by Shaykh Muhammad Shareef bin Farid

On the early morning of the 15th March 1903, the British military were outside the gates of Sokoto. The ‎Caliph Muhammad Attahiru ibn Sultan Ahmad Zaruku ibn Sultan Abu Bakr Atiku ibn SHEHU Uthman Dan Fodio; came out with his army of about 6000 men. The Muslim army was divided into ‎three groups: the center group was led by the Caliph; the left flank was led by the Sarkin Rabah, Ibrahim; ‎and the Marafa Muhammad Maiturare led the right flank. 1‎

When the British started firing their Maxim guns, they had immobilized the Muslim forces within 20 ‎minutes. By 9:30 a.m. resistance from the Caliphate had been broken, with about 100 Muslim were killed ‎and none of the British were killed. After this initial defeat the Caliph, the Ubamdoma, the Chief Judge of ‎Adamawa Mudi Abdu, his son the Supreme Justice Ahmed ibn Mudi Abdu, the Dan Maji, the Dan Magaji, the ‎Dan Waziri, the Sarkin Kwoni, and the Madaki – were among the officials who accompanied Attahiru on the ‎hijra towards the east. ‎

Tens of thousands of the common people joined the Caliph Attahiru on his hijra. This was the cause of the ‎city being completely deserted when the British column marched into the city at 11:00 a.m.. 2‎

Those who failed to join the hijra the to the east and decided to collaborate with the British, were Waziri ‎al-Bukhari, the Galadima, the Marafa, Amir of the army and the Magajin Gari. 3. They met together on 21 ‎March 1903 and elected Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Bello as their new ‘sultan’. Lugard, the real leader, then ‎gave the new ‘sultan’ a turban and a gown, and he officially recognized his authority. According the ‎Adeleye, the new ‘sultan’ was :‎

‎”…deprived of political control over the emirates. The all-important right over appointment and deposition ‎of Amirs was formally transferred to the British. Thus, the Caliphate’s central government was dissolved ‎and with it the political obligations and subservience of the Amirs of Sokoto. The Sultan was in fact no ‎more than and Amir of Sokoto.” 4 ‎

Meanwhile the legitimate Caliph Muhammad Attahiru was still alive and leading an ever-increasing number ‎of people towards the east. Lugard had earned the hostility of the common people of the Caliphate to ‎European rule. The people, as has been demonstrated, were well aware of the prophecies of the founder ‎of the Caliphate and being a committed Islamic community, in times of turmoil they reverted back to the ‎Islamic ideals upon which the Caliphate was originally built. The scholars and notables who had ‎collaborated with the Europeans had in one day destroyed the very foundations which had been established ‎by Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio, Abdullahi Dan Fodio, and Muhammad Bello. ‎

In the few months following the fall of Sokoto, the British were confronted with the reasserting of the ‎basic unity of the Caliphate, symbolized by Caliph Attahiru. Thus, Muslim resistance to the Europeans was ‎resumed with a vehemence and tenacity of purpose which threatened the establishment of British power. ‎Its immediate and fullest expression was in the hijra of Attahiru the Sarkin Sudan. The people began to ‎recall the song of the Shehu, ‘the Song of the Journey to the East’; and the vision of the Shehu when he saw ‎that: “The people of the ribats and their successors, the true followers of the Shehu, would go on the ‎journey to the east guided by the light and baraka of the Shehu.” 5‎

Thus, to all those who remained loyal to the ideals of the Shehu and the Caliphate their resistance was ‎canalized into one mass movement which gave expression to British opposition. Regardless of what the ‎British thought of their new puppet ‘sultan’ or even what the collaborators knew about him, the masses ‎saw Caliph Attahiru as the revolutionary leader whose hijra threatened to invalidate all the efforts which ‎Lugard had become so proud. ‎

From March to July 1903 the Caliph created an epic movement which, even the colonial officers who ‎harassed them admitted, had an element of fascination about it. It was said that the mass movement ‎hymned the Shehu’s ‘Song of the Journey to East’ as a way of demonstrating the baraka (spiritual blessings) ‎of the Shehu was with them. Adeleye captures the spirit of this movement when he said: “More important ‎to the history of the fall of the Caliphate, however, was the mass movement to which his hijra gave rise. ‎The spontaneity with which his subjects in the emirates – across section of all classes of society – flocked to ‎join his banner, confirmed where their real allegiance lay.” 6‎

On March 25 the Caliph Attahiru sent letters in all directions, condemning those who collaborated and ‎accepted the rule of the disbelievers, declaring his objective to make the hijra eastward to the place where ‎the Shehu had promised them. The proposed destination was the Blue Nile as had been foretold by the ‎Shehu. People responded to his call in large numbers. 7 ‎

