Reflections on the Intellectual History of Zaria and the Hagiography of Mallam Iyal Waziri

Abdulbasit Kassim
9 min readMay 27, 2020


The ancient city of Zaria, Zazzau, or Zakzak is a major center of learning and the springboard of modern education and literacy in northern Nigeria. Not only was the Katsina Training College transferred to Zaria in 1949 and later renamed Barewa College, but Zaria is also home to my Alma mater Ahmadu Bello University founded in 1962 out of the old Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. The defunct Northern Region Literacy Agency (NORLA) and Gaskiya corporation that once promoted indigenous scholarship, the business of printing press, and newspaper publications (New Nigerian Newspaper and Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo) were founded in Zaria. No city in northern Nigeria can compete with the number of institutions of learning hosted in Zaria — Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology, Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology, Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Federal College of Education and a host of other institutes of higher learning affiliated to Ahmadu Bello University. I often jokingly refer to Zaria as the Akoka Yaba of northern Nigeria.

The success of Zaria as an educational city predated the twentieth century. Prior to British colonialism, Zaria was famous for its centers of learning and scholarship. Since the early nineteenth century (1800 onwards), scholars of high repute that made significant contributions to all fields of knowledge resided in Zaria. Famous examples of scholars from Zaria include Sa`īd b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Māghumī (an expert on numerology and author of the manuscript مفاتح الضرب), Muḥammad Fūdī al-Mallāwī al-Mūsāwī al-Fūtāwī (an eclectic scholar and author of the short encyclopedia on diseases طبيب معي), and ʿUmar al-Wālī b. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ, a prolific scholar and author of the manuscript on arithmetic كفايت السالك في علم الحساب.

The intellectual history of Zaria from the period before colonialism to date is a subject that is yet to be thoroughly studied. For a while, I have been scouting for more opportunities to learn about the scholars and producers of knowledge that shaped the intellectual history of Zaria. Shaykh Ibraheem A. Waziri provided this opportunity through the hagiographical post he wrote about his father Mallam Iyal Waziri (please read the post here

After reading the hagiography of Mallam Iyal Waziri, my curious mind sprung into action and I immediately came up with the following questions to Shaykh Ibraheem A. Waziri:


1. Salanken Zazzau, Mallam Iyal Ibraheem Salihu, who happens to be your great-grandparent died in 1912. This means that he lived and served as the palace judge during the reign of Muḥammad b. ʿUthmān Yero b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Ḥammāda b. Yamūsā al-Barnāwī, the 12th Emir of Zaria who was popularly known as Muḥammad Kwasau. Muḥammad Kwasau became the Emir of Zaria in 1897 and he was subsequently dethroned by the British in 1902. He was first sent to Wushishi and then to Lokoja where he lived in exile with the dethroned Emir of Kano Aliyu Babba.

My question then is, do you know how your great-grandfather responded to the British conquest of Zaria? Did he write any treatise about the conquest? Did he submitted to the British forces or was he also sent on exile together with Muḥammad Kwasau? Muḥammad Kwasau wrote about the British conquest of Zaria and his experience of living in exile in the manuscript نزهة الأسير في إنالت اليسر

It would be nice to know if your great grandfather wrote about the conquest as well. Your great grandfather also served under the 13th Emir of Zaria ʿAlī b. ʿAbd Qādir b. Mūsā who was popularly known as Aliyu dan Sidi and was appointed by the British. Like Muḥammad Kwasau, Aliyu dan Sidi was also deposed by the British. Although he died 12 yrs after your great grandfather in 1924, did your great grandfather continued his role as the Salanken Zazzau under Aliyu Dan Sidi? In general, it would be interesting to know how your great grandfather responded to the forceful subversion of the old political order and the transition to a colonial order.

