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Nana Asma’u bint Shehu Usman dan Fodio, the daughter of the famous Jihadist and founder of the Sokoto caliphate – Usman Dan Fodio – was born in Sokoto in 1793. She was a princess, a poet, teacher, and also a proponent of modern feminism in Africa and gender equality who led by example.

Nana Asma’u was born 11 years before the Fulani War (1804–08) which was was also a precursor to the Fulani raids of the Oyo Empire and the subsequent takeover of Ilorin. Some recognize her as an example of educated and independent women who made marks even when little was expected to come out of Africa and especially Nigeria.

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Just like her father, Nana was learned in Qur’anic studies and she also placed a high value on universal education. Following the liberal teachings of her father, Nana Asma’u was particularly devoted to the Islamic education of the Muslim women in the Sokoto caliphate – and everywhere the caliphate reached. Having become an accomplished scholar well versed in the Quran, the Hadith, military science; the law and as a multilinguist who could speak and write Arabic, Fulfude, and Hausa languages, she became a prolific author who wrote on diverse topics.

Around 1830, before the British made any major inroad into the northern part of Nigeria, Nana had created a cadre of women teachers called Jajis who traveled throughout the caliphate as they educated women in the students’ homes.

This educational project of using the Jajis to reorientate the rural population within the sprawling caliphate was a model devised by Nana Asma’u to integrate newly conquered regions, where pagan captives and other natives dwelled,  into a desirable Muslim ruling class in its own right. The education effort included the poor and rural dwellers and it knew no discrimination in gender, class or wealth.

Nana’s relationship with her father, brothers, and also her husband whom she married in 1807, indicates that of mutual respect, admiration and support. Excerpts from some of the correspondence which she shared with other scholars and other religious leaders in and out of the African continent also indicates that of a confident woman who is neither intimidated  by her patriarchal world nor was there a demonstration of a militant war being waged against patriarchy. But she rather worked to create and exemplify a culture of equality and respect in her immediate society.

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Not only was there a cultural revival among the women populaton within reach of the caliphate, but there was even more renaissance in the African essence as her fame as a scholar, poet and educator traversed the length and breadth of West and Central Africa. Nana Asma’u died in 1864, much before the British colonial masters would introduce western education to the region. Nana leaves a legacy of cultural development, social change and spiritual enlightenment for young men and women around the world to emulate from her life and times. 

Source: Wikipedia

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This article was first published on 12th December 2019


Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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