Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 21 - Nana Asm'au of West Africa

In the last 10 days of Ramadan, I want to revert to my original theme of education, intellect and belief in Allah above all of this. I will be focussing on scholarly women from various eras of Muslim history. In the last 20 days, I have looked at women from Qur'anic stories, of sufi inclination, famous names from battle fields and powerful women as political rulers, and activists. I have tried to emphasize in all these examples, that it was the emphasis given on education, and the reverence for intellect whether in males or females that led these women to use their belief in Allah and make exemplary contributions in societies.

Today's story will talk about Nana Asma'u, named after the daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakar, Asma. Daughter of the founder of Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio, Nana Asma'u was a princess, poet and teacher and to this day remains a revered figure in Nigeria with schools, Islamic organisations and centres commonly named after her. 

Nana Asma'u was taught Qur'anic studies and the classics of the Arab and Classical world. She was fluent in four languages including Arabic, the Fula language, Hausa and Tamacheq Tuareg. Modern feminism in Africa is attributed to Nana Asma'u too.Being from the Sufi school of thought, she and her father believed that education was empty unless shared and therefore, she laid great emphasis on and devoted her life to educating, particularly Muslim women.

The debate with foreign princes:
A prolific writer, and due to her broad recognition in West Africa's most influential Muslim state as a leading scholar, she had the opportunity to write and correspond greatly. She recorded her witnessed experiences of the Fulani War in a book called "Wakar Gewaye" (The Journey). As the Sokoto Caliphate began as a cultural and religious revolutionary movement, later generations used their writings as a benchmark for their own leadership. When her brother took over the Caliphate, she not only advised him but also gave instructions to governors and debated with scholars sent by foreign princes.

Can poetry teach more than just verses?
Nana Asma'u's 40 years of literary work has seen over 60 surviving written pieces. which include a large body of poetry in Arabic, the Fula language and Hausa, all written in the Arabic script. These are historical narratives, elegies, laments, and admonitions. They also contain guidance and teachings of the Sukoto Caliphate. While collaborating with Muhammad Bello, the second Caliph, Asma'u works expand upon the dan Fodio's strong emphasis on women leaders and women's rights within the community ideals of the Sunnah and Islamic law.

The women teachers that went home to home
Her hired cadre of female teachers, from around 1830, went from students' home to home all over the Caliphate teaching them Islamic education using Nana Asma’u's and other Sufi scholars writings, usually through recited poetry. In this way, they trained groups of learned women called ’yan-taru, or “those who congregate together, the sisterhood” a strong example of Nana Asma'u's feminism. This educational project e poor and rural as well. 


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