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Maulana Sheikh Muhammad al-Nasir Kabara (RA)
Life and Times
The Amirul Jaysh, Sheikh Nasir Muhammad Kabara (RA), Life and Times
Nasir Muhammad Umar Kabara, a noted Islamic scholar and philsopher was born in
1912 in Guringuwa village outside
Kano, Nigeria. His grandparents came from Kabara, a town under Timbucktu
kingdom. His third generation grandfather - also from Kabara in Timbucktu -
Mallam Umaru, also known as Mallam Kabara was the only one from the
lineage to settle in Adakawa in Kano city, before moving on to what is now known
as Kabara ward, named after him. He
was an accomplished Sufi in Timbucktu before departing for Kano.
first thing Mallam Kabara did on settling in Kabara ward was to establish a
school in 1787, of a sort commonly referred as Zaure School where the outer
entrance hall of his house was converted into an Islamic school. This school
possibly among the oldest recorded schools in Kano is now part of the Darul
Qadiriyya household of Sheikh Nasiru Kabara.
youthful Nasiru was extremely enthusiastic in his search for knowledge. His
first encounter with advanced Islamic learning system - long after he had
graduated from the normal Allo (Qur'an read from wooden slates) schooling
system, emerging extremely fluent in Arabic language, Islamic jurisprudance and
Linguistics - was with Bad'ul Amli and Murshida, both treatises on Tauhidi; the
unity of God. Next followed a voracious apepite for other books and soon he had
completed his studies of Ahlari,
Iziyya and Risala: all books necessary for a proper understanding of Islam.
Because in Islam there is no concept of copyright, soon after the youthful Nasir
was himself typesetting the Risala and Ishiriniya (book of poetry in praise of
the Prophet) and selling them.
learning process was essentially self-motivated, with of course appropriate
encouragement from his main teacher: Mallam Natsugune. Consequently, the
youthful Nasiru was a voracious searcher of Islamic knowledge, being far ahead
of his contemporaries - indeed he was actually preaching to his classmates his
advanced understanding of the meaning of the Quran; thus sowing the early seeds
of his entry into Tafsir at such tender age.
Kano of that era - 1920s - there were five advanced schools; essentially what
can be considered pre-university schools now - where the young Nasiru used to
go, on his own, to further his knowledge. These schools were:
The House of Deputy Imam of the City Central Mosque, located in the
The House of Mallam Ibrahim, Chief Judge of Kano at Yakasai ward
The House of Bichi Circuit Judge, Alhaji Musdafa at Kurawa ward
The House of Sheik Abdulkarim (Mallam Sambo) at Ciromawa ward
The House of Chief Imam of Zawiyya, Mallam Inuwa at Mayanka ward
schools had extensive reference libraries containing collections obtained from
various North African scholastic centers. All form the central core of Nasiru's
thirst for further knowledge.
at that age, his acquisition of knowledge was more than rote learning; he
questioned what he did not understand from his teacher; thus being extremely
revolutionary in his understanding of Islamic knowledge. The traditional
perception of the relationship between the pupil and the master in the Islamic
schooling system rarely gives room for interactive acquisition of the knowlege.
Nasir did not accept such didactic relationship, and consequently, with
diffidence and respect, always requests for further elaboration of what he did
not understand of what he learnt from his teachers - who themselves were only
too willing to oblige the young scholar. This was not suprising, even in the
"archaic" 1930s Kano, considering the fact that some of his other
teachers were graduates of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest
university in Africa. Thus Nasiru Kabara combined two intellectual traditions:
his Timbuctu ancestry when Timbuctu itself was a citadel of learnig in the
Sudan; and his contact with visiting scholars and professors from Al-Azhar in
the 1930s in Kano.
the local residents in Kano who joined the Qadiriyya at this time (1937) was a
young lad, Muhammad Nasir Kabara, who was destined to bring great changes in the
tariqa and not only to introduce the celebration of the birthday of Shaykh Abd
al-Qadir al-Jilani, a festival which was not practiced by the North Africans,
but also to carry the use of bandiri to every corner of Hausaland.
