Was Emir Abbas a Shi’ite? Between Prof. Dahiru Yahya & Emir of Kano Sanusi II, by Nadir A. Nasidi

When Muhammad Al-Amin El-Kanemi of Borno Empire made some ahistorical statements in a letter he wrote to Muhammad Bello (1817-1837), the then Sultan of the historic Sokoto Caliphate, about not only the illegality of the 1804 Jihad but also its extension to the former’s territory, Bello wrote a reply in which he categorically stated that initially, he did not intend to respond to El-Kanemi’s letter because it was a mere castle in the air.

However, apart from clarifying certain religio-historical issues principally to the students of learning, Bello replied accordingly for the sake of knowledge, justice, and the truth. For details, one should refer back to Bello’s magnum opus titled ‘Infāq al-Maisūr fi Tarikh Bilād al-Tukrūr.’

It is obvious that Emir Muhammadu Sanusi’s critique of Prof. Dahiru Yahya’s paper presented at a national conference on Kano’s politics, economy, and society since the earliest times to the present, has generated a lot of tension, especially in the public domain. However, the discourse receives no purely intellectual response, which like Bello, is the main reason that prompted me to write this short piece at least, in the defense of history, intellectual honesty, and justice.

Prof. Yahya’s claim that Emir Abbas (1903-1919) (the 8th Fulani King) was a Shi’ite, an argument, which the present Emir finds objectionable really provoked him to reply to the former at least, in the defense of his great-great-grandfather. Meanwhile, if we analyze the Emir’s criticism closely and intellectually, four fundamental issues will come into the light, which I will treat separately.

Firstly, the Emir did not disprove the fact that Emir Abbas was a Shi’ite despite his shrewd prevarication to give the latter a safe-landing. Instead, he further proved to us that indeed, Emir Abbas practiced Shi’ism, but Zaidiyyah, which is one of the major types of Shi’ah others being Ithna Ashariyyah (The Twelvers), Ghurābiyyah, Bābiyyah, Ja’afariyyah, to mention, but just a few. Zaidiyyah emerged from Shi’a Islam in the 8th century and was named after Zayd ibn ʻAlī, the grandson of Husayn ibn ʻAlī and the son of their fourth Imam Ali ibn ‘Husain. Besides, I want to make it abundantly clear that as far as the Muslim world is concerned, Muslims are majorly classified into two; the Sunni and the Shi’ah and by no means can the Emir exempt Zaidiyyah from falling into the Shi’ah class. Even though the followers of Zaidiyyah do not insult the Prophet’s companions like Abubakar, Umar and Uthman, their belief in Imamates and fundamental similarities to Mu’utazilites asides upholding the major Shi’ah doctrinal injunctions, made it a purely Shi’ah affair, which no scholar objects.

Secondly, the Emir claims that Emir Abbas’s relations with the Yemeni Shi’ites was purely economic not intellectual and the gullible people listening to him were busy clapping. Not only an intellectual, but a sensible person will also surely agree with me that one does not need an intellectually oriented relationship to make one believe in a particular ideology. This is because intellectualism cuts across the socio-political and even the economic. Thus, business, love, sympathy, etc. can instrumentally be used as a vehicle to initiate people into not only Shi’ism as an ideology, but even atheism.

Thirdly, the Emir in trying to condemn some of the Yemeni scholars who initiated Emir Abbas into Shi’ism like Sheikh Ujdud (not the Tijjani), claimed that they were alcoholics and has displayed that in Emir Abbas’s palace in Kano. For this claim, however, two things became apparent; either Emir Abbas was an alcoholic too, or he entertained alcoholics, a condition, which further justifies the state of the Emir’s religiosity, which the present Emir stands to protect.

Fourthly, way back in 1903, this Emir Abbas dramatically connived with the British colonial government against his people just to grasp the mantle of leadership as the Emir of Kano.

However, the present Emir claims that on the contrary, Abbas succumbed to the will of the British and refused to resent like his kinsmen as a way of surrendering his economic and political will to colonialism so as to ‘save’ Islam, which according to the Emir, if not for what Abbas did, we would have probably been ‘Christians’, an incidence that has not to happen anywhere in the history of Islam. Unknown to many people, despite Emir Abbas’s selfless service to the British, he was killed by a British official in 1919, who kicked the Emir with his boot in the stomach.

It appears to me that Emir Sunusi is confusing historical facts as a result of the fact that he lacks proper historical training. Probably, that is why he could not differentiate between the Umayyad being a caliphate, or a dynasty.

Similarly, I am highly flabbergasted by the way and manner the Emir began to seek for the back-up of Sheikh al-Islam, Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah al-Harrāni to defend his grand-fathers even though to him, Ibn Taymiyyah was an imposter. This view is very prevalent in the Emir’s works, especially in the 2000s.

As a professional historian, I think there is a strong need to look into the historical sources of Prof. Dahiru Yahya because I sense in them, the elements of truth. This call will majorly be honoured by historians and Islamic scholars so as to trace where the truth lays.