17th to 19th centuries

Following the fall of Songhay, for some time the western Sudan saw no great political power emerge.  In the central Sudan Borno continued to prosper and the Hausa states rose to share in newly formed trade networks.  The Atlantic trade gave rise to the Benin, Oyo, Dahomey and Ashanti empires, and many smaller kingdoms.  In the mid-18th century the pagan Bambara set up a state based in Segu which expanded towards the Senegal river to tap its rich trading links with the Atlantic. Slaves were abundant in the Bambara states, and Muslim communities under Bambara rule took full advantage of the opportunity to supply slaves to European trading posts.  While most of the slaves captured in jihād raids were sent to the coast, most of the gold continued to go across the Sahara to Morocco, as Mungo Park in 1796 and Rene Caillé in 1828 testify.

The widespread situation of Muslims living under pagan rule did not suit Muslim religious sensibilities.  If occasionally they were penalized for the practice of their faith, more fundamentally they lived in a permanent state of fitna, a situation in which rule by a law other than Sharīca constantly invited or permitted the common people to slip away from Islam.  Classical Islamic theory allows only two choices for Muslims under such a situation, either to revolt and establish an Islamic state or to emigrate, making a hijra to a land where Sharīca prevails.  In either case leadership is required, and the widespread expectation that a mujaddid, a divinely guided reformer, would come at the turn of every Islamic century prepared the way for accepting the leaders that presented themselves.

The economic side of a jihād was the chance to set up a state in response to a market attraction.  The Atlantic trade stimulated supply routes going far to the interior, organized mainly by Mande speaking Dyula.  The traders, according to Jobson in 1621, had free recourse through all places even in times of war.  They also had some independent bases, as did the Dyakanke at Conjour.  Besides these precarious arrangements, the combination of new trading opportunities and religious motivation resulted in a series of jihāds and full-fledged states in the western Sudan.

The Zawāyā

The first of the jihād movements occurred among some Berber clerical clans who had kept up the religious heritage of the Murābits. These clans, known as the Zawāyā, had been oppressed by other marauding Berber clans known as the Hassān.  Under the leadership of Nāsiraddīn, they did not dare first confront the Hassān but invaded Futa Toro and the Wolof states south of the Senegal river in 1673.  Once established there, where he had the economic support of gum trade with the Europeans on the Senegal (who used it in printing, textiles and pharmacy), he turned to challenge the Hassān.  Several battles took place, but in the end the Zawāyā were defeated, Nāsiraddīn was killed in 1674, and his successor Uthmān was killed fighting the Wolof. The Zawāyā were thereafter reduced to being humbled tributaries of the Hassān.

Mālik Sī in Bondu

Mālik Sī was a Torodbe (Fulani) from Futa Toro who led a group of migrants into Bondu in the 1680s.  He declared himself imām, independent of the ruler of Bondu, and defeated and killed him at the end of the century.  His son Būbū Mālik Sī was killed invading Bambuk, and in the 1730s the Torodbe were for a time scattered.  Fulani warriors from Futa Toro then helped them to regain control of Bondu.

nother Islamic revival occurred in the time of Ahmad Gaye (1764-85) who took the title of Almami.  He and his successor Sega Gaye (1790-4) were killed fighting Abdalqādir of Futa Toro. Mungo Park travelled through Bondu in 1795 and remarked that the Almami Ahmad Isata (1794-1819) was not a very serious Muslim.

The fighting between Bondu, Futa Toro was partly a matter of who would control the upper Senegal river and its trade.  Bondu was laid waste by al-hājj Umar in 1856 and later was taken over by the French.  Only then did Islam become strong as a rallying point against foreign rule.

Futa Jalon

Towards 1675 Fulani from Futa Toro began migrating into Futa Jalon, the grassy highlands where the Senegal and Gambia rivers have their sources. These Fulani herdsmen were at most only nominally Muslim, but a small group of Muslim teachers accompanied them and used Islam as a rallying point against the people among whom the Fulani moved.  At the same time Mande Muslims were spreading over Futa Toro as new trade routes opened from the European trading posts on the Atlantic.  The Fulani were involved in this economic system because hides from their herds were in demand.  Slaves were also in demand on the coast and captives from Futa Toro helped satisfy this demand.

