AFRICANGLOBE – I am a witness of history. So I am going to write my own story with blood. I am going to narrate my history with the blood that flows from my vein.
I am a direct descendant of warrior women and men-of-war from the land of Igodomigodo, the Ancient Benin Kingdom founded by Oba Ewuare the Geat. My great great grand parents fought two historic epic battles against extremely violent, materially powerful, and brutal imperialist´s armies that sought to impose their culture, religion, and way of life on Africans.
The first of these battles, ´the Battle of Igodomigodo´, was fought against fiendishly fanatic hordes of Islamic jihadists that were violently spreading the Arab religion on horsebacks with swords and spears. The second of these battles, ´the Benin Massacre´, was against a viciously cruel European superpower that was spreading Christianity and seeking territories to exploit in Africa.
Some day in the future, I will tell you of ´the Benin Massacre´ and how in 1897, British Army under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, rapaciously murdered my ancestors, looted our sacred artifacts, ransacked and destroyed our Oba´s Palace, then burnt the entire city of Benin to the ground. But for today, I wish to honour the memories of my great great grand parents by telling of their exploits in war, their bravery in battle, and the glory of their spectacular triumph and momentous achievement on behalf of Africa in ´the Battle of Igodomigodo´.
The spread of Islam, like Christianity, was facilitated by violent wars of conquest, commonly known as ´jihad´. In English, according to Sahih al-Bukhari 4:52:41, ´Jihad´ literarily means “Fighting for the Cause of Allah”. Many religious scholars and historians have written about the genesis and function of jihad in the Islamic faith. According to Brill (Encyclopaedia of Islam, p. 538), “jihad is a duty. This precept is laid down in all the sources. It is true that there are to be found in the Kur´an divergent, and even contradictory, texts.
These are classified by the doctrine, apart from certain variations of detail, into four successive categories: those which enjoin pardon for offences and encourage the invitation to Islam by peaceful persuasion; those which enjoin fighting to ward off aggression; those which enjoin the initiative in attack provided it is not within the four sacred months; and those which enjoin the initiative in attack absolutely, at all times and in all places.
In sum, these differences correspond to the stages in the development of Muhammad´s thought and to the modifications of policy resulting from particular circumstances; the Meccan period during which Muhammad, in general, confines himself to moral and religious teaching, and the Medina period when, having become the leader of a politico-religious community, he is able to undertake, spontaneously, the struggle against those who do not wish to join this community or submit to his authority. The doctrine holds that the later texts abrogate the former contradictory texts … to such effect that only those of the last category remain indubitably valid.”
Also, basically making the same point as Brill, Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Introduction to Bukhari´s Hadith, p.xxiv), wrote “So at first ´the fighting´ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory – (1) against those who start ´the fighting´ against you (Muslims) … (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah…” Therefore, from a logical perspective, it is valid to conclude that violence is intricate to, and inherent in, Islam due to scriptural dictates in the Koran and Hadith that mandate believers to fight and spread the religion through holy wars of conquest.
It is on this basis that Shehu Usman dan Fodio led a jihad movement in the 1800s that brought the flames of ´holy war´ to the front door of the Ancient Benin Kingdom. What follows is a case study that highlights how jihad war of conquest was used in the spread of Islam in Africa, and how Africans mobilized to resist, and in a few cases out-rightly defeat, this violent imposition of an alien religion on indigenous African communities.
The Battle of Igodomigodo
Shehu Usman dan Fodio (1754 – 1817) founded the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809 after a very successful jihad campaign. Usman dan Fodio was an ethnic Fulani religious teacher of the Maliki School of law and the Qadiriyyah order of Sufism, that lived in the city-state of Gobir, in present day northern Nigeria, before he led his followers to exile, in 1802, and began a jihad campaign that swept through West Africa.
Frequently, the peoples that Usman dan Fodio conquered were forced to become Muslims as alternative to imminent death. This was in done with strict adherence to the Islamic doctrine that commands Muslims to “Tell captives they can be blessed with Islam if they want to believe, otherwise power over them has been given by God” (Sura 8:70,71)Spurred on by excited chants of “Allah Akbar!” (God is great!), Usman dan Fodio´s jihad movement, manned by highly motivated Islamic Zealots on horseback, with swords and spears, rode from one village to another conquering the inhabitants and imposing Sharia law on them.