Home Islam in Kano
Islam in Kano PDF Print E-mail
Article Index
Islam in Kano
The Islamic Scholarly Traditions of Kano
Islamic Education in Kano
All Pages

The exact time during which Islam came to Kano cannot be ascertained. The first Muslim ruler of Kano was perhaps Bagauda, thus making Kano Islam one of the oldest in the central Sudan. Borno gained its controversial prominence as the first Muslim country of the Sudan because of its proximity to the orient thus it initially assimilated literary tradition which, gave it the intellectual edge. The proximity also gave Borno access to military hardware thus its initial hegemony over its nieghbours. Borno’s intellectual edge remained even with waning of its military influence (Barkindo 1983).  Gilliland erroneously implied that "the Bagoda aliens brought no religious system of their own though a number of factors are indicated".  In the next paragraph of the same paper he contradicted his earlier suggestion by stating that, "while the kind of religion Bagoda brought to Kano is not clearly described, it did bear close relationship to Islam" (Gilliland 1979).  The author(s) of The Kano Chronicle consistently reported the religious struggle between descendants of Bagauda and the pagans. The suggestion that the author(s) of the chronicle called the indigenous population pagans because he/they was/were Muslim(s) is absurd primarily because of the occurrence of Muslim names among the early chiefs of Kano.  For example, Isa was among the chiefs who came to Kano with Bagauda (999-1063CCE/389-455AH) whose real name was Daud, while Abdullahi was one of the chiefs of Sarki Waris (1063-1095 CE/ 455-488AH) who was the second Sarkin Kano. Similarly there was Sarkin Kano Usman Zamnagawa (1343-1349CE/743-750) it has been suggested that "there is a possibility that Uthman had accepted Islam as a personal religion" (Palmer 1928: 104 and Ubah 1977:110).  This was before Sarkin Kano Yaji (1349-1385CE/750-787AH) during whose time it was assumed Islam came to Kano.  It would have been very difficult for any non-Muslims of that period to bear the name of Daud, Isa, Abdullahi or Usman unless Bagauda and his descendants were Arab Christians who do not use the name Usman. It is most unlikely that they were Christians and even the Hemitic hypothesis has been discredited. The hypothesis of this write-up is that the Sarakunan Kano before Yaji were at least nominal Muslims.  If they were otherwise the authors of the Kano Chronicle could have reported about their gods and spirits as they did for their opponents. Sarkin Kano Guguwa (1247-1290CE/645-689AH) was the first Sarki who attempted to destroy the pagan gods. He was unsuccessful but one of his successors, Sarki Tsamiya, was successful in destroying the pagan shrine.  He was also the first Sarki to have said "If Allah so wills". This phrase was actually used by Tsamiya and not the author of the Chronicle (Gilliland 1979: 244-245). Most historiographers of Kano assume that Islam first came to the Kingdom during the reign of Sarki Yaji. One of their reasons is the statement that: "In Yaji's time the Wangarawa came from Melle, bringing the Mohammedan Religion". This statement of the Kano Chronicle is metaphorical just as the Chronicle's report that during the reign of Sarki Rumfa "Abdurrahman came to Kano and established Islam". Likewise Abdurrahman ordered Rumfa to build a Mosque for Friday prayers and cut down the sacred tree facing east. Wakar Bagauda has also reinforced this metaphorical theory by reporting that Islam was established in Kano during the reign of Sarki Umaru who was reported to have been very pious. More evidence of this historical metaphor is the Taqyid al-Akhbar of Ibn Salih who also reported that Islam was established in Kano during the reign of Sarkin Kano Rumfa (Ado-Kurawa 1989). Therefore it could be safely assumed that Islam was revived and made the official religion of the Kano Kingdom (Ubah 1977) during the reign of Sarki Yaji by pious Wangarawa men. They never performed any magic as suggested by the missionary Trimingham (1962: 13), because there is no magic in Islam only miracles as in any other monotheistic faith. A similar historical metaphor was reported in Katsina where it was stated that Islam was brought to the area by Shaykh al-Maghili (Usman 1977 and Isichei 1983: 306).The struggle between Islam and traditional religion gave birth to syncretism as a compromise. The Hausa who became Muslims continued with some of their traditions, which are in conflict with Islamic teachings.  For example, the Maguzawa still celebrate death with feasts.  The Hausa Muslims continued with the Maguzawa feast in the form of alms (Sadaqat- Arabic, Sadaka Hausa).  Islam has also influenced the Maguzawa (Greenberg 1946), thus when making their offering to the dead; they say "Ga Sadakar Ka" meaning "This is your alms" (Seidensticker-Brikay 1982).  Giving of alms for the repose of the deceased's soul is permissible in Islam but its periodization is disapproved because it is a bid'a (an illegal innovation).  Dirki was a symbolization of syncretism; namely a copy of the Holy Qur’an hidden inside protective leather case, it was first made during the reign of Sarki Mohammad Zaki. Thus the Maguzawa use of charms was incorporated into the life of Hausa Muslims, who, syncretized the Qur’an by making it their ultimate charm (dirki) for the protection of their society.   Superstitiously, they believed that Alwali's destruction of the dirki was the cause of his downfall.