The Fulani leader Ibrāhīm Mūsā (= Karamokho Alfa or Alfa Ba) led an uprising in 1725.  At first successful, the jihād proceeded slowly, because the Fulani were not taking over an existing state but creating a new one and took half a century to succeed. When Ibrāhīm Mūsā died in 1751 the clan leaders then chose Ibrāhīm Sori as their Almami (= al-imām).  This man’s heavy-handedness caused dissent among the Fulani and led their Solima allies to turn against them in 1763.  The Solima contested the Fulani hegemony over Futa Jalon until 1776 when they were defeated and retreated to their stronghold of Falaba. There they remained independent and opposed to Islam until their conquest by Samori in 1884.

In the meantime the Fulani continued to raid their neighbours, keeping the Sierra Leone markets filled with slaves and making Islam known among the coastal peoples.  There were sometimes fierce succession disputes among the aristocracy of Futa Jalon, but the state held together until the French took over in 1897.  The people under Fulani rule were not sold but used as slaves for farming rice, which was sold to Europeans for feeding slaves on ships across the Atlantic.  The oppressive domestic slave condition provoked a revolt in 1785 in which many slaves escaped to Susu territory, towards the Atlantic.  Continued slave revolts in both places led the Fulani and the Susu to take combined action in 1796 to crush the revolts.

Futa Toro

Futa Toro is an inland region just south of the Senegal River coinciding with the medieval Islamic state of Takrūr.  In the turmoil of the centuries Islam survived but was no longer a dynamic factor.  Hearing of the Islamic revival in Futa Jalon, Sulaymān Bal, a member of a Fulani circle of Islamic teachers, went to Futa Jalon to study.  On his return his followers seized power in Futa Toro, but he himself declined political leadership.  His popularity was in large part due to his resistance to the Brakna Moors who raided and oppressed the people.  He was killed fighting them in 1776.

After Sulaymān Bal’s death a Tukulor named Abdalqādir was proclaimed Almami.  In the interest of domestic conciliation he created a non-Muslim enclave where traditional practices could be carried out.   Nonetheless, he fought against Futa Bondu, killing its Almami.  In 1796 Mungo Park witnessed the arrival of a delegation of Abdalqādir to Teesee, a town in Khasso, calling the people to accept Islam or die.  “A message of this nature from so powerful a prince could not fail to create great alarm; and the inhabitants of Teesee, after a long consultation, agreed to conform to his good pleasure, humiliating as it was to them.  Accordingly, one and all publicly offered up eleven prayers, which were considered a sufficient testimony of their having renounced paganism, and embraced the doctrines of the Prophet.”

Fighting against the Wolof state of Kayor, Abdalqādir was captured in 1797 but released after a year in respect for his religious powers.  A revolt in 1805 led to his death in 1806 at the hands of the Almami of Bondu.  Afterwards the state he built up was ruled by a Torodbe oligarchy where no almami had much power.  In the second part of the 19th century was threatened first from the east by al-hājj Umar and then from the west by the French, who by 1890 absorbed all of Futa Toro territory.

Ahmad of Māsina

The Māsina region was settled by the Fulani from about the 14th century and was islamized while part of the Mali and Songhay empires.  After the fall of Songhay in 1592 its religious and political centre of Jenne came under the control of the descendants of the Moroccan invaders and in the early 18th century under the overlordship of the Bambara rulers of Segu.

Born in 1775, Ahmad ibn-Muhammad ibn-abī-Bakr ibn-Sacīd, known also as Shehu or Seku (shaykh) Ahmadu Lobbo, or Hamad Bari or Ahmadu Hammadi Bubu, studied under his father then travelled abroad to learn. About 1805 he went to Hausaland and associated with Uthmān dan Fodiye.  Inspired by his jihād, he returned to Jenne where was soon expelled from the mosque for his agitation.  He set up his own Qur’ānic school in a nearby town but moved further away after one of his students killed the son of the Fulani ruler of Māsina.  The Fulani of Māsina and the Bambara of Segu joined forces in 1818 to attack Ahmad, but he defeated the Bambara, while the Fulani avoided battle.  He then took and destroyed Jenne, building a new capital which he called Hamdallahi. Ahmad capitalized on popular eschatological expectations by claiming to be a mujaddid and demanding the allegiance of all Muslims.

