Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

by Mukhtar Umar Bunza Published on: 23rd May 2017

4 / 5. Votes 200

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

This paper presented at the 7th International Congress of the International Society of the History of Islamic Medicine, and 4th Fez Congress on History of Medicine, jointly organized by the University of Muhamed Ben Abdallah, the International Society of the History of Medicine, and the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, UK, (FSTC) 24th to 28th October 2016.

Abuja National Mosque (Source)


The level of intellectual and scholarly rejuvenation that characterized the nineteenth century Muslim regions of Nigeria culminated into the thriving rational awakening which consequently contributed to the emergence of Muslim scholars and researchers who ventured into general studies, experimentations and discoveries into different aspects of knowledge. That unprecedented academic venture left an indelible mark in the singular and onerous contributions of Muslim scholars in the study of various aspects of sciences and medicine. The nature, character and relevance of the study of medicine was theoretically addressed by scholars in the 19th century thereby trying to reposition and reshape the mental, intellectual and spiritual threads and fabrics of the Muslims about the importance and necessity for the study of the subject among the Muslims. On the other hand, they also tried intellectually to set a phase and redefine boarders and frontiers in the development of medical sciences by fundamentally codifying and documenting thematically different fields of medical sciences in order to encourage students and researches to study the area as a normal discipline in the curriculum and learning methods in the region.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
Students in a science class celebrating their graduation, Nigeria – from E. H. Duckworth (1893-1972) Photograph Collection  (Source)

The paper therefore intends to investigate and report how the Muslims contributed to the hypothetical discourse  on medicine, and their actual contributions in various fields of medical studies such as pharmacology, general medicine, ophthalmology, surgery, dermatology,  hygiene, and other related fields. The expected result of which will be to demonstrate the level of Muslim contributions in medical sciences before the destructions of those citadels of learning and research institutions by the British and French imperial forces in the early 20th century. Consequently, the study will nostalgically call for the re-examination and re-experimentation and contextualization of these medical reports and findings in the light of modern science and technology, and to encourage the Muslims in Nigeria, West Africa and beyond to embrace this indispensable field of knowledge as part and parcel of their historical legacy and heritage.

Background to Muslim Intellectual Development in the Pre-Nineteenth Century Nigeria

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

Hausa people 1902 (Source)

Islam is a religion of letters, which emphasizes teaching and practice of its tenets through learning and knowledge. As noted earlier, Islam came into the Central Bilad al-Sudan through trade from North Africa following the already existing trade routes.  It started making headway into other parts of western and central Sudan. Although, the exact date of coming of Islam into the region has not yet been determined, but as early as the 8th Century AD Islam was in Kanem Borno.[1]

Islam appeared in most parts of Hausa states of Northern Nigeria in a later period. It is quite probable that almost within the same time Islam must have been in some parts of Hausaland via Borno due to the political, cultural and commercial ties that existed between the two regions even before the advent of the religion of Islam.  Before the end of the fifteenth Century, however, Islam had already started becoming a state religion in some Hausa States, especially in Kano during the reign of Muhammad Rumfa 1466 -1499.  Furthermore, the role of the migrant Muslim communities like the Wangarawa, Fulani and Kunta migrants into the region contributed greatly to the spread and consolidation of Islamic education among the various peoples of Central Sudan.

According to M.A. Alhaj:

The Wangarawa came from Malle bringing Muhammadan (Islamic) religion. The name of their leader was Abdulrahman Zaite. Shaykh Abdulrahman Zaite whose original intention was to perform pilgrimage was accompanied on his journey by a very large contingent of followers including about 3,636 erudite scholars. When in Hausaland (Northern Nigeria), the Wangarawa first passed through the lands of Gobir, Azben and Katsina before they finally settled in Kano. Some followers close to Abdulrahman chose to settle in Gobir and Katsina for one reason or the other.” [2] 

The missionary and intellectual activities of the Wangarawa scholars who were of Malian origin in Hausaland were very remarkable. To date, some of their progenies are respected as imams and teachers in many parts of this area, like Zaria and some parts of former Gobir Kingdom.

