Kanemi, Muhammad al-Amin al-

ca. 1775–ca. 1837
Scholar and ruler of Bornu

Muhammad al-Kanemi was born in southwestern LIBYA and received an extensive Muslim education in both Africa and Arabia. He traveled widely, finally settling in the kingdom of BORNU in north central Africa in 1799. There he attracted a large following of scholars. Soon after his arrival, the ruler of Bornu asked for al-Kanemi’s help in defending the kingdom against a jihad (holy war) by FULANI Muslims. Al-Kanemi and his followers prevented the Fulani from capturing central Bornu, although the Fulani conquered the kingdom’s western provinces. Al-Kanemi then began a correspondence with the rulers of the state that sponsored the jihad, eventually convincing them to end the war. At the same time he reorganized Bornu’s administration and prevented the collapse of the government.

By 1819 the people considered al-Kanemi the savior of Bornu and their rightful king. Al-Kanemi’s son succeeded him as ruler and established his descendants as the official rulers of Bornu. (See also Sudanic Empires of Western Africa.)

Kanemi, Muhammad al-Amin al-