Ahmad’s campaigns to spread Islam and expand his empire, particularly at the expense of Segu, were continued under his successors, his son Ahmad Seku (1846-53) and his grandson Ahmad III (1853-62).  The Māsina empire staked out for itself all the territory eastward as far as the Sokoto realm, but in fact it could never subjugate the Mossi or its Bambara neighbours of Segu.  Religiously Māsina was austere and strictly ruled by Islamic law; for some of its original supporters from the Qādiriyya Sūfī order in Timbuktu it was too strict.  Politically Māsina was well organized, but the state could never become important because trade patterns were now oriented towards the Atlantic instead of across the Sahara, and the area no longer was economically strategic as it once was.  The jihād hurt the trade that there was in Jenne.  The end of the Māsina state came when al-hājj Umar, who visited Ahmad in 1838, invaded Māsina and killed his grandson in 1862. Although Umar himself was killed in an uprising in 1643, his nephew at-Tijānī and the latter’s sons ruled over Māsina until the French occupation in 1893.

Al-hājj Umar’s Tukulor empire

A Tukulor from Futa Toro, Umar ibn-Sacīd Tal was born around 1794.  In 1826 he left on pilgrimage to Mecca.  On his way he stayed about seven months in Sokoto and two months in Gwandu where his Fulani kinsmen had established an Islamic state.  In Arabia he was initiated into the Tijāniyya Sūfic order by Muhammad al-Ghālī, under whom he studied for three years, and received a mandate to conduct a jihād to purify Islam in the Western Sudan.  During four years in Cairo at a time of Sūfic revival he was in contact with Khalwatī Sūfī shaykhs who helped him develop the Tijānī ideals he absorbed in Arabia.  Now known simply as al-hājj Umar, on his return journey he married a woman of the ruling family of Borno and in Sokoto Maryam, the daughter of Muhammad Bello, as well as another woman.  During his stay in Sokoto from 1832 to 1838 he took part in the politics and wars and became a wealthy man. Many devoted followers and slaves went with him when he left Sokoto.  He was guest of Ahmad of Māsina for nine months, and shortly afterwards settled in Futa Jalon.

In Futa Jalon Umar built up his following and sent caravans to the coast to buy arms from the Europeans.  His intolerance towards non-Muslims and lax Muslims alike and his campaign to bring all the members of the Qādiriyya into the Tijāniyya order caused tension between himself and the Almami of Futa Jalon, which forced him to move his base to Dingiray in 1848.

Umar began his jihād in 1852 after coming into conflict with the ruler of Tamla, on the borders of whose territory he was established.  Moving up and taking Bambuk, Bondu and Khasso, in 1857 he conquered the Bambara state of Kaarta.  His method of fighting involved wholesale massacres and pillaging, but his growing strength led many to submit to him as allies.  In Khasso he came into conflict with the French fort of Medine, which he tried in vain to take.  His goal was to secure control over his homeland of Futa Toro, but the French allied with the local aristocracy to thwart his purpose.  Umar recognized his failure and in 1860 negotiated with the French to recognize their control of Senegambia in exchange for giving him a free hand to conquer the lands to the east.  No formal agreement was reached, but Umar’s proposal was in fact accepted.  Apart from the internal wealth of the region that Umar conquered, control of the trading system linking with the Atlantic at this time was a big prize.  Conditions were ripe for the creation of an empire of the magnitude of the old Mali empire and, if not for the opposing designs of the French, Umar would have succeeded.

In 1859 Umar began moving against Segu.  The alarmed Bambara leader of Segu now accepted the proposal of his long time enemy Ahmad III of Māsina, who was equally alarmed, and agreed to accept the overlordship of Māsina and permit a systematic islamization of Segu. Ahmad III hoped that Umar would go away once Segu agreed to become Muslim under Māsina’s aegis, but Umar was not deterred.  In 1861 he overran Segu and the following year conquered Māsina as well.  Ahmad’s brothers submitted to Umar, but his treatment of them led them to revolt in 1863.  In February 1864 Umar was isolated, pursued to a cave in the Bandiagara cliffs and killed by a fire set around the area.

