
over administration of the
Sokoto Caliphate. The Emir at Gwandu
retained allegiance to the
Caliphate and spiritual guidance
from the Sultan, but the Emir managed the separate emirates under his
supervision independently from the Sultan.
The administrative structure of loose allegiances of the emirates to
the Sultan did not always function smoothly. There was a series of
revolutions by Hausa aristocracy in 1816–1817 during the reign of
Muhammed Bello, but the Sultan ended these by granting those members
title to land. There were multiple crises that arose during the
century between the
Caliphate and many of the emirates:
Adamawa Emirate and the Kano Emirate. A serious
revolt occurred in 1836 in the city-state of Gobir, which was crushed
Muhammed Bello at the Battle of Gawakuke.
Sufi community throughout the region proved crucial in the
administration of the caliphate. The
Tariqa brotherhoods, notably the
Qadiriyya to which every successive Sultan of
Sokoto was an
adherent, provided a group linking the distinct emirates to the
authority of the Sultan. Scholars Burnham and Last claim that this
Islamic scholarship community provided an "embryonic bureaucracy"
which linked the cities throughout the Caliphate.
After the establishment of the Caliphate, there were decades of
economic growth throughout the region, particularly after a wave of
revolts in 1816–1817. They had significant trade over the
After the Fulani War, all land in the empire was declared waqf or
owned by the entire community. However, the Sultan allocated land to
individuals or families, as could an emir. Such land could be
inherited by family members but could not be sold. Exchange was
based largely on slaves, cowries or gold. Major crops produced
included cotton, indigo, kola and shea nuts, grain, rice, tobacco, and
Slavery remained a large part of the economy, although its operation
had changed with the end of the Atlantic slave trade. Slaves were
gained through raiding and via markets as had operated earlier in West
Africa. The founder of the
Caliphate allowed slavery only for
non-Muslims; slavery was viewed as a process to bring such peoples
into the Muslim community. The expansion of agricultural
plantations under the
Caliphate was dependent on slave labor however.
These plantations were established around the ribats, and large areas
of agricultural production took place around the cities of the
empire. The institution of slavery was mediated by the lack of a
racial barrier among the peoples, and by a complex and varying set of
relations between owners and slaves, which included the right to
accumulate property by working on their own plots, manumission, and
the potential for slaves to convert and become members of the Islamic
community. There are historical records of slaves reaching high
levels of government and administration in the
Its commercial prosperity was also based on Islamist traditions,
market integration, internal peace and an extensive export-trade
Islamic scholarship was a crucial aspect of the
Caliphate from its
founding. Sultan Usman dan Fodio, Sultan Muhammed Bello, Emir
Abdullahi dan Fodio, Sultan Abu Bakr Atiku, and
Nana Asma’u devoted
significant time to chronicling histories, writing poetry, and Islamic
studies. A number of manuscripts are available and they provide
crucial historical information and important spiritual texts. This
role did diminish after the reign of Bello and Atiku.
Decline and fall
Photo of residents of
European attention had been focusing on the region for colonial
expansion for much of the last part of the 19th century. The French in
particular had sent multiple exploratory missions to the area to
assess colonial opportunities after 1870.
Parfait-Louis Monteil visited
Sokoto in 1891 and noted
Caliphate was at war with the Emir of Argungu, defeating
Argungu the next year. Monteil claimed that Fulani power was tottering
because of the war and the accession of the unpopular Caliph
Abderrahman dan Abi Bakar.
However, following the Berlin Conference, the British had expanded
into Southern Nigeria, and by 1902 had begun plans to move into the
Sokoto Caliphate. British General Frederick Lugard used rivalries
between many of the emirs in the south and the central Sokoto
administration to prevent any defense as he worked toward the
capital. As the British approached the city of Sokoto, the new
Muhammadu Attahiru I organized a quick defense of the city and
fought the advancing British-led forces. The British force quickly
won, sending Attahiru I and thousands of followers on a Mahdist
On March 13, 1903 at the grand market square of Sokoto, the last
Vizier of the
Caliphate officially conceded to British Rule. The
Muhammadu Attahiru II as the new Caliph.
Fredrick Lugard abolished the Caliphate, but retained the title Sultan
as a symbolic position in the newly organized Northern Nigeria
Protectorate. In June 1903, the British defeated the remaining
forces of Attahiru I and killed him; by 1906 resistance to British
rule had ended.
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Coordinates: 11°04′14″N 7°34′50″E / 11.070603°N
7.580566°E / 11.0706