Islam came to Oyo Empire in 14th century during the reign of Mansa Musa in Mali and subsequently conversion to Islam by some Yorubas. It was popularly called “Esin Imale” – religion brought by the Malian people. However, some people erroneously translated “Esin Imale” as “hardened religion to practise”.

According to Akinjogbin (1971), Islam had come to the ancient Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo by the 14th century through trans-Saharan trade. The origin of the word ‘Yoruba’ has been traced to Arabic writers such as Ahmad Baba (1627 in his mi’raj al-su’ud) and Muhammed Bello (1837 in his infaq al-maysur) both of whom were reported among the earliest to name the people in Oyo ‘yariba’, ‘yaruba’, ‘yarba’ at a time when they are still referring to themselves by their diverse ethnic identities (Ogunbiyi, 2003). Yoruba people were earlier, before the advent of Islam, called “karo o ji re” while a lot of people were recognized by dialectal affiliation e.g Egba, Ijesa, Ife people etc.

The first mosque was built in Oyo-Ile in 1550. Islam was established in Iwo in 1655, spread to Iseyin in 1760, Saki in 1790, Osogbo in 1889 while Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, Ikirun and Ede knew about Islam before Fulani Jihad (Gbadamosi, 1978). Islam came to Lagos in 18th century while the first mosque was built in 1774.

In Yoruba cultural analysis of Ifa divinity, every new born baby was taken to Ifa for future consultation popularly called “Ikosejaye”. A new dimension to Ifa prediction was a strange corpus of Ifa called “Odu Imale” which was exclusively preserved for a new born baby that will later accepted and practised Islam (see Gbadamosi, 1978). For instance, Oba Aliyu Oyewole (1795-1820), the seventh Akinrun of Ikirun was reported during “Ikosejaye” that he will practised Islam despite the fact that he was born into traditional belief. Yet, the prediction came to pass and Islam became a well-known religion in Ikirun during his tenure so much so that he introduced Shariah Court in Ikirun just like Shariah was also practised in Ijebu-ode, Iwo, Iseyin among other places before colonial master cum missionary came in 1842 and abolished the Islamic judicial system.

The case of Ibadan during the reign of Iba Oluyole is also worth mentioning when Ifa predicted the coming of Muslim clerics and the warning that they should be honoured and accommodated. It came to pass and the Ibadan Generalissimo, Aare Latoosa, during this time has problem of having a male child among his numerous wives. Yet, Ifa directed him to seek divine intervention in the hands of Muslim clerics which he sought and his prayer was answered (Gbadamosi, 1978). He, therefore, became the first Muslim Oba in Ibadan. He compensated the clerics by building a Central Mosque beside his palace. It is the replica of this “divine” assistance that led to the building of Central Mosques beside palaces in Yorubaland even within the premise of Ake palace in Egbaland.
Islam revolutionized Yoruba socio-cultural evolution so much so that

Yoruba were taught how to read and write by the Malian Muslim traders in Arabic language. Yoruba history, for the first time, was documented in Arabic language while child-naming conventions were borrowed from Islamic tradition. The modes of dressing in cultural Yoruba were largely inherited from Muslims traders. Islamic tradition standardized the excessive polygamous marriage in Yoruba and curtailed the culture of mal-treating women as mere slaves and appendages. Societal culture, like “Ojude-Oba” among others in Ijebu-Ode, were established after the legendary warrior, Balogun Kuku accepted Islam and became Muhammed Bello Kuku.


I. A. Akinjogbin, “The Expansion of Oyo and the Rise of Dahomey 1600-1800,” in History of West Africa, 2 vols., ed. J. F. Ade-Ajayi and M. Crowder (London: Longman, 1971),
I. A. Ogunbiyi: The Search For A Yoruba Orthography Since The 1840s: Obstacles To The Choice Of The Arabic Script, Sudanic Africa, 14, 2003, 77-102
J.F. Ade-Ajayi: How Yoruba was reduce to writing, Odu 8
K. Dike: Opening Remarks in Hunwick J. O. Report of a Seminar on the Teaching of Arabic in Nigeria, Ibadan and Kano, 1965.
J. Hundwick: West Africa, Islam and the Arab World Studies in Honour of Basil Davidson. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2006.
T.G.O. Gbadamosi: The Growth of Islam among the Yoruba, 1841 – 1908. London: Lon[truncated by WhatsApp]


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