Nana Asma’u was born in 1792 in Degel, which is 25 miles north west of Sokoto in what is now Northern Nigeria. She was named after Asma bint Abi Bakr and was the daughter of Uthman don Fodio, who was the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate. Nana Asma’u had a strong Islamic upbringing. She memorized the Quran at a young age and was taught in areas such as Fiqh and jurisprudence. She was also fluent in four languages, Arabic, Fulfulde, Hausa and Tamachek.
Nana Asma’u was born eleven years before the Fulani war and experienced most of it, working in the tents with the other women. Later as her family came to great prominence, she focused on providing education for all the people, particularly the women. Her father taught her that learning without teaching was an empty and sterile way to live so Nana Asma’u provided extensive religious education to hundreds. In the 1830s, she established a group of women (jajis) who traveled all over the Caliphate providing Islamic education other women in their homes. She felt that educating women in the comfort of their homes was the best way because many women tended to their families and did not have time to leave for circles of knowledge. The Jajis used creative mnemonic devices, poetry and organized lesson plans to teach the women. This is one of the reasons that Nana Asma’u was so loved-she brought knowledge to her people in a way that was convenient to them and in that way, she revolutionized the way her people learned Islam.
She married Usman Gidado in 1807 and moved to Sokoto, which was built by her brother in 1809. Her first son Abdulqadir was born in 1810. Like her father and other members of her family, Nana Asma’u was skilled in writing and authored many books and wrote lots of poetry. She was an extremely respected Islamic scholar and it is said that she also translated the Quran into her native language, while pregnant with her third child. She also translated some of her father’s collection of writing. She has over 60 surviving works including poetry in three languages, which included historical narratives, elegies, poems of guidance and laments. She also authored many books and works on Islamic education.
Nana Asma’u was also involved in politics and became advisor to her brother when he took the Caliphate. She also used to write instructions to governors and participate in debate with foreign scholars.
Nana Asma’u’s legacy continues today and you can find organizations, schools and meeting halls named after her in Northern Nigeria.
Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u. “Nana Asma.” Nana Asma. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 July 2012. <http://www.gamji.com/article3000/NEWS3642.htm>.
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