The Islamic Scholarly Traditions of Kano

The Wangarawa were the first group of Islamic scholars who revived Islam in Kano. Their primary achievement was the establishment of congregational prayer; they also appointed a Judge (Qadi) and another official who slaughtered animals (Al-Hajj 1968: 7-16).  They were also, perhaps, the first to set up the Kano scholastic tradition of Fiqh, lugha (language) and Hadith.  During the reign of Sarkin Kano Yakubu (1452-1463 C.E.), the Fulani enriched Kano scholarship by bringing books on tauhid (divinity) and etymology. The Kano chronicle has reported that before the Fulani, Kano scholars "had in addition to the Qur’an, books on law and traditions" (Palmer 1928). Kano also had the privilege of being the first city in present day Nigeria where the most advanced Maliki law book al-Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil was first read and taught by al-Maghili (Paden 1973: 61 and Oloyede nd 88-89). Most of the Nigerian Islamic Scholars are still followers of the Maliki School of Islamic Jurisprudence.  Secondary sources of Maliki law that differ from other schools are Amal ahl al-Madina, (the traditions of the people of Madinah), Masalih Mursala (Seeking which is more suitable), Urf (Traditions of the people of the Muslim world which do not conflict with the Shari’ah) (Philips 1995). Imam Malik accepted the traditions of the people of Madina as a source of law because they had been passed from earlier generations and they were the practices of the companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) or even the Prophet himself. Masalih al-Mursalah, seeking which is more suitable, for example the right of the Imam  (Leader) to collect taxes from the rich, other than the Zakat for the benefit of the society. In the case of Urf, traditions of the people of the Muslim world, which do not contradict the Shari’ah, examples include the marriage customs of the Hausa such as kayan lefe (groom’s gift to bride) and gara (bride’s gift to groom). Probably, Hausaland and Borno's early source of Maliki law was Egypt and not Andalusia.  This is because Kano Maliki scholars are still admirers of Muktasar of Sidi Khalil of Egypt whose views differ from Malikis of Andalusia.  An example of this view is the performance of Salat without folding of arms on the chest.  There is no authentic Hadith backing this action of most present day Nigerian scholars and other followers of this branch of Maliki School. Whereas according to Andalusia scholars folding of two arms on the chest is enjoined in prafyer[1]. The early Islamic scholars of Kano like most of Hausaland and Borno were followers of the Ash'ari School of Theology.  The founder of this School was Abu al-Hassan Ali Ibn Ismail al-Ash'ari.  He was born in Basra in 873 C.E.  He differed from his former colleagues, the Mu'tazilites on four issues.  The first is that the Qur’an is the Word of Allah, therefore, uncreated and eternal. The second is that all-anthropomorphic expressions of the Qur’an must be accepted bi-la kayf, meaning without specifying how.  While the third is that eschatological matters such as in Qur’an 75:23 should not be interpreted as metaphors but should remain as they have been reported bi-la kayf.  And lastly he asserted that kasb, iktisab (acquisition), meaning that Allah, creates acts of individuals and the individuals acquire the acts.  Allah creates the acts and at the moment of the action He "creates the power to act within the individual".  And it is the power to do that particular act and not it’s opposite thus rejecting the Mu'tazilite concept of free will (Watt 1985: 65-66).  This School of thought is still flourishing in present day Nigeria.  The early scholars perhaps received their theological training from the Almohads who were Ash'ari.  Al-Maghili also brought to Kano books by al-Ghazali, who was a leading Ash'ari scholar. The Salafi School of Islamic theology was brought to Kano recently, and it was mostly accepted by the western educated elites who are fascinated by Saudi educated Islamic scholars.Prior to the jihad of Shehu Usman Danfodio systematic theology was not well received by the Ulama of Hausaland and even after the Jihad (Paden 1973: 65). The jihad leaders favored Ilm Usul al-Din (Knowledge of the fundamentals of the religion) rather than Ilm al-Kalam (Science of Theology). Shehu Usman Danfodio gave his opinion thus:

In fact, theology is praise-worthy when assessed for its value according to its benefit.  It is a knowledge through which we can have the thorough knowledge of Monotheism, (Tauhid) and which can protect Tauhid from mis-understanding, disclosure of facts and through it the conception of Tauhid will remain as it is. On the other hand, theology has been disgraced and has come to dishonour for its harmful teachings; like rousing doubtful thoughts, and stirring up doubt in beliefs (Siddiqi 1989: 176).

