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Introduction. The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: A history from within

Introduction. Le califat de Ḥamdallāhi : une histoire de l'intérieur
Mauro Nobili et Amir Syed

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1The economic historian Marlon Johnson observes that prior to the 19th century,

  • 1 M. Johnson, 1976, p. 481-482.

[t]he interior delta of the Niger with its floodlands, river and creeks and the area of sand dunes and lakes between the delta proper and the Niger, together form a region which would seem to have met the necessary conditions for the heartland of a centralized state: easy communications by water; a surplus of foodstuffs beyond the needs of their producers; a position astride a major trade route; and a relatively dense population mobilizable for defence or aggression. Despite these advantages, the area has for most of its history been either a dependent part of some other state to the south, the west, the east or even far away to the north; or the area has been the home of a number of small statelets of varying degrees of cohesiveness, incapable of controlling and unifying the diverse populations of pastoralists, cultivators, fishermen and merchants.1

  • 2 Ḥamdallāhi is the Fulfulde rendering of the Arabic expression al-ḥamdu li-[A]llāhi, “praise be to G (...)
  • 3 The Fulani appear in the contributions also as Fulbe or Peul.
  • 4 B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 163.
  • 5 B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 11.
  • 6 B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 84.

2In stark contrast to this earlier history, in the late 1810s, the Inner Niger Delta became the site of a powerful centralized theocracy. This theocracy is known locally, and in the secondary scholarly literature, as either the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi (from the name of its capital, Ḥamdallāhi),2 the Fulani Empire of Masina (with an emphasis on the Fulani ethnic component of the movement),3 or the Dina (from the Arabic term dīn, “religion”). The caliphate represented, in the words of Malian historian Bintou Sanankoua, “a novel political experience”4 in the region. It was characterized by “the setting up of new institutions based on the Shari‘a, the militarization of the apparatus of the state, the nationalization of economy, and mandatory sedentarization.”5 In addition, this new state was also defined by the “use of literacy as an instrument of propaganda and consolidation of power […] in an area traditionally attached to orality.”6

  • 7 The conference was organized with the support of the Center for African Studies and the Department (...)

3This special issue of Afriques attempts to partially fill a scholarly lacuna on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, which remains a relatively understudied topic, especially in English, in the history of pre-colonial West Africa. In the process, this issue contributes to a wider methodological and theoretical discussion in African historiography. The four contributions presented in this issue are developed from papers that were initially presented at the international conference “The ‘Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi’: A History from Within,” organized by Mauro Nobili (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Mohamed Diagayété (Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques Ahmed Baba de Tombouctou), and H. Ali Diakité (then University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, now Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Saint John’s University).7 The conference took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign on April 6–7, 2018 on the occasion of the bicentennial of Aḥmad Lobbo’s victory during the pivotal Battle of Noukouma (Saturday 21 March 1818), which led to his subsequent establishment of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi.

The Islamic revolutions

  • 8 For a recent overview of these revolutions, see A. Syed, 2020.
  • 9 The best synthesis of this normative position of Muslim scholars vis-à-vis rulers in the long durée (...)
  • 10 L. Kaba, 1984 and J.O. Hunwick, 1996 provide examples of how Muslim clerics did not have direct pol (...)

4The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi represents one example of a series of “Islamic revolutions” in West Africa prior to European colonialism.8 A defining aspect of these movements was how they brought a sea change to the traditional role of Muslim clerics in the region. Previously Muslim clerics had attempted to maintain pious distance from centers of political power and did not wield direct political authority.9 When they did engage in the political sphere, they did so only as advisors and on occasion used their religious authority in support of one political faction over another.10 In breaching these historical precedents, the leaders of the Islamic revolutions seized political power for themselves and introduced an additional dimension to the trajectory of Islam in this region’s history.

  • 11 R.T. Ware, 2014, p. 104.
  • 12 Standard accounts of the Tuubanaan war are B. Barry, 1971; P. Curtin, 1971; A.W. Ould Cheikh, 1985; (...)
  • 13 For an account of the movement of Mālik Sy and the state that he founded, see M. Gomez, 1993.
  • 14 Of the different Islamic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, the one in Futa Jallon is sure (...)
  • 15 On the revolution in Futa Toro, see D. Robinson, 1975 and the more recent R.T. Ware, 2014.
  • 16 Classic monographs on Sokoto are M. Last, 1973; R.A. Adeleye, 1977; M. Hiskett, 1994. A recent addi (...)
  • 17 On the historiography of Ḥamdallāhi, see below.
  • 18 The literature on the Tukulor Empire is extensive. See, for example, J.R. Willis, 1989; D. Robinson(...)

