Go back about ten centuries and you’ll find that the modern city of Kano, Nigeria used to be the capital of the Hausa Kingdom of Kano. This kingdom was made up of the Hauso people who are the largest ethnic group in West Africa and one of the largest in the continent. In the 1300s, the king of Kano accepted Islam, but the religion wasn’t widespread until about 100 years later, when Muhammad Rumfa ascended the throne. During his reign from 1463 to 1499, he furthered the Islamization of Kano by urging influential residents to convert and also by ordering the construction of the Great Masjid of Kano. The visit of Cabd al-Rahman, who came from Egypt to Nigeria to survey the influence and spread of Islam, triggered the construction of this masjid. After all, by this time, trade routes between present-day Mali and present-day Egypt allowed for frequent contact and thus increased Islam’s reach.
There was already a masjid in Kano when Cabd al-Rahman arrived, but he built another one. This masjid was larger and had a minaret, the first mud one of this type to be built in Nigeria. In 1582, it is said that the masjid was relocated to a new site under the rule of Muhammad Zaki. The masjid was rebuilt in the mid-19th century to repair some damage. The original construction was said to be the most impressive structure in West Africa and its subsequent constructions were said to be as impressive and structurally similar. However, in the 1950s this construction of the masjid was destroyed.
The British government then sponsored a rebuilding of the Great Masjid of Kano to reward Nigeria for its role in World War II. This masjid was completely different in appearance than the constructions before it and is the one that still remains today. Its style is much more in line with Islamic architecture and unfortunately has no trace of Nigerian architecture. Although the value of the current masjid is not to be ignored, it’s questionable how much of a reward the new construction is if one of the most impressive displays of Nigerian architecture is lost.
Image © Sam Guru