Religion and the New Roles of Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Hausa and Ebira Muslim Communities in Northern Nigeria, 1930s-1980s

Mukhtar Umar Bunza, Abdullahi Musa Ashafa


This paper is a comparative study of two northern Nigerian Muslim societies (the Ebira in central Nigeria and the Hausa in the North-west) in which the youths contested religious traditionalists in the 20th century and in the process brought about transformation in their societies. In the religious sphere, which was hitherto considered an affair of the elderly, the youth have equally come to assume a dominant place, especially in their assertive activist posture. In these two case studies, the youths have managed to assume leadership in religion and subsequently have used religion to transform and redefine their roles and status in the societies in a manner that challenged the existing norms.
That could be seen as a tradition in the religious convention of the northern Nigerian area that occurs repeatedly through this period. In the 19th century, the Shehu Usmanu Danfodiyo and his cohorts in their youthfulness championed a reform and transformation that continue to inspire other reforms to date in the region. Religious actors in the contemporary Muslim societies of Nigeria are young men and women. It is important to note that these youths are people who possessed both Islamic and Western education and often have international networks and connections, largely through the educational institutions they have attended and/or literature they have studied.
Among the Ebira, for instance, the youth subscribed to the religion of Islam, and converted their parents who largely professed African traditional religion to Islam. In Hausaland on the other hand, the youth, unlike the elderly, subscribed to “modern” rather than the “traditional” Islam that the latter do. In both cases therefore, the young engaged the elderly in a struggle to change their conception and practices of Islam. The process has had a tremendous impact on the relationship between the groups in an atmosphere being somehow defined or determined by the young adults in the two northern Nigerian societies being examined.


Hausa, Ebira, Muslim Communities, radical Muslim youths, Nigerian Muslim societies, role and status, traditional Islam, modern Islam, Beliefs, Social Structure, African traditional religion, Nigeria

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