Free Choice Theory and the Justification of Enslavement in the Early Sokoto Caliphate

In: Islamic Africa
Author: Kota Kariya1
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  • 1 Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, Japan,
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The Sokoto Caliphate, which was based on Islamic law, depended considerably on widespread systematic slavery in political, economic, and social spheres. According to Islamic law, it is only permitted, in principle, to enslave non-Muslims or unbelievers, and ʿUthmān b. Fūdī, the founder of the Caliphate, labeled his principal enemies (i.e. the rulers of the Hausa states and Bornu and their followers) as apostate unbelievers. However, Muslim jurists historically presented conflicting views regarding the permissibility of enslaving apostates. Faced with this legal disagreement, ʿUthmān, referring to numerous preceding scholars, argued that it was permissible to choose any one of several juristic views regarding a legal issue on which scholars disagreed. By the employment of this “free choice theory”, he justified the enslavement of those whom he labeled as apostates and consequently authorized the enslavement of all kinds of people whom he had categorized as unbelievers living in and around Hausaland.

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