Another contributory factor to the development of Islamic education in the region was royal patronage and high social status accorded to Ulama due to literary roles and contributions in the development of the states. In the same vein, itinerant scholars among the Fulani, Duala, and other tribes of the Senegambia region also contributed in this direction. The same as North African scholars such as Muhammad bin Abdulkareem al-Maghili and Imam Jalal al-Deen al-Suyuti aided in terms of guidance and literature especially to the ruling class.[3]

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

Sultan of Zinder’s palace courtyard, Niger, 1906 (Source)

Consequent upon this, almost all the major cities of commerce in the Central Sudan (northern Nigeria) turned out to be new centers of Islam and learning especially in the 16th to the 18th Centuries. Some of the possible reasons may be that, these well established cities attracted the attention of migrant scholars more than any other place in West Africa during this  the period. The activities of traders and Muslim scholars in the view of Lewis became very difficult to distinguish. That was due to the fact that, these two activities of teaching and trading were combined in one person in most cases. Therefore, the contribution of long distance trade in the spread and diffusion of Islam and Islamic scholarship in all regions of Africa was remarkable. [4] Thus, it was trade and mutual cooperation that facilitated the development of Islam and Islamic education in the region and not the sword or use of force.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary AccountBooks at the Djenne Manuscript Library (Source)

Due to the fact that, ‘book’ has been an enduring medium of disseminating knowledge, a means of communicating and circulating ideas and thoughts of people,[5] Muslim missionaries emphasized knowledge and book culture as the backbone of their missionary activities.  The idea was first initialized in the context of the Qur’an as a valuable book and a companion for all the Muslims, and then followed in rank by the Hadith books and other scholarly works on various aspects of jurisprudence and other sciences. The type of Islam that was introduced in central Sudan was book and literary oriented. Indeed, the main source of Islamic orientation was the North Africa, the Egyptian or the al-Azhar tradition, which more or less had established unreserved respect for scholars and books.

The North African intellectual tradition was extended to Timbuktu, Sankore and Jenne where Islamic learning was first institutionalized in West Africa. As a result, schools of varying degrees were established in those cities. Sankore was renowned for the well established schools of international standards that flourished in it. Timbuktu is still being explored for its wealth of literary materials, manuscripts, and traces of scholarship tradition of West Africa.[6] 

Technology in sub-Saharan Cultures

A manuscript page from Timbuktu showing a table of astronomical information (Source)

By extension, the Timbuktu educational system was to a large extent, adopted in Nigeria. Consequently, the presence of Islam in this region served as the foundation for the development of schools and book culture among the people. From schools for beginners, both adult and children used slates known as allo for learning; followed by makarantun ilmi i.e. schools for high and advanced studies. Books containing other sciences were also studied. The curriculum and method of teaching at all levels in the schools were aimed at training and producing ulama’– scholars who may in turn establish their own schools and train students in the future.

The next stage is the study of Hadith books. Some of the books studied at this level include Arbauna Hadith, Muwatta of Imam Malik , Jami’ al Saghir  of Suyuti and then Bukhari, Muslim and other major Hadith books. Books on different aspects of Grammar, Syntax, Phonology and Rhetoric, such as Ajurumiyah, and others were studied.   Also Shu’ara al-Jahili, Muqama of al-Hariri were valued for their rich Arabic literature and vocabularies, while al-Burdah and al-Ishiriniyat after being the prophet’s eulogy, also teach Arabic vocabularies.[7]

In the process:

The teacher’s work is to translate, elucidate the text after the student has read a sentence or line aloud. The teacher has a set speed, tone of voice and vocabulary different from that he normally uses… Courses continue until a book is finished in six months or more…There is no formal academic licensing or organization. The quality of work is left to the individual and his student audience is the only examination he is likely to face.”[8] 

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

Young girl reading the Qurʾān, Ibadan, Nigeria (Source)

Learning in books had as early as the 15th and 16th centuries become fashionable among Muslims in Nigeria. The noble and rich persons were involved in the learning process. Quite a number of Hausa rulers studied under different immigrant scholars. For example, Sarkin (King of) Kano Umar (1410-1421) learned fiqh with as-Sheikh Dan Gurdum who taught him the doctrine of Zuhd (ascetism), a doctrine that was responsible for his leaving his throne to the Galadima in order to pursue his ascetic life at the countryside. Sarki Muhammad Rumfa (1463-1499) studied under al-Maghili, Sarki Abd Allah (1499-1509) with Shaykh Ahmad Al-Timbucti and Sarki Abubakar Kado (1565-1573), studied al-Shifa’a under Sheikh Abd al-Azizi al-Qairawanii.[9]  The same story could be found in Borno under the Mais (rulers of Borno) who were said to have studied different aspects of Islamic sciences from the scholars they employed purposely to teach them and their immediate families. That was in addition to paying hugely from the public treasury scholars from all corners and crannies of the Borno Empire to teach and educate the people.[10]

It is beyond doubt that at this level of education and process of learning, books are the only raw materials and finished goods. That was the stage that, Murray Last describes as ‘book oriented, with a marked skill required in classical Arabic. Scholars of this tradition taught text and sought out copies of new books. As exceptional Arabists, they were employed as tutors at royal courts.[11] Apart from enrolling into various schools established in the region, students started trooping into the North African institutions for studies. Notably, the role of al-Azhar University in the training and development of scholars from the Nigerian areas was indubitable.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

al-Azhar University, Cairo (Source)

