One Woman's Jihad: Nana Asma'u, Scholar and Scribe

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Date: Winter 2001
From: African Arts(Vol. 34, Issue 4)
Publisher: MIT Press Journals
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,076 words

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Beverly B. Mack and Jean Boyd Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis, 2000. 198 pp., 5 b/w photos, map. $35 softcover.

Nana Asma'u was the daughter of Shehu Usman 'dan Fodio, a Fulbe scholar. After escaping an assassination attempt by the non-Muslim Hausa chief of Gobir, the Shehu launched a jihad in which the Muslim women were full participants. In 1808 the chief of Gobir and his Tuareg allies were defeated, and the Shehu founded the Sokoto caliphate, whose influence is still felt today. His daughter dedicated her life to disseminating Islam and upholding the caliphate. She set up an educational system for Muslim women, acted as a colleague and adviser to her brother and her husband, and managed the practical demands of implementing a new government.

Nana Asma'u also wrote a large collection of poetry in Fulfulde, intended for the Fulbe aristocracy, and in Hausa, intended for the majority population composed of nominal Muslims and non-Muslims. Her writings fall into several traditional Arabic genres. Many of the Fulfulde poems are elegies for people who played a significant role in her father's jihad. The Hausa works are mnemonic devices that have been handed down through the generations.

Jean Boyd published her first book on this remarkable woman in 1989: The Caliph's Sister: Nana Asma'u 1793-1865, Teacher, Poet and Islamic Leader (London: Frank Cass). With Beverly Mack, who helped Boyd translate all of Asma'u's works into English, she wrote Collected Works of Nana Asma'u, Daughter of Usman 'dan Fodiyo (1793-1864) (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1997). As Mack says in her preface to One Woman's Jihad, "Ironically, when that book...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A85031238