the age of seventeen, Muhammad Nasir was really too young to be accepted as a
member of the Qadiriyya but, as his grandfather, Mallam Nakabara - an extremely
well learned Mallam - wished him to enter the order, Shaykh Sa'ad had a little
choice but to give him the wazifa. Although a youth, Nasir was not only well
read in classical Arabic literature and sciences but he was also conversant with
the learning of Sufism and the works of the leading sufi scholars of the time.
the Amir of Kano Abdullahi Bayero went on the hajj Nasir sent a letter through
Wali Sulaiman to the Khalifa of the Qadiriyya, Shaykh Abu al-Hassan as-Sammani,
the grandson of the founder of the Sammaniyya, asking him to give him an ijaza
to become muqaddam of his own zawiya. The Shaykh was astonished to hear of such
a highly learned youth and he sent a jubba and cap to Nasir together with a
letter of appointment as a muqaddam. Although Nasir did not immediately separate
himself from the community in Alfindiki, as Shaykh Sa'ad was still alive, his
actions were regarded as innovations by the Arabs. In 1949 Nasir made the Hajj
and met the new Khalifa, Shaykh Hashim and Shaykh Muhammad of Mauritania. On his
return journey, he visited the Sudan, where he met with Shaykh Muhammad al-Fatih
b. Shaykh Qarib Allah, Khalifa of the Sudanese Samaniyya. He also visited other
Arab countries where he learnt many things concerning the hadra and bandiri
organization. By 1950 Sheikh Nasir was in many ways far more versatile and
eclectic than his teachers; and having successfully made Sufism acceptable to
wider audience, he was thus able to make Qadiriyya penetrate into every part of
since about 1958 Nasiru Kabara has been considered the leader of all branches of
Qadiriyya in Kano. The lines of authority within the leadership
structure, however, may be viewed in terms of both the individuals whose
authority extends over several branches and the particular patterns within each
Kabara received his original authority in Kuntiyya and Ahl al-Bayt from Ibrahim
Nakabara, who was the dominant figure linking nineteenthand twentieth-century
Qadiriyya in Kano. Ibrahim (ca. 1867-1941) was Fulani and his grandfather was
originally from Katsina. He learned a wide range of subjects from his father:
law, theology, literature, logic, and grammar. He learned astrology from Mahmud
Kabara; law (the Mukhtasar) from the babban mallami, Abdurrahman al-Sayudi; and
sufism (especially Qadiriyya) from his father and from Ibrahim of Zaria, who had
come to Kano. By the age of thirty, he had become a legal adviser to Emir Aliyu.
He was offered the position of alkali (judge) but refused on the conviction that
mallams should not be involved in government. He did not travel outside Kano and
continued his position as legal adviser under emirs Abbas, Usman, and Abdullahi
Bayero. He was also the personal mallarn of Emir Usman. Ibrahim did not write
books, although he did possess his own written commentaries on the Mukhtasar.
His home in Kabara ward was a center of higher learning in Hausaland. One
section of his compound was set aside for studies of theology and mysticism, and
another section was set aside for studying law. He was not an ardent proponent
of solitude (khalwa). Although there were other leaders of traditional Qadiriyya
in Kano during this period, Ibrahim's authority was reinforced by his personal
qualities of piety and knowledge and by his effectiveness as a teacher of
mallams. He was not succeeded in this authority by his son but by his student
Nasiru Kabara, who exhibited these same qualities.
Kabara"was "given" to Ibrahim na Kabara as a child and grew up in
his household. As a Fulani, Nasiru has had access to the Traditional Qadiriyya
mallams in Kano. Through his abilities as a scholar and teacher, he became the
likely heir to Ibrahim na Kabara."
the period from 1935 to 1955, Nasiru was successful in establishing direct
contact with the primary sources of Qadiriyya authority in Khartoum, Timbuktu,
and Baghdad; and thus he became increasingly independent of Traditional
Qadiriyya lines of authority. His trip to Baghdad in 1953 was a turning point in
his career. It established his authority directly within the international
headquarters of Qadiriyya; while in Baghdad he studied classical and modern
aspects of Qadiriyya, and subsequently he introduced or interpreted much of this
material for a Nigerian audience; his sole traveling companion to Baghdad was
the wealthy merchant, Sanusi Dantata. As a result of the trip, Nasiru secured
the financial support for his campaign to reform Qadiriyya and extend it to a
his return from Baghdad, Nasiru opened his own Qadiriyya mosque and declined to
attend the mosque of Muhammad Sidi. By 1956 most of the leadership and laity had
aligned with Nasiru and a rapprochement was reached with Muhammad Sidi. During
this period Nasiru traveled throughout northern Nigeria opening mosques and
appointing muqaddams. He also nurtured his contacts in the Arab world, returning
twice to Baghdad and visiting Khartoum, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Tehran, and
Amman. In 1958 he was appointed headmaster of Shahuci judicial School and
Library in Kano. In 1961 he opened his own Islamiyya Senior Primary School in
Gwale ward and has continued teaching advanced subjects in his own home.
