Usman Dan Fodio

Usman Dan Fodio Biography / Profile

Usman dan Fodio was born on December 15th, 1754 in the village of Maratta, in the Hausa city-state of Gobir, in what is today Sokoto State in northern Nigeria. Usman was the most important reforming leader of the western Sudan region in the early 19th century. His importance lies partly in the new stimulus that he, as a mujaddid, or renewer of the faith, gave to Islam throughout the region; and partly in his work as a teacher and intellectual. 

Usman Dan Fodio Age

Usman Dan Fodio would have been 269 years old, if he were alive today. May his soul rest in peace.

Usman Dan Fodio Early Life

Dan Fodio's father, Muhammad Fodiye, was a scholar from the Toronkawa clan, which had emigrated from Futa-Toro in Senegal about the 15th century. While he was still young, Usman moved south with his family to Degel, where he studied the Quran 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 radical figure whom Usman both respected and criticized and by whom he was admitted to the Qadri and other Sufi orders.

Usman Dan Fodio Career

Dan Fodio became an itinerant Muslim preacher in 1774, moving among rural communities.  He was a leader in the expansion of Islam across the Hausa countryside, increasing the popular basis for religious teaching and bringing literacy to numerous small communities.   He wrote poems and stories of mysticism that increased his popularity as a teacher and preacher.    

Throughout his proselytizing dan Fodio told of being given the “Sword of Truth” to advance Islamic law and defeat the enemies of Allah.  His "sword" was the written and oral word through prose and verse.  Usman found, however, that Hausa rulers, following common Hausa practice, had mixed “pagan” practices with Islamic ones and did not adhere closely to Islam.  He began to criticize these rulers.

In 1802 dan Fodio led hundreds of his followers from his home city of Gobir into exile in the countryside after the city's rulers attempted to assassinate him.  There he refined his reformist ideas and formed, directed, and educated a force to lead a jihad or holy war against the Hausa rulers.  In 1804, Yunfa dan Nafata, the military commander of Gobir, sent his army to challenge Usman’s community which now included Fulani pastoralists who had their own grievances against Hausa rulers over a cattle tax.  

Dan Fodio seized this incident to call for jihad against the rulers of Gobir.  By 1808, he and his followers conquered Gobir, Kano, and other Hausa city-states. He retired from battle in 1811 and returned to teaching and writing but his armies continued their conquests until 1815.  By that point when those armies ended their conquests, Usman dan Fodio's religious empire included most of what is now northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon as well as parts of Niger. For the first time in history all of the Hausa city-states were now under one ruler.  Dan Fodio established a new capital at Sokoto and soon this theocratic state was called the Sokoto Caliphate (Sokoto Empire).  

During the next years the Shaykh’s primary interests were necessarily the conduct of the jihad and the organization of the caliphate. He did not himself take part in military expeditions, but he appointed commanders, encouraged the army, handled diplomatic questions, and wrote widely on problems relating to the jihad and its theoretical justification. On this his basic position was clear and rigorous: the sultan of Gobir had attacked the Muslims; therefore he was an unbeliever and as such must be fought; and anyone helping an unbeliever was also an unbeliever. (This last proposition was later used to justify the conflict with Bornu).

As regards the structure of the caliphate, the Shaykh attempted to establish an essentially simple, nonexploitative system. His views are stated in his important treatise Bay?n wuj?b al-hijra (November 1806) and elsewhere: the central bureaucracy should be limited to a loyal and honest vizier, judges, a chief of police, and a collector of taxes; and local administration should be in the hands of governors (emirs) selected from the scholarly class for their learning, piety, integrity, and sense of justice.

Initially the military situation was far from favourable. Food supplies were a continuing problem; the requisitioning of local food antagonized the peasantry; increasing dependence on the great Fulani clan leaders, who alone could put substantial forces into the field, alienated the non-Fulani. At the Battle of Tsuntua in December 1804, the Shaykh’s forces suffered a major defeat and were said to have lost 2,000 men, of whom 200 knew the Qur'an by heart. But, after a successful campaign against Kebbi in the spring of 1805, they established a permanent base at Gwandu in the west. By 1805–06 the Shaykh’s caliphal authority was recognized by leaders of the Muslim communities in Katsina, Kano, Daura, and Zamfara. When Alkalawa, the Gobir capital, finally fell at the fourth assault on October 1808, the main military objectives of the jihad had been achieved.

Although the jihad had succeeded, Usman believed the original objectives of the reforming movement had been largely forgotten. This no doubt encouraged his withdrawal into private life. In 1809–10 Bello moved to Sokoto, making it his headquarters, and built a home for his father nearby at Sifawa, where he lived in his customary simple style, surrounded by 300 students. In 1812 the administration of the caliphate was reorganized, the Shaykh’s two principal viziers, Abdullahi and Bello, taking responsibility for the western and eastern sectors, respectively. The Shaykh, though remaining formally caliph, was thus left free to return to his main preoccupations, teaching and writing.

His five years at Sifawa were a productive period, to judge from the number of dated works that survive, most of them dealing with the practical problems of the community, including the series of books addressed to “the Brethren” (al-Ikhw?n), arising out of the dispute with Bornu and its principal administrator and ideologist, Mu?ammad al-Kanemi. At his weekly meetings on Thursday nights, he criticized aspects of the post-jihad caliphate (as indeed did Abdullahi and Bello), especially the tendency of the new bureaucracy and its hangers-on to become another oppressive ruling class.

Usman Dan Fodio Personal Life

Dan Fodio was married four times to His first cousin Maymuna, Aisha dan Muhammad Sa'd, Hauwa and Hajjo. He also had a concubine named Shatura. He had a total of twenty-three children including Muhammed Bello, Nana Asma’u, Abu Bakr Atiku, Muhammad Sambo and Muhammad Buhari. 

Dan Fodio divided his conquests between his brother, Abdullahi, who ruled the western part of the kingdom, and his son, Muhammad Bello, who ruled the eastern part of the kingdom including the Hausa city-states. He wrote about 480 poems in Arabic, Fulfulde, and Hausa and died on April 20, 1817 in Sokoto.

Usman Dan Fodio Net Worth

His net worth is not available.

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