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Ancient History
Holy Men
Special Places
Winds of Change
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Conquests: Fuuta Jalon, Fuuta Tooro, Massina. Soko

Muslims scholars called sub-Sahara Africa Bilal al Sudan (Land of the blacks) within the Dar al-Islam (the realm of Islam). Indeed, many West African Empires and kingdoms that have endured for centuries began to witness during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, far reaching reformist movements that redrew the West African historical setting and were only halted with the arrival of the European Colonization. All the leaders of these movements were Fulani from various regions of West-Africa. These leaders/scholars mobilized herders and farmers from the Fulani as well as from other ethnic groups to launch holy wars and to establish formidable Islamic states in little more than 100 years.This expansion was facilitated by geographical and technological considerations. The savannah zone of the West- Africa rarely presents natural barriers upon which a frontier line can be established. The horse was widely used in warfare and made possible military formations of great mobility.
Cities were established as administrative capital, but also centers of Islamic learning. Most displayed considerable diversity in their arts and crafts.The city was the nodal point of the State. In the countryside, as well as in the city itself, the affluence of the State was maintained by the arts of peaceful administration, in the levying of all manner of tolls and taxes.

Fuuta Jalon

The most spectacular contribution to the history of West Africa was the Fulani creation of Muslim States. These Muslim States arose within a century in widely separated parts of the West Africa, and at one juncture, before the arrival of the French and English Colonizers, it seemed likely that they would be united under a single leader Umar Saidu Tall. The first movement occurred in Fuuta Jalon (present day Guinea), the second in Fuuta Toro (present day Senegal), the third in Masina (present day Mali) and finally the most notable the Sokoto Caliphate (present day Nigeria, Cameroon).
During the seventeenth century this well endowed highland area was the scene of a considerable immigration of Fulani pastoralists who, although of different clans, were all Muslims of the Kadiriya persuasion. In 1725 a Muslim Fulani known as Alfa Ba put himself at their head and declared a Holy War not only against the pagan Sosso and Mandingo inhabitants but also against the pagan Fulani dynasty which ruled the country. Alfa Ba died during the course of preparations for the Holy War, but his son, a holy man, known as Ibrahim mo Timbo or Karamoko Alfa, continued his work with the aid of a war leader, Ibrahim Sori. They conquered and converted by force all except the least accessible parts of the country and established a territorial organization which, although much modified, is the basis of present-day administration.

Futa Toro

The second Muslim Fulani State was Fuuta Tooro, which, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had been ruled by a pagan Fulani dynasty, the Denianke. In 1776 the Muslim Fulani minority rose under Abd-el-Kadr Toorodi and established the Muslim State. In Fuuta Tooro there was little of the internal dissension seen in Fuuta Jalon. Abdel-Kadr had both preached and waged war, and his kingdom consisted of provinces under the rule of Muslim divines. The State expanded after the death of Abd-el-Kadr in 1788 and its dependencies in the Senegambia region Dimar, Damga, and Boundou, were in situ on the arrival of the French.


The Bamana kingdom of Masina was the scene of the creation of the next Muslim Fulani kingdom. Masina is a region located in central Mali and northern Burkina Faso. Here the Muslim Fulani had for long been tributaries of the Bamana.Following the collapse of Songhai Empire in 1591 by the armies of al-Mansur of Morocco number of small kingdoms Masina, Gonja, Segou, Kaarta strove to dominate the western Mali, but continual strife and economic decline were the only results. In 1818 Seku Ahmadu, a Fulani Muslim introduced a theocratic state in Macina. During his rule an empire embracing the whole of the Niger River region, from Jenne to Timbuktu, was created. Upon his death in 1844 his son took power, but in 1862 Macina fell to another Muslim reformer, al-Hajj Umar. 
Masina saw the achievements of great leaders such as Ahmad Al-Kabir, Ahmad Al-Tijani, and the Kunta leader Ahmad Al-Bakkay.Many cities flourished including Jenne, Nioro and Hamdallay.Hamdallay is a now shadow of what it used to be during the glory days of masina.Prior to the arrival of the French when Segou was powerful and practicing traditional religion, Hamdallay was the center of the Fulani's emerging Masina Islamic Empire and a center of Islamic education at the time. Currently it is not even labeled on most maps.(More about Masina in Communities  Section)