Some books enjoyed the patronage of the Kings of Hausaland since before the Jihad of Shehu Usman Danfodio and up to the present period. Amongst them is al-Shifa of Qadi Iyad it was brought to Hausaland and Kano by Shaykh Tunusi during the reign of Sarkin Kano Mohamma Kisoki (914-973 AH/ 1509-1565 CE) (Palmer 1928; 113). Sarkin Kano Abubakar Kado (973-980 AH/ 1565-1575 CE) was the first to read this book at the house of Dan Goronduma Kursiya (Palmer 1928:114). This book is still read at the Kano central mosque whenever there is need for rain or any other prayer for respite against catastrophes. It is also read every Ramadan in the morning at Gidan Rumfa (Sarki's palace). Tafsir al-Jalalyn by Jalaludeen al-Mahaly and Jalaludeen al-Suyuti is also read by many Kano scholars and in recent times it was re-introduced by Sarkin Kano Muhammadu Sanusi (1954-1963 CE) as palace commentary of the Qur’an. Shaykh Nasiru Kabara presided over the sessions of the commentary. Sarki Ado Bayero has continued this tradition. Perhaps this Tafsir session has more attendance than any other such session in Nigeria. 

Islamic Education in Kano

It has developed over the centuries in terms of the subjects and books studied in the schools but the method of teaching has remained the same. In every school there is one most senior teacher or Shaykh and in most cases the school bares his name. The Shaykh teaches the senior students who assist him by teaching the junior students.

 History of Islamic Education in Kano

Islamic literacy was brought to Bilad al-Sudan by perhaps the Murabitun (Almoravids) after they liberated Ghana and the “penetration of the Niger Region by Abu Bakr b. Umar al-Murabit between 471AH/1078 CE and 475AH/1082CE” (Hiskette and Bivar 1962). The Wanagarawa were the earliest Islamic educators in Kano. After them al-Maghili and others lived in Kano and contributed to the development of Islamic Education.

The first scholar who lived in Kano and wrote in Arabic was perhaps Shaykh Abd al-Karim al-Maghili. As earlier stated he was in Kano during the reign of Sarki Rumfa (1463-99). He was a great Maliki Jurists and Political Theorist. He wrote Ta'’if fi ma yajib al-Muluk (The obligation of the Princes) (Baldwin 1932) and Mukhtasar mimma yajuz li ’l-hukkam fi radd al-nas an al-haram (summary of permissability of turning away people from unlawful acts by those in authority) (Palmer 1914-15: 53-59) to guide Sarkin Kano Muhammadu Rumfa. It is not clear whether he wrote his al-Mughni al-nabil fi sharh Mukhtasar al-Khalil (A commentary on Mukhtasar Khalil) in Kano. Muhammad b. Ahmad (aka Aida Ahmad) (824-936AH/1469-1529CE) is said to have resided in Kano and other parts of Hausaland he was an author and contemporary of al-Maghili. He was given ijaza (license) to teach by some scholars in Egypt and Hijaz and he wrote a commentary on the Mukhtasar. He may have taught in Kano before he became the Qadi (judge) of Katsina. Another Maliki Jurist who resided in Kano during the Habe period was Makhluf al-Bilbali apart from his knowledge of Fiqh he was also a Muhadith (scholar of Prophetic traditions) have been memorised the Sahih al-Bukhari. Some of his judgements and legal views have been documented.

The pattern of Islamic Education did not change after the jihad and the successful overthrow of the pre-jihad dynasty and establishment of the Emirate. Amir al-Muminin Shaykh Muhammad Bello established a University at Silame. It was famous all over the Western Sudan and it achieved great success in training scholars and officials of the Caliphate administration. Kano had at least two or more students at the University, Alfa Umar b. Alim Abd Allah al-Kanawi and his cousin Zangi (Bello 1994: 3 and 22) who later became Qadi Kano both of them were versed in the common disciplines. During the scramble for Africa, the French invaded Silame, burnt parts of the University town and took away with them valauble books and that was the end of the university project.

