Muslim Women: Past and Present

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Throughout the ages, from the earliest days of Islam to contemporary times today, Muslim women have been and continue to be active leaders in their communities and countries across the world. This directory is a growing archive of leading Muslim women scholars, activists, writers, politicians, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society leaders and more. Please contribute to this archive by suggesting Muslim women to be featured through our recommendation form.

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Nana Asma’u

Women, a warning. Leave not your homes without good reason. You may go out to get food or to seek education. In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge Women may leave their homes freely for this.

—A Warning, II¸Nana Asma’u, 1856

photo of Nana Asma’u Artwork by Heba Amin - www.hebaamin.com

Known For: Poet, Scholar
Dates: Hijri 1208 – 1281 (AH)
Common Era 1793 – 1864 (CE)

Country: Nigeria

About

Nana Asma’u was the daughter of Usman dan Fodio, founder of Sokoto Caliphate which was one of the most powerful kingdom’s in northern Africa of the time. For some, Asma’u represents the education and independence that is possible for women under Islam and remains a model for African feminists into the present.

Erudite and well versed in Arabic, Greek, and Latin classics and fluent in Arabic, Fulfulde, Hausa, and Tamacheq, Asma’u was reputed to be a leading scholar in the most influential Muslim state in West Africa. She represented the number of highly educated Muslim women of the time. Bearing witness to the Fulani Jihad (1804-1810) in which her father conquered Nigeria and Cameroon, she recorded her reactions in The Journal.  Asma’u also left an impressive corpus of poetry which is comprised of historical narratives, elegies, laments, and admonition, which became tools for teaching men and women the principles of the caliphate.

Later, she became her brother’s advisor when he took the caliphate and according to contemporary sources, Asma’u debated with governors, scholars, and princes.

Asma’u was also influential on women’s education during the caliphate. Beginning in 1830, she formed a group of female teachers who journeyed throughout the caliphate, educating women.  Becoming symbols of the new state, these female teachers, or jajis, used the writing of Asma’u and other Sufi scholars to train women from all areas, including poor and rural regions. This educational project began to integrate the pagan portions of the newly conquered empire with the existing Muslim state and culture.

Today, in northern Nigeria, Islamic women’s organization, schools, and meeting halls are frequently named in her honor. With the republication of her works, she has become a rallying point for African women for the cause of women’s education.

More Information

Mack, Beverly B., and Jean Boyd. One Woman’s Jidad: Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2000.

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This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women by their Country. We are actively building the archive of Muslim women leaders from the past, as well as from today, and we would welcome your recommendations of women to feature. Please complete our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.
This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women leaders by entering the keyword(s) of your choice. If you cannot find a particular woman that you are looking for, please let us know by completing our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.