While Umar’s nephew at-Tijānī quelled the revolt in Māsina, his son Ahmad inherited the rule of Segu.  Ahmad ibn-Umar claimed rule over the entire empire as well but had to struggle against recalcitrant Tukulor chiefs, especially in Kaarta, and Bambara resistance until 1875.  The French then began to sell him arms, thinking that a strong Tukulor state east of the Senegal river would be advantageous to their trade.  The French were uncomfortable, however, with the Tukulor enclaves west of the Senegal and supported their ally, Sambala of Medine, to expel the Tukulor from Logo.  The war left the area devastated and commerce suspended, but the French were determined to expand to the Niger in hope of greater gain.

The French executed their policy by building forts at Bafoulabe in 1879, Kita in 1881 and Bamako in 1883.  They removed the Tukulor rulers from Murgula in Malinke land and encourage the Bambara to revolt.   Ahmad ibn-Umar was distracted by a rebellion in Kaarta.  He reestablished his authority there in 1885 but could not return to Segu because the Bambara had taken control of the intervening territory. In 1887 the French entered a temporary alliance with Ahmad ibn-Umar against Mahmadu Lamīn of Khasso, a Muslim leader who was carving a state for himself at the expense of both French and Tukulor interests.  When Mahmadu was defeated the French turned against Koundian, the last Tukulor enclave west of the Senegal river.  Ahmad ibn-Umar moved in and took it back, but the French took it again and destroyed the town in 1889, thus breaking Ahmad’s link with his territory of Dinguiray in the south.  In the same year the French built a fort at Myamina, near Segu, and prepared for the final blow to the now dismembered Tukulor empire.

Ahmad ibn-Umar prepared his defence by allying himself with sympathetic chiefs in Futa Jalon, Futa Toro, and with Samori of Wasulu and Alī Buri of Wolof.  The French first took action against the latter, defeating him in 1890.  But he fled with many troops and joined Ahmad in Kaarta.  The French then occupied Segu, while Aguiba, the emir of Dinguiray and son of Umar, capitulated to the French.  In January 1891 Kaarta was taken, but Ahmad escaped to Māsina. Before the French could move against Māsina the Bambara aristocracy of Segu realized that a French take-over would be against their interests as well, and allied themselves with the Tukulor. Ahmad also won over Tyeba, chief of Sikasso and the Kenedugu region and an ally of the French against Samori, thus opening an arms supply route from the British of Sierra Leone through Futa Jalon, Wusulu, Kenedugu and Segu to Māsina.  But the prestige of Umar’s son Aguibu, who travelled with the French army, led many of the demoralized Tukulor to desert.  In 1893 the French occupied Jenne, Mopti and finally Bandiagara, where they installed Aguibu as the successor of Ahmad and at the same time the agent of French authority.

Ahmad fled to Sokoto, arriving there in 1896.  He died in 1898. His followers moved on to Burmi, where with the fleeing Attahiru of Sokoto they resisted the British in 1903. The destruction of the Tukulor empire meant an expansion of Islam in its territories, because what the subject peoples would not accept under pressure of force they embraced voluntarily through the attraction of Islamic economic power, the attraction of Islamic religious ceremonies and medicine, and the political need for an anti-colonial symbol.

Samori’s Malinke empire

Born near Kankan around 1830, Samori Ture became a trader and about 1852 took service as a soldier under a local chief who had enslaved his mother.  Not a learned man himself, Samori nevertheless was devoted to Islam as a rallying point for his own imperial ambitions to unite the Malinke and bring other neighbouring territories under his rule. By 1870 he had the Wasulu area under his control and in 1879 took Kankan.  Wherever Samori’s power was felt the traditional shrines were destroyed and mosques were set up.  He did not insist on prayer or fasting, but only that young boys go to Qur’ānic instruction.  If they made no progress he would penalize their parents.

As Samori advanced north in 1887-8 he wasted many men by trying to take Sikasso, which was under French protection.  The French then determined to crush him.  He tried to get the British to help him, even offering them his empire, but all in vain.  The French took his capital of Bisandugu in 1891 and caused him to abandon most of his territory, which consisted approximately of the eastern half of present day Guinea, and to move gradually east, establishing a new empire in the northern half of Ivory Coast and part of Ghana.  during this move Samori destroyed everything he left behind and devastated much of the land and enslaved the people.  His advance east was stopped by the British in Ghana, while the French closed in on him from the north and west and from their Ivory Coast forts in the south.  He surrendered in 1898 and was deported to Gabon where he died in 1900.

