Monday 26 November 2018

A West African Scholar: Princess Nana Asma’u

"We begin with the story of Nana Asma’u, the daughter of Uthman don Fodio, who was not only a renowned scholar of her time, but a poet, a political and social activist, and a creative intellectual. She is considered to be one of the greatest women of 19th century Islamic communities. She was born in 1793 in modern-day Nigeria. A princess with an impressive lineage, she was named after a hero in Islamic heritage—Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr, who was a strong woman in her support of Islam. She was raised in a supportive Islamic household, having not only memorized the Qur’an, but extensively learned the Islamic sciences and four languages as well.

Asma’u believed in women having a role in society and she led the women of her time by example throughout her life. One of her greatest achievements was compiling the extensive collection of writings of her father after he passed away when she was 27. The degree of respect the scholarly community had for Asma’u is seen here because they chose her to complete such a monumental task. Not only did this job require someone trustworthy, but also someone who was familiar with his writings and was well-versed in the Islamic sciences.

When she was a mother of two and pregnant with her third child, Asma’u completed the translation of the Qur’an in her native tongue and also translated her father’s work into the various dialects of the community. This shows her concern for her community and her desire to bring the knowledge of the Qur’an and Islam to her people.

Asma’u saw a dire need for the teachings of Islam to reach the women in her community and beyond the Sokoto region. She saw that women were absent from the circles of knowledge and stayed in their homes as they tended to their familial duties. Asma’u came up with a brilliant idea to not only teach these women but to teach them in the comfort of their homes. It was then that she gathered knowledgeable women in her community and trained them as teachers. This group, known as jajis, traveled to neighboring communities to bring Islamic knowledge to secluded women. This movement was called the Yan-taru movement, which means “those who congregate together” and “sisterhood”. Asma’u taught the jajis to use lesson plans, poetry, and creative mnemonic devices in their teachings.

Nana Asma’u, by the grace and guidance of Allah (swt), revolutionized the way her community learned Islam. She brought the knowledge of the religion to the people in an easy to remember fashion and wrote in their language. Her legacy is a legacy of scholarship and activism, and her name is still used today in West Africa." 

From the Muslimah's Renaissance page on FB. 

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