As early as the 13th century Mai Dunama established hostels (Riwaqs) in al-Azhar to accommodate Kanem Borno students. This clearly indicates that a large number of Kanem Borno students at the time were either studying or had obtained admission into al-Azhar University. This also shows the commitment of the Kanem Borno rulers to encourage and strengthen the scholarship culture and education among their people. [12]

Thus, E. D. Morel commented that, not long after the introduction of Islam in West Africa; many Negros rivalled their Semitic or Berber teachers in Knowledge and erudition. [13]  The most remarkable contribution of the indigenous scholars in Nigeria could be seen in three major fields:

a) Original literary (Arabic) contribution in all fields of human endeavors.

b) Providing commentaries to previous books available in the region (to highlight specific issues affecting the people and practice of the religion in this part of the world).

c) Invention of new indigenous scripts characters known as Ajami (Arabic scripts in indigenous languages).  The Ajami mainly in Hausa, Kanuri, Nupe and Youruba (the major Muslim languages in Nigeria), provided opportunity for inhabitant speakers literate in Arabic to read and write in their local languages, via customized Arabic letters.  That contributed to the widespread literacy among the Nigerian Muslims more than any other people in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, apart from the Ethiopians none of the African tribes invented scripts of their local languages, than the Islamized peoples of Hausa, Nupe, Kanuri and Yoruba Muslims. The level of expertise and sophistication in Arabic language and the ingenuity of the Nigerian Muslim scholars were indeed remarkably exceptional.[14]

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
Hausa Ajami manuscript (Source)

Background to Muslim Scientific and Medical Research in 19th Century Nigeria

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

Two Nigerian men reading  and learning – from E. H. Duckworth (1893-1972) Photograph Collection (Source)

The period of the nineteenth century and its intellectual and academic attainments signified an accomplishment and crowning of all the scholarly and educational tradition that had existed for centuries in this region. It was a century considered as the melting point of both foreign and home-based intellectual legacies. The scholars of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries left behind their works which served as first hand information to the nineteenth century scholars.  The same as they remained aware of those materials produced in other parts of the Muslim world, so they were with the books produced in Nigeria over the centuries.

Stewart argued, that the level of utilization of foreign as well as indigenous literature by the 19th century ulama in Nigeria contributed significantly to their exposure and sophistication in all fields of study including science and medicine; they were directly or indirectly influenced by southern Saharan Sheikhs… Shehu Usman Danfodiyo’s debt to Jibril Ibn Umar’s teaching among the Ait Awari of the Iullemmenden in Adrar has been widely discussed. Ahmad Lebbo’s connections with Azaouad Kunta political and religious counsel is well known; and al-Hajj Umar seems to have been influenced at least indirectly by the Idaw Ali Shaikh of Shinqit at an early date. [15] 

Thomas Hodkin also stressed that the influence of the Maghrebi scholars and teaching style continued to be felt in this area. The stimuli especially from the al-Azhar University, through the influence of its West African graduates, the Salafiya (the reforming ideas associated with Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida), was transmitted mainly through Maghreb, and Wahabiyya influence. In their political aspect according to him, these movements have been essentially anti-traditionalist, anti-Mouraboutic and they stressed for a development of a reformed and modernized type of Islamic education, through the study of the literature and books imported from the region.[16] The result of the new curriculum and teaching style as well as books that were introduced across the Sahara contributed to the emergence of MalamsUlama -who continued to pursue a powerful tradition of Arabic learning, which indeed persist to the present day.[17]

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
Al-Azhar University founded in 970 CE (Source)

The triumvirates (Shehu Usmanu bin Fodiyo, Abd Allah bin Fodiyo and Muhammad Bello bin Shehu Usmanu) maintained that the main source of their educational development and attainment was the extended Islamic tradition of scholarship and a combination of local and international intellectual output. That was why Shehu Danfodiyo considered their works as part of the inherited treasures of the Ummah and not an isolated or invented norms.

Shehu Danfodiyo said:

All our works are explanation of what had been generally treated in works of previous scholars. The works of previous scholars are explanations of what was generally treated in the Book (Qur’an) and Sunnah.”[18]

The caliber of scholars of the 19th century Sokoto tradition was indeed of highest repute that could be found in any society. They had the conviction that Islam is inseparable with knowledge and science; and that science and spirituality were intertwined and aimed at bringing people closer to God and ensuring them comfort and happiness in both this world and the next.