About this the Shehu said:‎

‎”Izan sarki Musulmi zashi makka ‎
akayi muna addua amushira kaya.” ‎

“When the ruler of the Muslims goes to Mecca ‎
We must pray, and make ready our goods to go with him.”‎
‎ ‎
‎ ‎ The popular appeal enjoyed by the Caliph’s hijra arose from the beliefs among the masses of the ‎perpetual baraka of Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio and their absolute dissatisfaction with the rule of the English ‎Christians. They saw Caliph Attahiru as the Imam of the Caliphate who would save the jama`at of the Shehu ‎from disintegration. Thus, when the Caliph arrived at Kutarkushi on March 31, Abubakar, the Amir of ‎Katsina sent him messages warning him of the nearness of Lugard and his forces and he sent him large ‎amounts of provision for his people. This support was given from many of the emirates in a secret way in ‎order to keep the Christians from knowing his whereabouts. 8 ‎

The Shehu said:‎

‎”Zama kasan zama domin larura ‎
akoi guzuri ku basu ku samu lada

‎”If any of you stay at home, staying of necessity, if you have edibles ‎
give to those who make hijra , you will be rewarded” ‎

‎ ‎ This demonstrated the on-going loyalty that the notables as well as the common had for Caliph ‎Attahiru. While the Caliph moved eastward the British followed close behind. At every town or village the ‎Caliph paused, hordes of people joined his hijra. Those who could not join would supply the people with ‎foodstuffs, fresh animals and clothing. Whenever the British came upon those same villages they would ‎either find that they had been completely evacuated or the people refused to sell food to them. 9 ‎

Adeleye points out: “At a village called Karigi, for instance, the inhabitants did not just refuse to sell food to ‎Crowley’s column but proceeded to shoot arrows at them when they attempted to search their houses. At ‎another village called Tudun Wada the gates were shut and the walls were lined with bowmen ready to give ‎battle. All the towns repeatedly reiterated their resolve to have nothing to do with the white man, while ‎their chiefs, leading the revolts, conveniently blamed the uprisings on the peasants.” 10 ‎

The British columns continued to harass the Caliph, whose entourage increased at a rate which caused ‎alarm among the Europeans. The Caliph sent emissaries among all the lands telling people not to sit in ‎peace under the disbelievers, but to join him not in a war against the whites, but in a hijra to Mecca or to ‎Adamawa. As he proceeded eastward and his following increased, notables as well as the plebeians ‎flocked to him with their families and goods. It is said that even the blind and lame joined hoping that the ‎Caliph would take them to meet the Mahdi. 11‎

The Shehu foretold in his ‘Song of the Journey to the East’:‎

‎”Da salihai da muminai ku tashi mu roki ubangizinimu shi kaimu tari ‎
Munafikai da kafirai ku zamna ku ber murna wuta atashiku baia ‎Mu roki ubangizi sarki sarota izan muna tashi mu yi guzuri da asna ‎
Da matanmu da yayanmu da bai du da dukoki musulmi zama tari ‎
Makafinmu guragunmu da tsofi wani kaki zulumi duka zamu tari ‎Mu kua taffi babu kishirua babu yunwa shikin dadi muna murna da juna ‎
Da yi allah da albarkar waliya ya kaimu gari da ankaraba da kowa.” ‎‎***** ‎

‎”You who are upright and believers rise up we pray that our Lord will let us go together ‎
You hypocrites and disbelievers stay put stop rejoicing for the Fire will devour you later ‎We pray that our Lord, King of the Cosmos when we leave, that we get the goods for our journey away ‎from the heathens
‎With our wives, our children, our servants and our goods, we Muslims will go together ‎
And our blind, our lame, our aged and whoever is oppressed, we will all go together ‎
We will travel too without thirst or hunger and rejoice in that which is sweet one with another ‎
By the power of Allah, and the baraka of our saint (Shehu Uthman)
‎He will bring us to the place (the Nile) where a share will be granted to all.”‎

Lugard’s policy had been to harass the multitudes gathering round the Caliph. Around May 7 Attahiru and ‎his people reached Missau where they met with the Amir Ahmed ibn Muhammad. In the same place was ‎the descendent of Umar al-Futi of Segu, Bashir ibn Ahmed ibn Umar. This augmented the forces of Attahiru ‎so much that it caused the Col. Sword to write; “Attahiru’s following is immense; his people are said to take ‎from sunrise to mid-day passing. The Sarkin Muslumi has now many thousands of people with him. The ‎whole population from Kano to the Gongola have joined with him.” 12 ‎

On May 17 a British column caught Attahiru at Gwoni and scattered part of his forces. From there ‎Caliph Attahiru continued on the Birmi being chased by more than five columns of British forces. In the ‎middle of June, Attahiru arrived at Burmi, where his forces joined with the Mahdists forces of Jibrila ibn ‎Gaina. Thus, in Burmi there were the Qadiriya, Tijaniya and Mahdiya forces joined together under the ‎banner of Attahiru. The forces at Burmi represented at least four different Caliphates. Among them were ‎the Caliphate of Segu, the Caliphate of Massina, the Mahdists Caliphate of Hayatu led by Malam Jibrila, the ‎Mahdists Caliphate of Rabih and the Sokoto Caliphate. ‎

The Battle of Burmi is reputed to be one of the greatest battles the British had to fight. On the 27 ‎July at 11 a.m. the British began their offensive against Burmi. Several times the British tried to enter the ‎town but were driven off with arrow fire from Muslim freedom fighters. The morale of the Muslims in ‎Burmi was unbroken in spite of the total use of the Maxim guns and canons by the British. Even the women ‎played their part, bringing food and water to the warriors. ‎