2. What do you think was responsible for the aversion your grandfather had towards a career in the judiciary? The institution of the Judiciary was the major institution the British subjected to a complete overhaul. From 1904, colonial missionaries started teaching the Quḍāt in Roman Hausa script for one shilling per month. That was the beginning of linguistic colonialism and I am guessing that the transition from Arabic and Ajami to Roman Hausa script must have infuriated the majority of the Quḍāt at that time. The Quḍāt were handicapped and colonialism made it increasingly difficult for them to execute their knowledge of Islamic legal studies. Do you think these circumstances of colonialism contributed to your grandfather’s aversion to the judiciary?

3. Your father died in the late 1980s. He must have lived during the time when anti-Tijani polemics were being popularized in Zaria. What brotherhood was your father affiliated to? Did he ever waver in his affiliation to a particular brotherhood? I mean did he switch from one brotherhood to another brotherhood? Did he die as a Tijani? If yes, what was his response to the anti-Tijani polemic popularized by scholars like Abū Bakr Aḥmad al-Zakzakī?

4. Lastly, what were the scholarly writings your father left behind if any? It will be nice to read his works as part of the intellectual history of Zaria.

Dr. Lawan Umar also asked a question about the complete chain of the family’s lineage from Mallam Iyal Waziri to his great-great-grandparents (backed with dates if possible). Shaykh Ibraheem A. Waziri was generous enough with his time and he carefully answered the questions. I reproduced the Q&A for the sake of historical knowledge.


Actually, Salanken Zazzau, Malam Iyal Ibraheem Salihu, most likely was born around 1835–40 or thereabout. He was the first among his older siblings to accept an appointment in the palace. Prior to his appointment, the family had a preference for giving advice to the Emir independently. It is not very clear to me now — will verify later — at the time of which Emir he was appointed into the office of Salanke. However, what was popularly narrated is the fact that he was the sole tutor and mentor of Muhammadu Lawal Kwasau since kindergarten. An oral tradition narrated that Muhammadu Lawal earned the moniker, Kwasau, from the study circle of Salanken. A scholar visited Salanken and students were being introduced to him. The visiting scholar observed that Kwasau was not having any book that he was studying. The visiting scholar turned to Salanke and asked why? Salanken replied that Muhammad Lawal was a Prince who used to come to school at dawn and leave at dusk. He had no habit of bringing any specific book along with him. He only listens and learns from any student who comes to the school and read and receive instructions on any book from dawn to dusk. The visiting scholar said indeed this Prince is ‘kwasau’. “Ba karatun kawai yake kwashewa ba Insha Allahu har Sarautan ma zai kwashe”. That was how Muhammad Lawal earned the moniker Kwasau and got the first prediction of becoming an Emir in not too distant future.

Now to answer your question:

1. Salanken Iyal was indeed Salanken throughout the reign of Muhammadu Lawal Kwasau as his old tutor, mentor, and advisor. Certainly, he must have submitted to the British conquest along with Kwasau. There are a lot of oral accounts but since you are interested mostly in documented texts, I suppose his role must have been captured in the account of Kwasau himself which I am not privileged to read. However, it seems you already have access to it and I think if we can subject the document to an analysis we may find lots of references to the ideas and opinions of the close associates of Muhammadu Lawal Kwasau including that of Salanken. I am already interested in reading it myself.

Of course, I once heard from our official family biographer, a much older cousin, Professor Dogara Bashir, that Salanken had about six to nine manuscripts that were found much later in the library of his student, Malam Jibrin Na’iya. The manuscripts were later lost to a fire outbreak that consumed most of the library. I think Professor Dogara Bashir should shed more light here but what is obvious is the fact that they share the same views with Waziri Buhari of Sokoto regarding the colonial masters. In fact, I am most curious to know the role Salanken played as an advisor to the Emir when the Emir first invited the British to help him repel the attacks from Kontagora in an attempt to punish him for rejecting the authority of Sokoto over his selection as Emir. The series of attacks prompted him to seek the alliance of the British forces against Sokoto.

