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Collected Works of Nana Asma'u: Daughter of Usman 'dan Fodiyo (1793-1864)

Jean Boyd
Beverly B. Mack
Copyright Date: 1997
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  • Book Info
    Collected Works of Nana Asma'u
    Book Description:

    Nana Asma'u Bint Usman 'dan Fodio, a nineteenth-century Muslim scholar, lived in the region now known as northern Nigeria and was an eyewitness to battles of the largest of the West-African jihads of the era. The preparation and conduct of the jihad provide the topics for Nana Asma'u's poetry. Her work also includes treatises on history, law, mysticism, theology, and politics, and was heavily influenced by the Arabic poetic tradition.This volume contains annotated translations of works by the 19th century intellectual giant, Nana Asma'u, including 54 poems and prose texts. Asma'u rallied public opinion behind a movement devoted to the revival of Islam in West Africa, and organized a public education system for women.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-065-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Sambo Wali b. Junaidu

    This book contains annotated translations of the corpus of works written by an intellectual giant of the nineteenth century, Nana Asma’u, whose fame is undimmed although she died nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. This learned and pious lady energetically rallied public opinion behind a movement devoted to the revival of Islam. She organized a public education system for women and was at the heart of a sisterhood which esteemed service to the community. This book is central to an understanding of Islam in West Africa and the significant role played by women in the region....

    (pp. x-x)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxx)
  7. The Essential Nana Asma’u
    (pp. 1-17)

    The background to Shehu Usman ɗan Fodiyo’s nineteenth century Sokoto Jihad is well known and has been discussed at length in many scholarly works (see especially Hiskett 1973; Last 1967). It involves the confluence of several major forces of competition in the region: Islam, commerce, and a tenuous balance of control by several ethnic groups. Turmoil in eighteenth century Hausaland resulted from centuries of competition over trade routes and cultural hegemony in that part of the western Sudan. Islam, which had been introduced as early as the eleventh century, continued to be a pervasive influence in the area at the...

  8. An Outline Chronology
    (pp. 17-20)

    sisterhood is significant⁴⁶. Men’s networks are evident everywhere in Hausaland: men go to the mosque, sit around outside each others’ homes, congregate frequently for brotherhood prayer meetings and make journeys to attend extended family functions. Women also have a need to belong to a sisterhood which is supra-family, which makes them feel part of a larger and supportive group.Bori, in Gobir, gives them that. The currentInnasays she helps any woman who contacts her for help - runaway wives for example. In Asma‘u’s time theInnaenjoyed a role of power and authority that spanned quotidian and spiritual...

  9. The Collected Works of Nan a Asma’u in English

    • Work 1 The Way of the Pious
      (pp. 21-28)

      This work was Asma‘u’s first, as far as we know, and was written when she was in her twenties. It is important because it shows how clear her vision was in relation to her life’s work. She believed that one who loves Muhammad should work for the interests of the Muslim community, humbly and modestly, visiting the sick, teaching, and contributing to society. It is a condensed rule-book for Muslims and in particular for sufi Muslims. ⁴⁷ Part One of this work describes barriers that exist between man and Paradise. These are: death, and the travails of the grave, and...

    • Work 2 So Verily ...
      (pp. 28-31)

      On the surface this poem is a prayer for deliverance from the threat posed by the invasion of Gobir and Adar forces⁵⁹. Its true meaning only becomes apparent when the poem is read in the light of Waziri Junaidu’s explanation, and alongside Muhammad Bello’s poem on the same subject. Waziri Junaidu’s explanation is based on Waziri Giɗaɗo’s book al-Kashfwa’l bqyān ‘an ba‘d ahwāl al-scyyid Muhammad Bello, and supplemented by family tradition:

      Ibra, Chief of Adar and Ali, Chief of Gobir made an alliance and advanced on Sokoto, making towards Dun ɗaye (an area now occupied by Usumanu dan Fodiyo University)...

