(revis/it/ed excerpts) from a Qadiri heart of Nigeria

Nana Asma’u (1793-1864) was a Qadiri Sufi woman who helped to guide entire communities in what is now (neo-colonially legislated as) Nigeria. Born in the small village of Degel in the dry plains of Hausaland at a time when the French revolution was at it’s height, she played an important part in an Islamic revolution that affected an area the size of Western Europe(and then some).

Nana was raised under the careful eye of her father, who was the spiritual and tribal leader of the Shehu people, as well as her mother and a number of other scholarly women….At an early age Nana had memorised the entire Qur’an, and she soon spoke and wrote in the local languages of Hausa, Fufulde, and Tamachek, as well as Arabic.

When she was quite young, her family and their expanding community of Qadiri muslims began their journey of emigration to settle in a place where their community might be free to practice with appropriate care the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (salaam en blessings be upon him). As they moved from one place to another during a time of intense civil war (1804-1830) when strong efforts were being made to reform and purify the practice of Islam in the region, one of the few things they carried with them was the family library consisting of hundreds of carefully copied loose-leaf manuscripts. These books were continually passing through a process of renewal, as in that climate, even though the tomes were enclosed in sturdy goatskin bags, it was not long before the parchment pages would begin to disintegrate. Books were of such importance that wherever the family journeyed, a room was always set aside for the copying of texts so that the library of important Islamic and Sufi texts might be preserved.

Nana Asma’u became an enthusiastic teacher of men, women en pikney and one who was well loved by her students and her whole community. At the same time she was both a wife and a mother, devoted daughter en sista , she was also an educator, an author, and a “respected scholar of international repute who was in communication with scholars throughout the Subsaharan Afrikan Muslim world,” as Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd report  [in One Woman’s Jihad].

Her efforts to promote reconciliation education and justice helped change forever the Muslim culture in which she lived. This was her personal ‘jihad’ (meaning struggle or effort) and it took three aspects:

 First was the preservation and propagation of all that the Shehu stood for (the right-full following of the sunnah of the Prophet and justice for all).

Second was the education of women, who were the primary mentors of future generations…..

Thirdly, she devoted her life to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence, using her wit, her imagination, and her immense prestige to find pragmatic solutions to the problems that faced her…..

She was not only famous among the Muslim scholars in her community and beyond, but she was also loved by ordinary unschooled villagers……Asma’u’s teachings songs in Hausa are still well known today and continue to be learned by both young girls and boys. Her people speak of her as if she were still alive and recite the injunctions she taught their great grand mothers….

 She herself spoke and wrote about the women of her father’s generation who had been ‘teachers of women, teachers of exegesis of the Qur’an, and women of great presence.’ They in turn had been taught by earlier generations of women who included her grandmother and great-grandmother. In her own generation there were six other women writers whose poetry survived: they were her sisters Hadiza, Fatima, Habsatu, Safiya and Mariam – the sixth was her cousin Aisha. [as reported in One woman’s Jihad]

 (Preface…)….We will look forward to witnessing the continued reflecting of the Divine light in all the ways and being through which it may be granted by our most gracious Sustainer. May the stars of this universe shine ever more and more brightly!

[source: Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure]

God/dess is the light of the heavens and the earth

The parable of Her/his/hir light

Is as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp;

The lamp is enclosed in glass, the glass like a radiant star;

Lit from a blessed tree – an olive tree

That is neither of the east or the west –

The oil of which would almost give light

Even though fiya had not touched it: light upon light!

God/dess guides to Her (/His/Hir) light the one who wills to be guided;  

And God/dess offers parables to human beings,

Since God/dess has full knowledge of all things.


Surah an-Nur 24:35