According to Smith:

The academic ideals, the tradition of learning which the mujahidun sought to follow and develop were not, of course something, which they invented themselves. They were the time-honored ideals and traditions of scholarship, which had formed the basis of intellectual endeavor in the Islamic world for centuries: traditions and ideals which the ancient universities of the Islamic world had been founded to preserve…the Islamic idea of knowledge is universalist in nature embracing knowledge of God and his creation including knowledge of anything to be found in the universe (emphasis added).”[19]

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
Photo of residents of Sokoto 1900 (Source)

The nineteenth century Nigeria was indeed a historic time of intellectual revolution, which transformed the region as one of the greatest citadels of learning in the world. The book and literary achievements were holistic and provided the newly established Ummah with all it required academically and intellectually.

In this regard, Ismail noted that:

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

The Foundations of Justice for Legal Guardians, Governors, Princes, Meritorious Rulers, and Kings (Usman dan Fodio), Sokoto 1754-1817 (Source)

In the literature (produced in the 19th century Nigeria) there is everything, the poetry, the prose, the fiction, the true story, the parable, the anecdote, most of what we call the creative recreational art as well as the matters that pertain to faith, state, medicine, the applied sciences and the craft. It drew very well from the Islamic traditions of learning and writing, leaving us with a society that knows more about literacy and education than many who think of it otherwise(emphasis added).”[20]

Hunwick reports that there are about one hundred and thirty one (131) works of Shehu, (Ismail Balogun listed one hundred and fifteen for the Shehu)[21], one hundred and eleven (111) to his brother Abd Allah, one hundred and sixty two (162) to his son Muhammad Bello and seventy five (75) (most of them Qasaids- poems- and translations) to his daughter Nana Asmau. [22] 

One of the important factors for venturing into scientific researches and discoveries by the 19th century Nigerian scholars was the open mindedness in their concept and practice of the essence of Islamic education. They became receptive of ideas and opinions without limit within the ambit of the law. As a result of that they became leading researchers and explorers in various fields of sciences such as medicine, arithmetic, mathematics, geography and the like. The concept and frame of mind upon which the religion of Islam as well its branches of knowledge were viewed and practiced served as the turning point in the intellectual heritage of the region.

The scholars refused to confine the borders of Islamic knowledge to mere spirituality as was the tradition in the land; rather they incorporated teaching and research in sciences and technology and other related subjects. The introduction of this new approach to knowledge could well be viewed as the bedrock for scientific consciousness, research and experimentations among Muslims in Nigeria.

In the tradition of learning which they (the Sokoto ulama’) followed, technology (science and medicine) was not neglected. But it had no importance in itself, and only acquired importance while it was being used as a means of achieving the ends which their learning caused them to seek.”[23]

Why the Study of Science of Medicine

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary AccountSokoto Caliphate, 19th century (Source)

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary AccountNigerian man using theodolite on tripod – from E. H. Duckworth (1893–972) Photograph Collection (Source)

The beginning of the nineteenth century ushered into the West African sub-region unprecedented political social and political challenges. Fundamentally, the change in political and religious landscape of the region became a reality through the establishment of a Caliphate following the success of the reform movement led by Shehu Usmanu Danfodiyo in 1804. In 1809 a strong seat of government was established in Sokoto town by the son of Shehu, Sultan Muhammad Bello; thereby heralding the establishment of a new government which was established based on Islamic frame and world view.

Among the basic principles of the new Ummah and government   was ensuring conformity with the tenets of the Shariah in all facets of human endeavor including medical services.  Thus, it became imperative to uproot and totally transfer the populace from consulting and appropriating the jinn and spirits through the Bori cult and magical practices in diagnosis and cure of ailments both physical and social.  Consequently, Prophetic and scientific medical services were the only legal medical practice to the disposal of the new Muslim leaders, which they, therefore patronized, encouraged and incorporated in the state system.

As part of the responsibility of Muslim leadership to alleviate the suffering and complaints of the   followers, the Sokoto Caliphate addressed the problem of epidemic that posed a serious health challenge to the people in the nineteenth century through investing, investigating and responding adequately to proffer solutions to the problems at hand. The prevalence of eye diseases as well as other maladies was combatted through systematic state programs on health and disease control which turned to be a major milestone and achievement in providing remedy to such endemics in the society.

