By Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid

Perhaps no cultural ingredient that binds a people together cohesively is more important ‎than linguistic unity. Through language a people can assert its values using its own internal ‎reference. Through language unanimity, people define themselves, their universe and ‎project themselves into the future. ‎

More importantly language allows a people to defend themselves against cultural aggression ‎of all sorts. The measure of their enemy is defined using their own frame of reference and ‎the diameter of their struggle defensively precludes any encompassing by the dogma their ‎enemies.‎

The linguistic cohesiveness of the Turudbe’ Fulani demonstrates their desire for cultural unity ‎and continuity. Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio indicated this in his Wasiyya (Final Testament), ‎which was the last writing that he bequeathed, to his nation. He reiterated the importance ‎of the linguistic unity of the Turudbe’ Fulani and how this helps in the stability of their ‎struggle. He said:‎

‎“Those who are from among us, should never neglect the Fulfulde` language, because it is our ‎language and the language of our fathers and grandfathers. Whoever abandons the Fulfulde` ‎language, then he is not from among us. Therefore, I implore you by Allah, do not forsake ‎speaking with the language of Fulfulde` and do not discard it. And the least you should know ‎from it is the greetings of morning and evening and what is required in taking care of the ‎needs of the house.”1‎

Clearly Shehu Uthman made the knowledge of the Fulfulde` language an integral element of ‎the cultural personality of his people as well as those who followed them. Linguistic unity ‎among the Turudbe’ Fulani was “the unique common denominator, the characteristic of ‎cultural identity par excellence’.2 ‎

The unanimity engendered by linguistic unity can never be disregarded because it lays down ‎the diameter of cultural expression, which in turn establishes the circumference and extent ‎of civilization. Thus, the Turudbe’ were able to establish a linguistic referent that allowed ‎them to define themselves, their environment and delineate their enemies from their own ‎perspective. ‎

Diop emphasizes this cogent point, quoting Montesquieu, when he said: “as long as a ‎conquered people have not lost its language, it can have hope.” This principle proved ‎extremely important for the descendants of the Turudbe’, who were able to maintain some ‎semblance of their language among the Gullah-Geeche nations of Louisiana, Mississippi, ‎South Carolina and the Sea Islands of Georgia.3‎

The Shehu insisted that even the use of daily greetings was sufficient to include his followers ‎in the ‘linguistic umbrella’ of his Jama`at. It was not necessary for his disciples to know the ‎entire lexicon of Fulfulde’ to be included in the embrace of the spiritual covenant that was ‎given him. This is significant because one modern linguist said precisely that when language ‎is used as a ‘covert agency’ where mere micro-linguistic features of a language are ‎intentionally used to identify membership, include outsiders and exclude those ‎undesirables.‎

‎“The link between language and identity is often so strong that a single feature of language ‎use suffices to identify someone’s membership in a given group. On the battle field after ‎the victory over the people of Ephraim, the Gileads applied a language identity test to sort ‎out friend and foe: All of the soldiers were asked to pronounce the word shibboleth; those ‎who pronounced the first consonant as [sh] were friends, those who pronounced it [s] were ‎enemies and therefore killed at once (Judges: XII-6). Hence a single phonetic feature may be ‎sufficient to include or exclude somebody from any social group.”4‎

Thus, the Shehu established a micro-linguistic watershed for determining who were ‎considered ‘real’ members of the Jama`at, along with the spiritual and erudition required for ‎such inclusion. It is no wonder that generations after the demise of the Sokoto Caliphate in ‎northern Nigeria, and the devolving and near disappearance of Fulfulde’ as a common ‎linguistic factor among his descendants; that Waziri Junayd took it upon himself to learn the ‎language of Fulfulde` on his own while in his mid-forties is indicative of the devolution of the ‎language as a lingua-franca in Northern Nigeria; the original home of the Khalifate. ‎

It is also not surprising that the leading Fulfulde` linguist in northern Nigeria is Prof. Ibrahim ‎Makoshi, who originates from the lands of the hijra in Sudan from the Fulani town of ‎Maiurno on the Blue Nile. ‎