    • Work 3 Give Us Victory
      (pp. 32-33)

      This work is an urgent and impassioned plea to God to come to the aid of the Caliphate forces hard pressed by a rebellion (to the south and east) and among Hausa rulers, furious at their overthrow, massed at Maradi (to the north and east). (See map six.) This is a powerful work that Asma’u wrote in her desperation over the situation. Note in it the variety of “Holy Allies” who are all marshalled as reinforcements.


      The date of this work is not certain. However, since Tsibiri is not listed as a center of Gobir opposition, the rebellion referred...

    • Work 4 Elegy for Abdullahi
      (pp. 34-38)

      This work is an expression of grief for the death of Abdullahi ɗan Fodiyo, Asma‘u’s uncle, whose soubriquet was “the tall Arabist” due to his perfect fluency in the language. Abdullahi was born at Marnona in 1776 to Muhammad Fodiyo and Hauwa of Marnona. He died in 1829. He travelled with his elder brother, the Shehu, on preaching tours to Gobir, Zamfara, and Kebbi, and was a close disciple. For many years he was the Shehu’s private secretary and took dictation from the Shehu so that many of the Shehu's books were first written down in Chief Minister (Waziri) Abdullahi’s...

    • Works 5/16/29 The Qur’an
      (pp. 38-43)

      This work is a mnemonic device used for teaching beginners the names of thesūrasof the Qur’an. Its usefulness is indicated by its appearance in Arabic, Fulfulde, and Hausa, making it accessible to all members of the jihad community. Hiskett says Asma’u “is also credited with a versification bearing the Arabic titleQasīda Fīl Munājāa work of little literary interest that merely recites the titles of Koranicsūrasor chapters and is supposed to protect the reciter from misfortune” (1975: 44). Asma’u herself does not say that recitation affords protection, but Arabic, being the language of the Revelation,...

    • Work 6 Be Sure of God’s Truth
      (pp. 43-57)

      This work informs people at all levels of their duties and responsibilities under a government based on Islamic principles. The first version was written in 1812 by Shehu ɗan Fodiyo, when the new administrative capital Sokoto was still being built. It focuses on reciprocal relationships (God/ruler; ruler/ruled; judge/seekers after justice) and lists examples of wrongdoing. The Shehu wrote the original poem in Fulfulde which was understood by most of the ruling elite. Twenty years later, Asma’u translated the poem into Hausa: the unchanged message was intended for the much larger number of people who had been brought into the Caliphate,...

    • Work 7 A Warning, I
      (pp. 57-60)

      This poem was written to teach Muslim students what their basic religious obligations were - prayer, alms, fasting, pilgrimage, and belief in God’s Oneness. As a teacher of teachers, Asma’u does not seek distance from her students, but counts herself among those who need to be taught to practice humility: “May I be rescued from the wicked ways of Satan into which I have fallen through my own obstinacy”(v.22). Her father wrote the following on the need for a teacher to be understanding:

      When the proud man teaches he is not courteous to his students. He looks down upon them....

    • Work 8 Forgive Me
      (pp. 60-63)

      This poem by Asma’u was written either while she was in a mystic retreat, orkhalwa⁹⁹ or immediately after, while the experience was still fresh in her mind. There are many reasons for believing for this to be the circumstance in which she wrote this poem. First, in verse 15 Asma’u refers to the Prophet performing special religious rites “in the cave”; by inference these are worthy of emulation. Second, the work contains a request for help to overcome self will (v.2), distress at being unable to express penitence (v.3), and reference to the many faults she had committed (v.6),...

    • Work 9 Victory at Gawakuke
      (pp. 64-68)

      This work is a celebration of an important victory by Muhammad Bello’s forces at Gawakuke on Tuesday, 29 March 1836. Asma’u wrote a longer, more descriptive poem about the same battle in 1858; this is The Battle of Gawakuke (Work 38) to which the reader is referred. These works are evidence that Asma’u was part of the team which labored to preserve the set of ideas and attitudes associated with the reformist campaign of the Shehu. It also demonstrates that Asma’u was speaking of Bello as a “saint” (walijo,F.,waliyyi,H) during his lifetime. She said, “Great blessings were...

