Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Poets and Scholars: The Challenge of Sakkwato Models
This article is going to start with a brief of my personal journey of discovery about the poets and scholars of the Sakkwato Caliphate. The first time I read about Sakkwato Caliphate was when I was in primary school from a book titled Karamin Sani. There was a passage on the battle at Tafkin Kwatto culled from Infaku of Caliph Muhammadu Bello. At that time I could not appreciate the story for there is no prior basis for that. Secondly, although I heard about Shehu Usmanu Danfodiyo and I heard over and over again my grandma sing Begore a poem by Nana Asma’u and also heard about Hubbare in Sakkwato. I have no picture of what Sakkwato Caliphate was. The situation has not improved even when I went to secondary school. I was a good student of history in my forms 1 and 2 and I learnt about Mali, Ghana, and Songhai empires but not about Sakkwato. After two years I went to science school, thus cut off from history.
What actually helped me was the bookworming attitude that I developed that I always read and read any book of interest from Astronomy to Egyptology. By the time I completed my secondary education and got admission into the then University of Sokoto, I luckily came across a book titled The Sakkwato Model by Usmanu Bugaje, that was the beginning of my voyage in the vast ocean of scholarship about Sakkwato. After reading that book I begin to be thirsty of more knowledge about the history of that Great State. From then on, I began to feel that University of Sokoto should be renamed to Usmanu Danfodiyo University. I even wrote a letter to the Editor (New Nigerian) but never posted it, yet whenever I wrote to my friends, my address is always Usmanu Danfodiyo University not University of Sokoto. Within few years that dream came true.
With time, I learnt from seminars and few publications more about Sakkwato, and when I decided to register for courses in Hausa (as the only Social Science Student in the class), I was taught about some poems written by the Jihad leaders. I was taught about the literal interpretation of poems like Godaben Gaskiya, Ma’amare and Tabban Hakika among others, but I could actually not appreciate it as much. My interest at that moment was fiction and not poetry. Later I read Studies in Sokoto Caliphate edited by YB Usmanu. I then got and read State and Society in Sokoto Caliphate edited by Kabir Gandi and Ahmad Kani. I also read Sokoto Caliphate by Murray Last. But the two books that actually influenced me most were A Revolution in History and Islamic State and the Challenge of History by Ibrahim Sulaiman. All these books taught me more about what and how the Caliphate came into existence, how it declined and what we are to learn from it.
One important missing link is that although I read fairly well about the Jihad, the leader of the Jihad and Caliph Muhammadu Bello and a little on Shaikh Abdullahi Fodio (from Shehu Umar’s classic work) there is little about Nana Asma’u. I know about Nana Asma’u ‘Yar Shehu first from my grand mother. With the passage of time I began to develop some interest about who Nana Asma’u really was, what were her contributions to the Jihad and so on. But above all I wanted to learn about her “Yan Taru movement, I first heard in a seminar at UDUS. It was from the knowledge of the 'Yan Taru movement that I was able to appreciate and situate Wakar Ahmada my grand mother’s favourite. It was also with that background knowledge that I came to understand more about my grandfather’s sister Hauwa who though I met (before her death) but was too young to appreciate her learning. Gwaggo, my dad always tells us was a pious and learned woman who taught women about Islam, in fact my grandma learnt Wakar Ahmada and other aspects of knowledge from her. Perhaps she was a Jaji (a cadre of literate, itinerant women teachers within the ‘Yan Taru movement, who disseminated Asma’u’s instructive poetic works among the masses).
I visited Hubbare for the first time in 1996, I knew about Jean Boyd but I am yet to know about Nana Asma’u. When Caliph’s Sister (by Jean Boyd) was published in 1989, I saw its review, but there was no way I could get that book at the time. So I remained ignorant about Nana Asma’u, a woman I admire even before I know who she actually was.
The opportunity of coming to the United States came to me through the Fulbright Fellowship in August 2001. I met Dr. Sarki Abba Abdulkadir (who works at the same University I am doing my fellowship) In our long discussion about the problems of our society, we discovered that we share same interest about the model of Sakkwato Caliphate. He showed me a book titled Collected Works of Nana Asma’u Daughter of Usmanu ‘dan Fodiyo (1793-1864) compiled and edited by Jean Boyd and Beverly B Mack. I then remember seeing a copy at the ABU bookshop but at the time I could not afford it. I then went into action, trying to see if I could get and buy that book online, I got it and I bought it. But most interestingly, I got Caliph’s Sister and One Woman Jihad (Boyd & Mack). From these triad I learn about Nana Asma’u. In fact I learnt about Sakkwato Jihad of 1804 more. After reading these books I then realised how much I personally learnt but how much many other people are missing by not knowing all that happened in our pre-colonial past.
Now I realised that what I learnt so far about Sakkwato Caliphate is enormous but also a challenge. I asked myself beside the very thin and narrow folkloric knowledge available to the ordinary man in the street, how many people in the current area once Sakkwato Caliphate actually know about this great Islamic revivalism? How many people realised that we in the 21st century have a lot to learn from the 1804 revolution? How many of us read the books written by the Jihad leaders? How many people can situate the re-introduction of the Shari’a legal system within a wider social-history context in northern Nigeria? Above all what does Shari’a really stands for, for the Muslim ummah?
The answer without fear of contradiction is very little. Most of the published knowledge about Sakkwato Caliphate is in the English Language, thanks to the late Professor Abdullahi Smith who initiated the reconstruction of our historiography. Few of the Jihad books were publish in Hausa (Infaku and Nurul-al-bab for example) the language majority can read and appreciate, even those few books published are not in circulation.