The trust and high esteem which the people entrusted the new leadership with gave them not only political authority but unparalleled spiritual recognition among the people. Thus, instead of consulting the oracles, shrines and soothsayers the leaders were instead consulted in affairs regarding cure and healing, the same way as they were consulted on administrative and public matters. One of the legendary examples was the written complain sent by the Emir of Zazzau Musa, to Sultan Muhammad Bello in Sokoto about the ailment worrying him for long. After reading the letter Sultan Muhammad Bello diagnosed him as having kidney problem, thus medication and therapy were sent to him, which he administered and was subsequently cured. Through this method quite a number of medical treatises were composed to address one request/complaints or another from the people.[24]  

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
View of Kano, Nigeria, 1850s; sketch by Dr. Heinrich Barth (Source)

Further, the main essence of medical practice in Islam has been earning the pleasure of Allah through rendering service, caring, aiding and assisting those suffering from any form of ailments. In fulfillment of this fundamental principle, the Sokoto Caliphal leaders in 19th century Nigeria dedicated themselves to serving humanity in this direction. Thus, ventured in the research and experimentation as well as providing solutions and diagnosis to endemic and pandemic diseases as well social and psychological ills with a view to serve Allah in order to earn the reward through providing succor to the patients. That was the reason why Abdullahi Fodiyo made it categorically clear that medical practitioner; physician must not have material gain as the basic reason for the practice. Although, it is legitimate for him to be paid for services he rendered. The 19th century Ulama’a therefore, had the conviction that a civilization may not survive effectively without dynamic system of health and medicine based on its world view. Thus, establishing a sound medical care in conformity with the tenets of the Shari’ah, which also further confirm the power of Allah to cure his servants through materials and herbs He created and supplications He sanctioned.[25]  These and similar factors could be ascertained as the basic reasons why the nineteenth century scholars in Nigeria dedicated themselves to study, development, codification and practice of medicine, which could be found in different aspects of medical sciences deriving their authority from various sources as experienced in the classical period of Islam.

On the Sources of Medical Knowledge

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary AccountStatue of Ibn al-Bayṭār in Benalmádena Costa, Spain (Source)

The principal foundation and inspirational force behind the contribution of the nineteenth-century Muslim scholars in Nigeria in medical sciences included Prophetic medicine, which indeed served as an indispensable foundation upon which their entire contributions in the field were based.  It was on the approval and unreserved encouragement by the Holy Prophet on the issue of medicine and cure that motivated not only the Sokoto Ulama’a but the entire Muslim community to accord the study a special position. Under this premise, the Prophetic license on the concept of al-Hikmah Dallat al-Mu’min– Wisdom is the lost property of a believer- they consider knowledge as having no barrier to region, color, faith, or status.   Thus, the traditional Hausa medicine was Islamized, studied and appreciated. Classical Muslim physician works, works of ibn Sina,  Ibn Baytar, Abubakar Muhammad Ibn Zakariya-Al-Razi, Ibn Khuldoon, al-Suyuti, Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyah, as well as Greek works were studied and cited by those ulama as authorities and major source materials and reference in their works. In the same vein, personal experimentation and discoveries were made as their original contribution on some specific cases and ailments that were peculiar with the region and not much or nothing was available in addressing them. The same categorization of their sources was responsible for the classification of their works following the same dimension. The available medicinal Arabic manuscripts in this region cover a wide range of medical areas from theoretical, conceptual, legal and philosophical issues on medicine and medical practice to material medica, prophetic medicine and specific medical cases such as liver, kidney problems, worms, piles, eye disease and pathological analysis and examination of ailments,  all documented in a fine Arabic of Maghribi scripts.

Medical Literary Contribution

On Medical ethics, issues related to qualities of a physician and Who Should Practice, patient doctor’s relations, position and merits of medical studies and practice are enumerated in some chapters in Masalih al-Insan al-Muatalliq bil Adyan wa al-Abdan,[26] in the manuscript Abdullahi made a categorical statement with regards to ethics of practice in the following:

In fact medicine is the science by which health would be protected and ailments be cured. The origin of some of it is by revelation to some prophets, like prophet sulaiman, whereas the rest of it is by experiment. The science of medicine is a collective obligation (Fard al-Kifaya), but it is almost becoming obligatory today on the individual (Muslim) competent to partake in it, due to minimal number of people who partake in it among the Muslims…one should also incline to protecting the privacy of the Muslims such that he would not look at their privacy except what is necessary. One should also commiserate with them (patients) on their condition. When he is given something, after offering his service, he can take it with the intention of using it for the purpose. When he is not given anything for his service he should de3dicate it to the cause of Allah as part of worship to Him. Allah is best helper.”[27]

In the subsequent discussion on the matter Abdullahi further identified some major qualities of physicians to be consulted by the patient. He then pointed out on how the doctors should ethically behave towards the patient. Then discussions on the necessity of acquiring and gathering relevant information about the patient before prescribing medication for him, and the doctor should thoroughly and repeatedly question his patient relevant questions regarding the ailments before giving the medication.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
Abdullahi Bin Fodiyo, Sultan of Gwandu (1819–1828) (Source)