5The first recorded instance of this new political orientation was when the 17th-century Saharan Muslim cleric, Nāṣir al-Dīn (d. 1674), preached against the injustice of local rulers and their inability to protect their Muslim subjects from oppression and enslavement.11 The Tuubanaan movement or Shar Bubba, as this movement is known, had wide support and ultimately led to the overthrow of local political rulers in the western Sahara and Senegambia.12 Though the movement lasted only a few years after Nāṣir al-Dīn’s death, in the 18th and 19th centuries several other Muslim clerics followed a similar model of preaching against “corrupt” rulers. When their preaching did not change the situation of ordinary Muslims subjects, these figures took up arms with their followers and sympathizers. They subsequently established several putative theocracies, in which their religious authority, as well as Islamic norms and ideals, became part of their political practices. The movements led by Mālik Sy (d. probably 1699) in Bundu,13 Alfa Karamoko (d. 1751) in Futa Jallon,14 and Sulaymān Bāl (d. 1775) and ʿAbd al-Qādir Kane (d. 1806) in Futa Toro15 led the establishment of three new polities in the 18th century. In the following century, ‘Uthmān b. Muḥammad Fodiye b. ‘Uthmān b. Ṣāliḥ Fūdī (d. 1817), ‘Abd Allāh b. Muḥammad Fodiye b. ‘Uthmān Muḥammad b. Ṣāliḥ (d. 1829), and Muḥammad Bello b. ‘Uthmān b. Muḥammad Fodiye (d.1837) established the Sokoto caliphate in Hausaland,16 while Aḥmad Lobbo (d. 1845) and his advisor Nūḥ b. Tāḥir (d. 1857/8) established the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi,17 and ‘Umar b. Sa‘īd b. al-Mukhtār b. ‘Alī b. al-Mukhtār, known as al-ḥājj ‘Umar (d. 1864), established what French sources refer to as the “Tukolor Empire” in the Western Sahel and the Middle Niger Valley.18

  • 19 H.F.C. (A.) Smith, 1961.  
  • 20 B.F. Soares, 2014, p. 30.
  • 21 See, for example, P. Curtin, 1971, and more recently P.E. Lovejoy, 2016 and S. Zehnle, 2020.
  • 22 For a study of the polysemic nature of this concept, see A. Afsaruddin, 2013.
  • 23 A. Syed, 2020, p. 94.
  • 24 A. Syed, 2020, p. 94.

6On reflecting on the state of scholarship on these movements, in a pioneering early-1960s’ article, H.F.C. Abdullahi Smith lamented that they were “a neglected theme” in African historiography.19 In the intervening decades since Smith’s remarks, scholars have drawn “considerable attention” to these movement, as remarked recently by Benjamin F. Soares.20 Yet this scholarly attention is nonetheless very uneven. For example, scholars have devoted several articles and monographs to analyzing aspects of the Sokoto caliphate, as well as al-ḥājj ‘Umar’s movement. Yet, comparatively, very little scholarship exists on the other revolutionary movements, including on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi. More significantly, scholars often focus only on a narrow set of economic and political concerns, while also using dated models to understand these movements. For instance, scholars often use essentialized and teleological models of “jihād,”21 without interrogating this polysemic concept.22 Consequently, conceptualizing the Islamic revolutions as “jihād movements” has led scholars “to collapse these movements as part of the same phenomenon” while also assuming “that they were intrinsically linked and connected.”23 Rather than explore similarity, it is incumbent on scholars to begin locating the differences and idiosyncrasies of these movements based on their unique geographic and historical contexts.24

  • 25 A. Syed, 2021, p. 2.

7Instead of a “neglected theme,” it is more accurate to say that the Islamic revolutions remain misunderstood, and pertinent intellectual and conceptual questions remain largely unanswered. For instance, it is still unclear why the leaders of these revolutions justified breaking established religious norms of political neutrality, or how they constructed their authority, or how they legitimized their new claims to political power. These questions on political theology or “the intersection between religious and political practices in various articulations of sovereignty” highlight one possible new avenue for critical inquiry on the relationship between the mastery over Islamic knowledge and ideas on statecraft and political power.25 The contributions to this special issue showcase several other possible topics and questions. By focusing specifically on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, the authors demonstrate how scholars can use new methods, theoretical frameworks, and sources to produce completely new understandings of the Islamic revolutions more generally.

The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: History26

  • 26 This overview of the history of the caliphate is based on the secondary literature discussed below.