1949 Nasiru was appointed to the emir's Council of Advisers by Abdullahi Bayero.
When Muhammad Sanusi became emir in 1954, however, Nasiru was replaced on the
council by Reformed Tijani mallams. During the reign of Sanusi, Nasiru served as
a legal consultant to the Northern Muslim Court of Appeal and continued as one
of the two tafsir readers in the palace (q.v.). With the appointment of Ado
Bayero as emir in 1963, Nasiru again became an adviser to the emir. Since 1963
he has been a member of the Kaduna Council of Mallams and has been on numerous
local and regional committees, ranging from the Kano Native Authority Committee
on Prostitution to the Northern Nigerian Special Committee on Education in Kano
his involvement as a government mallam, Nasiru Kabara has maintained a base of
authority independent of the administrative structures in Kano and northern
Nigeria. He has been largely responsible for making Qadiriyya acceptable to the
common man, both Fulani and Hausa, and has been an important intermediary
between the Fulani ruling class and the Hausa commoner. He has translated the
theology and mysticism of Qadiriyya into the Hausa idiom.
addition to the functions of initiation, training, and intermediation, the
Qadiriyya leadership in Kano has responsibility for financing and organizing the
various activities of the brotherhood and for communicating with all segments of
the brotherhood, local and national. In the transformation of the brotherhood
from an elite to a mass organization, a major leadership function has been the
inspiration and administration of ritual.
of the Reformed Qadiriyya members do wuridi in groups led by an imam. The exact
nature of the wuridi varies with the subgroup within Qadiriyya. The total time
expended in each group would be about thirty minutes per day. Some Qadiriyya (Salamiyya)
imams also lead bandiri sessions about twice a week in the evenings. During
these group prayer sessions the leader-follower nexus is strongly reinforced,
partly by the traditional relationship of an imam to those who "pray
Qadiriyya has placed a special emphasis on group celebration of the founder's
birthday (Mauludin Abdulkadir). This ceremony is specifically identified with
Reformed Qadiriyya and was initiated in Kano by Nasiru Kabara in about 1959. It
serves as a yearly meeting for brotherhood leaders and members from throughout
northern Nigeria. Delegations from each of the major northern cities congregate
in Kano for a full day of prayers and activities. The central feature of the day
is a group procession, arranged by area delegations, from the home of Nasiru
Kabara in the Jarkasa area of Kabara ward to the Kano Qadiriyya burial ground
west of Kano City, where prayers are said over the graves of Kano Qadiriyya
saints. The procession also serves as the only time in the year when men, women,
and children all participate in the same worship service. The order of
procession indicates roughly the hierarchy of authority within the Qadiriyya
elite; there is an inner core of muqaddams who accompany Nasiru Kabara during
the patterns of authority and community withiin Qadiriyya in Kano several points
may be summarized:
Association with Qadiriyya in the nineteenth century was limited to Fulani
mallams and administrators (who derived their authority from the leaders of the
Fulani Jihad) and to North African Arabs (who did not integrate themselves
religiously into the Kano Milieu).
With the establishment of colonial rule, elements in the Kano Arab community
reaffirmed their own spiritual links with North African sources of spiritual
Members of the Hausa mallam class began to associate with this renewed form of
North African Qadiriyya and were rccruited into leadership positions within one
Part of the success of Qadiriyya in the Hausa sector was due to an emphasis on
group worship and the focusing of activities within local mosques.
The "legitimate" successor to the leadership of traditional Fulani
Qadiriyya in Kano (Nasiru Kabara) affiliated with independent lines of Qadiriyya
authority as a reinforcement of his "inherited" authority and sought
to consolidate the Arab, Hausa, and Fulani sections of Qadiriyya.