In 1966, Waziri Junayd composed his Ta`leem al-Ikhwaan Bi Dhikri Man Ta`allamtu Minhum ‎Lughata ‘l-Fullaan in which he listed more than twelve Turudbe’ masters of the Fulfulde’ ‎language that he studied with. Among them were Mallam Ibrahim ibn Abdullahi Wajaka, ‎Mallam Mugaaje Bujji, the learned Muhammad Bi Murri, al-Alim Limaam, the ascetic female ‎erudite Manmanghi; Mallam Isa Bi Maruuta, Mallam Muhammad Ghududu, Mallam al-Haj Bi ‎Asarakkawa, Mallam Jedo, Mallam Bughanshu Gida, Mallam Mawdu al-Mufti, and Mallam ‎Abd’l-Qaadir Maalanuuraji.5 ‎

After mastering the lingua franca of the Jama`at, Waziri Junayd then composed his famous ‎Marti`u al-Adhaan `Ala Lughat ‘l-Fulaan in Arabic in which he systematized the entire gambit ‎of the Fulfulde’ language. After this he composed his famous al-Bakuurat al-Janiya `Ala al-‎Lughat al-Falatiya in prose in which he elaborated and explained what he had versified in ‎the Marti`u. 6‎

What is significant in the above is that some seven generations after the Shehu, his disciples ‎continue to learn and systematize the Fulfulde’ language as he advised in his final testament ‎to his nation. In the Wasiyya, Shehu Uthman reminded the Turudbe’ of their connection with ‎the Abrahamic line and of the mission and responsibility that such a connection brings. ‎

The Bible gives an indication of the mission that Abraham was given to keep and preserve ‎the covenant. This covenant was given to the seed and descendants of Abraham throughout ‎the generations. 7 ‎

The Creator promised to make of the descendants of Abraham a great nation and bless all ‎the nations by means of him. 8 ‎

The Shehu, in his final testament, like the Patriarch Abraham enjoins on his followers, ‎children and supporters of the Turudbe’ to adhere to the Way and the covenant of their ‎father Abraham as it was fulfilled in the last and seal of the Prophets, Muhammad, may ‎Allah bless him and grant him peace. He reminds the Turudbe’ of their mission to guide the ‎world to the Truth, as a solemn pledge to Allah:‎

‎“Verily I only hope that I can be included among those spiritual leaders who are the answer ‎to the supplication of our great grandfather Ibrahim al-Khaleel, upon him be peace, in which ‎He said: ‘And make us to be spiritual leaders for the pious.’ I have derived much benefit from ‎the general meaning of this verse because Allah ta`ala includes in this supplication the ‎descendants of Ibrahim, and we (the Turudbe’ Fulani) are from among them.” 9‎

‎ Here he persuades the Turudbe’ Fulani that the covenant of Abraham is not just a covenant ‎of blood, but also a covenant of a spiritual commitment to be leaders and guides for the ‎righteous. This identity construct induces a perpetual commitment to fulfill the Divine ‎promise of the Creator and an answer to the supplications of the ancestors. This type of ‎asabiya (group solidarity) is very hard to eradicate once it has been established in the ‎psychic of the people. ‎

What is significant about the reform movement of Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio is that he was ‎able to address his people and transmit the values of social transformation via the language ‎of Arabic, Hausa, Fulfulde` and Tedmekket. When he would give a lecture, he would speak in ‎all four languages based upon the audience he was in front of.‎

All of his books on divine unity (tawheed), jurisprudence (fiqh), and spiritual purification ‎‎(tasawwuf) were composed in Arabic. However, when it came to articulating the advanced ‎levels of mystical secrets and philosophical sufism, the Shehu would compose them in ‎Fulfulde` language. ‎

An example of this are two compositions the Shehu composed one a liturgical poem and his ‎most important litany or wazifa. The liturgical poem of making tawassul of Shaykh Abd’l-‎Qaadir al-Jaylaani, about which Shaykh Abdullahi Dan Fodio said:‎

‎“Then, the Shehu, may Allah continue to honor Islam by means of him; when he saw that ‎the community (jamaat) increased in number; and they desired to separate themselves from ‎the disbelievers and establish the jihad; he encouraged them to take up weapons by his ‎words: ‘The preparations with weapons is a Sunna.’ As a result we all began to train and ‎prepare ourselves. The Shehu then began to supplicate Allah asking Him to establish the ‎sovereignty of Islam in these lands of the Blacks. To this end he composed his Qaadiriyya ‎poetic song in Fulfulde`; which I myself, Arabized its verses.” 10‎

