Nana Asma'u - The Islamic Poetic Princess
Nana Asmaʼu (full name: Nana Asmaʼu bint Shehu Usman dan Fodiyo; 1793–1864), was a Fula princess, teacher, and poet, and a daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio.
In her childhood, she lived through the Fulani War (1804–1808), which founded the Sokoto caliphate, outlived much of the founding generation of the Caliphate, and was an important source of guidance for its later rulers. From 1805 onwards, members of the Caliph's family rose to considerable prominence, including the female relatives of the Caliph. While Nana Asma'u became influential, she trained in Quranic Studies and attached great importance to universal education, like her father. They felt it was sterile and hollow to study without teaching. In specific, Nana Asma'u was committed to Muslim women's education
She was well educed in the literature of the Arabic and Classic world and was well versed in four languages, with the public prestige of a top scholar of the most influential Muslim State in West Africa. She also wrote directives for governors and discussing matters with scholars of foreign princes. she became her brother's advisor after he took over the Caliphate.
Nana Asma'u left a vast body of poetry in Arabic, the Fula language, and Hausa, all written in the Arabic script, among her more than sixty surviving works over forty years. Her poems of leadership were instruments for the teachings of the founding ideals of the Caliphate.
Asma'u's surviving literary works are related to Islamic education. She was responsible for a significant part of her adult life for women's religious education. Starting around 1830, she put together a group of woman teachers (jajis) who traveled all over the Caliphate to educate women in students' homes. Thus the Jajis were icons of the new state, of the new order, and of Islamic learning even beyond the women's community.
Nana Asma'u's continued legacy rests not only on her literary work but also on her role in establishing the ideals of the Sokoto state. Today, Islamic women's associations, schools, and meeting halls are widely named after her in Northern Nigeria. She returned to the discussion on the role of women in Islam in the 20th century when her legacy has been taken to Europe by Islamic academics and immigrants and her scholarly debates.