Although Islam spread in northern Ivory Coast from the time Malinke traders began settling in Kong and Bouma in the 15th century, during Samori’s five year rule the Muslim population in northern Ivory Coast increased up to 40% and, although he had forced pagans to convert, they remained Muslim after his removal.

The Wolof and Serer of Senegal

European explorers from the 15th century onward found Islam present among the Wolof people who inhabit the coastal region of Senegal.  Islam spread through Malinke traders among the common people, yet only occasionally were the chiefs Muslim.  An attempt by the Muslim party to seize power in Kayor in 1682 failed. The Muslims of Futa Toro invaded the Wolof state of Kayor in 1720 and again in 1797, but Tukulor and Mauritanian aggression only stiffened Wolof resistance to Islam.

South of the Wolof and north of the Gambia river were the Serer states of Sine and Saloum.  Some Wolof and Malinke Muslim trading communities had settled among the Serer and suffered along with the rest of the peasantry from the Tyeddo, a warrior caste who maintained the social order.  As the Muslims grew stronger the inevitable revolt came in 1861 when Ma Ba, a Muslim teacher, overthrew the Mansa of the Babidu (Rip) region.  The revolt spread like wild fire and became a jihād demanding conversion or death of the pagans.  In 1862 Ma Ba joined the father of the Bur of Saloum to overthrow his son, and by 1863 controlled practically all the territory between the Gambia and the Saloum rivers and eastern Saloum.  He built a new capital which he named Nioro after al-hājj Umar’s capital in Kaarta.

The French were at first favourable to Ma Ba, but felt threatened when he moved north, winning the conversion of the Wolof Damel of Kayor, Lat Dior, and linking up with Futa Toro.  Events in France prevented the French from taking any concerted action and their few expeditions ended in defeat.  In 1867 Ma Ba invaded Sine and was killed by the Bur of Sine.  There were many struggles for power before the French took over these parts of Senegal in 1887, but Islam had become firmly established in the meantime in most of the territory north of the Gambia river.

Sūfic organisation of Islam after the French conquest

The French conquest broke up the Islamic political order set up in the previous decades.  Muslims then found a new organizational unity in the Sūfic orders.  Ahmadu Bamba gained a large following among the Wolof for the Murīd order which he founded as an offshoot of the Qādiriyya. Although exiled twice by the French, Ahmadu Bamba advocated collaboration with the French while at the same time he promoted Islamic solidarity among his followers, especially in economic projects.  His order contained 100,000 members at the time of his death in 1927.

A second Sūfic order which gained prominence was the Malikiyya branch of the Tijāniyya, started by Abdallāh Niasse.  Gaining followers after making the hajj in 1890, he had to flee to British Gambia in 1900 because of a conflict with the grandson of Ma Ba. He returned to Kaolack in 1910 where he and his son Ibrahim (d. 1975) exercised an immense influence.  In northern Nigeria his followers became an important political factor in opposition to the Sokoto establishment.

Another Sūfic movement was Hamallism, an offshoot of the Tijāniyya. Muhammad ibn-Ahmad ibn-Abdallāh, later known as ash-Sharīf al-Akhdar, founded the movement in al-hājj Umar’s city of Nioro around 1900 and from there it spread throughout French West Africa. The French banned ash-Sharīf al-Akhdar to Dakar in 1906.  Later he was allowed to return to Nioro where he died in 1909.  The movement took its name from his successor Hamallah.

The symbol of Hamallism is an eleven bead rosary, representing the movement’s insistence on reciting the Tijāniyya prayer Jawharat al-kamāl eleven instead of twelve times.  The Hamallists also began to pray facing Nioro instead of Mecca and dropped the second part of the shahāda, saying instead: “Hamalla is our shaykh”. And they abbreviated the prayers as is the rule for travellers and those partaking in a jihād.  Socially, the movement represented Muslims of vassal tribes reacting against the Mauritanian Qādiriyya and the Tukulor Tijāniyya orders which collaborated with the colonial power and had a privileged position in society.  The Hamallist dream was to expel the French, but French surveillance prevented any incidents. After a riot between Hamallists and other Muslims in 1940 Hamallah was exiled to France where he died in 1943. Hamallism lost its force as social developments and the withdrawal of the French made it unnecessary.

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The Spread of Islam
Through North to West Africa

Chapter 14 —»