"Tainted Legacy: Islam, Colonialism, and Slavery in Northern Nigeria" by WRF Member Dr. Yusufu Turaki

Tainted Legacy: Islam, Colonialism, and Slavery in Northern Nigeria by
WRF Member Yusufu Turaki, Ph.D. 

In recent years violent attacks by Muslims in Nigeria have left thousands of Christians dead. Much of the conflict has occurred in the Middle Belt, and also in the North where the Church is a small and vulnerable minority. Islamic sharia is the main source of law in the North, and some Islamists there are calling for the establishing of an Islamic state.

In this important study Professor Yusufu Turaki traces the origins of the current crisis to the historical impact of Islam on Northern Nigerian society. He discusses the nature and significance of Islamic colonialism and slavery in West Africa, and how their malign influence was entrenched by the British colonial administration of the twentieth century. These practices, he argues, have bequeathed a tainted legacy of discrimination and cruelty to the Christians of Northern Nigeria.

Yusufu Turaki is a Professor of Theology and Social Ethics at the Jos ECWA Theological Seminary (JETS) and Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Church and Society (CRCS). He holds a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from Boston University, and a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at Yale Divinity School. He was the General Secretary of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), is a former National Vice-President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and worked with the Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA) and the International Bible Society (IBS) in Nigeria and Kenya. 

Below is an excerpt from Tainted Legacy.  For further information about the book or to order a copy, go to this website:  https://barnabasaid.org/BooksResources/Free-print-media-resources/?search=Tainted+Legacy&page=misc&m=10%252352

 An Excerpt from Tainted Legacy -

1. The Significance of the Study


Although the legacy of Western colonialism and of the slave trade in Africa is well documented, little is known about Islamic-based colonialism and slavery in Africa and the roles that Arabs played in it. The Europeans plundered the West Coast for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Arabs, who were busy with the trans-Saharan and East African slave trade, plundered the hinterland (the Sudan) for Africans for markets in North Africa, Arabia and the Middle East. Similarly, although the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade is well understood, little is known about the equally infamous trans-Saharan slave trade and the East African slave trade with Arabia, the Middle East and India. As a result, the West is held responsible for the damage it has done in Africa, while Islam and the Islamic empires escape similar scrutiny, and the nature of the African experience under Islamic forms of colonialism and slavery remains hidden.


The reality is that Islam and the Arabs, more than any other religion or people, imposed colonialism and institutional slavery on traditional Africans. Then African Muslims expanded the system. So Africans share the responsibility for slavery with Europeans and Arabs.


The role played by Islam and Muslims in colonialism and slavery in Africa needs to be better understood, not to assign blame, but better to understand the present. This book focuses on Northern Nigeria, examining the role of Islam in establishing and maintaining both a powerful colonial hegemony and the institution of slavery before the advent of British colonialism and Christian missions in the late nineteenth century.


This study will provide a fuller understanding of Northern Nigeria’s past and of some of the issues that threaten peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims today, both there and in other parts of Africa. The examination of the Northern Nigerian experience will provide insights into the current religious and cultural conflict between the West (North America and Europe) and resurgent and militant Islam in the Middle East and Arab-dominated North Africa.




Tainted Legacy helps to provide a more complete picture by examining Islamic colonialism and slavery from its origins in Africa to its legacy in the present. It explores the religion, ethnicity and culture that shaped Muslim societies and led to discriminatory treatment of non-Muslim groups. Those who were colonised or became slaves were those who failed the test of religion, ethnicity and culture determined by Islamic theology and political philosophy. The study also shows that once the Sokoto Caliphate expanded into Northern Nigeria, economics played a significant role in the expansion of slavery in ways that seem contrary to the spirit of Islam.


The book also looks at the social factors that persuaded the British to entrench the discriminatory treatment of non-Muslims. The British imposed their forms of colonialism upon existing Islamic forms out of convenience and because they preferred the Muslims and their centralised systems of government to non-Muslims and traditional African rule. As a result, non-Muslim Africans never enjoyed true freedom even after the abolition of slavery. After independence in the 1960s, Islamic systems continued to dominate. The book explains too why Islam has taken a different attitude towards slavery from that of Europeans and why it was Western powers who had to abolish slavery in Muslim Africa.




Tainted Legacy begins by providing the context for the study through a description of the geography, ethnography and society of Northern Nigeria. This chapter describes the two regions, Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, and their inhabitants, Muslims and non-Muslims or traditional Africans. Then the book looks at early Islam in West Africa and its peaceful spread by religious and cultural means and by the Islamic culture’s appeal to traditional Africans. The book then moves to a new era, the early 1800s, and considers the expansion of the Sokoto Caliphate into Northern Nigeria and the violent spread of Islam by jihad or holy war. It also looks at the Caliphate’s treatment of non-Muslims.