In Mawarid al- Nabawiyah fi Masail al- Tibbiyyah, Ujalat al-Rakib fi al- Tibb al-Sa’ib[28]Sultan Muhammad Bello outlined some fundamental issues related to the ethical guidelines on medical study and practice. Indeed, in al- Mawarid and Tibb al-Nabawi, he disagreed with his uncle, Abdullahi on the legality of consulting of a non-Muslim doctor. Bello stated that in the history of the Muslim leadership many Caliphs from the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs to the Ottoman Sultanate, Christians and Jews physicians were employed and consulted. Thus, following that tradition, the practice could be acceptable. Similarly, in Qira’ a  al-Ahibba’ fi al-Ilm al- Attiba’[29] attempts were made by Muhammad Tukur to discuss medical practice by way examining its merits and guide to the practitioners among other things.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

Kitab nurul fujr by Sultan Muhammad Bello (1817-1837) (Source)

Medical treatments:  some manuscripts are dedicated to analyzing one or more medical case thoroughly describing the symptoms, nature and treatments of the disease. On this area works such as Risalat al-Amrad al-Kilyah wa Ilajihah,  the manuscript  was written as a result of compliant directed to Sultan Muhammad Bello about a certain illness which Bello diagnosed as kidney problem. Three major types of kidney problems such as stone in the kidney, swelli ng of the kidney and wind in the kidney were thoroughly analyzed in the text. The complainant, Emir of Zazzau applied the prescribed medicines sent to him by Bello and was cured of the problem   another teatise in this category is Qaul al-Manthur fi Adwiyat Illat al- Bathur.  In the book the author treated the problem of piles and hemorrhoids as diseases associated with those frequently sit for longer time. The symptoms as well as the consequences of the of the diseases on one’s health were discussed and drugs for the cure prescribed. In the same vein the Sultan treated the disease of the liver, and suggested medication for the ailments. The treatments of worms are prescribed in al-Nubzhahfi adwiyat al-Dedan.  Though a short treatise but highly scientific and technical in categorizing worms as they affect human body. The disease identified as common among children, but can also affect adults in some cases. A variety of therapies was presented for the testament.[30] Muhammad Tukur al-Fullati in Muawanat aI-Ikhwan fi mu’asharat al-Niswan tried to examine cases regarding sexuality, potency and general scientific cum Islamic approved sexual relations between husband and wife, and how to make joyful in cementing matrimonial relationship. These and similar texts are useful references in this field.

Ophthalmology: the prevalence of eye diseases necessitated the establishment of Unguwar Makafi- Quarter for the Blind-in Sokoto in 19th Century.  Following treatises provide one aspect of eye disease and treatment or another; and were authored by Sultan Muhammad Bello: Kitab tibb al-Muhini al-Musamma bi Tibb al-Hain, Kitab al-Adwiyat  lil-Uyun, Musug al-Lijain al- Musamma bi al-Tib al- Ain. Causes, forms of eye disease as well as treatment of the maladies are prescribed in the texts.

Pharmacology/Pharmacy: These fields are concerned with drug action, and science and the techniques of preparing and administering of drugs respectively.  Works like, Kitab al-Rahmati fi-al-Tibb wa al-Hikmah,(over one hundred cases were treated, providing the results of the finding in curing the maladies. In Qaul al-manthur fi adwiyat illat al-Bathur, the writer, Sultan Muhammad Bello through experimentations prepared drugs and manner of its administration for cure of piles and hemorrhoids. Further, in Kitab al-Qaul al-Senna, (cassia senna)[31] the medicinal importance of cassia senna, or moringa (Zogale, in Hausa) in addressing quite a number of ailments are presented.  In the former at the end of every finding Bello says: Mujarrab al-Sahih-  tested and confirmed efficacious.

Prophetic Medicine: in the aspect of medicine, the treatments and general discussion were on prophetic remedies to diseases which were categorized as physical and spiritual. Muhammad Bello relied on the Qur’an and Sunnah prescription with little or no personal addition on what was prescribed therein. On this subject, available works include: Tibb al-Nabawee, Mawarid al- Nabawiyah fi Masail al- Tibbiyyah, Ujalat al-Rakib fi al- Tibb al-Sa’ib, etc. in these and related treatises  the use adi’yah, ruqya, Ajwah dates, etc, as well as itigfar – repentance from sin and seeking for forgiveness, and given out charity sadaqah as recommended by the prophet are prescribed for treatment of diseases in addition to administration of drugs by or for  the patients.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account
Room full of manuscripts, National Archives Kaduna, Nigeria (Source)

Laboratory Analysis: although we are yet to access any document that provides any useful guide to the establishment of laboratories in the 19th century Nigeria, however, Malam Abdullahi  discussed the use of urine analysis in trying to confirm the sickness suffered by patient. In Masalih al-Insan, Shaikh Abdullahi discussed on examining patients’ urine to detect and established  disease for treatment.

