There is very little documentation of the Great Mosque of Kano prior to its destruction in the 1950s, though it was said to have been the most impressive in West Africa. The mosque was probably predated by a low-profile rectangular mosque sanctuary built in the fourteenth century. The subsequent great mosque is attributed to a collaboration between Sarkin Muhammed Rumfa (c. 1463-1499) and the Egyptian 'Abd al-Rahman. It was the first mud mosque of the soro, or tower, type in Nigeria.
By the late fifteenth century, there was a high frequency of commercial and religious contact between the Songhay in present-day Mali and the Hausa states of northern Nigeria and the Maghreb. According to the Kano Chronicle, 'Abd al-Rahman came to Kano from Egypt to confirm Islam's hegemony and build a Friday mosque with a minaret, in lieu of the sacred tree which rose above the modest pre-extant mosque.
However, upon its construction, the minaret-like tower took on the functions of a mosque, and minarets did not establish a foothold in local design until the period of revived orthodoxy during the West African jihad. The tower, which borrowed terms from the Maghribi and Songhay words for minaret or tower, is described as a sawma' (from the Maghribi) or a sumiya (from the Songhay). What distinguished the Great Mosque of Kano from either of these regional types however is the singular monolithic tower, without external division such as the steps or ramps that mark the Songhay Tomb of Askia, which is said to resemble a southern Algerian shrine. Instead, dum boards, used for re-enforcement, create an internal staircase. The tips of these boards do not project from the exterior as do the toron of Songhay architecture.
The Great Mosque of Kano is said to have been shifted to a new site in 1582 by Muhammed Zaki (r. 1582-1617), and rebuilt yet again due to disrepair sometime between 1855 and 1883 by Sarkin Kano Abdullahi dan Dabo. This mosque, the one that was lauded and remarked as impressive, was perhaps not structurally different from the first mosque built by Sarkin Rumfa. Its 20 meter tall tower was surmounted with pinnacled buttresses and surrounded by a high wall. After its destruction in the 1950s, the British Government sponsored the building of a new mosque in gratitude of the Nigerian role in WWII. This new central mosque does not resemble its antecedents and has no precedent in any indigenous Nigerian architecture.
Carroll, Kevin. Architectures of Nigeria: architectures of the Hausa and Yourba peoples and of the many peoples between tradition and modernization. London: published for the Society of African Missions by Ethnographica, Ltd. in association with Lester Crook Academic Publishing, 1992.
Doi, Abdur Rahman. Islam in Nigeria, 189. Zaria: Gaskiya Corp, 1984.
Leary, A.H. The Development of Islamic Architecture in the Western Sudan, 44-45. MA in African Studies dissertation. University of Birmingham, 1966.
Saad, Hamman Tukur. Between myth and reality: the aesthetics of traditional architecture in Hausaland, 233. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1981.
Jami' al-Kabir (Variant)
Friday Mosque (Variant)
late 15th century (original mosque), 1950s rebuilt in current form