Next, the book examines the Muslim justification for slavery by looking at Islamic teachings from the Qur’an and hadiths and the interpretations and teachings of some Islamic scholars. This provides a comprehensive understanding of the ideology, teachings, policies, practices and attitudes of Muslims towards colonialism and slavery. This chapter also defines the socio-political role and status of the non-Muslim, the slave and the black person, male or female, within an Islamic society. Conversion to Islam did not erase racial stigma: non-Arabs were still regarded as inferior. When the religious precepts of Islam were invoked to justify the evils of slavery, they became instruments of slavery and dehumanisation.


The following chapter examines how Muslim rulers, aristocrats and clerics used Islam to impose their forms of colonialism and slavery on non-Muslim groups across the continent of Africa, through religious and political activism. The chapter looks at how the Sokoto Caliphate captured and treated slaves, the social role and status of slaves, and the devastating impact on the demographics, economy and socio-political role and status of non-Muslim groups in Muslim-ruled areas. This discussion also reveals a serious discrepancy between Islamic teaching about slavery and actual social practices, attitudes and behaviour in the Sokoto Caliphate.


The book then examines the imposition of British colonialism, focussing on its political, religious and social impact in Northern Nigeria. It describes how the British superimposed their colonialism on Muslim structures and left Muslims in charge of non-Muslims, a policy that continues to generate feelings of hatred and animosity between ethnic and religious groups to this day. Taxation undermined the economy of the Middle Belt, a process that began when slave raiding dramatically reduced the population of the region.


This section shows that the British behaviour towards non-Muslims, including Christian converts and missionaries, further entrenched the lower social status and discriminatory treatment of non-Muslims. Many of those Africans who embraced Christianity at an early stage belonged to peoples who were targets of Muslim slave raiding. These converts understood their rights and freedoms and the concepts of justice and peace, and so became targets for persecution and maltreatment by some European and Islamic colonial administrators. Christianity was forcing through a socio-political change in the colonial concept of law and order, whether Islamic or European. In this sense, Christianity came as a liberator (Boer, 1979).


In the penultimate chapter, the book examines the slow pace of slavery’s abolition in West Africa. Although institutional forms of slavery have been removed, the related mentality and attitudes linger. The evils of slavery are embedded in memories, human psychology, social norms and human behaviour, practices and attitudes.


Finally, the conclusion explores the legacy of Islamic and British colonialism and Islamic slavery and British racial discrimination in Northern Nigeria. When Muslim-dominated societies gained political independence from Western powers, only the veneer of Western colonialism and slavery was removed. The Islamic governing systems remained intact and perpetuated Islamic control over non-Muslims. Political independence from Western powers did little to change the socio-political role and status of non-Muslims, pagans and Christians alike, in Muslim-dominated regions. This left Islam and Christianity set against each other. The Christian (and other non-Muslim) understanding of slavery is quite different from that of Muslims. The former emphasise their experience of being dehumanised and enslaved, while the latter emphasise “sacred precepts” or dogmas that, they believe, give them the licence to inflict such inhumane experiences upon others.




The West is currently in active conflict with militant Islamists in the Middle East, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq. Islamists are also committing acts of terrorism in Western and African countries. The social, cultural, religious and political indicators point to a rejection of tolerance, understanding and dialogue in favour of intolerance, conflict, violence and militancy, whether cultural, religious or political. The World Council of Churches, liberal theologians and the United Nations have in the recent past emphasised bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations, dialogue, tolerance and understanding among religions, cultures and peoples. Huge resources have been expended to achieve these objectives. Unfortunately, all their efforts have been eroded by the recent wars of religion and culture, especially those between Western and Muslim nations. Africa is badly affected, particularly its Christian-Muslim relations.


Thus the rise of Islamic terrorism and violence all over the world requires a thorough examination of the historical and religious factors that make Islam in Africa very volatile and explosive. To date few such studies have been published. The Christian response to the resurgence and rise of Islamic militants all over Africa has failed to look at Islamic colonialism and slavery and how these have affected Africans. Islamic apologists seem to have a monopoly on explaining and interpreting Muslim treatment of peoples of other faiths and cultures. Most Western writers and scholars have been either apologists for Islam or extremists who attack and ridicule it. Very few have looked at Islam objectively and accurately described its adverse, even devastating, impact on other societies, religions and cultures.


This book uncovers the historical roots of the current religious, political and cultural conflict and the incessant riots and violence between the Muslims and Christians of Africa, especially in the Northern States of Nigeria. It argues that these are found in the pervasive and obnoxious practices of Islamic colonialism and slavery, which dominated and devastated the lives of millions of Africans. Thus it makes an important contribution to understanding not only the African scene, but also the wider issue of Western and Christian relations with Islam. It aims to help Muslims and Christians to find common ground for peaceful co-existence based upon justice, equality and freedom for all.


The common denominator between a Muslim and a Christian is their humanity under God as their Creator. The root of the problems in Northern Nigeria lies in human imagination and understanding and in how religious dogmas and precepts are understood, interpreted and applied. Herein also lies the root cause of all religious conflict and violence. However, human beings and religious movements can move from intolerance, disrespect and misunderstanding of others to peace with them. The historical obstacles to peaceful co-existence must be overcome. Muslims and Christians can live in peace and harmony despite their bitter past of jihads and crusades, colonialism and slavery.