Jihad, the Muslim word meaning holy war. During the 18th and 19th centuries,
this word brought fear to anyone who did not fully believe in the Islamic state
and resided in West Africa. The Jihads of this era not only changed the faith
of many people, but also the landscape of West African democracy. Although
Islamic Jihads had occurred in the past, they never surmounted to the magnitude
of those of the 18th century. What factors and leaders caused the West African
Jihads, of the 18th and 19th centuries, to be so effective?
The people of West Africa were tired of governments who constantly over taxed
its constituents, and simply did not care for the well being of common
individuals. The Islamic religion, which was brought to Africa by Muslim
traders, provided individuals a new opportunity of promise, equality, and the
possibility of becoming a spiritual being. Islam embraced the majority of West
African people and became known as the dominant religion of the region.
During the end of the 18th century followers of the religion came to the
conclusion that it was simply not sufficient to have Islam be the dominant
religion of the area. They felt that Islam needed to be part of the government,
instead of having the separation of church and state.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the Islamic population of West Africa united
with the common belief that under Sharia(Islamic law) the government would not
oppress individuals, and the law of the Koran would become the law of the land.
"The Sharia provided an alternative model of government with which to compare
and confront rulers." This movement, which focused on expelling the
non-Orthodox Muslim leaders of West Africa, is due to the leadership of Usman
Dan Fodio and Al-Hajj-Umar. These men paved the way for the expansion of Islam
through the creation of the Orthodox Sokoto and Tukolor Empires.
The rise of the Islamic Jihad and the expansion of both Empires, are at the
outset due to the oppression of the Fulbe people in the early 1700's. The Fulbe
were pastoralist nomads who at the time had settled in the region of Futa Jalon,
which is present day state of Guinea. In this region the Fulbe were oppressed
by the ruling pagan farmers, who considered them intruders to the land. These
pagan authoritarians subjugated the Fulbe people to extraneous taxes and
enforced several laws to keep them from trading. Due to these extreme
factors, the Fulbe looked to answer their miseries by turning to the religion
of Islam, which promised a better future.
The answer to the Fulbe problems came in the form of unification. As the
population of Fulbe increased in Futa Jalon, they began to forge together and
fight against their oppressors. Fulbe leaders united their people by
proclaiming that the ruling pagan people were not enforcing the Islamic
religion, and the only answer would be to proclaim a Jihad on the ruling
government. The Jihad of the early 1700's was fierce and competitive, but
finally ended in victory for the Fulbe. By this achievement the Fulbe created
a Sharia run government in Futa Jalon, and a safe haven for all who wanted to
live under Islamic rule.
The Fulbe victory in Futa Jalon is significant because not only did it create an
Islamic run society, but it also demonstrated that victory over a ruling
government could be attained through the use of a Jihad. This accomplishment
sparked great enthusiasm throughout the region, and gave a glimmer of hope to
those wishing to live under an Islamic fundamentalist society. An indication
of the enthusiasm was revealed by another Jihad in the south of Senegal. This
area, known as Futa Toro, was another enormous victory for all who believed in
the principles of Islamic Orthodoxy. These small triumphs inspired great...