8In the early 1800s, the Inner Niger Delta was in turmoil. The power of the Arma, the descendants of the Moroccan soldiers who occupied the region between Gao and Jenné after the 1591 conquest of the Songhay Empire, was fading away. While the Arma still exercised symbolic control over their garrison-cities like Timbuktu, Bamba, and Jenné, political power was, in fact, in the hands of Fulani military elites under the rule of chiefs known in Fulfulde as ardos. But these elites were also subject to the loose control of the Bambara ruler of Ségou, a state located upstream, for whom they collected taxes and fought alongside. The political economy of the region was hence predominately predatory, with local agriculturalists, fisherfolk, and Fulani herdsmen who did not belong to military elites exploited by the ardos and Bambara slave-raiders.

9The rising discontent against the ruling elites of the Inner Delta Niger catalyzed around the preaching of a rural Fulani scholar, Aḥmad B. Muḥammad Būbū b. Abī Bakr b. Sa‘īd al-Fullānī, known as Aḥmad Lobbo (d. 1845). Aḥmad Lobbo did not belong to the scholarly elite of the region, centered in Jenné, whom he accused of tolerating local practices which he denounced as being blameworthy innovations (bid‘a) contrary to the principles of Islam. However, this tension seemed to be also related to the de facto support of the scholars of Jenné for the predatory behavior of the military Fulani and Bambara elites. In other words, a mutual relationship of legitimation existed between the scholarly and military elites. Hence, the tension between Aḥmad Lobbo and the scholars of Jenné translated quickly into open hostility between the former and the ardos military aristocracy and the Bambara rulers.

10The casus belli was the incident of Simay. In this village, located just north of Jenné, a disciple of Aḥmad Lobbo killed, after an altercation that had occurred a week before, the son of the chief Fulani ardo—an event that occurred most likely in 1816–1817. Conflict between Aḥmad Lobbo’s followers and the ardos become inevitable. Hence, on Saturday 21 March 1818, in Noukouma, south of Mopti, an army composed of Fulani warriors and their Bambara allies from Ségou, an overwhelming majority in numbers, attacked. Against the odds, however, Aḥmad Lobbo’s partisans were unexpectedly victorious, which then initiated a series of battles that made, by mid-May 1818, Aḥmad Lobbo the leader of a new, emerging polity centered in the Inner Niger Delta.

11In the aftermath of Noukouma, the survival and the very prosperity of Aḥmad Lobbo’s movement depended on the conquest of Jenné and the submission of the Dikko of Masina. Therefore, the first years after the events of 1818 saw the armies of Aḥmad Lobbo engaging extensively in warfare in the region. By 1825, he controlled a large state along the Niger and Bani rivers, occupying all the lands between the Inland Delta Niger and the Bandiagara cliff, centered around the newly built capital city: Ḥamdallāhi.

12The caliphate was centralized theocracy in which the main governing body was the Great Council, or Batu Mawdo in Fulfulde. Composed of forty scholars, the council was located in the capital and had the role of advising Aḥmad Lobbo in his exercising of executive and legislative powers. The judiciary power was delegated to qāḍīs selected by the Great Council, who were located in the capital and in the other regional centers. The other major person appointed by Ḥamdallāhi was an amīr who coupled military and administrative roles. He oversaw a garrison of soldiers stationed in the main regional centers, and also the collecting of taxes.

13Qāḍīs and amīrs were the recipient of regular correspondence that allowed the center of the caliphate to effectively control its provinces. This bureaucratic apparatus was made possible by a substantial revolution that took place under Aḥmad Lobbo, who replaced the local ruling elites with an administrative personnel attached to him and who were also literate in Arabic. However, further north in the Niger Bend and beyond the Bandiagara cliff to the east, the control of Ḥamdallāhi faded away with the region of Timbuktu and Djelgodji only weakly under the influence of the caliphate. Timbuktu, in particular, proved difficult to dominate, with a series of rebellions led by the Arma elite, the constant resistance of the Tuareg, and the ambiguous role of the influential Arabophone Kunta clan, whose economic prestige and religious authority made them a crucial actor in the relationship between the Niger Bend and the caliphate.

14The caliphate eventually lasted the reign of three rulers: the founding leader Aḥmad Lobbo, his son Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Lobbo (d. 1853; henceforth simply Aḥmad II), and his grandson Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Lobbo (d. 1862; henceforth simply Aḥmad III). When Aḥmad III was captured and executed after al-ḥājj ‘Umar conquered the capital, the novel experiment of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi in the Niger Bend ended.

The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: Historiography

  • 27 J. Gallais, 1967, t. 2, p. 362.

15Scholars have recognized the role of Ḥamdallāhi in shaping the history of central Mali, especially in regard to a series of transformations of the socio-economic landscape, which included the sedentarization of nomads, the regulation of transhumance routes, spectacular relocations of people, and the foundation of new villages and cities—what geographer Jean Gallais has described as the “pastoral revolution” of Aḥmad Lobbo.27

  • 28 A.H. , J. Daget, 1955. Originally, this work was supposed to comprise two volumes. The first was (...)
  • 29 See for example, Bernard Salvaing’s contribution in this edition of Afriques.