Some books were produced during the Emirate period. Four Emirs of Kano: Sulaiman b. Aba Hama, Ibrahim Dabo b. Mahmud, Muhammad Bello b. Ibrahim and Aliyu Babba (aka Alu) were all scholars. Ibrahim Dabo and his grandson Alu made literary contributions on Tasawwuf (sufism). Two history books: Taqyid al-Akbar by Muhammad Zangi and Faid al-Qadir by Muhammad Amin, have been noted as valauble contributions to the history of Kano (Gbadamosi and Ajayi 1980: 305).

Madabo School that grew from the Wangarawa tradition is the oldest surviving Islamic school in Kano and it is still famous in Fiqh. The Kabara School established by Mallam Kabara who flourished during the reign of Sarkin Kano Alwali Kutumbi has been maitained by one of his descendants Shaykh Nasiru Kabara and his children. The Kabara School has been famous in the fields of Theology, Astrology and History. The school at Gidan Liman is also very old have been established early in the 19th century CE and it is still functioning. The Naibin Kano Mallam Aminu is maintaining the school.

One of the most celebrated legacies of the Madabo School is Abdurrahman Suyudi who came to Madabo as a student in the 19th century CE. After he became a scholar he established his own school at Madabo and later when Abbas became Sarkin Kano he appointed him a member of the Majalisar Sarki (Emir’s Council) and turbaned him Babban Mallami (Senior Scholar) of the Emirate. Mallam Suyudi trained Mallam Muhammad Salaga who is considered one of the greatest Kano Mallams of the 20th century CE. He established his own school and he was later engaged in controversy with the Madabawa on some legal issues. Mallam Salaga produced the highiest number of scholars in 20th century CE Kano. Among his students were Abubakar Mijinyawa, Tijani Usman, Abubakar Atiku, Shehu Maihula, Sani Kafinga, Dangwago and others. All of them established their schools. The school of Mallam Shehu Maihula established by his father is the only one still flourishing and his children and students maintain it.


Islamic Schools In Kano

There are three types of Islamic Schools in Kano, the Quranic Schools, Ilm Schools and Islamiyya Schools. The first two have been in existence while the Islamiyya Schools are a recent innovation.

Qur’anic Schools

The first elementary school of most Muslim children is the Quranic School where they are taught reading and writing Quranic text. Imam Umaru has reported that in his time those who send their children to school in Kano were the majority compared to other parts of Hausaland In the 19th century CE when Imam Umaru was a child, children were sent to the Quranic School if they were able to count one to ten even if they were not circumcised (in the case of males). The child was taught to recite and memorise Surat al-Fatiha and from Surat al-Nas to al-Fil. To celebrate the completion of this stage a meal of rice and beans was given as sadaqat (alms) to the Mallam and pupils of the school. Thereafter the child would learn other chapters of the Quran which are divided in sixty hizb (portions) and after each hizb a ram or goat will be slaughtered and served with tuwo (corn meal) and given out as sadaqat to neighbours, the teacher and other pupils (Ferguson 1973: 260-261). This practice is however now very rare because of the economic situation of this decade. The celebration for completing the Quran was expensive in the 19th century CE it involved slaughtering an ox and large walima (party) for neighbours, the teacher and other pupils. Sometimes the ceremony was delayed because of the expenses involved.

The ability to complete the Quranic stage of Islamic Education still depends on the ability of the child. Some children start at a very early age and finish very early while others are indiscipled or less brilliant take a longer time. In Kano and other parts of western Hausaland children are not expected to memorise the Quran, unlike in Borno and eastern parts of Hausaland where some of the pupils are still expected to memorise the Quran. Some parents in Kano still send their children to Borno to learn memorisation of the Quran because of its history in this field, despite the fact that Kano in recent years has been very good in international Quranic memorisation and recitation competitions.

There are very many Quranic Schools in contemporary Kano. They are open in Kano from Saturday to Wednesday mostly in the mornings before noon and in the afternoon after the Dhuhr (noon) prayer to after the Asr (afternoon). The children who attend western education primary schools attend the school in the afternoon. Tajwid (the science of reading the Quran) is also becoming popular especially with the recent successes of the Kano contingent at the Quranic recitation and memorisation competition.

’Ilm Schools

After completing the Quranic School some pupils continue with their Islamic Education by enrolling at any of the numerous Ilm (literarily science) schools in Kano. Most students choose the school of the Mallam they respect most while those with tariqa affialation choose the school of their tariqa Shaykh. Learning in these schools is still based on some books which, shall be stated below and the period of completing each book entirely depends on the ability of the student.

