The Muslim News
Awards for Excellence
||Uthman Dan Fodio award for excellence in community development
The Sokoto caliphate, established in northern Nigeria in 1803, replaced the corrupt governments of the Hausa kings. The new caliph, Uthman Dan Fodio, was one of Africa's foremost Islamic scholars. He was a champion of women's rights and he led a concerted drive to spread literacy among his people.
Throughout the Sokoto caliphate - from the Sahara desert in the north and the Central African Republic in the east, to the Nigerian rainforest in the south and Burkina Faso in the west - there were already numerous centres of learning. But with instruction predominantly in classical Arabic, these were elitist establishments and unsuitable for the Fulani, Fulfilde, Hausa and Tawadic speaking people of the region. Moreover, these, or any schools, were completely inaccessible to women.
The very rigid application of sexual segregation meant that women did not leave their homes to receive an education - men being the only qualified teachers - and it was unthinkable that a man should enter a woman's house for the same purpose. Dan Fodio's decree that women should attend schools, to learn more about their religion, caused a furore.
The mixing of genders (even though men and women were taught in separate groups) was condemned by leading scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad Amin El-Kanemi, the ruler of nearby Kanem-Boro. He and other exegetes cited Qur'anic verses to press their case. A lengthy and weighty debate ensued with Dan Fodio responding also from Islamic sources to set, eventually, a precedent for women's rights.
Alongside this, Dan Fodio launched a remarkable initiative to encourage literacy among ordinary people. Most Hausa and Fulfilde speakers were unversed in the scripts of their own languages but were familiar with the Arabic of the Qur'an. Dan Fodio arranged for the regional languages to be written in Arabic, enabling countless people to educate themselves in a familiar language and script. Dan Fodio's personal and proactive intervention took community development to new heights, an achievement that still provides a guiding light today.
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