16Chronologically, the first major contribution to the topic is Amadou Hampâté Bâ and Jacques Daget’s L’empire peul du Macina, 1818–1853.28 L’Empire peul du Macina is a comprehensive account of the history of Aḥmad Lobbo, his movement, and the caliphate that he created. However, it is also a problematic work in which source-driven narratives are often intertwined with more imaginative reconstructions of the authors, who often uncritically project 20th-century historical realities into the past.29

  • 30 W.A. Brown, 1969.

17At the end of the next decade, William A. Brown completed his PhD dissertation titled “The caliphate of Hamdullahi (ca. 1818–1864). A study in African history and tradition.”30 More than a narrative history, this dissertation is organized around an appraisal of the sources and different themes, such as the Fulani society that witnessed the emergence of the caliphate, and the role of the military elite who dominated the interior delta of the Niger prior to Ḥamdallāhi and that of the scholars. However, although an indispensable tool for any new study of Ḥamdallāhi, Brown’s work largely consists of disparate notes that are nonetheless very carefully curated and extremely rich in content and detail.

  • 31 F.B. Sanankoua-Diarrah, 1982 and B. Sanankoua, 1990.
  • 32 A. Sankare, 1986.
  • 33 For archeological excavations of the city of Ḥamdallāhi, see A. Gallay, et al., 1990.
  • 34 Another early important contribution, although much more limited in scope and length, is the abovem (...)

18The last major works of this first phase of works on the history of the caliphate are Sanankoua’s Un empire peul au xixe siècle. La Diina du Masina, published in the early 1990s —in fact, an abstracted version of the author’s 1982 PhD dissertation31—and the less known 1984 thesis from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Bamako by Ali Sankare, published two years later by the Timbuktu-based journal Sankoré.32 Sanankoua’s work is an account of the caliphate that dedicates ample space to the description of the administration of the state and includes a detailed study of the capital Ḥamdallāhi.33 As for Sankare’s thesis, it is a major contribution concerning the relationship between the caliphate and the Kunta family from the region of Timbuktu.34

  • 35 A.H. , J. Daget, 1955, p. 13; W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 1; F.B. Sanankoua-Diarrah, 1982, ii. Sankare i (...)
  • 36 S.M. Mahibou, J.L. Triaud, 1983.

19Most of these works, despite the use of European accounts and sparse Arabic manuscripts, are mainly based on oral traditions.35 An exception to the predominance of such sources is Sidi Mohamed Mahibou and Jean-Louis Triaud’s edition of an Arabic manuscript copy of the Bayān mā waqa‘a baynanā wa-bayna amīr Māsina Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. al-Shaykh Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Lobbo, a polemical work by al-ḥājj ‘Umar in which the author justifies his animosity toward Aḥmad III and sets the scene for the 1862 attack on Ḥamdallāhi.36

20Mahibou and Triaud prefigure future shifts in the study of African Muslim societies which moved in the early 2000s from privileging oral testimonies and European written accounts to a renewed interest in the West African “Islamic Library”—that is, in those written works produced by African Muslims writing in Arabic and in ‘ajami (African languages transcribed in the Arabic alphabet).37 This reappraisal of Arabic manuscripts as sources for the history of Islamic Africa was reflected in renewed interest in the history of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, especially around the now-defunct project “Valorisation et édition critique des manuscrits arabes subsahariens – VECMAS” that published several editions and translations into French of West African manuscripts.38 Among the works published under the auspices of this project was L’inspiration de l’Éternel: Eloge de Shékou Amadou, fondateur de l’empire peul du Macina par Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Pereejo, edited under the direction of George Bohas.39 This work, with an erudite foreword by Bernard Salvaing, is an edition and translation of the hagiographical account of Aḥmad Lobbo’s life, the Fatḥ al-Ṣamad fī dhikr shayʾ min akhlāf shaykhinā Aḥmad by Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Pereejo (fl. 1840).

  • 40 H.A. Diakite, 2011.
  • 41 H.A. Diakite, 2015.
  • 42 B. Sissoko, 2014.
  • 43 B. Sissoko, 2019.
  • 44 I. Traore, 2012.

