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11-04-2015, 14:00

Al-Maghili (c. 1425-1504)

Muslim Jurist and Reformer

Muhammad ibn abd al-Karim al-Maghili was born in Tlemcen, western Algeria. Al-Maghili fought against the privileged status of the Jewish community in Tuwat in the Sahara Desert. He also fought against the Jewish community’s establishment of a synagogue. When the local African community opposed his position, he appealed to authorities in North Africa, who supported him.

Al-Maghili embarked on a series of travels, which spread his influence throughout the western Sudan. He held particular influence over Mohammed Rumfa of Kano. For a time al-Maghili was the gray eminence behind the throne, directing Rumfa in his plan to make Kano an authentic Islamic state. al-Maghili corresponded with Rumfa throughout his life and wrote his influential The Obligation of Princes as a handbook for him.

After leaving Kano, al-Maghili went to Gao and instructed Askia Mohammed in Islamic law. So strong was his influence that Askia Mohammed asked him to answer a questionnaire for him on Islamic practice.

Al-Maghili is also famous for founding one of the major Islamic brotherhoods, the Qadiriyya. Fellowship

Spread throughout West Africa and became a major factor in its Islamization.

Al-Maghili’s fame continued to grow after his death. His book became a text for rulers wishing to apply the shari’ a (Islamic law) in a situation of initial Islamic centralization. The Fulani under Usman dan Fodio, for example, used The Obligation of Princes as a guide to reforming the Hausa states they conquered and establishing their version of an authentic Muslim state.

Frank A. Salamone

See also: Hausa Polities.

Further Reading

Hodgkin, T. Nigerian Perspectives. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Paden, J. Religion and Political Culture in Kano. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.