    • Works 10/11 Sufi Women
      (pp. 68-82)

      This work puts women’s Islam firmly in the cultural picture. It is a roll of honor, a merit list of pious women and it includes women of the Shehu’s community some of whom may have been alive and well known to many when the work was written. The poem is one of a pair, the other being the Fulfulde version,Tindinore, (Work 10). Both were written in 1837 to bring to public notice a work by Muhammad Bello composed in 1836.

      Asma’u therefore produced these translations with a sense of great urgency, possibly owing to a scandal, the exact nature...

    • Works 12/13 Elegy for Bello
      (pp. 83-89)

      This poem is about the sense of desolation Asma’u felt after Bello’s death. It incorporates her prayers for the repose of his soul, and discusses the great love she had for her brother, the Caliph. She describes him as the teacher who was most important to her intellectual and spiritual development. In terms of its emotion, it may be compared to Asma‘u’s Lamentation for ‘Aysha II (Work 37), which also expresses her disconsolate state.

      Asma‘u’s brother Bello was ill for months prior to his death. Nevertheless, despite having had time to prepare herself for his passing Asma’u was devastated to...

    • Work 14 Bello’s Character
      (pp. 89-94)

      This memorial to Bello is the single most useful biographical work that exists. It is clearly an appreciation of Bello that represents him as a man to be emulated. Asma‘u’s praise of him addresses his learning, unworldliness, level-headedness, uprightness, preparedness, intelligence, and resourcefulness. What is omitted is any reference to Bello’s military campaigns, thebarakahe inherited from his father, his position as Caliph, and the miracles ascribed to him by Asma‘u’s husband Gidado in his bookAl-Kashf wa’l bayānwhich was written the same year as this poem. What is also omitted is the fact that he was in...

    • Work 15 Elegy for My Sister Faɗima
      (pp. 94-97)

      This is an elegy to commemorate the death of Faɗima, who was also known as Mo’Inna. Faɗima, born at Degel circa 1787 A.D., was a full sister of Caliph Muhammad Bello, and a half sister (different mother) of Nana Asm’au. Faɗima’s mother, Hauwa, was known as Inna Garka, who came from a scholarly family: her children were Muhammad Bello (Caliph 1817-1837); Abubakar Atiku (Caliph 1837-1842); Faɗima; Saudatu; and Hannatu. Faɗima married Aliyu Jedo, the outstanding Amir al-Jaish (War Commander), and they had two children, Dayi (who probably died young), and Maryam, who married Abdulkadir, Asma’u’s eldest son.

      In hisʿArf...

    • Work 17 Medicine of the Prophet
      (pp. 97-119)

      Literally “A Message to the Brethren”, this work is about alleviating pain and distress caused by illness, worry, threatening behavior, or adverse conditions. Written in Arabic, the language of scholarship, it was meant to be read and acted upon by the malams who specialized in “The Medicine of the Prophet” (Tibb al-Nabī). The latter differs from the early analytical approach to medicine of Muslim scholars. Ismail Abdalla explains, “‘The Medicine of the Prophet’ is the religiously oriented, highly spiritual ... healing system of Madina ... All theḥadīthsdealing with medicine and related subjects are presented ... as an inseparable...

    • Work 18 Elegy for Buhari
      (pp. 120-123)

      This work is a commemoration of the life of Asma’u’s brother, Muhammad al-Bukhari, known as Buhari b. Shehu, who probably became mortally ill two months before Bello’s death in 1837 (see v. 9). In the poem Asma’u also grieves for five ofBuhari’s siblings who had died (v. 20) and prays for Caliph AtiKu’s victory over centers of resistance (v. 25). Buhari was born circa 1782 at Degel, a son of the Shehu. His mother was Aisha who came from a long line of scholars; “her father was a saintly person and so was her grandfather”, (Muhammad Bello,Kitāb al-nasīhah, f....