Shaikh Abdullahi said:

One of the most important things upon a doctor, after knowledge of the history of the patient, I to check his urine. This could be done by use of transparent container such as bottle which is very visible. This is important as whatever passes through gives an assessment of the condition of the patient…in fact, some doctors would even through their investigation of the patient’s urine be able to know if he/she is old, middle aged, or young, male or female, whether in a state of menses or pregnancy, and whether he/she lives in the high or low level… investigation by use of bottle  has certain conditions namely: the urine should be taken after the patient wakes up from sleep, early in the morning.  This is in respect to patient who sleeps. But if he does not sleep it would be his first urine from the night, and it should be in its entirety, unlike use of part of it, which may not give full result.”[32] 

These are some examples on the contributions of the Muslims scholars od the nineteenth century Nigeria in the aspects of study, research, experimentation, and documentation of medical knowledge in the region.


In light of these salient achievements in fields of medical sciences and scientific studies generally recorded in the past two hundred years in the Nigerian areas of the defunct Sokoto Caliphate, it is pertinent to appreciate the value and high status Islam accords to all fields of knowledge generally without exception. Our call and appeal is for academics and researchers, specifically scientists and physicians to study these materials with a view to finding out their efficacy in the provision of alternative cure to the public in the contemporary period. The revelation is also another milestone in understanding the level of neglect of science and technology among Muslims today, which had no basis in the Muslim civilization and history. Thus, the earlier Muslims embrace science and technology like their forebears did the better for them, in order to break the shackles of backwardness, dependency, poverty, disease and also compete favorably with other nations of the world.

Muslims Contribution to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Nigeria: A Preliminary Account

“The images were captured by Edward Harland Duckworth, who served as Inspector of Education in Nigeria from 1930 to 1944, and collated into an album by his friend Henry Svory. This picture shows a group of men outside an ancient settlement” (Source)


[1] See some relevant discussion on this issue in  Lavers, L.E. ‘Islam in the Borno Caliphate: A Survey’ in ODU, no.5, 1971, pp.27-53, .Alkali, N. M., ‘Islam in the Central Sudan and the emergence of Kanem’, in Islam in Africa , Nigeria; Spectrum, 1993, pp. 169-177.Kyari, M.,  ‘History of Imamship of Borno under Elkanemi Dynasty’ MA, BUK,1992. See especially section entitled: ‘Diverse Influences in the Islamization of Kanem’, 13-16.

[2] Al-haj. M.A., ‘Asl-al-Wangarawiyin: A Seventh Century Chronicle on the Origin and Missionary activities of Wangarawa’, in Kano Studies, Vol.1.No4. 1968, 10.

[3] See detailed discussion on this in  Gada, A.M., ‘Islamic Scholarship in Hausaland from 16th to 18th century: A Study of Katsina, Gobir, Zamfara and Kebbi’, Ph.D. thesis Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, 2000.

[4] See Lewis, I.M., (ed),Islam in Tropical Africa. Oxford university press, 1969, 20-21.

[5] Aboyade, B.O., ‘Turning Individual Talent into Public Property: A Definition of the book in relation to the Nigeria’s need’ in Bello S., and Augi, R.A., Culture and Book Industry in Nigeria, Nigeria: NCAC, 1993, 5

[6] Professor J.O. Hunwick is one of  the leading scholars with reasonable volumes of  works on the  literary traditions and achivements in the Timbuctu region.

[7] See Abdullahi Fodiyo’s Ida’ al-Nusukh for detail on the literature and patterns of learning in this region.

[8] Last, M., ‘The Traditional Muslims Intellectual in Hausaland: The Background’, in Falola, T.,(ed), African Historiography: Essays in Honor of Jacob Ade Ajayi. United Kingdom: Longman, 1993, .121.

[9] Fagge, M.D. A., ‘Literary Life in the Intellectual Tradition…, .56-57

[10] See for detail, Sifawa, A.M., ‘The Role of Kanem Borno Ulama’ in the Intellectual Development of the Bilad al-sudan’, in Mustapha A.,  and Garba A., (eds), ‘The Impact of Ulama’ in the Central Sudan’, Proceedings of a Conference, University of Maiduguri, 1991.

[11] See Last, M.,’The Books in the Sokoto Caliphate’, in Studia Africana: Revista Interuniversatinia d’estudies African, No. 17, October, 2006, 3.

[12] See, Gazali, K.A.Y., The Kanuri in Diaspora: the Contribution of Kanem Borno Ulama’ to Islamic Education in Nupe and Yorubalands. Lagos: CSS Books, 2005,  27-28.