21VECMAS also patronized several unpublished Master theses and PhD dissertations, mainly by Malian scholars under the supervision of Salvaing and Bohas. Ali H. Diakité, for instance, edited and translated two crucial documents on the history of Ḥamdallāhi. The first is Aḥmad Lobbo’s own al-Iḍṭirār ilà Allāh fī ikhmād ba‘ḍ mā tawaqqada min al-bida‘ wa-iḥyā’ ba‘ḍ mā indarasa min al-sunan.40 In this work of jurisprudence, which was likely composed before the foundation of Ḥamdallāhi, Aḥmad Lobbo denounces local practices he considered to be blameworthy innovations perpetrated by the inhabitants of the Middle Niger that were condoned by the local religious establishment. The second work edited and translated by Diakité is the long letter composed by al-Mukhtār b. Wadī‘at Allāh al-Māsinī, known as Yirkoy Talfi (d. c. 1862), against Aḥmad al-Bakkāy usually referred to as Tabkiyat al-Bakkāy.41 This letter is a polemical work that inscribes itself in the intra-brotherhood polemics that were triggered by the emergence of the Tijāniyya after the arrival of al-ḥājj ‘Umar Tall in the Middle Niger, which contributed the conflict that led to the destruction of Ḥamdallāhi. A narrative of this war by one Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Aḥmad, titled Mā jarā bayna amīr al-mu’minīn Aḥmad wa-bayna al-ḥajj ‘Umar, seen from the perspective of Ḥamdallāhi is translated by Boubacar Sissoko.42 The latter also devoted a study to the correspondence between Aḥmad Lobbo and the Kunta shaykh al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr b. Muḥammad b. al-Mukhtār b. Aḥmad b. Abī Bakr al-Kuntī (d. 1846).43 Focused on a specific letter from Aḥmad al-Bakkāy against Aḥmad III in the context of the “Barth affair” is also the work of Ismail Traore.44

  • 45 M. Diagayété, 2019.
  • 46 M. Nobili, 2020. See also M. Nobili, 2016a and M. Nobili, 2016b.

22The Barth affair is also at the center of Muhamed Diagayété’s Barth à Tombouctou, which comprises the edition and translation into French of another letter by Aḥmad al-Bakkāy against Aḥmad III, in which the Kunta shaykh explains his motivation for having protected Barth on legal grounds, delegitimizing at the same time the authority of Aḥmad III.45 Legitimacy is also at the core of the Nobili’s Sultan, Caliph, and the Renewer of the Faith: Aḥmad Lobbo, the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh and the making of an Islamic state in West Africa.46 This book explores the role of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh in the history of the caliphate. Nobili demonstrates that, contrary to earlier conceptualization of the chronicle as a 16th- or 17th-century work, the Tārīkh al-fattāsh was produced by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fullānī (d. 1857/8). One of the most prominent scholars of Ḥamdallāhi, Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir, produced his chronicle by extensively manipulating an earlier, 17th-century work, the Tārīkh ibn al-Mukhtār.

23Looking back at more than fifty years of irregular scholarly enquiries on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi demonstrates the importance of this experience for the history of central Mali, but more broadly also of West Africa. The contributions of this special issue further our knowledge on Ḥamdallāhi in the domains of Sufism, jurisprudence, racial thinking, and political alliances, as well as of the administration of the state.

Presentation of the special issue

24The four articles presented in this special issue open a new set of questions, methods, and sources to investigate a critical juncture in the history of precolonial West Africa. They all utilize underexplored source material, mainly internally produced Arabic sources in manuscript form. In this respect, the articles also demonstrate the exciting potential and possibility that Arabic sources hold for new analysis of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and beyond. These contributions open new windows to understanding the complexities of this state as a dominant regional power and explore how it shaped the Middle Niger Valley during its zenith, as well as in the decades following its collapse.

25Bernard Salvaing demonstrates how current narratives on the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi obscure aspects of its origins. Specifically, he tackles the problem of the assumed relationship between the Qādirī Sufi brotherhood and Aḥmad Lobbo. This assumption lies at the heart of contemporary understandings of how the formation of the caliphate was driven largely by a Sufi reformist paradigm. In his article, Salvaing notes that this interpretation owes its genesis to French colonial narratives. He also highlights the narratives of African intellectuals such as Bâ, who suggest an inextricable link between the Qādiriyya and caliphate because of the relationship between Aḥmad Lobbo and the Kunta family. In Salvaing’s view, one of the main deficiencies in these narratives is that they uncritically take the 20th-century importance of Sufi brotherhoods in West Africa as relevant for understanding the 19th century. Instead, he makes the helpful conceptual distinction between ṭasawwuf or Sufism and ṭarīqa or organized Sufi brotherhoods. Thus, while Sufism has played an important role in the history of West Africa, ascribing a Qādirī identity to the caliphate is unwarranted. Explaining the importance of context and using newly available Arabic source material, including a hagiographical biography of Aḥmad Lobbo, Salvaing highlights two interrelated points: 1) The Qādiriyya was not the most important early Sufi brotherhood, since the Shādhiliyya had also significantly influenced Sufi practices in West Africa; and 2) because of the existence of several different expressions of Sufism, the caliphate incorporated several of these different strands and identity was not tied specifically to any one brotherhood. He also suggests that the idea of neo-Sufism that influenced several global Islamic reformist movements did not play a role in West Africa and, particularly, in the establishment of the caliphate. Instead, the study of primary source material and his focus on local contexts leads him to conclude there was no sharp distinction between jurisprudence and Sufism, and both had played an important role in reformist movements in the region since the 15th century. Thus, more than in an unqualified adherence to a Sufi brotherhood as an inspiration for his movement, Aḥmad Lobbo’s reformist project was rooted in jurisprudence.