    • Work 19 In Praise of Ahmada
      (pp. 123-130)

      Professor Mervyn Hiskett kindly gave Jean Boyd permission to use his English translation of this work when preparing her collection. What appears below is a new English translation prepared by Boyd and Mack, which is similar to Hiskett’s. In translating, we referred to Hiskett’s version, which the reader is urged to consult (Hiskett 1975: 44-48). Note that in his version he shows that between verses 25 and 26 and 34 and 35, some verses are missing. These are, in this version, vv. 26-28, 38-39.

      This poem in praise of the Prophet Muhammad is a panegyric in the genre known in...

    • Works 20/51 The Journey
      (pp. 131-154)

      This translation is based on Fulfulde and Hausa texts of the work from the library of Waziri Junaidu, and an English version by Aisha Ahmed (1981). The spirit of the work has been accommodated through attention to all versions, and also a close scrutiny ofInfāq al-Maisūrby Asma’u’s brother Bello.

      The first version of this work was composed in Fulfulde by Nana Asma’u. Her brother Isa translated it into Hausa after her death as a tribute to her. Nevertheless it is well known in Hausa and Nana Asma’u is popularly considered to be the author. Another scholar, Abdulkadir, translated...

    • Work 21 Thanksgiving for Recovery
      (pp. 154-156)

      This poem is about thanksgiving offered upon Asma’u’s recovery from a broken hand: it was discovered in Paris by John Hunwick and made available to Jean Boyd.

      There are no other known works of the period about recovery from illness. However, it is worth noting that a poem with such a topic exists, written by a famous woman sufi scholar, Rābe’ah al-‘adawiya (Sufi Women, p. 15) who prayed all night for recovery from a broken wrist through supplication to God, followed by fasting.

      This is the only poem in which Nana Asma’u mentions her health. The English translation provided here...

    • Works 22/50 The Story of the Shehu
      (pp. 156-176)

      This work, written first by Asma’u in Fulfulde and later translated into Hausa by Isa b. Shehu, details the life of the Shehu.³⁷⁶ Verses 19-72 contain the names of the Shehu’s brothers, sisters, wives, and children. Biographical details of his brother Abdullahi ɗan Fodiyo are given in verses 20-22 and of his son Bello in verses 73-80. Many of the names were capable of triggering memories, giving rise to discussions round the fires and places where women spun thread. While to the unknowing it was a tedious list of names, to the initiated it had talismatic properties.

      At a different...

    • Work 23 The Path of Truth
      (pp. 176-188)

      This is a warning against committing sin. In it the penalties of Hell and the rewards of Heaven are set forth in a didactic way and the following important points, which are central to a thorough understanding of Islam, are explored:

      1. the obligatory religious duties;

      2. what happens on the Day of Resurrection;

      3. what happens to sinners;

      4. where salvation will be found;

      5. what happens on the Bridge to Paradise;

      6. about the sweet waters ofKauthara;

      7. what Paradise is like.

      The last section (vv. 109-131) is of particular interest because it speaks to Asma’u’s conviction...

    • Work 24 Remembrance ofthe Prophet, I
      (pp. 188-189)

      This poem is in praise of the Prophet Muhammad, listing some of the miracles God caused to happen through him.

      None. However, it is known that Asma’u’s education provided her with sound knowledge of the bibliographic details of the Prophet’s life, as is evident in her “Yearning for the Prophet”. Unfortwlately the translation for this work is missing; all we have is this summary, which was done directly from theajami.

      One of the miracles performed by the Prophet (the finding of water, during a battle, duringRamaḍān) could be compared with verses 36-38 in this work, in which it...