My grandfather, Malam Umaru, actually served under Sarki Aliyu Dan Sidi as his scribe. His younger brother Yakubu served as Alkalin Zazzau (Supreme Judge) under Sarki Dalhatu who succeeded Aliyu Dan Sidi. Dalhatu’s reign was short-lived and so also was Alkali Yakubu’s on the sit of Alkalin Zazzau. Ibraheem Dan Kwasau succeeded his elder brother Dalhatu. Ibraheem was already a friend to the scribe Malam Umaru and he made him Alkalin Zazzau again and subsequently Wazirin Zazzau in 1935.

2. Actually our grandparents’ aversion towards a career in the judiciary is associated with the role of a judge. Generally, in the classical Islamic Maliki jurisprudence, the role of a judge is viewed as a risky job between man and his creator. In fact, oral tradition has it that their dislike was not restricted to only the judiciary but actually they had originally wanted no role close to power of any sort. It is said that they insisted on this principle even during the reign of Emir Sarki Abdulkarim to the extent that the Emir’s anger led him to pronounce a curse on them saying, “since you don’t want to help me, Insha Allah, your children will be involved in the most delicate part of its aspects”. Thus, their children and grandchildren became judges. This story is told and retold over again among us that it was the “baki”, curse of the saintly Emir Abdulkarim (1835–46) that has and is still following the family to this day.😭

3. Yes of course. My father like his father, grandfather, and some of his uncles actually did not belong to any brotherhood. In fact, my mother was among the first to enroll in the evening classes then introduced by Izala in the early 80s. In fact, my first awareness of her as a mother was that of an evening school-going mother. Yet my father did not belong to Izala either. My father also is deeply interested in history. I still have the memory of many of his cousins, brothers, and our elder brothers and cousins coming for consultation. During his teaching career and subsequently, he had kept a diary that was not well preserved after his demise.

In general, I think the whole family is only interested in the substance of the public social jurisprudence only. They are around the palace and they are called upon constantly to solve daily practical issues in jurisprudence. So they got consumed in it that they never had time to do any Tijjaniy or Qadiri brotherhood. Alkali and later Waziri Umaru were the chief mentor of Shaykh Yahuza Saad, the very prolific author of Zaria who died in the late forties. I will inbox you the audio of an interview with Shaykh Baba-Ahmad, the Mauritanian who came to Zaria and met him in 1929.

4. In the book “Zuriyar Malam Ibrahim Tsoho dake Kakaki Birnin Zaria”, Professor Dogara Bashir had painstakingly provided a comprehensive chart of the interrelationship among the 3057 members of this family from the beginning of the nineteenth century to August 2017. Find attached here some part which carries the names of Salanken Malam Iyal, his brothers and sisters down to the category of Alkali Yakubu and Waziri Umaru. The rest of the pages of the book carried a detailed break down of my family and Umar Yakubu‘s children and others like Aliyu Jalal who are still single. As you can see, the Salanken in my earlier reference is the fourth. Also in the 2:7 and 2:9 are the names of Waziri (Alkali) Umaru and Alkali Yakubu of my references in the earlier responses.

Concerning the question of Sufi brotherhood affiliations, it was 2:15, Maaji Isyaku who introduced Tijjaniyya into the family much later. He also taught Waziri Junaidu, late Lamido of Adamawa, Shaykh Isyaka Rabi’u, and other students. In fact, Junaidu had a poem dedicated to him in Arabic and it was published in Galadanchi’s Harakatul Lugga. The house generally identifies itself with the بناء النفس type of scholarship which concentrates much on teaching than writing. That is largely why in spite of the much-written works of some of their students, they themselves, the scholars, did not write much. There is also the history of lost manuscripts here and there.




Abdulbasit Kassim

Islam and Africana Studies. Ph.D. Candidate @RiceUniversity . Visiting Doctoral Fellow Northwestern University @NU_PAS @IslamAfricaNU