  • 47 When the French colonial administrator, Louis Archinard, conquered Segou in the late 19th century, (...)

26The question of Islamic jurisprudence as a domain for critical inquiry is the centerpiece of Ismail Warscheid’s article. He focuses on the important Kunta scholar al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr (d. 1846) and his use of juridical discourses to engage and negotiate with Aḥmad Lobbo. Warscheid’s focus on the mastery over Islamic jurisprudence opens the way to look beyond ambiguous idea of mediation or charismatic authority for how al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr was able to translate local concerns in and around Timbuktu into a legal vernacular vis-à-vis the caliphate, at the very moment that the state expanded its authority over newly conquered areas. Warscheid focuses on two letters, held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France,47 that al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr sent to Aḥmad Lobbo and explores how legal language, and the manipulation of it, prefigures political discourse on Islamic sovereignty and legitimacy. He begins by first establishing the growing influence from the 15th century of jurists and how they informed political and religious reform movements in the region. He then uses recent research on the relationship between the Kunta family and the caliphate to situate and analyze these letters. For instance, Warscheid demonstrates how al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr translates a range of local economic and political relationships into the language of contracts to argue that the taxes the caliphate had imposed were actually the obligatory zakāt that had to be paid to a legitimate Islamic ruler. By linking the question of taxation to the performance of sovereignty, al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr is then able to influence local populations to pay newly imposed taxes. Further in these letters, the Kunta scholar also draws on the language of rights and the role of rulers in maintaining public order. He uses these legal discourses to influence the caliphate’s policies in Timbuktu, especially on the issue of appointing qāḍīs. In this respect, al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr was not simply advising Aḥmad Lobbo, but also actively attempting to disenfranchise notables who had dominated the religious circles of Timbuktu. Consequently, he was attempting to also inscribe his own power over the city by influencing the caliphate to appoint only the most qualified qāḍīs, irrespective of their lineage. In this article, Warscheid shows how a Muslim jurist from the periphery had significant power to influence Aḥmad Lobbo through his careful use of legal discourse. The example of al-Mukhtār al-Ṣaghīr and his relationship with the caliphate ultimately demonstrates how the Islamic legal tradition was a vast tapestry and a creative space that jurists could use to powerfully shape and influence the political realm.

27The changing and complex relationships between racial and religious identities and political culture are at the heart of Joseph Bradshaw’s contribution. He focuses particularly on the decades following the collapse of the caliphate and on how religious distinctions informed politics and the construction of social hierarchies. Indeed, the significance of religious distinctions were the enduring political ideology of Aḥmad Lobbo and his state. In other words, distinctions between race and religion were marshaled into how the caliphate projected its power over newly conquered territories and population. At the same time, on a practical level such distinctions also became important for the purposes of taxation and conscription. In tracing the formation and deployment of these social and political relationship, Bradshaw then explores how they changed over time. Specifically, he focuses on the period after al-ḥājj ʿUmar’s conquest, when a new population of Futanke came to dominate the Middle Niger Valley. In Bradshaw’s conceptualization, the Futanke and Masinanke shared a similar language, culture, and religion and deployed similar Islamic legal categories to justify their actions. Yet their histories in the region in the years 1861–1890 were quite different. In this period of continual skirmishes and battles, older social relationships lost much of their potency. The Futanke were able to adapt to this period of chaos and establish new social relationships with groups that the Masinanke had previously viewed as subservient. These new social relationships ensured that the Futanke incorporated different social and ethnic groups through the exercising of gift-giving and reciprocal relationships, instead of coercion. The Masinanke for their part were never able to sufficiently break away from older relationships that informed their position of domination. Therefore, they were never able to build new alliances and reestablish their power over the region.

  • 48 IHERI-ABT was created in 1970 and hosts today more than 40,000 manuscripts, split between the insti (...)

