Friday, July 13, 2007

Nana Asma'u - 19th century Nigerian sufi poet

Book review of Beverly B. Mack & Jean Boyd, One Woman’s Jihad – Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2000

Reviewed by Fatima Harrak, Professor of religious studies, University of Kansas

Considering the amount of work and the time that they have spent researching and writing on Nana Asma’u -- a northern Nigerian scholar-poet from the early 19th century –as well as on Caliphate women and Nigerian women in general, Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd may be considered the unquestionable experts not only on women in Nigeria but on Muslim women in general. Already in 1997 Mack and Boyd translated and compiled Nana Asma’u’s writings in The Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, 1793-1864 (Michigan State University Press). One Woman’s Jihad comes to give a more complete image of the life of this Muslim scholar and poet who, moreover, played a major role in the political and social history of the Jihadist Caliphate in Northern Nigeria.

The book is divided into six chapters and develops six dimensions of the life of Nana Asma’u. The first chapter is dedicated to the Islamic scholarly tradition to which Asma’u was affiliated by virtue of her scholarly chain of transmission. The second chapter presents the Qadiriyya Sufi order of which the Caliphate leaders and their families were active members and propagators. But Nana Asma’u was also the daughter of the first Jihadist Caliph, ‘Uthman Dan Fodi, the sister of the second Caliph and the wife of an important executive administrator of the Caliphate. It was only natural that the biographers dedicate the third chapter to Nana’s function in this Caliphate community. And since Asma’u was also a poet, Mack and Boyd dedicated the fourth chapter of their book to the study of the poetic tradition in Nigeria and in the Islamic world in general. The two last chapters undertake to establish the success of the Fulani Jihadist reformers in re-creating the model Prophetic community of Medina in the Sokoto of the 18th-19th centuries, paying particular attention to the place of women in this archetypal society. The co-authors conclude their book with a rich appendix containing samples from the poems of Nana Asma’u, translated into English from the various languages that she mastered.

One Woman’s Jihad is a precious addition to the women library in general and to Muslim women biographies in particular. Bravo to Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd.


Anonymous,  6:06 pm  
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Talatu-Carmen 12:51 am  

this is an excellent book I highly recommend too!

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