By 1 p.m. the British had managed to get in the town and burn homes and buildings. However, the ‎Muslim freedom fighters were undaunted and managed to drive them out. During this skirmish, one of the ‎British officers, Major Marsh, was killed. And hour later another British force entered the town, while ‎another charged the walls. The defense of the Muslims in Burmi was so strong that Col. Sword was forced ‎to send for more reinforcements. ‎

During this lull the Caliph Attahiru gathered his officials. Among them was his three sons, the chief ‎judge Ahmed ibn Mudi Abdu, his father the Alkali Mudi Abdu, the Magajin Keffi, the Amir of Bida, the Amir ‎of Missau, the Galadima, Bashir ibn Ahmed of Segou, and his cousin Alfa Hashim Tal. In front of these ‎witnesses the Caliph informed his two oldest sons to return to Sokoto to help straighten out matters there. ‎He then took the hand of his youngest son the Mai Wurno, Muhammad Bello, who was nicknamed Dan ‎Sokoto and appointed him as the Caliph to lead the hijra to the banks of the Nile. 13 It is not surprising that ‎like his father Muhammad Bello held the post of sarkin sudan. The title Mai Wurno denoted that he was the ‎Amir of the ribat of Wurno. The official who held this post was given the title Sarkin Sudan and was ‎expected to be the next in line for the position of Caliph of the Sokoto Caliphate. ‎

At 5:30 p.m. the British faced the last desperate struggle near the mosque of Burmi. It lasted for ‎about an hour, after which the mosque stood in ruins. More than 600 Muslim bodies lay dead, testifying to ‎the unyielding and courageous nature of their resistance. Among them lay the body of the twelfth Caliph of ‎the Sokoto Caliphate Muhammad Attahiru ibn Ahmed Zaruku ibn Abu Bakr Attiku ibn Shehu Uthman Dan ‎Fodio. One of the British officers William Wallace said about the bravery of Attahiru and his men:‎

‎”Our recent experiences show that the poorer people and the numerous chiefs collected at Burmi, knew ‎how to die when facing the enemy. . .our success was due the great stopping power of our bullets, mark ‎IV, which was one of the principle factors leading to our success. Without this ammunition our success ‎would have been doubtful.” 14‎

There is no doubt that the Muslim warriors of Burmi demonstrated fortitude and relentless courage against ‎great odds. However, the cause for which they were fighting was much greater than themselves. It was ‎not land or any material items which they were fighting for. These were men and women of Allah who had ‎been so transformed by their belief in Allah, that their lives, wealth and homeland became insignificant in ‎comparison. ‎

Those who managed to escape in order to continue with the hijra to the east were the new Caliph ‎Muhammad Bello Mai Wurno, Ahmedu ibn Salih the Amir of Missau, Alfa Hashim Tal, the chief Alkali of ‎Sokoto Ahmed, and his father about whom this study is about Alkali Mudi Abdu. Of these Ahmedu made it ‎to eastern Sudan where he founded a village called Hadija. 15 Alfa Hashim Tal made it to Medina in the ‎Hijaz where he settled and continued to write many Islamic works; and became among the close advisers of ‎King Abd’l-Azeez ibn Saud. 16 ‎

The new Caliph Muhammad Bello Mai Wurno made it to the Blue Nile in 1906 with thousands of followers ‎loyal to the Sokoto Caliphate. There he founded a village called Mai Wurno, where the faithful supporters ‎of Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio still reside. 17‎


‎1.‎ R.A. Adeleye, Power and Diplomacy in Northern Nigeria, 1804-1906, London: 1971, p. 282.‎
‎2.‎ Ibid., p.283.‎
‎3.‎ Murray Last, The Sokoto Caliphate, London: Longman, 1977.. p.176.‎
‎4.‎ R.A. Adeleye, pp.288-289.‎
‎5.‎ Abu Bakr Atiku, Risaalat al-Hijra, manuscript in possession of author ff.23-31.‎
‎6.‎ R.A. Adeleye, Power and Diplomacy, p.293.‎
‎7.‎ Abu Bakr Atiku, f.23.‎
‎8.‎ R.A. Adeleye, Power and Diplomacy, 296.‎
‎9.‎ Ibid., p.297.‎
‎10.‎ Ibid.‎
‎11.‎ Umar al-Naqar, The Pilgrimage Tradition in West Africa, Khartoum: Khartoum University Press, ‎‎1972, p.89.‎
‎12.‎ R.A. Adeleye, p.301.‎
‎13.‎ Umar al-Naqar, p.89.‎
‎14.‎ R.A. Adeleye, p.309-10.‎
‎15.‎ Ibid., p.311.‎
‎16.‎ Umar al-Naqar, p.21.‎
‎17.‎ Ibid., p.89-90.‎


Zaman an-Nasaara (The Hour of the Christians):‎‎‎_The_Hour_of_the_Christians_African_Muslim_Resistance_to_European_Colonialism_by_Shaykh_Muhammad_Shareef