Mohammed Shitta-Bey: A famous Saro, and one of the most decisive Lagos Muslims of the 19th century

Mohammed Shitta-Bey was born to Oku/Aku (names of Yorubas) parents in Sierra-Leone who were repatriated slaves saved by the British squadron parading the Atlantic Ocean.

Mohammed Shitta-Bey (middle) and others

For some time, he was baptized as William by CMS Missionaries in Freetown, so at times was known as William Shitta, but returned back to Islam, the religion of his father.

From the 1840’s, there was the return of many freed Yoruba slaves from Sierra-Leone and Brazil, which sired the names Saro (Sierra-Leone) or Aguda/Amaro (Brazilian).

His family migrated to Badagry in 1844.

The famous Akitoye and Kosoko fight forced his family to again migrate from Badagry to Lagos in 1852.

Shitta worked for some time, and then ventured into merchant business trading ivory, Kolanuts, gum coal among others.

He established a factory in Egga, on the banks of River Niger, which was then a major international market attracting traders from Afemai, Ijaw, Akoko, Benin, Idoma, Urhobo, Igbo, Nupe, Hausa etc.

Mohammed Shitta-Bey Mosque, Lagos, West Africa

Shitta grew particularly wealthy and financed the reconstruction of the Lagos Central Mosque in 1873 and acquired the title of Seriki Musulumi of Lagos. He was popularly called Olowo Pupa, for the color of his gold cowries.

His most iconic achievement however was the construction of the Shitta Bey mosque. The costs were reported by different authors to be either £3000 or £7000. It is equivalent to around £488,667 in 2024 money!

The mosque used Afro-Brazilian architecture designed by a Brazilian Returnee (Freed Slave status), Joao Baptista Da Costa.

A famous indigenous builder, Sanusi Aka helped construct the building.

The Shitta-Bey Mosque was commissioned on 4th July 1894, in a grand ceremony that paraded a Galaxy of Stars.

Mohammed Shitta-Bey Mosque, Lagos, West Africa

Colonial Governor, Gilbert Carter, Oba of Lagos, Oba Oyekan 1, Pan -Africanist Edward Wilmer Blyden, prominent Victorian Lagos Elite, like James Pinson Labulo Davies, John Otunba Payne, Richard Beale Blaize and John Otunba Payne.

It also involved the famous Liverpool Lawyer, Ottoman Ambassador, Abdullah Quilliam who came as a special representative of the Ottoman Sultan, Sultan AdulHamid II, who attracted raucous cheers across West Africa on his travel to Lagos.

It was at the occasion that Quilliam presented the title BEY, to Mohammed Shitta on the blessings of the Ottoman Empire, also with an address to Lagos Muslims to embrace Western Education.

Quilliam’s visit was so momentous that a Muslim organization “Egbe Kila” was formed after his departure.

Mohammed Shitta-Bey died exactly year after the commissioning of this iconic mosque in 1895 of influenza.

His descendants include Second Republic Senator, Senator Sikiru Shitta-Bey, (his grandson) and Remi Shitta-Bey (Nollywood Actor).

His family still holds the title Seriki Musulumi till date.

The Shitta-Bey Mosque stands till this day, on Martins Ereko Street in Lagos Island.

This Ramadan, we beseech Allah to forgive him, and grant him Jannah.

Karounwi Adini writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

Read Also: The Nigerian Mosque: Lagos Central Mosque

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