The second liturgical work which comprise the secrets of the Shehu’s mystical philosophy ‎and cosmological world view is his Munaajat, which was originally composed in Fulfulde`, ‎and was Arabized by his son, Sultan Muhammad Bello. ‎

Thus, the Shehu utilized the Fulfulde language to record those special and initiatory sciences ‎that were classified and kept secret except from the spiritually elite among his disciples. He ‎not only used the Fulfulde language as a marker to define his community, but he also used ‎his language as an encryptive device to hermitically conceal certain sciences from the un-‎initiated.‎

Through the strategic use of the Fulfulde` language, the Shehu reminds the Turudbe’ that the ‎asabiya (group solidarity) and social identity that binds them is not based upon blood, but it ‎is built on a commitment to the spiritual and moral guidance of the world. The Quran speaks ‎to that when Allah tells Abraham: “I am making you a leader of the whole of mankind.” Then ‎Abraham replied: “And will You do the same for my descendants?” Allah ta`ala replied: “My ‎covenant will not embrace the unjust oppressors.” 11‎

Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio, also emphasized this Abrahamic covenant which excluded the unjust and oppressors. The Shehu said:

‎“This is our inheritance and the inheritance of our grandfathers. We are upon that mission ‎without being kings and rulers who practice oppression and injustice. And those who follow ‎me in that then they are from me, and if not, then not! So that all those who love me from ‎the brothers, the descendants and loved ones, rather all those who follow my commands ‎and are content with my teachings and have answered my call – may know that I am not a ‎wretched oppressor devoid of compassion, as some have said. ‎

It is necessary and obligatory for every reasonable believer to follow the traces of their ‎believing ancestors, to follow the Way of their righteous grandfathers and imitate them. For ‎this reason, I have chosen to imitate my grandfathers in adhering to the Sunna strongly so ‎that I can be a guide to what is good like they were. For the one who guides to what is good ‎is like the one who does that good and will attain the reward of those who act on that ‎good.” 12‎

The identity construct of the Turudbe’ Fulani being as it is connected to the Abrahamic line ‎includes the blessings of the covenant, but also comprises the promise of affliction.  This is a ‎reflection again on the concept of the ‘tried stone’ and the concept of ‘sacrifice’ that is so ‎essential in the identity construct of the Abrahamic tradition. ‎

The idea of rejection and being made a ‘stumbling block’ for the nations comprise the core ‎belief system of the Bani Isra’il and it is reflected in the supreme sacrifice that Abraham was ‎called upon by Allah to perform. This self-sacrifice becomes the means by which nations will ‎be judged and rewarded. The same stone that was a stumbling block for many and was ‎rejected by oppressive nations would become the ‘corner stone’ of a New World.   This ‎identity construct becomes the most powerful element of defense in the face of social and ‎cultural aggression.‎


‎1.‎ Uthman Dan Fodio, Wasiyya’s-Shaykh Uthman ibn Fodio, (Gaskiya Corporation, Zaria, ‎‎1989), pp. 23-24.‎
‎2.‎ Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilization or Barbarism, p. 214.‎
‎3.‎ Ibid.‎
‎4.‎ Thomas, B. Klein, “Linguistic Identity, Agency, and Consciousness in Creole: Gullah-‎Geechee and Middle Caicos”, Linguistic Identity in Postcolonial Multilingual Spaces, ‎‎(Newcaste, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, in press), p. 9.‎
‎5.‎ Junayd ibn Muhammad al-Bukhari, Ta`leem al-Ikhwaan Bi Dhikri Man Ta`allamtu ‎Minhum Lughata ‘l-Fullaan, xerox copy of manuscript in possession of author, ff. 1-6.‎
‎6.‎ Ibid, f. 10.‎
‎7.‎ Bible – Genesis: 17:9.‎
‎8.‎ Ibid. 12: 2-3.‎
‎9.‎ Uthman Dan Fodio, Wasiyya, TMs, ff. 4-6.‎
‎10.‎ Abdullahi Dan Fodio, Tazyeen al-Waraqaat, original manuscript in possession of ‎author, folio 35.‎
‎11.‎ Qur’an: 2: 123.‎
‎12.‎ Uthman Dan Fodio, Wasiyya, TMs, ff. 4-6.‎


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