Culture Trip | The Sokoto Caliphate


214 years ago, the Sokoto Caliphate was one of the largest empires in Africa. This was developed as a result of Fulani jihadists in the now Northern Part of Nigeria.

Source – Lead Adventure


The famous Usman Dan Fodio founded it in 1804 and despite refusing the title ‘Sultan’ he is known as the first Sultan of Sokoto/sarkin musulmi (commander of the faithful).

He started the jihad after being expelled by one of his former students from Gobir where he was a religious leader and teacher. He and his followers decided to declare a holy war on the town and other Hausa states.

The war lasted for 4 years and by 1808, most of Northern Nigeria had been captured. In 1809, one of Usman’s sons Mohammed created the city of Sokoto which became the capital of the caliphate. Along with this came slaves and at it’s peak they had over 2.5 millions slaves.

Gradually the caliphate started expanding covering places like Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger Republic, modern day Northern Yorubaland and more allowing them to have over 30 emirates under it political wise. This meant their numbers went up to 10 million making them almost untouchable.

To make administration easier, the independent emirates governed but pledged their allegiance to the Sultan of Sokoto. Leaders were also chosen based on their skills and not hereditary succession.

Their economy flourished and the growth was remarkable. This went on for decades and there was improved trade over the trans-Saharan routes. Slavery also continued to remain an important part of the caliphate as they were also needed for farming. However most of the slaves were non-Muslims as it was seen as a way to also convert them into Islam.

Source – Sky Scraper City


Surprisingly, Usman and his sons were very big on scholarship and encouraged it especially amongst the elites. They devoted time chronicling and contributing books of poetry and texts on religion, politics, and history.

Unfortunately as with all empires, there were rivalries and this what Lord Lugard used to infiltrate the caliphate and topple it hence bringing an end to it in 1903.

Key Points to Note

  1. From 1809-1906 it was the largest state in West Africa since the 16th century

  2. Usman Dan Fodio conquered the Hausa states and neighboring area under the caliph (sultan).

  3. The Caliphate became a center of Islamic learning and reform as many religious schools and a library were created.

  4. Non-Muslims could practice their own religion in exchange for payment of a special tax.

  5. Those who resisted the jihadists expansion of Islam were killed, enslaved or forced to convert.

  6. Slavery increased within the Sokoto Caliphate due to this.

 Did you know about the Sokoto Caliphate? If yes, did we miss anything out?

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