The first book that is studied by most students in Kano is Kitab Qawa’id al-Salat by an anonymous author. It is a very short book of about six pages and it contains passages on salat and tawhid (Oneness of Allah). After completing this book the student will study Mukhtasar al-Akhdari by Abdurrhaman Al-Akhadari (n.d). This is an important elementary book of Maliki Fiqh studied by young students all over Hausaland and it deals mainly with tahara (purification) and salat. The next book though but more advanced than al-Akhdari is Muqiddima Fi-1 Fiqh by al-Aslmawi it covers the two pillars of Islam salat and siyam (fasting) (Katsina 1984). The student may also be introduced to any book on Arabic especially dealing with the praises of the Prophet (SAW). al-Muqadimat al-’Izziyya by by Abul-l-Hassan b. Ali (d.1533) a more advanced fiqh textbook in terms of volcabulary and topics covered is studied by many students who have studied al-Ashmawi. Apart from the rituals, marriage and divorce, commercial transactions, inheritance, explanations on some prophetic traditions, etiquetes, bribery and corruption are concisely treated by al-’Izziya (Quadri and Oloyede 1990). Talim al-Muta’allim by an anonymous author a book on ethics of learning is studied by many students while studying Muqiddimat al-Ashmawi or al-Izziyyah, some may add Arbaun Hadith al-Nawawi (Forty Hadiths of al-Nawawi) by Imam Yahya al-Nawawi which is the most basic hadith textbook used by students in Hausaland.

The second stage of learning in the ’Ilm School may include Bakrut al-Sa’ad wa zubdat al-Madhab (beginning of happiness and cream of the school) popularly known as al-Risalah of Abdallah b. Abi Zayd al-Qayrawan (Kenny 1990). Some students at this stage may study al-Ishiriniyat of Abu Zaid Abd al-Rahman al-Andalusi al-Fazazi. Other poetry books on the praise of Prophet (SAW) that may be studied by many students before the Ishiriniyat include al-Burda by Sharaf al-Din Abu Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. Ali Al-Busiri (d. 1296 CE), al-Witriyyah by al-Bagdadi al-Witri (d. 1264) and Marmuz aI-Tantarani by Ahmad b. Abi Bakr.  Most students are introduced to Nahwu (Arabic Grammer) at this stage by studying the elementary al-Ajurumiya by Muhammad b. Muhammad Ibn Dau’ud Ibn Ajurruma al-Sanhaji. The student may also study Riyad al-Salihin of Muhyidin Imam Yahya al-Nawawi or Mukhtar al-Ahadith al-Nabawiyat wa al-Hikma al-Muhammadiyat of al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Hashimi this book has been translated into Hausa by a Kano Scholar (Musdafa 1997). The next book on Fiqh is the more advanced Irshad al-Salik fi Fiqh Imam Malik of Abd al-Rahman Ibn Muhammad Ibn Askar and the two famous commentaries of the book were written by Nigerian Ulama (Al-Kashnawi nd).

The last stage in most ’Ilm schools is the stage of studying Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil ibn Ishaq. This is the most advanced textbook of Maliki Fiqh which, is studied in Hausaland. It takes many students several years before they complete thus it is refered to as abokin tsofan yaro. Some students study it with several scholars and whoever masters the book automatically becomes a jurist in the Maliki School. Other books which, may be studied along with Mukhtasar may include Alfiyat of Ibn Malik it is one of the most advanced books of Arabic grammer it also has several commentaries but the most widely read is the commentary of Ibn Aqil. Muqamat of al- Qasim b. Ali b. Muhammad al-Hariri, is the most advanced book of Arabic literature which, is studied in most schools of Kano. In the field of Usul al-Fiqh at this student may study Alfiyat Usul of Shaykh Abdullahi Dan Fodio, although it is not the most elementary book of Usul al-Fiqh many students start studying the subject with it because of their proficiency in Arabic. In field of Theology Nazam al-Kubra is studied at most schools but in schools which, specialise in Theology such as Gidan Qadiriyya of Shaykh Nasiru Kabara more books in this field are studied.

The stages of study enumerate above are the most basic and conventional in Kano but other patterns are also common based on the prefence of the teachers and students. For example those students who have interest in becoming judges usually study Tuhfat al-Hukkam of Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Asim before they study Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil. Tafsir is mostly learnt through the annual Ramadan sessions although some scholars for example Mallam Yusuf Makwarari teaches it throughout the year. Some schools specialise in specific fields for example the Madabawa have been prominent in Fiqh, the Gidan Qadiriyya as stated early are famous in Theology and Astrology a less popular subject. The school of Mallam Sabo Chiromawa is the oldest flourishing Hadith School in Kano.

[1] See Qawaid of Qadi Iyad.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 August 2008 21:07