Sokoto Caliphate

The greatest feat of empire-building on the part of the Fulani was the Jihad of Usman dan Fodio, who established a widespread empire in what, is now Northern Nigeria, both founding new States and usurping the rule of the old-established Hausa kingdoms. The mixing of pagan with Muslim practices and other errors disquieted Nafata, king of Gobir, who, although formerly a pupil of Usman's, saw in these activities a threat to his position at the centre of the pagan rites of kingship. Before his death, Nafata made proclamations designed to restrict the effect of Usman's efforts. His son Yunfa was more energetic and in 1803 attacked Gimbana, an important Muslim village, destroying the scribes' writings and carrying off their wives and children. In February 1804 Usman declared a Hegira or Flight from Degel, which was a demonstration of defiance of the constituted government. It took the Muslim leader into an ill-administered part of the kingdom, from which messages might be sent to Fulani communities urging them to join the instigator of the rising, and from which the first deployments of insurrection might be made. Usman was speedily joined in his flight by a considerable number of fervent supporters. In June 1804 Usman met Yunfa in battle at Kwotto lake and defeated him. The victorious Muslim army proclaimed Usman Commander of the Faithful (Arab. Amir al Muminin; Hausa Serkin Musulmi; Ful. Laamiidho Julbhe) and he was thenceforth known as Sheik or Shehu. He declared Holy War against the enemies of Islam and, in the next decade or so, Shehu, or his son and successor Bello, gave the flag of Holy War to trusted followers who took existing kingdoms by insurrection or carved out new ones by war. Usman himself retired early to a life of contemplation, and is revered to this day as a saint.
By 1810 four of the seven Hausa States were taken by the Fulani, and the city of Sokoto, from which the Empire was to be governed, had been established. During the next twenty years, Fulani dynasties were set up in other States, principally Ilorin and Nupe. During the same period new kingdoms were established, chief among which was Adamawa. On the eastern borders of the Empire developments took place with which we shall be more concerned later in the text. Bornu resisted the Fulani invaders, but in large portions of its western territory small kingdoms, such as Hadeijia, Katagum, Bauchi, Misau, and Gombe, were established by the Fulani. The history of the Fulani States during the nineteenth century is one of attempts at expansion and internecine strife, which neither the military power of the suzerain State of Sokoto nor the religious authority of its ruler were able to compose. Nevertheless, on their arrival in Northern Nigeria, the British recognized the legitimacy by conquest of the Fulani rulers, and the present Emirs of the States are for the most part the descendants of the flag-bearers of the Jihad.

Dinguiray, Segou, Nioro & Bandiagara

The final movement of Fulani Islam was the rise of Umar Saidu Tall. He was born in 1797 into a family of holy men of Podor in Senegal. He went on the pilgrimage in 1827 and studied in Mecca, Medina, and Cairo. He returned to the West- Africa in 1838 and was well received in Bornu, Sokoto, and Massina. The Fulani rulers of Sokoto and Massina gave him their daughters in marriage. He attempted to seize power in Fuuta Tooro but was unsuccessful, although he succeeded in raising followers prepared to preach the Holy War elsewhere. He moved to Dinguiray in Fuuta Jalon, which he established as a fortress and centre of learning. He led a Holy War in the Bambouk country and by 1861 had established his son as king of Masina. Under his hand, Nioro, Bandiagara, and Segou became important religious centers. He was seen as the potential unifier of all the Muslim Fulani empires and States of the West- Africa. However, in 1857 he was stopped at Khosso by the French colonial power.