Story Of Usman Dan Fodio


Shehu Usman Dan Fodio is a household name among the Muslim faithfuls of West Africa. He lead the Sokoto/Fulani Jihad of 1804 and found the biggest and most influential Caliphate in Africa. Many people know little or nothing about this.


He was an Islamic preacher, reformer, scholar, and statesman. He was born on the 15th of December, 1754, in a village that’s known as Maratta, in the Hausa city-state of Gobir, in the Nothern part of Nigeria of today. He is a descendant of the early Fulani settlers in Hausa Land, during the 15th century. He spent his youth with a devotion to the pursuit of Islamic religious education, and his early adulthood for preaching, teaching, and writing.


Dan Fodio became a Muslim preacher in the year 1774, he was moving from one rural community to another, just to spread Islam. He is one of the preachers that helped in the expansion of Islam around the Hausa land. He increased the popular basis of religious teaching and brought literacy to many small communities. He wrote poems of mysticism that increased his popularity as a teacher and preacher.

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During his life time, he was told that he’s the ‘Sword of Truth’, that was going to advance Islam and defeat the enemies of Allah. His sword was the written and oral words through prose and verse.

Usman found out that Hausa rulers that were following the common Hausa practice, had mixed their religion with pagan practices. This made him angry, and he started criticizing those rulers. In the year 1802, Dan Fodio led hundreds of his followers from his home city of Gobir into exile, this was after the rulers that he spoke against, tried to assassinate him.


It was after this time he worked on his ideas, it was this time he was also able to form an army that he directed and educated, which he used in the holy war against the Hausa rulers. In the year 1804, Yunfa Dan Nafata, the military commander of Gobir , sent an army to challenege Usman’s community that included Fulani preachers that had their own grievances against Hausa rulers over cattle tax.

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Dan Fodio used this incident as an opportunity to call for a jihad against the rulers of Gobir. By the 1808 his rulers and followers conquered Gobir, Kano and other Hausa city-states. He retired from battle in the year 1811 and returned to teaching and writing, but his army continued their conquest until the year 1815.

By the point when his armies had ended their conquests, Usman dan Fodio’s religios empire included most of what is the Northern part of Nigeria, Northern parts of Cameroon and some parts of Niger. For the first time in history, all the Hausa city states where ruled by one ruler. Dan Fodio established a new capital in Sokoto and soon they called it ‘the Sokoto Caliphate’ (Sokoto Empire).

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Usman Dan Fodio’s jihad inspired many series of holy wars throughout Western Sudan, and made Islam the dominant faith among the people of Senegal to Chad. His movement also led a poetic and literary explosion of Gobir, Kano, Katsina, and other Hausa city states.

Arabic was widely used for diplomacy and correspondence throughout the region. Usman Dan Fodio divided his conquests between his brother Abdullahi, who ruled the western parts of the kingdom, and his son, Muhammad Bello, that ruled the eastern of the kingdom, including the Hausa city states. By the end of Bello’s rule in the year 1837, the Sokoto Caliphate, with an estimate of 20 million people, had become the most populous empire in west Africa.

Dan Fodio, that started his life as an idealistic scholar and theologian, eventually became a forceful and commanding leader of a formidable military empire. He died on April 20, 1817 in Sokoto.


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