This was accomplished partly by extending Qadiriyya from an elite base to a mass
base. In this process, the support of wealthy Hausa merchants was essential. On
the mass level, Reformed Qadiriyya was also a rdection of emergizng Kano
nationalism which demanded that religious authority be shifted from Sokoto and
North Africa to Kano itself.
Because of the mass base of Reformed Qadiriyya, it was no longer possible for
the Qadiriyya elite to identify completely with the Kano ruling class. Thus,
while brotherhood leaders might act as advisers to the ruling class, they have
usually guarded their status as nongovernment mallarns.
Perhaps as a consequence of the shift from an elite to a mass base, the
brotherhood leadership became involved in two relatively new functions: the
interpretation of doctrine for local use and the inspiration, through ritual and
ceremony, of group and mass worship.
of Authority and Community in Reformed Qadiriyya
Traditional Qadiriyya in Kano relied heavily on the nineteenth century Jihad
writings as the major sources of Qadiriyya doctrine the leaders of Reformed
Qadiriyya have themselves been prolific writers. Like the Fulani Jihad writers,
the contemporary Qadiriyya writers are concerned to relate classical Islamic
thought to local circumstances. In the interim period between the Jihad writings
and the contemporary writings, there was "a dearth of Qadiriyya literature
in Kano. None of the major leaders during this period, Ibrahim na Kabara, Ali
Musa, Saad b. Ahmad, Sharif Garba, Sidi Muhammad, and Muhammad Sidi-wrote on
Qadiriyya. The Reformed Qadiriyya movement, associated with Nasiru Kabara and
Ahmad b. Ali, has not only produced its own literature but has revived an
interest in the Jihad classics," has introduced works on Qadiriyya from the
Arab world," and has inspired local Hausa "praise poets" "
to express themselves on brotherhood matters. Nasiru Kabara hase written about
150 works in all.
amount of systematic theology in the writings of Nasiru Kabara has been minimal;
his primary purpose seems to be to relate the history and elements of the
brotherhood in terms understandable to contemporary Kano society and to
stimulate an identification with the saints of the brotherhood. The writings of
Ahmad b. Ali cover many of these same topics. There is no specific praise of the
Shaziliyya way, as distinct from Qadiriyya, and much of the literature contains
poems that are sung at worship gatherings. Another Reformed Qadiriyya leader in
Kano, Adamu na Ma'aji (q.v.), seems mainly concerned with chains of authority
and conditions of initiation."
writings of brotherhood leaders such as Nasiru Kabara and Ahmad b. Ali espouse
the community and authority of Qadiriyya on two major grounds: affiliational
(primarily on the basis of direct personal experience) and communal (primarily
on the basis of loyalty to the nineteenth-century Jihad tradition). Within the
category of affiliational appeal, there have been five areas of doctrinal
exposition: the origins and spread of Qadiriyya, the elements and requirements
of Qadiriyya, the benefits and blessings for those who follow Qadiriyya,
personal praise of the Qadiriyya saints, and general preaching.
regard to the spread of Qadiriyy, Nasiru Kabara describes in Alnafahat the
Qadiriyya shaykhs in history and the distribution of Qadiriyya among the
continents of the world." In Naf' al-'ibad, he discusses the Qadiriyya
caliphate throughout history. In Ithaf al-khald'iq he presents the genealogy of
the founder, 'Abd al-Qadir, and a considerable amount of biographical data. He
also mentions some of the successors of 'Abd al-Qadir in the contemporary world.
regard 4o the requirements of Qadiriyya, Nasiru Kabara elabarates in Al-nafabdt
the details and the nature of the brotherhood ceremonies." In the Naf'
aVibad he describes the Qadiriyya daily voluntary prayers." In the Ithaf
al-khald'iq he discusses the necessities and voluntary aspects of ablution,
washing, taimama (symbolic washing with dust), prayer, prostration, giving of
alms, fasting, pilgrimage, and other Islamic rituals for those who follow
Qadiriyya. In Da'wat al-ghawth he elaborates on the conditions for following
regard to the benefits of Qadiriyya, all of the above-mentioned writings refer
to the personal satisfactions and blessings that accrue to those who follow
Qadiriyya. Nasiru describes the "glorious benefits" for the followers
of Qadiriyya and assures them of the best reward.
