The next stop of our “Islam Around the World” series is Nigeria with its Muslim population that is the biggest in numbers in Africa. We’ll learn about the situation of Islam and Muslims in this country that we, unfortunately, mostly hear about because of terrorism and poverty going on there.
What is the Population of Muslims in Nigeria?
Nigeria is the most crowded country in Africa with a population of 200 million people, half of whom are Muslims. Though we can’t have literal true numbers because the Christians are distorting the census information in order to come to power. The Muslim communities are mostly located in the north but there are a number of Muslims in the other regions as well. Nigeria is the 5th most muslim-populated country in the world. Of the ethnic groups that are more than 250 in total, Hausa and Fulani are the biggest two ethnicities of Nigeria. Almost all of the Hausas and Fulanis, and half of Yorubas (the third biggest group) are Muslims.
When did Islam Reach Nigeria?
Islam reached Nigeria from the northeast of the country in the 11th century through Muslim traders. Soon after that, cities like Borno, Sokoto, Kono, and Kaduna converted to Islam in masses.
The communities in the south met Islam through some relations that were formed the Mali Emperor led by Mansa Musa in the 14th century. The first ones who converted from the south were from the Yoruba tribe, then they were followed by other tribes of the south.
Islam has started to spread across all of Nigeria through the Fulani jihad that Usman Dan Fodio had started at the beginning of the 19th century and her daughter Nana Asma’u’s studies that she has carried through villages. After the country gained its independence, Islam gained more and more power thanks to the efforts of Ahmadu Bello who is a kin to Fodio.
As a result of these leaders’ positive and patient attitudes, Muslims still hold the power.
Which Mosques are the most Famous in Nigeria?
Along with the thousands of mosques in Nigeria, Muslims still pray in congregation anywhere if they have a clean cloth with them to lay on the floor. It is common to see people praying in congregation on the roadsides. Among the special architectural treasures in every city, the most popular mosques are these:
Abuja National Mosque is a magnificent mosque with its four minarets and golden dome, and it is at the capital of Nigeria, Abuja. It has a Islam Culture Center, a library, and a conference hall inside and non-Muslims can visit the mosque when there isn’t a prayer going on. The Nigerian National Church is built right across this mosque.
Sultan Bello Mosque is one of the biggest and oldest mosques and it is located at Kaduna, a city of Islam. Another prominent mosque is Bashir Uthman Tofa Mosque which is at another city of Islam, Kano. Lastly, Ilorin Central Mosque is also a noticeable mosque with its capacity of hosting 20.000 people.
Who are the Famous Muslims of Nigeria?
It wouldn’t be possible for us to go over every Muslim scholar who was raised in one of the biggest countries in Africa. Therefore, we will be informing you about only a few of those scholars who had a great role in Islam’s spreading around the continent.
The first person we will get acquainted with is Usman Dan Fodio. Fodio founded the Caliph of Sokoto in 1804 and he was the first caliph of Sokoto.
After he was kicked out of his hometown, Usman Dan Fodio started a jihad and gathered an army of people that joined him from the tribes of Fulani and Hausa. They first surrounded Fodio’s hometown Gobir, then surrounded other big cities like Sokoto, Kano, and Katsina. These conquests kept going until 1815. Located in the north of Cameroon and Nigeria, the Caliph of Sokoto had a role in the establishment of Islamic states like Senegal, Mali, and Chad.
Besides being a great religious leader and politician, Usman Dan Fodio was a precious thinker/reflector as well. After his death, his son, Muhammed Bello took the lead of the caliphate with his brother Abdullahi and they made the caliphate the most crowded state of West Africa.
Both Fodio and his sons highly contributed to the intellectual development of their people with their poems and prose. The value they have shown to intellect and knowledge is still told to this day by the generations that came after them.
Usman Dan Fodio started informing and teaching about Islam to his environment at the beginning of his 20 years. Thanks to his ability to speak the Arabic language besides Hausa and Fulani languages, he hasn’t gone through many difficulties in reaching people. He has done extensive research on Islam and written books to inform his people.
Even though he was a Maliki, his doctrines welcomed everyone. He detected the problematic points in the society’s perspective on Sufism and after learning about the Islamic laws, he taught how the practices of Sufism could be executed under the lines of shariah. Dan Fodio believed that sharing knowledge is at the same level as Iman.
In a time where African women had no other jobs to do other than the chores and childcare, Nana Asma’u, the daughter of a highly respected scholar -Usman Don Fodio-, has become an important figure in the lives of thousands of women with the education and skills she required starting from her early ages.
Besides having trained on Islamic law, Qur’an, and Hadith, Asma’u has also read Greek and Latin literature as well. She could speak and write fluently in four languages including Arabic.
With a system she called “Yan Taru” which meant “to gather”, she worked non-stop to educate young girls and women through village visits. This system has lit a spark of hope in the hearts of the women who probably would never have a chance to reach education if not for this system and its women teachers that are called “Jaji”.
Asma’u held the understanding of “Who loves Muhammad (pbuh) shall work for the benefit and wellbeing of the Muslim community” as her motto and told about Islam all around the places she got to set a foot on.
What Are the Hardships Nigerian Muslims Face?
Along with the other communities of the country, Nigerian Muslims suffer from poverty. Even though the country is oil-rich, most of the society lives under the starvation line. Unfortunately, some Muslim groups who cannot afford to feed themselves become targets to missioners who offer them food and other aids and change their religions for these aids.
In this country which Islam has been present for centuries, we can gladly say that there are several universities that offer Islamic Studies. Some of the universities are Fountain University, Crescent University, and Al-Hikmah University. Along with these Islamic universities, other universities around the country also have this department. But unfortunately, the number of Muslims who can reach these opportunities is critically low compared to the whole country. As a result of poverty, lack of education is another big problem for the Muslim community of Nigeria. The literacy rate of Muslims is significantly lower than the Christian community. Be it the lack of education or the lack of materials for education, this situation makes it hard for the Muslim community to both teach and learn about Islam.
Muslims are trying to stay alive in the negative and horrifying atmosphere that Boko Haram terrorist organization causes in the country. The terrorist actions that happen at the Northern Nigeria especially affect the families whose daughters are being kidnapped. The chaotic atmosphere never dissolves in the north. Whether it be from the sect fights over Sunni and Shia, or the terrorist attacks aimed at mosques, there is always chaos going on. Sure enough, there are regions where Christians and Muslims live in peace and practice activities that involve both religions. But Nigerian Muslims say that their biggest problem is being disenfranchised. Both the political environment and the existence of the terrorist organization Boko Haram cause the criticism that is made against the politics and terror to alter its target to Islam and Muslims. The unintentional mistakes unschooled Muslims do, and the poverty of the Muslim community also cause people to have a negative attitude toward Islam. Nigerian Muslims become the target of the Islamophobia that’s rising both in their country and the world.
Reads, writes and draws.