Sunday, May 21, 2023



Islam as a religion has thrived in Yorubaland for centuries now. However, the topic about the origins of Islam in Yorubaland in the Nigerian public sphere has often been a source of conjectures, cooked up tattles and hearsay, mostly unfounded. 

This is particularly rooted in the fact that what seems like an Islamic leadership in Nigeria today is ascribed or rooted elsewhere outside Yorubaland. As such, there's an important need to provide answers to the questions of when/how the Yoruba came in contact with Islam in relation with the Islamic experiences of other groups in the present-day Nigeria.

The oldest elements of the Islamic religion is known to have been introduced into Yorubaland through long distance trade interactions with the Wangara people of Mali. According to Akinjogbin (1971), Islam had come to the ancient Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo by the 14th century through trans-Saharan trade. 

The Wangara, also known by various other names such as Wakore, Juula & Wankori are a Manding speaking people from the Soninke ethnicity who spread out of the Mali empire of old all over West Africa as merchants and traders while carrying their Islamic religion with them. 

They were known to have traded in merchandise to places as far as Salaga and Bono in Ghana, Mossi in Burkina Faso, Kong in Ivory coast, Borgu and the Oyo empire in Nigeria/Benin. Ibn Battuta described them in 1352 as "traders from west of the interior delta of the Niger", while the Tarikh al-fattash refers to the Wangara as "one who engages in trade and travels from one horizon to another." 

From the 12th-14th centuries, the Wangara expanded trade networks eastwards to various kingdoms between the Niger river and Chad Basin. It was in this time period (1300s) that the capital of the Oyo empire, situated in the basin of the middle Niger river came in contact with this new religion. Due to the pattern of spread, it can be said that Islam entered Yorubaland from a north westerly direction through the lands of the Bariba/Borgu which is situated halfway between the Yoruba and Mande peoples. 

This was during the period of Mansa Kankan Musa who reigned in Mali c.1312 – 1337. In the 19th century, Heinrich Barth documented the history of the Wangara's long islamic involvement in Bariba cities like Nikki, right at the doorsteps of the Old Oyo empire. In the Borgu kingdoms, part of which was under the suzereignity of Oyo, their royalty were called Wasangari, a clear derivative of Wangara/ Wangari.

Interestingly, it was after this period that the same Wangara introduced Islam into Hausaland. According to the Kano chronicles, between 40 & 160 Wangara merchants emigrated to Kano in the reign of Sarki Ali Yaji Dan Tsamiya (1349-1385) and introduced Islam. According to the second source by Idris b, Husai dating to 1650/51, the Wangara actually came to Kano under Mohamad Rumfa (1463-1499), after having left Mali in  (1433 AD). The first Muslim ruler of Katsina, Mohamed Korau, was also  Wangara. He ruled, according to historical records, between 1492 and 1493. Whatever the case, it is evident that chronologically, the Islamic Wanagra were already in the Oyo empire before Kano and Katsina. 

The original mosques of Oyo ile were built to serve the spiritual needs of the long distance Wangara traders from Mali living in the Oyo empire, but as time went on a few Yoruba converted and joined the fold. -  After even more time, they began emergence of indigenous Muslims and local mosques across Yorubaland. The first mosque in Oyo and all of Yorubaland was built in 1550. 

Subsequently, converted locals who found a persuasion with islam started building Mosques. Ìwó town came next; Its first Mosque built in 1655. Followed by Ìsẹ́yìn in 1760, Lagos in 1774, and Ṣaki in 1790. Islam manifested in Osogbo in 1820. Other Yoruba towns like Ede, Ikirun, Ijebu Ode, Ilobu, and Ikire had been aware of Islam and already had Muslim adherents long before the emergence of the Fulani jihad of Sokoto or the Ilorin theatre of the Jihad which has been erroneously described by some to be the origins of Islam in Yorubaland. 

Islam was practiced in Yorubaland so early on in history, that a sizeable proportion of enslaved Yoruba taken to the Americas were already Muslim. Islamic adherents In Brazil become known as the Malê, a derivative of what Islam is known by in Yorubaland "Imale", which is in turn directly derived from the Geographical origins of the Wangara who introduced Islam into Yorubaland, The Mali Empire, known at the time as "Melle". 


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