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Exploring six-century-old link between Kano and Algerian scholar, Al-Maghili

On Monday, December 20, 2022, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero traveled to Algiers, on the invitation of the Algerian government to attend…

On Monday, December 20, 2022, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero traveled to Algiers, on the invitation of the Algerian government to attend an international conference on the life and times of an Islamic cleric and philosopher, Sheikh Muhammad Abdurrahman Al-Maghili. 

Al-Maghili, an Algerian by ancestry, who lived in the 15th century and whose contribution to Islamic knowledge and scholarship spread across many North and West African countries, was said to have visited Kano and even resided there. 

History has it that Al-Maghili did not only visit Kano, but had also written a doctrine that was then used as a Sharia-like constitution to help the then Kano rulers rule in accordance with Islamic provisions. 

He was said to have resided in the area called Sharifai in Kano – literally translated as descendants of Prophet Muhammad -and that virtually all residents of the area presently trace their kingship to the popular cleric, and by extension, the Prophet. 

Why Emir Bayero was invited 

According to Kachallan Kano and one of the title holders in Kano Emirate, who was part of the entourage that accompanied Emir Bayero to Algeria, Magaji Galadima, the invitation was in recognition of the cordial relationship that existed between the two states, six centuries back. 

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Al-Maghili was said to have brought a lot of reforms in Kano palace, changed the way Islam was practised and drafted a constitution for the use of Kano emirs and even others in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The emir was therefore invited considering the historical happenstance between the Algerian cleric and the then Kano rulers. 

Who was Al-Maghili? 

Speaking to Daily Trust about Sheikh Al-Maghili, a renowned historian and Professor of History at Bayero University Kano (BUK), Professor Tijjani Muhammad Naniya, he said many of the practices of the present day Sharia system of justice and even some rites in the emirate were introduced by him. 

He explained that Al-Maghili visited Kano during the reign of the then Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Rumfa, who ruled Kano between 1463-1499, towards the end of the Emir’s reign. 

Naniya said, “Even though the coming of Islam predated Al-Maghili’s visit, he was however instrumental to the propagation of Islamic knowledge and system of justice. The way he was accepted made Emir Rumfa to accommodate him and asked him to write a ‘constitution’ for him that will be used in ruling Kano the Islamic way. 

“That was when he wrote a book for him in that aspect. He was said to have resided in the Sharifai area of Kano with his family, and when he was leaving, he left them there and they kept propagating there till today,” the don added. 

Professor Naniya also said Al-Maghili was given the title of Sarkin Sharifai (the leader of the descendants of the Prophet), and he was made a permanent member of the emirate council. 

“The Sarkin Sharifai title is not only heading all the Sharifai in Kano, but in virtually the entire Hausaland and even many parts of sub Saharan Africa. The title is not limited to Kano alone. People even from other countries pay allegiance to him if confirmed to be linked to Al-Maghili. 

According to Professor Naniya, there are a lot of practices in the present day Kano that were introduced by the cleric, one of which is the throne being used by the emir in their palaces. 

He explained that, “Before the coming of Al-Maghili, emirs in Kano used to sit on the floor, just like other title holders in the palace. 

“Secondly, Al-Maghili introduced the turban that emirs use today to cover their noses and mouths, because according to him, an emir is not supposed to be seen talking anyhow or even laughing, by his subjects. A leader who laughs a lot or talks much is usually not respected. 

“Also, before his visit, there was a system of justice, but the present Sharia system of justice with the courts arrangement we have today, was popularised by Al-Maghili. 

“Even the use of horses by our emirates was popularised by him. He brought horses from North Africa, and they subsequently became part of Kano culture and tradition,” the don added. 

Professor Naniya also said presently, there are close to 5,000 people in Sharifai and other places, who trace their ancestry to Al-Maghili. 

Professor Naniya also said Al-Maghili  popularised  Qadiriyya, one of the popular Islamic sects, in Kano. 

He explained that before Al-Maghili’s visit, “The sect was not popular among people. It was during his time that the custodians of the sect were instituted. Even Usmanu Danfodio when he came reinforced the propagation of it. 

“Qadiriyya has been in Kano  for between 600 to 700 years even before the coming of Tijjaniyyah sect. Then, Kano rulers used to be sect’s leaders. But when they later accepted Tijjaniyyah, a Kano popular cleric, Sheikh Nasiru Kabara took its leadership mantle.” 

What really transpired during the visit 

According to the Kachallan Kano, Emir Bayero received a royal welcome in Algeria during the visit, and was later to meet Algeria’s President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune. 

He said, “ On the first day of the main event, that was held at Algiers’ biggest conference hall, every part of the hall was filled with cheering attendees who went there to welcome the emir. 

“Already, even before our arrival, it has been widely announced in different media in the country about the visit. So, the moment the emir set his feet in the hall, everyone was happy. 

“When he was asked to speak, Emir Bayero thanked them for the warm welcome and also lauded the foresight of the event’s organisers for a job well done, and even told them that Al-Maghili was more of a Kano man than Algerian. 

“He told them that there is a ward in Kano called Sharifai that is filled with Al-Maghili’s descendants and that his lineage have a permanent seat in the emirate council. 

“It was after that that scholars continued to present different papers on Al-Maghili’s contribution to different fields. After the conference, virtually everyone present was posing to have a picture with the emir, while the press were busy trying to hear from them. Even we, members of the entourage were not spared as we were battling with newsmen,”  Kachalla added. 

He explained that on the second day of the conference, Emir Bayero visited the Nigeria’s Embassy in Algiers. He was later to meet the Algerian president at his palace. 

“There, they discussed many vital issues, and the president said he was glad to host the emir and that the Algerian government is aware of the over 600 years history. The president described Bayero as Al-Maghili’s visitor. 

“The emir also thanked the country for hosting them during the conference, and asked them to revive the centuries old trade relationship between Kano and Algeria, since the period of trans-Sahara trade. 

“Smiliarly, upon the request of the emir, the Algerian president has also agreed to offer scholarship to Kano State indigenes to study in the country, and asked the emir to start the process of sending the students immediately he gets home. 

“On the fourth day of the visit, the emir and his entourage visited Ain-Madhi, the town where Sheikh Ahmadu Tijjani, the founder of Tijjaniyya sect, was born. He also visited some important historical monuments and sites there, as well as interacted with prominent clerics there, who also prayed for him.’’ 

The five-day visit has no doubt opened a new page in the history of diplomatic ties between Algeria and Kano and the Algerian president has also promised the emir of removing all the administrative bottlenecks that could hinder free trade between the two parties. 


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