The Hausa are the dominant ethnicity in northern Nigeria. In a nation of some 191 million, over 33 million are Hausa, 70% of whom are found in rural communities. Nearly 14 million more Hausa live throughout West Africa, Algeria, and Europe. Nearly half of all Nigerians speak Hausa, a language infused with Arabic words.
The Hausa people frequently stand out for their tall, handsome, and noble bearing. They carry the pride of their heritage, having ruled their lands since the 13th century. They were co-rulers with the Fulani people over the 19th century jihadist Sokoto Sultanate.
Islam entered Hausaland in the 14th century and is now practiced by nearly all Hausa (97%). Hausa Islam is conservative in cities, syncretistic in villages, and ultra-conservative in their oldest inner cities: Kano, Sokoto, and Zaria. Nigeria hosts the largest Islamic as well as the largest Christian population in West Africa. Historically, the Hausa brought Arab colonization to the Sahel and led annual raids among lesser tribes to engage in the massive slave trade to North Africa.
Most Hausa grow crops, raise livestock, and engage in trade. For centuries they joined Sahelian caravans, which increased when European colonization brought economic stability.
The north of Nigeria is under Sharia law, where the military wages war on Boko Haram jihadists. Many in the northern region flee both war and persecution. The Islamic north is also a poorer culture strongly influenced by the wealthier, more productive, and more populated coastal south, as well as by the wealthy Islamic shadow of the Arab Middle East. The Hausa gravitate both ways.
Nigerians are keenly aware of their past tribal wars, of the role the Hausa played as Muslim aggressors throughout the centuries, and of their role in the violent decades following independence in 1960. The Hausa continue to play a dominant role in Nigeria’s politics and military.
Despite an aggressive coastal economy and strong population growth, both the north and south of Nigeria remain plagued with corruption, ranked in 2018 as the 31st most corrupt of 175 nations.
More than a million Hausa (3%) are Christian, and Evangelicals are the majority. A small minority of some 200,000 Maguzawa Hausa still remains neither Muslim nor Christian.
The strongest association of Hausa-related churches is the Evangelical Church of West Africa, one of the dominant churches of northern Nigeria. While there are Catholics in Nigeria, Christians in the region are mostly protestant: Anglican, Evangelical, and Charismatic. Multiple Hausa-language ministries are active in the north: Bible distribution, medical and development services, hymns, youth and children’s camps, Bible schools, radio broadcasts, and church services.
Persecution against Christian communities and against new converts in particular is very high. New believers can be tried in Sharia courts for apostasy. Most who turn to Christ must initially seek safety. Nevertheless, reports of high-ranking imams turning to the Lord are common. Both Hausa believers and other persecuted Christians in Nigeria’s north are amongst the least reported martyrs in the 21st century