    • Work 25 Caliph Aliyu’s Victory, I
      (pp. 190-193)

      This work is about the victory of Caliph Aliyu over his Gobir and Kebbi enemies at a place called Tozai (13° 15’ N, 6° 25’ E). Tozai, north of Zurmi on map 3, is in the middle of a fertile north-south corridor down which the Gobir people used to swoop to attack villages, raid grain stores, round up animals and carry away young women. The poem is a reaffirmation of the Muslim cause. Lack of piety and religiousness leads to failure, or, as Asma’u puts it: “The Kebbi forces were defeated ... because their priority was love of worldliness.” (v....

    • Work 26 Caliph Aliyu’s Victory, II
      (pp. 193-195)

      See comments for Caliph Aliyu’s Victory, I (Work 25).

      1 We thank God that we were

      Victorious: O people give thanks

      2 To God the Bountiful that we might

      For ever praise Him by day and by night

      3 Dan Mari fled having achieved

      Nothing, only a glance backwards as he ran.⁴⁹⁶

      4 He was completely bewildered, lost,

      Not knowing which route he was taking.

      5 When Mayaƙi⁴⁹⁷ fled he went with all speed

      Not waiting for a horse.

      6 The whole army was destroyed

      The unreliable intriguers!

      7 Six hundred were killed

      And sixty, all in a brief moment....

    • Work 27 Elegy for Halima
      (pp. 195-198)

      This poem is a tribute to Halima. She was one of Asma’u’s neighbors; nothing more is known about her.⁴⁹⁹ It is noteworthy that Asma’u valued Halima - and others - for perfectly ordinary characteristics achievable by all. Her focus was not on the rich, famous, and powerful.


      Asma’u constantly reminds people of the virtue of patience, and the need to keep relationships in good repair.

      1 Fear God, friends and prepare

      All that you need for the journey from this restless world.

      2 Know that death is a warning to us

      Let us fear, and obey, and keep death...

    • Work 28 Elegy for Giɗaɗo
      (pp. 198-202)

      This is an elegy for Asma’u’s husband. In it she lists his personal qualities (e.g. generosity, v. 11) and the work he did in connection with city buildings (he was in charge of the city gates, v. 15) and the strengthening of the ideology of the Caliphate (he reiterated the Shehu’s message v. 18). She omits references to his position - as Waziri he was second only to the Caliph in authority - or to his role as roving emissary, keeper of the chancery and warrior. These omissions are a significant indication that what Asma’u valued and wanted others to...

    • Work 30 Islam, Sokoto, and Wurno
      (pp. 203-206)

      The Shehu foretold the building of Wurno, the place which Bello made his principal frontier fortress (ribāṭ, Ar.) to protect Sokoto from the incursions of Gobir guerrillas, and Bello himself told Asma’u how life should be lived in aribāṭ. This poem was intended as a rebuke to the men living in Wurno who, in the words of Asma’u’s nephew, had “no enthusiasm” for living in a frontier fortress: “They preferred to tend their irrigated farms, trade in the market, herd cattle and work at their crafts, they neglected the affairs of the Jihad and refused to join the army...

    • Work 31 Destroy Mayaƙi
      (pp. 206-210)

      This is a prayer for the overthrow of the chief of Gobir, Mayaƙi, the Chief of Kebbi, Nabame, and named centers of resistance like Maradi and Tsibiri (both in Gobir), Argungu and Gulma (both in Kebbi). By the time of the composition of this poem, people were becoming settled and complacent. Aliyu, the first Caliph even with a.strong standing army, was less effective than many felt he should be. It is known that he was a genial, relaxed man, who continually dealt unsuccessfully with rebellions on his doorstep. There was even talk of deposing him circa 1850 and replacing him...

    • Work 32 Elegy for a Youth
      (pp. 210-212)

      This is an impassioned prayer for a young person who was an invaluable aide, yet not even the gender of the person is known; “bingil” (F.) means simply “a person younger than yourself”. It is used in the same way that “child” or “teenager” might be used. The translator from Fulfulde guessed from the nature of the duties described that “bingil” was female. However it is not so in Waziri’s view. He believes “bingil” was a frail young man who was brought up by Asma’u, and who was killed by a bolting horse close to where she lived. Asma’u wrote...

