29 January 1970, Yobe State, Nigeria
30 July 2009, Maiduguri, Nigeria
Mohammed Yusuf (29 January 1970 – 30 July 2009), also known as Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, was a Nigerian Muslim sect leader and founder of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in 2002. He was its spiritual leader until he was killed in the 2009 Boko Haram uprising. The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.
Born in Girgir village, in Jakusko, present-day Yobe State, Nigeria, Yusuf received a local education. Later he studied more of Islam and became a Salafi.
Education and beliefs
According to scholar Paul Lubeck of the University of California at Santa Cruz, as a young man Yusuf was instructed in Salafism and was strongly influenced by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah. He had the equivalent of a graduate education, according to Nigerian academic Hussain Zakaria. Yusuf was reported as speaking proficient English.
He believed in strict application of Islamic law, which represented his ideal of justice according to the teachings of the Prophet.” Boko Haram hitmen would murder members of other Muslim sects like the Salafist Izala and the Sufi Tidjaniyya and Qadiriya fraternities.
In a 2009 BBC interview, Yusuf stated his belief that the concept of a spherical Earth is contrary to Islamic teaching and should be rejected. He also rejected Darwinian evolution, and the concept of the condensation cycle that produces rain. In the interview he said:
“There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam,” he said.
“Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.
“Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.”
Yusuf had four wives and 12 children, one of them being Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who has claimed since 2016 to be the rightful leader of Boko Haram, opposing Abubakar Shekau.
He was reported as living a lavish lifestyle, which included ownership and driving of a Mercedes-Benz.
Following the July 2009 Boko Haram uprising, the Nigerian military captured Yusuf at his parents-in-law’s house. They transferred him to the custody of the Nigerian police force. The police summarily executed Yusuf in public view outside the police headquarters in Maiduguri. Police officials initially claimed either that Yusuf was shot while trying to escape, or died of wounds he sustained during a gun battle with the military.