28The final contribution, by Mohamed Diagayété, breaks the chronological order of the previous articles but nonetheless highlights several of the topics already discussed. In this contribution, Diagayété demonstrates how unanalyzed Arabic manuscript material provides information on a significant figure of Timbuktu: Mawlāy ‘Abd al-Qādir b. Muḥammad al-Sanūsī (d. 1844). While scholars have largely neglected this figure, Aḥmad Lobbo had appointed him to the influential position of qāḍī of Timbuktu. He would eventually, for the first time in the history of Timbuktu, combine this position with another powerful position, that of amīr. Though Mawlāy ‘Abd al-Qādir had a mastery over the Islamic religious sciences, Diagayété demonstrates that his own rise to a position of power was inextricably linked to the rise of the caliphate. When the last of the Arma, Pāsha ʿUthmān b. Abī Bakr, gave allegiance to Aḥmad Lobbo, the latter decided to keep the administrative structure of Timbuktu intact. He also decided to appoint local elites to legitimize his own power over the city. Mawlāy ‘Abd al-Qādir seems to have had a preexisting relationship with Ahmad Lobbo, and his credentials made him a suitable candidate. Not only does the case of Mawlāy ‘Abd al-Qādir highlight the relational aspect of power and legitimacy as the caliphate attempted to extend its power, but it also illustrates how alliances shifted. Indeed, for unknown reasons, he was dismissed from his position of power. The possibility of writing a history of this intriguing figure, and of the social and political history of the Timbuktu beyond an emphasis on the Kunta, is made more possible by the manuscripts available in the IHERI-AB collection.48 This collection contains more than twenty-five letters exchanged between Mawlāy ‘Abd al-Qādir and Ahmad Lobbo, as well as other notables. The topics in these letters broach issues about financial aid, mediation between different groups, and social and political dictates from the caliphate. In this contribution, Diagayété demonstrates the possibilities of telling other stories by using Arabic manuscripts. These stories have the potential to provide new insights on the significance of legal discourses, and on the changing nature of alliances, as well as on the relationship between the caliphate and Timbuktu, beyond the Kunta family.

29The study of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi raises numerous historiographical, methodological, and theoretical questions that have remained largely unresolved. But the over-reliance on colonial and contemporary perspectives on state formation, Sufism, jurisprudence, and religious tolerance have led to a misrepresentation and obscuring of the history of this state and its entangled relationships in the Middle Niger Valley. Thus, rather than imposing categories of analysis and models from the outside, the contributions of this issue demonstrate the importance of untangling contemporary perspectives and narratives from the 19th-century context of this state, and they raise new questions about legitimacy and authority, and the relationship between racial and religious distinctions, as well as about how the peripheries influenced this state and shaped narratives about it. This perspective from “within” becomes possible through a critical focus on local contexts through an engagement with Arabic primary source material, while also interrogating and reinterpreting colonial sources through new frameworks. The analyses drawn from this perspective not only provide a better understanding of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi, but, more significantly, open the way for new approaches to the history of the Islamic revolutions and precolonial West Africa more generally.

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Notes

1 M. Johnson, 1976, p. 481-482.

2 Ḥamdallāhi is the Fulfulde rendering of the Arabic expression al-ḥamdu li-[A]llāhi, “praise be to God”; see B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 78.

3 The Fulani appear in the contributions also as Fulbe or Peul.

4 B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 163.

5 B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 11.

6 B. Sanankoua, 1990, p. 84.

7 The conference was organized with the support of the Center for African Studies and the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA), Northwestern University. Further funds were graciously provided by other units and centers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—namely: the Department of Anthropology; the Center for East Asian & Pacific Studies; the Center for Advance Study; the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; the Program in Comparative & World Literature; the Department of Gender & Women Studies; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Center for Global Studies; The Krannert Arts Museum; and the Department of Religion. Two other papers have been published in different venues—namely, I. Warscheid, 2020 and A. Syed, 2021.

8 For a recent overview of these revolutions, see A. Syed, 2020.

9 The best synthesis of this normative position of Muslim scholars vis-à-vis rulers in the long durée is L. Sanneh, 2016.

10 L. Kaba, 1984 and J.O. Hunwick, 1996 provide examples of how Muslim clerics did not have direct political control but could influence politics.

11 R.T. Ware, 2014, p. 104.

12 Standard accounts of the Tuubanaan war are B. Barry, 1971; P. Curtin, 1971; A.W. Ould Cheikh, 1985; and C.C. Stewart, 1973. For more recent revisionist readings of this history, see P. Bonte, 2016 and R. Boubrik, 2011.

13 For an account of the movement of Mālik Sy and the state that he founded, see M. Gomez, 1993.

14 Of the different Islamic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, the one in Futa Jallon is surely the least studied. A recent analysis of the administration of the theocracy in Futa Jallon, based on the translation and the analysis of internally produced Arabic manuscripts, is G. Bohas, A.M. Lelouma, A. Sager, B. Salvaing, A. Sinno, 2018.