After working for years to create a body of Hausa readers through the Hausa Literary Movement (erstwhile known as Soyayya writers). I now fully agree with one of the leaders (Sunusi Shehu Daneji) of the movement’s assertion that people should stop discouraging the movement. This is because, as he puts it “when you develop some one’s reading habit, it is easier to educate him’. Thus, a Hausa housewife who learn to read in Hausa roman script just to read a love story for instance, would also read a book by or about Nana Asma’u written in Hausa language. Jean Boyd and Beverly Mack described Nana Asma’u’s genius as laying “in transforming the women’s organization that had existed among the non-Muslim women prior to their capture, and channeling their interests and needs into organizing representative of the Jihadic community’s values. Through her organization of itinerant women teachers of other women (the ‘Yan Taru…) Nana Asma’u made working for the community both desirable and honorable” (Collected Works.pp7). Don’t we think that the failed Better Life, Family Support and Poverty Alleviation programmes would have been successful (at least in Muslim north) if based on the framework of the ‘Yan Taru Movement? The Islamic knowledge revivalism through Islamiyya schools for women has more to learn from Nana’s model.
We can see how easily a book on any aspect of Islam sells. Go to any Hausa books centre and you will see how books and pamphlets-some genuine some not- are being bought and read, people are today hungry of Islamic knowledge. In fact religious books sell more than fiction ones (an organised study on Kasuwar Kurmi Islamic book distribution system is yet to be undertaken by our revered Hausa scholars) but majority of the readers were initially ‘fiction readers’.
We could not accuse scholars of not translating Jihad leader’s books, Malam Isa Talatar Mafara has translated a corpus of books by Usmanu Danfodiyo and other Jihad leaders and most were published by the History Bureau Sokoto, but where are they today? They are not in circulation. There are also another corpus translated by Alkali Sidi Suyudi between 1976-80 but remain unpublished decade or decades after. Below are some examples from Boyd and Mack bibliography:
Date of translation
al-Tibyan li-huquq al-ikhwan
Diya’ al qawa’id wa nathr al fawa’id li-ahl al maqasid
Lubab al-mudkhal fi adab ahl al-din
al-Ghaith al-wabl fi sirat al imam al-adl
Kitab al Nasiha
Abdulkadir B Mustafa/
Gidado Dan Laima
Gidado Dan Laima
Source: (Boyd & Mack 1997)
The list above is just a tip of the iceberg and contains mainly books, i.e. not to talk of poems majority of which are towards teaching of the Islamic knowledge and mobilisation. School children are supposed to be taught about The Sakkwato Model (apology to Bugaje). It is a shame that my children could sing ‘Wakar Sangaya” but could not sing Wakar Ahmada. Not because it is not available, but because I didn’t pay attention until recently. I struggled to get Mazan Jiya a book that contains some briefs about Hausa City-states and the Caliphate. I organised my children and younger brothers and sisters, to read the book in group and I am happy that the little they learnt has introduced them to the superiority of civilisation of the Caliphate. We need to produce more and more works at children, adult and scholars level in Hausa about the Sakkwato Jihad. There is so much ignorance among the population about these great scholars and their works.
By making such materials available our children and we would be able to appreciate our past but also prepare us towards ensuring a just society. The issue of Shari’a is a misunderstood case because majority of people (including Muslims) are not knowledgeable about what Shari’a entails. Many people erroneously restrict Shari’a to hudud only. Shari’a is beyond courts and cutting hands, stoning the adulterer and lashing the drunkard. The goal of the Shari’a is about developing a just, prosperous and peaceful society. The example of the Islamic State under Muhammad Bello as reported by Clapperton during his visit to Sokoto in 1826 is worth sharing:
"The Laws of the Qur’an in his (Sultan Muhammad Bello’s) time, were so strictly put in the forth . . . that the whole country, when not in war, was so well regulated that it is common saying that a woman might travel with casket of gold upon her head from one end of the Fellata (Fulani) dominions to the other." (Emphasis mine)
This is what is expected of the Shari’a system, bulk of the supporters of Shari’a in the so-called Sharia’a States are the masses who are looking for a just system that can improve their lives. It is therefore a challenge for those States that re-introduced the Shari’a to be courageous enough to educate people about the goals of the system but also exemplify it by being just and keeping trust.
Some people have contributed a great deal to the cause of propagating the Jihad ideals. A film producer (for instance) by name Alhaji Ganyama (now Hon. member, National assembly) has in conjunction with the Sokoto State Government, produced an excellent movie on the life and times of Usman Danfodiyo, some years before the civilians took over power. The movie titled Nurul Zaman is however still not released for whatever reasons. With these types of movies that could bring about social change kept away from the public, one wonders what Sokoto policy makers are thinking about. We actually need individuals, foundations and authorities to encourage and help to produce more historical films like the life and times of Caliph Muhammadu Bello, Shaikh Abdullahi Fodiyo, Nana Asma’u, Caliph Attahiru I and other most recent exemplary leaders. These movies would be a great way of mobilising the sick society we today live in. with books and movies; we can have a transformation of attitudes and become a better society.
It is therefore high time for us to look back and learn, the Hausas are saying Waiwaye adon tafiya.
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- Professor Yusuf M. Adamu
- Kano, Kano, Nigeria
- Dr. Yusuf M. Adamu is a Professor of Medical Geography at the Bayero University Kano. He is a bilingual novelist, a poet, and writes for children. He is interested in photography and run a photo blog (www.hausa.aminus3.com) All the blogs he run are largely for his hobbies and not his academic interests. Hope you enjoy the blogs.