The Islamic State of Kanem-Bornu

November 21, 2007 § 5 Comments

During the 19th Century the Kotoko Kingdom became an influential ethnic group of the Kanem Empire. Kanem was developed and ruled by the Sayfawa Dynasty in North-Central Africa (Chad, Libya and Niger) as early as 900 C.E. This dynasty is known to have been established by a Yemeni King named Sayf ibn dhi-Yazan who lived sometime during the 6th century. Kanem and the Kotoko people were eventually subsumed into the Bornu Empire, an Islamic State established in Central Africa during the 14th Century until the early 1900s. The Bornu Empire at its height included what today is known as Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon. Around the 16th Century the two states Bornu and the weakened Kanem merged and became known as Kanem-Bornu under the King Idris Aluma.

Idris Aluma ruled Kanem-Bornu from 1571 to 1603. He was a pious Muslim, a strong leader and military genius, Aluma developed a number of treaties with the Ottomans. Some of his greatest accomplishments were securing the borders of Kanem-Borno at Tripoli and Egypt. A famed story of Aluma’s diplomatic ability speaks of a diplomatic visit from the Ottoman Empire on the authority of Sultan Murad III, who sent a 200 member ambassadorial party across the desert to attend Aluma’s court in Birnin Ngazargamu an ancient Nigerian city. Aluma also established trade with the Northern states where slaves were one of the most profitable and sought after exports.

Kanem-Bornu overtime became an empire in decline riddled with corruption. Ngazargamu the capital city of the empire held power in Kanem-Bornu until the 19th Century. In 1808 the Fulani, a Muslim nation of Qadiri Sufis from the West invaded and conquered the city of Ngazargamu, establishing it as part of the Islamic State of Sokoto in the name of religious reformation. This advance did not conquer the empire but did succeed in reforming Kanem-Bornu, influencing the declining Islamic State to adopt an Islamic orthodoxy under the leadership of Islamic scholar Shaykh Muhammad al-Kanem.

Between approximately 1810 and 1850 there was constant struggle between monarchs until finally a civil war erupted. Shaykh Umar al-Bornu continued to rule Kanem-Bornu after his father Muhammad al-Kanem. And in 1893 Rabih az-Zubayr of Sudan, lieutenant of the Ottoman Khedive, Isma’il Pasha of Bahr al-Ghazal, led an army from Sudan into Kanem-Bornu and conquered the empire.

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