15 On the revolution in Futa Toro, see D. Robinson, 1975 and the more recent R.T. Ware, 2014.

16 Classic monographs on Sokoto are M. Last, 1973; R.A. Adeleye, 1977; M. Hiskett, 1994. A recent addition to this scholarship is S. Zehnle, 2020 and P. Naylor, 2021.

17 On the historiography of Ḥamdallāhi, see below.

18 The literature on the Tukulor Empire is extensive. See, for example, J.R. Willis, 1989; D. Robinson, 1985; M. Ly-Tall, 1991; J.H. Hanson, 1996; A. Syed, 2017.

19 H.F.C. (A.) Smith, 1961.  

20 B.F. Soares, 2014, p. 30.

21 See, for example, P. Curtin, 1971, and more recently P.E. Lovejoy, 2016 and S. Zehnle, 2020.

22 For a study of the polysemic nature of this concept, see A. Afsaruddin, 2013.

23 A. Syed, 2020, p. 94.

24 A. Syed, 2020, p. 94.

25 A. Syed, 2021, p. 2.

26 This overview of the history of the caliphate is based on the secondary literature discussed below.

27 J. Gallais, 1967, t. 2, p. 362.

28 A.H. , J. Daget, 1955. Originally, this work was supposed to comprise two volumes. The first was originally published in 1955 in Dakar by the then Institut français d’Afrique noire (now Institut fondamental d’Afrique noire), to be eventually re-printed several times by different publishers. The second volume, which is devoted to the rule of Aḥmad III, deals with the war between Ḥamdallāhi and the army of al-ḥājj ‘Umar, remains unpublished and is difficult to access, stored in the private archive of the family of Bâ in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. For an analysis of the contents of volume II, see F.B. Sanankoua-Diarrah, 1982, p. 28-29.

29 See for example, Bernard Salvaing’s contribution in this edition of Afriques.

30 W.A. Brown, 1969.

31 F.B. Sanankoua-Diarrah, 1982 and B. Sanankoua, 1990.

32 A. Sankare, 1986.

33 For archeological excavations of the city of Ḥamdallāhi, see A. Gallay, et al., 1990.

34 Another early important contribution, although much more limited in scope and length, is the abovementioned M. Johnson, 1976, which analyses the economic foundations of the Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi and focuses on taxation, trade, and production.

35 A.H. , J. Daget, 1955, p. 13; W.A. Brown, 1969, p. 1; F.B. Sanankoua-Diarrah, 1982, ii. Sankare is more balanced in using oral sources and written ones; see A. Sankare, 1986, p. 4-9. Rich collections of oral sources on Ḥamdallāhi are Y. Arsoukoula, n.d.; C. Seydou, 2014a; C. Seydou, 2014b.

36 S.M. Mahibou, J.L. Triaud, 1983.

37 O.O. Kane, 2012, p. 4.

38 http://vecmas-tombouctou.ens-lyon.fr/ . On this project, see B. Salvaing, 2015.

39 G. Bohas, A. Saguer, B. Salvaing, 2011.

40 H.A. Diakite, 2011.

41 H.A. Diakite, 2015.

42 B. Sissoko, 2014.

43 B. Sissoko, 2019.

44 I. Traore, 2012.

45 M. Diagayété, 2019.

46 M. Nobili, 2020. See also M. Nobili, 2016a and M. Nobili, 2016b.

47 When the French colonial administrator, Louis Archinard, conquered Segou in the late 19th century, he also seized a manuscript library that had once belonged to al-ḥājj ‘Umar Tall. Housed in Paris since 1891, this library is now known as the Bibliothèque ‘Umarienne de Ségou. It is a library unlike any other from West Africa, since it preserves, intact, much of the written intellectual tradition from the 19th-century world it belonged to. It consists of nearly 4,100 Arabic manuscripts, covering a range of subjects and genres of writing. On this library, see N. Ghali, S.M. Mahibou, L. Brenner, 1985. Another important repository of Arabic manuscripts located in France concerning the caliphate is the Fonds de Gironcourt at the Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France, on which see M. Nobili, 2013.

48 IHERI-ABT was created in 1970 and hosts today more than 40,000 manuscripts, split between the institute’s building in Bamako and Timbuktu, including a large number of documents concerning Ḥamdallāhi. A handlist of 9,000 of the IHERI-ABT manuscripts is S.A. Ould Ely, et al., 1995–1998.

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Mauro Nobili et Amir Syed, « Introduction. The Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: A history from within »Afriques [En ligne], 12 | 2021, mis en ligne le 25 décembre 2021, consulté le 25 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/3203 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.3203

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Auteurs

Mauro Nobili

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Articles du même auteur

Amir Syed

University of Pittsburgh

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