Intellectual Discourse in the Sokoto Caliphate: The Triumvirate’s Opinions on the Issue of Ransoming, ca. 1810

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Abstract: The early Sokoto Caliphate scholarly discussion on the issue of the ransoming of war prisoners is a further demonstration of the importance of contextualizing West African intellectual debates and the opinions of intellectuals. The ransoming of war prisoners was an important policy concern of Sokoto’s central government since it was tied into the issue of legal and illegal enslavement and the rights of freeborn Muslims. The failure of the Hausa states to protect freeborn Muslims from enslavement had been a cause of the reform movement that led to the establishment of the state. In regards to ransoming, this article establishes that the recorded divergent opinions of the founding governor-scholars of the Sokoto Caliphate, ‘Uthmān b. Fūdī, ‘Abdullāhi b. Fūdī, and Muḥammad Bello, were based primarily on the fact that they were addressing different political and social situations as they were trying to establish their state. The triumvirate’s engagement of this issue exemplifies the dynamism and responsiveness of the Sokoto leadership to the challenges of governing a diverse region as well as the intellectual vibrancy of Muslim African intellectual thought and its connections with the scholarship of the greater Islamic world.