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Mauritanian teacher and Muslim scholar, was born to a scholarly family and reared in Walata, an oasis town in present-day eastern Mauritania. His full name was Muhammad abu ʿAbd Allah ibn abu Bakr as-Siddiq al-Bartili al-Walati. The main lineages that claim descent from the Bartili (or Barittayl) are the at-Talib Jibril, the ʿAli Diggan, and the at-Talib ʿAli Bannan, who formed a network of scholarly families. All of these groups have played an important role in the cultural and political life of the region of Takrur, serving as muftis (Muslim scholars qualified to formulate legal opinions on matters of Islamic law), imams, and especially teachers. In al-Bartili’s time, the name “Takrur” came to signify a Muslim cultural region stretching from the mouth of the Senegal River in the west to the Niger River bend in the east, including much of present-day Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal.

Walata was situated on a ...

Article

Louis Brenner

prominent Muslim scholar in the West African interior and ruler of the West African kingdom of Bornu, was born in Murzuk, in the Fezzan. His father, a locally respected scholar, was of Kanembu and his mother of Arab origin. Al-Kanemi’s youth was devoted to Islamic studies in Murzuk and Tripoli, and in the 1790s he accompanied his father on pilgrimage. His full name was al-Hajj Shaikh Muhammad al-Amin b. Muhammad Ninka, and he was known locally as Shehu Laminu.

On his return from the east, al-Kanemi settled south of Lake Chad in the town of Ngala in Bornu, where he was drawn into local conflicts with Fulani who had allied themselves with the jihad movement of Shaikh Uthman Dan Fodio. In 1808, supported by an armed following, he defeated a Fulani army that was threatening the region of Ngala.

Following this victory al Kanemi was summoned by the king ...

Article

Mohammed Bashir Salau

Qurʾanic teacher and warlord, was a Fulani originating from Kebbi in the northern part of modern-day Nigeria. His real name was Muhammadu Bangana, and he was also known as “Manko.” Very little is known about his early life. Following the conquest of a vast part of the Central Sudan by jihad forces led by Uthman dan Fodio, the Nupe came under the domination of the dynasty of the Emir of Gwandu at the turn of the nineteenth century. Mallam Dendo migrated to Nupe country at about the time when the Nupe were brought under the rule of Gwandu, specifically at about 1810. It seems likely that he had, as a Qurʾanic teacher, undertaken preaching missions to several Nupe towns prior to 1810. According to various sources, Dendo settled at Nupeland during a period of great political instability, specifically following the death of the etsu king Abdullahi Yinkanko ...

Article

Stephen Cory

a Sufi leader who revived the Qadiriyya Sufi order in the southwestern Sahara during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In doing so, he assured the dominance of his tribe, the Kunta, as the premier zawaya (clerical) tribe, providing religious and legal education and spiritual leadership throughout the area. His peaceful propagation of the faith led to an increased practice of Islam in the Western Sahara. In addition, his linkage of religious renewal to the promotion of trade led to a realignment of power relations among the tribes, with the Kunta at the top. Sidi al-Mukhtar sought to use the tariqa (Sufi brotherhood) structure to teach Islamic practices, reform social mores, and eliminate non-Islamic religious accretions from society. His descendants, leaders of the peaceful Qadiriyya-Mukhtariyya order, opposed the nineteenth-century jihad movements in West Africa, including the jihad of the Tijani leader Hajj ʿUmar Tal in Senegal.

The Kunta are ...

Article

Charles C. Stewart

was born in 1776 CE/AH 1190 into one of the lesser fractions (the Ntishaiʾi) of a southwest Saharan clerical (or zawiya) clan, the Awlad Abyiri. His full name was Sidiyya al-Kabir (“the elder”) b. al-Mukhtar b. al-Hayba al-Ntishai’i.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the region now known as Mauritania was governed by a loose balance of two types of lineage groups, one that lived largely as predators and another that subsisted as pastoralists. Within the latter group were found nomadic schools in the Islamic disciplines where, judging by the texts studied and written locally, a talented student might advance to levels on a par with advanced education in places like Fez or Cairo.

Sidiyya’s early schooling, consisting initially of his memorization of the entire Qurʾan, would have been conducted under the supervision of his father and uncles, common for youth in the tradition of zawiya tribes like ...

Article

A Fulani born in the Hausa state of Gobir, Usuman dan Fodio studied the Qu’ran (Koran) with his father, an eminent Islamic scholar, then moved from place to place to study with other religious scholars. When he was twenty-five, he began teaching and preaching, and from this time his reputation as a holy man grew. He taught Islam in Gobir, and he was probably engaged as tutor to the future sultan Yunfa because of his learned reputation. Usuman criticized the Hausa ruling elite for their heavy taxation and other practices that he claimed violated Islamic law. His call for Islamic reform (and tax reduction) earned him a wide following in the 1780s and 1790s, when he became a political threat to Gobir sultan Nafata. When Yunfa assumed power as sultan in 1802 the repression of Usuman s followers worsened Following the example of the prophet Muhammad Usuman went on ...

Article

Edmund Abaka

Fulani Muslim scholar, led an important intellectual reform movement that culminated in the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate (present-day northern Nigeria), one of the largest states in Africa in the early eighteenth century. Born in Gobir in 1754, Uthman Dan Fodio channeled the political, social, and economic grievances of the Fulani into a movement for reform that dismantled the traditional power structure of the Hausa and led to the emergence of a new political and religious elite, the Fulani, in the Sokoto Caliphate. He was a chain in a link of reformist leaders in the Western Sudan who had stressed a return to orthodox Islam, in contradistinction to what was perceived as a “syncretic” form of Islam that tolerated certain African religious elements.

As a young man Uthman Dan Fodio studied under many learned Muslim men in Hausaland and Agades He was most of all influenced by Jibril ibn Umar ...