[13] Morel E.D., Affairs of West Africa. Frank Cass: London, 1968,  214

[14] See Ajayi, W.O., ‘Aspects of Protestant Missions in Northern Nigeria 1887-1910’, in ODU: Ife Journal of African Studies, Vol.3, July, 1966, p.45. Ajayi cited Rev. Father Brooke and Robinson in reference to the Hausa literacy and Ajami inventions as one of the factor for the Christian Missionary interest in the region. Similarly, most portion of the Bible New Testament were rendered into Ajami characters as also in the Romanized Hausa form. Muhammad Umar Ndagi claimed that Nupe also developed a Nupe Ajami in the 19th century which, like the Hausa Ajami provided an avenue for communication and literacy among the Nupe. See Ndagi, M.U., Islamic Literary Traditions and the State of Manuscripts Collection in Nupe Land’, presented at the International Conference on preserving Nigeria’s Scholarly and Literary Traditions and Manuscripts Heritage; Organized by the Arewa House and the American Embassy, at Kaduna, 7th -8th March, 2007.  In the same vein, Muhammad A., also argued that scribes in Kanembu adopted Arabic scripts to their own local language and were producing Qur’an in Kanenmbu. See his ‘The Arabic and Ajami Culture of Nigeria’, in  Bello, S., and Augi, A. R., Culture and Book Industry,  35.

[15] Stewart, C.C., ‘Southern Saharan Scholarship and the Bilad al-Sudan’, in  Journal of African History, Vol. XVII, I. (1976), 88.

[16] Hodkin, T., ‘Islam and Nationalist Movements in West Africa’, in JAH, III, 2, (1962), 327

[17] Smith H.F.C., ‘Nineteenth Century Arabic Archives of West Africa’, in JAH, III, 2,(1962), 333-334

[18] Cited by  Ismail, O. S. A., “Some Reflections on the Literature of the Jihad and the Caliphate”, in  Y.B. Usman, (ed), Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate. (Nigeria: Third Press International, 1979),. 170.

[19] Smith, A., “The Contemporary Significance of the Academic Ideals of the Sokoto Jihad”, in Y.B. Usman, (ed.), Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate, Nigeria: Third Press International, 1979,  246.

[20] Ismail,  O.S.A., ‘Some Reflections on the Literature of the Jihad and the Caliphate’, in Y.B. Usman, (ed), Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate, 175.

[21] Balogun. I. A. B., ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, the Mujaddid of West Africa’, in Ibid,  485-488.

[22] See Hunwick, J.O., (ed), Arabic Literature of Africa: The Writings of Central Sudanic Africa. Vol. 2. Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1995, 55-190.

[23] Smith, “ The Contemporary Significance…’, p. 246

[24] The letter is contained in Majmu’ al-Rasail- collection of correspondences- by Wazir Gidado bin Lema, Wazir of Sultan Muhammad Bello, details of the letter could be found in Bunza, M. U., “An Overview of Medicinal Arabic Manuscripts of the Sokoto Caliphate”, in El-Miskin, T., et al. eds, Nigeria’s Intellectual Heritage: Preserving Nigeria’s Scholarly and Literary Traditions and Arabic/Ajami Manuscript Heritage, Nigeria Arabic Manuscript Project, 2009, pp.36-51.’,

[25] See details in Bunza, M. U., “The Contributions of Sultan Muhammad Bello to the Study and Development of Medical Sciences in 19th Century Hausaland”, M. A. History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria, 1995.

[26] The manuscript was written by Abdullahi Fodiyo, 1766-1829

[27] See translation of the manuscript by Sifawa, A. M. and Aljannare, S. B. (trans), Human Welfare Pertaining to Spiritual and Physical Fulfillments, 2004, Sokoto, p. 71.

[28] The two manuscripts were written by Sultan Muhammad Bello, 1779-1837

[29] The Manuscript was written by Muhammad Tukur al-Fullati, which he said under the directive of Sultan Muhammad Bello.

[30] See detail on this treatise in Bunza, M. U., Science in the Sokoto Caliphate: A Study of al-Nubzhahfi adwiyat al-Dedan  of Sultan Muhammad Bello’, Degel Journal of FAIS, Vol. 2, September 1999, pp. 37-41

[31] See details on this in Bunza, M. U., and Muhammad S., ”The Role of Muslim Scholars in Preservation and Utilization of Medicinal Plants in Northern Nigeria: A Study of   Qaul al –Senna, of Sultan Muhammad Bello, 1787-1837” in Degel Journal of FAIS Vol. VI. August, 2003,  pp.73-80.

[32] Abdullahi Fodiyo, Masalih al-Insan, (Sifawa & Aljannare, trans),  pp. 76-77

4 / 5. Votes 200

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.