regard to the praise of Qadiriyya saints, it is clear that instead of being a
perfunctory gesture it is a culmination of the past that is directed into the
brotherhood experience. In Naf al-'ibad, Nasiru inscribes the prayer he offered
while at the tomb of 'Abd al-Qadir in Baghdad.
praise of a primary saint, 'Abd al-Qadir, should not obscure the central fact of
all the reformed brotherhoods: an individual is encouraged to do addu'a (al-du'a),
that is, to pray directly to God. Nasiru exemplifies the passion and symbolism
of such a prayer in the Subhdt al-anwar.
general preaching has always been a function of the religious authorities who
try to induce conversions through individual volition. Such preaching is
invariably in the vernacular language (in this case Hausa); and if it can be
fashioned into poetry, it will be sung by minstrels near and far. Nasiru Kabara
has been particularly successful in his general preaching.
Kabara identified in the Subhat al-anwar, five branches of Qadiriyya in
Hausaland, one of which is Usmaniyya. In various other works, he refers to
Usmaniyya al-Fudawiyya and identifies himself with this branch. In the Naf al-'ibad
he includes the prayer he read when he visited the tomb of Usman dan Fodio, and
it is clear that he regards Muhammad Bello, son of Usman, as among the founders
of Usmaniyya. Nasiru writes that he hopes to visit Bello at Wurno (the
assumption being that Bello is not dead). While Nasiru does not include any
reference to special ritual associated with Usmaniyya, it is clear that the
Jihad leaders are considered to be of special importance. The continual
identification of them with Qadiriyya is clearly intended to remind their
descendants not to desert the "faith of their fathers." The Hausa poem
by Ibrahim Makwarari (Begen Shehu Abdulkadir) is illustrative of the way in
which Nasiru is regarded as the successor to the Jihad leaders.
regard to the alleged doctrinal prohibition against change of brotherhood, there
has been an attack on mallams who encourage such conversion, primarily those
associated with Reformed Tijaniyya. The doctrinal basis of this attack is stated
by Nasiru Kabara in Al-nalabat, where he suggests that the Tijani mallams are
"fabricating" if they assert that one tariqa is better than another.
He argues for a strict prohibition against leaving the Qadiriyya brotherhood,
supporting his argument with verses from the Qur'an and traditions of the
Prophet. He asserts that when a person has promised to do something religious,
such as follow a brotherhood, he must keep that promise. He criticizes the
Tijaniyya specifically for assuming it can convert persons from other
brotherhoods, suggesting that this was not the policy of the original Tijani
leaders and that the practice is a false modern innovation .
has published well over 150 treatises and books explaining various aspects of
Islamic philosophy, Arabic and Hausa linguistics. His writing career started
quite early in his life in his youth. Perhaps not surprisingly, his first
treatise was on Abdulkadir Jilani, the founder of the Qadiriyya Islamic
Philosophical movement. His method of writing usually follows the medieval
scholastic tradition widespread in the middle-east. Thus he combines commentary
with critical appraisal. A classical example of his approach is provided in the
intellectual conjectures-and-refutations arguments of Al-Ghazali in his Tahaful
Falasafa, and Ibn Rushd's counter-commenterary, Tahaful Tahafut.
writings follow a specified and characteristic pattern; beginning with the
praise of God, then the rationale of the writing under consideration and the
proposed title of the work., followed by an abstract and then the main
exposition. An example is his exposition on arm positioning during prayers which
he explained in Kan Ul Fasab. He started by priasing Shehu Abdulmahal-al-Shawani
a leading exponent of Shafi'iyya movement which supports Saddlu (dropping the
arms by the side during the standing portion of the prayer). He then brings a
Prophetic tradition (Hadith) which shows the Prophet's support for such arm
positioning. Subsequently, the then brings more Prophetic traditions which
explained the stands of both Sadlu and Kablu (crossing the arms on the chest
during the standing portion of the prayer).
his various writings, Sheikh Nasiru Kabara has clearly brought out the concept
of Kanawiyya, a connation of Kano as an intellectual entrepot in medieval
Africa. Some of the books and
treatises he has published are included below.
Qadiriyya, Kano, Nigeria
Resources and Links
by Dr. Abdalla Uba Adamu, Bayero University, Kano,
webmaster: Salisu Danyaro, New Jersey, U.S.