In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in Nigeria

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Sub-National Studies
  • The Precolonial Period
  • Colonialism and Early Independence
  • Education and Intellectual Life
  • The Body and Spirituality

Islamic Studies Islam in Nigeria
Alexander Thurston
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 August 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0201


Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, home to an estimated 170 million people. According to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, Nigeria is also home to the world’s sixth largest Muslim community. Pew also projects that Nigeria will have a slight Muslim majority by 2030. Nigeria’s importance for Islamic studies stems not just from its demographic weight, but also because the questions at stake for Nigerian Muslims today have relevance for many Muslims around the world. These questions include the following. What is the place of Islamic law (shari‘a) in a formally secular democracy? How should Muslims be educated, intellectually and morally, in a time of rapid social change? How should Muslim citizens relate to Christians, including growing and exclusivist Pentecostals? What creeds should Muslims follow, and should Nigerian Muslims turn to other countries—such as Saudi Arabia and Iran—for spiritual and political guidance? Finally, what is the proper role for hereditary Muslim rulers, and who can and should speak for Islam in an increasingly crowded and hectic religious marketplace? As Nigerian Muslims grapple with these questions, they draw from a rich heritage. For centuries, Nigerian Muslims have produced literatures in Arabic and regional languages such as Hausa and Fulfulde. For just as long, present-day Nigeria has been connected to the wider Muslim world through trade, scholarship, Sufi orders, and pilgrimage. Northern Nigeria was home to two major precolonial empires that accorded major roles to Islam: Sokoto, the largest “jihad state” in West Africa; and Kanem-Bornu, whose rulers were Muslims from the 11th century onward. In southwestern Nigeria, Islam arrived to Yoruba communities through trade links with the north. Yoruba Muslim associations and intellectuals have spread Islamic education throughout their region. This diverse and dynamic heritage has produced both striking continuities and dramatic forms of dissent and protest, most recently the violent movement known as Boko Haram.

Overviews and Sub-National Studies

The two most comprehensive English-language overviews of Islam in Nigeria are Clarke and Linden 1984 and Paden 2008, both of which stress dynamics of continuity and change in postcolonial Nigeria. The Arabophone Nigerian Muslim scholar Adam al-Ilūrī (b. 1917–d. 1992) gives deeper historical background in his Islam fi Nayjiriya, which has appeared in several editions since 1950. Several studies have focused on Muslim-majority Northern Nigeria, with a valuable overview coming from the Nigerian Roman Catholic priest Matthew Kukah (Kukah 1993) and a powerful analysis of religious change coming from Loimeier 1997. Two classic studies of Yorubaland, Laitin 1986 and Peel 2000 treat religious identities there, including Muslim-Christian relations.

  • Clarke, Peter B., and Ian Linden. Islam in Modern Nigeria: A Study of a Muslim Community in a Post-Independence State, 1960–1983. Mainz, Germany: Grünewald, 1984.

    Explores political manifestations of Islam in postcolonial Nigeria, arguing that Islam provided a major framing device for political discourse in Nigeria and throughout the Muslim world as early postcolonial nationalism faltered as an ideology.

  • Al-Ilūrī, Adam. Al-Islām fī Nayjīriyā. 2d ed. Beirut: al-Dār al-ʻArabīyah, 1971.

    Al-Ilūrī’s history of Islam in Nigeria discusses Islam in West Africa, traditions of Islamic scholarship and politics in Nigeria, the jihad of ‘Uthman dan Fodio, Islam in Yorubaland, and other topics.

  • Kukah, Matthew. Religion, Politics, and Power in Northern Nigeria. Ibadan, Nigeria: Spectrum, 1993.

    Kukah, a Roman Catholic priest from Zaria, explores interactions between religion and politics in Northern Nigeria from the colonial rule through the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida (ruled 1985–1993). Based on wide sources, including interviews with central political players.

  • Laitin, David D. Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Change among the Yoruba. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

    Laitin argues that although Yorubaland contains large numbers of both Muslims and Christians, it has been affiliation to different ancestral cities, rather than religious identities, that acts as the dominant political force in Yoruba society.

  • Loimeier, Roman. Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

    This fine-grained study analyzes Sufi and anti-Sufi movements, as well as their interaction with politics, between approximately 1930 and 1990. Loimeier investigates how Nigerian Muslims have struggled to build intra-Muslim unity and negotiate efforts to renew and revitalize Islam.

  • Paden, John. Faith and Politics in Nigeria. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2008.

    In this concise, policy-oriented work, Paden argues that Nigeria has a unique role within the Muslim world as a site of Muslim-Christian encounter and as a country with strong ties to both the West and the Muslim world.

  • Peel, J. D. Y. Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

    This study examines how the Anglican Church Missionary Society shaped constructions of Yoruba identity in southwestern Nigeria in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It includes a valuable chapter, “Engaging Islam,” on encounters between Yoruba Christians and Yoruba Muslims.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.