Chaplain Chats – Nana Asma’u bint Uthman dan Fodio

The following are notes from the lecture that I gave on Nana Asma’u bint Uthman dan Fodiyo, as part of the Chaplain Chats at the University of Pennsylvania on November 17th, 2011. See below for the audio. Many thanks to my wife, without whom I could not have acquired so much great data in a short amount of time.

Nana Asma’u bint Shehu Usman dan Fodiyo, Arabic: نانا أسماء بنت عثمان فودي‎; [1793–1864] and was named after Asma bint Abi Bakr, Abu Bakr’s daughter.


  • Ruled by Hausa states.
  • Islam entered around 10th Century, with mainly just rulers embracing Islam. Islam was mixed with pagan rituals. Majority of populace was not Muslim at this time.
  • Muslims brought with them written language: facilitated state-building, prestige, etc.
  • Hausa rulers participated in Atlantic slave trade. Heavily taxed population creating discord.
  • Fulani Jihads: Hausa backed the Fulani jihads b/c of exploitation, etc.
    • Led by her father [founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809]. Fulani scholar. Learned from Taureg. Gained mass popularity and attracted large number of students. Became a threat to Hausa rulers. Critiqued state power/excesses. Advocated a return to a Prophetic/religious/spiritual model.
    • Made hijrah because the ire he drew from the Hausa kings.
    • Father: taught Maliki law. A teacher in the Sufi order: Qadiriyyah.


  • Daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio.
  • Half-sister of Mohammed Bello, Usman’s son and inheritor.
  • Spoke four languages (Arabic, the Fula language, Hausa and Tamacheq Tuareg). Taught both men and women
  • Poet: Arabic, the Fula language and Hausa, all written in the Arabic script [‘Ajamiyyah].
  • She was active in politics, education and social reform; she was a prolific author, popular teacher and renowned scholar and intellectual. political as well as religious leader as her father was called Amir al-Mu’minin.
  • Responsible for women’s religious education.
    • She created a new class of women teachers (jajis) who traveled throughout the Caliphate educating women in the students’ homes.
    • Each jajis in turn used Nana Asma’u’s and other Sufi scholars writings (recited mnemonics and poetry, etc.) to train corps of learned women, called ”yan-taru”, or “those who congregate together, the sisterhood.”
    • Jajis became symbols of the new state, the new order, and of Islamic learning even outside women’s community. Like the muqaddimah system.
    • Enduring legacy: Today in Northern Nigeria, Islamic women’s organizations and schools commonly refer to her.
    • Significant example for men and women alike. Political, religious, spiritual.
    • Allowed women to be active outside the home. Rewrote the book on women’s roles in a “traditional” society.
    • Islamicized the Hausa, which beforehand, Islam was linked with lineage vs. the Ottoman tendency which was to conquer and rule over non-Muslim populations.


You should always be clean and wear clean clothes.

Look well to the details of your religion so that we may all

be united with Ahmada.

You should seek religious knowledge and stop straying from

The Path. Do not be one of the lost in the next world.


Such knowledge enables you to follow God and the


Insight into the Sunna will carry us to Ahmada.

Wishing for a Muslim everything that you

Wish for yourself is [in keeping with] the character of

Muhammada. (vv. 19-21, 28)

A.D. I856/A.H. 1273 

1 I give thanks to God the Merciful
Who created me; the Generous King.

2 He is One, to Him belongs everything,
He has no beginning because He began everything.

3 He hears, just as He sees:
He knows all mysteries, He is omniscient and patient.

4 But He does not hear with ears,
Nor does He see with eyes.

5 Trust in Him and His existence.
There is no King except God the Bountiful,

6 And trust in Muhammad His Messenger,
Then you will be an upright Muslim.

7 Do not innovate. Keep strictly to the Sunna
For the Sunna will suffice you till you reach Heaven.

8 Repent, for repentance purifies the worshiper
So he can escape from sin which leads to Hellfire.

9 Safeguard the proprieties of ritual ablution,
And on the Bridge over the Fire, you will feel no pain.

10 If you are ill, procedures can vary,
For God gives his servants concessions.

11 What God wants most
Is work that is willingly done.

12 From God we should all seek 
Forgiveness and His trust.

13 The Everlasting never dies
Forever and ever and ever He exists.

14 Listen to my warnings, brethren,
And heed them: admonition is good for you.

15 Let us repent because repentance
Is the gateway to God the Merciful.

16 Give the alms you must and those you wish, and pray
For the sake of the Prophet, our Leader.

17 Say your prayer beads in the mornings
And in the evenings and say extra prayers in the night.

18 To love the Qur’an is to love God:
For the Prophet’s sake, read it constantly.

19 This is the Path of the Almighty.
He who follows will never turn.

20 Women, a warning. Leave not your homes without good reason
You may go out to get food or to seek education.

21 In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge
Women may leave their homes freely for this.

22 Repent and behave like respectable married women
You must obey your husbands’ lawful demands.

23 You must dress modestly and be God-fearing.
Do not imperil yourselves and risk Hellfire.

24 Any woman who refuses, receives no benefit,
The merciful Lord will give her the reward of the

25 I have written this poem of admonition
For you to put to good use in the community.

26 I end with thanks to God. I invoke His peace On the Prophet and
his companions.

27 The year of the Hijra is 1273.


Adamu, A.U. (2004): Sunset at Dawn, Darkness at Noon: Reconstructing the Mechanisms of Literacy in Indigenous Communities; 7th Professorial Inaugural Lecture, Bayero University, Kano.

Al-Hageel, S.A. (2001): Human Rights in Islam and their Applications in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; First edition, King Fahd National Library, Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia.

Arebi, S (1991): “Gender Anthropology in the Middle East: The Politics of Muslim Women’s. Misrepresentation. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Volume 8 Number 1

Al-Mamoud, I. S. (2001): Winning the Heart of Your Husband: Deluxe Printers, London.

Boyd, J. (1989): The Caliph’s Sister, Nana Asma’u 1793-1865 Teacher, Poet and Islamic Leader: Frank Cass, Britain.

Bullock, K (2002): “Toward the Full Inclusion of Muslim Women in the Umma: An Activist’s Perspective” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Volume 19 Number 4.

Boyd J and Mack, B.B. (1997): Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman ‘dan-Fodio (1793-1864) Michigan State University Press, U.S.A.

El-Tayeb, S.E. (1989): “The Ulama and Islamic Renaissance in Algeria” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences Volume 6 Number 2.

Heywood, A (1998): Political Ideologies: An Introduction; worth publishers, New York, U.S.A.

Johnston, H.A.S (1967): The Fulani Empire of Sokoto Oxford University Press, London

Mack, B.B. and Boyd, J. (2000): One Woman’s Jihad; Nana Asma’u Scholar and Scribe, Indiana University Press, U.S.A.

Maqsood, R.W. (2003): Teach Yourself Islam: Bookprint Limited, London.

Suleiman, I. (1997): “Scholars of the Sokoto Caliphate” New Nigerian Newspaper, April 21, SS VIII.

Usman, M.T. (2003):   “Literary Legacy of the Sokoto Caliphate: Commentary on some selected poems from Northern Nigeria” FAIS Journal of Humanities, Volume 2 Number 4, Bayero University, Kano.