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The 1804 Jihad: Fulanisation or Holy War?


The 1804 Jihad, Holy War, in the northern part of Nigeria resulted in the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate which became a very significant development in the history of West Africa; it was the largest state in West Africa during the 19th century that stayed for about one hundred years.

It also left important legacies to contemporary societies and economies in the region1. The early 19th-century history in Hausaland was a milestone with the Jihad of 1804, a revolutionary war between the Muslim Fulanis and the Habe rulers (the Hausa indigenous rulers).

The jihad brought lasting changes in all facets, especially, politically, economically, and religiously. The indigenous system of administration was replaced with a new centralized political institution dominated with elements of Islam, and also, Fulanisation of all ramifications. Notably, the causes of the jihad are still open to historical debate, whether it was solely fought based on religious or political reasons.

The Fulani people are found all over West Africa from the Futa Jalon region to Cameroon, and some of the Fulanis had settled in Hausaland and coexisted with the Hausas, especially starting from the 15th century upwards. That is, the Hausa and the Fulani had co-existed in this region prior to the outbreak of the Jihad in 1804.

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The Jihadists

The jihad, seen as a religious duty, had some combined political reasons as factors that led to its outbreak. The jihad was led by a religious Fulani Mallam, Uthman Dan Fodiyo. At his time, Usmanu Dan Fodiyo was a spiritual and secular leader, mediator, reformer, and chief source of inspiration for his followers. He was neither a warrior nor a politician but the commander of the Faithful2

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Causes of the Jihad

There were very serious socio-economic disputes between the Muslim Fulanis and the indigenous pagan Hausas when the influence of the Fulani started to spread, especially from the 1750s.

The preaching of Dan Fodio as of 1800 started to call for radical transformations or reorganization of the society around a new social core.3

Summarily, the syncretism of the Habe rulers, the maltreatment of the Muslim populace under the Hausa pagan rulers, the obnoxious taxation system imposed on the Fulani herders, and others, are claimed factors that totally led to the outbreak of the Fulani jihad in 1804. With the resultant effects of the jihad, can we say it was majorly fought for religious or political reasons?

From the results of the war, it is arguably true that the jihad was fought based on many reasons, though the very basis for the war to purify Islam. It was justified that the Hausas had combined Islam with syncretism, animistic practices.

For an instance, the Gidan tsafi in Kano was a house of idols that lasted for years even when Islam had thrived in the state. In fact, the introduction or purification of Islam by the Fulanis, as claimed, was just a factor to justify the war.

Especially during the 15th-16th centuries, Islam thrived in Hausa land. The Wangara traders from the Songhay Empire did not only transformed the indigenous system of administration of the Hausa states in the 15th century but also introduced a new religion, Islam in Hausa land, a development that also led to the economic transformation of Central Sudan.

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Therefore, the purification of Islam was a weak justification for the jihad against the Habe rulers; rather it was partly an ethnic-birthed, combined with religious sentiments, and politically motivated revolt.

After the Jihad, neither new mosques were rebuilt, nor did the tenets of the religious re-modify; it was still the same religion, the same content, the same Masjids, and Madrasas, though the religious tenets were instead fulanised, in the sense that it was fulanisation everywhere.

The political arrangement of the northern Nigerian transformed into a new centralized state, with the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate. The Habe rulers were deposed and replaced by another set of rulers that were Muslims, and majorly, Fulanis.

In order words, the major enduring impact of the jihad was the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate which was the transition to absolute centrality of state institutions in Hausaland.

Impacts of the Jihad

The Sultans of Sokoto were direct descendants of their forefather, Uthman dan Fodio. The Fulani populace under the Habe rulers saw themselves as first-class citizens who could not be ruled by pagan Habe rulers.

Therefore, some non-Muslims Fulanis, who were tired of the failed Habe rulers, even joined the war against the Hausa because of their ethnic, economic, and political interests, just like there were few Hausas like Abd-Salam who also fought against its own people.

For instance, Sheik Usman Danfodiyo ruled the Caliphate from 1804 to 1815, Muhammed Bello from 1817 to 1837, Abubakar 1 Atiku from 1837 to 1842, and others till Muhammadu Attahiru II of 1903 to 1915 who was the Son of Ali Babba bin Bello, a direct son of Dan Fodiyo4

If it was fought for religious reasons, and we had pure Muslim Hausas after the Jihad, then the position of the Sultan should have been a rotational one if religion, not ethnicity, mattered.

Lastly, Kanem-Borno, a Muslim empire was also attacked by the Fulani jihadists, under the cloak of religious purification, before they were driven back by Shehu El-Kanemi of Borno.

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Conclusively, though Islam thrived in Hausa land after the jihad as all elements of paganism was banned, it was still not enough to solely see it as a religious war, because of the nature and purposes of the war.

The Sokoto caliphate was dominated by the Fulani, and the Habe rulers were replaced with Emirs, who were also Fulani. The so-called Holy War against the Hausa was a war of ethnic usurpation that was rooted in religious factors, political instability, socio-cultural indifferences, and economic grievances.


Citation: Tadese Faforiji. The 1804 Jihad: A Religious or Political War. September 02, 2021. Tadexprof. Retrieved from


  1. Dr. Vaffi Foday Sheriff. Transformation of Sokoto Caliphate by Sheik Usman Danfodiyo: A Social Thought Perspective. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 7714 ||Volume 5 Issue 8||August. 2016 || p1
  2. Islahi, Abdul Azim Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio and his economic ideas. p2. Online at MPRA Paper No. 40916, posted 29 Aug 2012 04:28 UTC
  • Dr. Vaffi Foday Sheriff. Transformation of Sokoto Caliphate by Sheik Usman Danfodiyo: A Social Thought Perspective. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 7714 ||Volume 5 Issue 8||August. 2016 || p2

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.