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In 1808, after the loss of Ngazargamu, his capital, the Mai of Bornu had enlisted the aid of Sheikh El-Kanemi, a man of outstanding ability and distinction, who had succeeded in checking the disintegration of Bornu and halting the eastward advance of the Fulani. Now El-Kanemi, like his adversaries, was a scholar and a divine as well as a soldier and an administrator. Besides meeting force with force, therefore, he challenged the Fulani in their own theological field. His first move, made after his recapture of Ngazargamu in 1809, was to address the critical letters. In these letters El-Kanemi had raised the controversial questions of whether disobedience was tantamount to unbelief and when backsliding became apostasy.
Clearly, El-Kanemi had touched the weakest spot in the argument of the reformers. Bello admitted as much afterwards when he said that in the whole course of the jihad nothing had caused the Fulani leaders as much anxious heart-searching as El-Kanemi's questioning of their claims. This is not surprising for from the very outset their cause had been established on religious foundations. It was the belief that Shehu was God's chosen instrument and that he was destined not only to purify religion but to introduce a new order into worldly affairs that had been the source of the faith and exaltation which had carried the Fulani to victory and had seemed to justify their sweeping aside the hereditary authority of the Hausa Chiefs. The political structure of the whole Empire in fact rested upon these basic assumptions. Now El-Kanemi, a man of admitted learning and eminence, after probing and testing the foundations, had publicly pronounced them to be unsound. Both Bello and Abdullahi wrote to El-Kanemi to refute his charges. Bello's letter, which was doubtless inspired by Shehu, or at any rate approved by him, was long and forthright. After taking El-Kanemi to task for reaching his conclusions on false or imperfect information, he went back to describe the causes which had led to the jihad


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