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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. 


Last Updated on Friday, 15 August 2008 21:07