    • Work 33 Elegy for Na’Inna
      (pp. 213-217)

      This is a lament for the last of the Shehu’s brothers to die, Asma’u’s paternal uncle Na’Inna.


      The last two lines of each verse are the poem’s original lines, to which Asma’u’s youngest brother, Isa b. Shehu b. 1817, a famous poet, addedtakhmīs.

      1 I call upon the One who said we should call Him,

      Who answers compassionately whenever asked,

      The Protector of those who thank him.

      I am grateful to God the Eternal, the Almighty King,

      I pray for the one who Excelled all mankind, the Chosen, the Pure.

      2 And all those who learned from


    • Work 34 Elegy for Mustafa
      (pp. 217-221)

      This is an elegy for Mustafa, husband of Asma’u’s eldest sister, Hadija.⁵²⁶ Surprisingly little is known about Mustafa, or “Malam Tafa”, a nickname abbreviation. He was Muhammad Mustafa and his paternal ancestors were linked to the Shehu’s family, according to an interview conducted with Mustafa’s descendant, Sarkin Arewa in 1980 at Salame. There are many men bearing the name Mustafa in the lists prepared by Giɗaɗo, so it is not certain what his position was. However this Mustafa may be the one who was a contemporary of the Shehu (inRaud aljinān), and as a contemporary of Bello (in the...

    • Work 35 Remembrance of the Shehu
      (pp. 221-224)

      This poem is a work to honor the style and content of a work by the Shehu, said by Waziri Junaidu to have been the first written by the Shehu, called “Afalgimi” (F), when he was very young, probably in the year 1765, when he was ten years old.⁵³⁰ Both Asma’u’s poem, and “Afalgimi”, are simple sufi litanies, asking for guidance and strength in relevant endeavors, such as the grace to follow theSunna, perform ablutions, and be generous in givingzakāt.

      It should be asked why Asma’u produced it circa 1855. It may have been loneliness or unhappiness that...

    • Work 36 Lamentation for ʿAysha, I
      (pp. 224-227)

      This poem is one of two elegies for ʿAysha⁵³², Asma’u’s lifelong friend and beloved companion.

      ʿAysha was the daughter of the Shehu’s friend and companion, Umaru AlKammu, who was given the care of the booty after the capture of Matankari, the first victory of the Jihad, in 1804. Umaru remained at the Shehu’s side as a non-combattant, without ever bearing any title. He died before the Shehu: Bello had his body disinterred and brought back to Sokoto at a later date. His sons Ahmad and Uthman Mudegel were part of Bello’s court. ʿAysha, their sister, was married to Bello and...

    • Work 37 Lamentation for ʿAysha, II
      (pp. 227-229)

      This work is an expression of Asma’u’s personal grief, similar in tone and depth of feeling to the moving elegy she wrote for Bello (Elegy for Bello). It is as different from her other elegy of ʿAysha as Elegy for Bello is from Bello’s Character. The poem gives insight into the ways in which women related to each other: they were neither isolated nor under masculine domination. This poem indicates that women were active in supporting one another, and creating warm, supportive relationships among themselves, providing relief from stress and tension. For biographical details of ʿAysha see the previous Lamentation...

    • Work 38 The Battle of Gawakuke
      (pp. 230-241)

      On 31 March 1836 Caliph Muhammad Bello defeated his enemies,⁵³⁹ in a desolate place, Gawakuke, situated in the southern fringes of the Sahara desert. Bello died the following year, leaving his successors a difficult act to follow. In the 1850s his son, Aliyu, suffered a number of military defeats. When enemies dared to attack the Caliphate heartland, and Muhammad Bello’s widow was killed,⁵⁴⁰ the leading scholars met in the mosque and demanded action. Against this background of disquiet Asma’u, Bello’s sister, wrote The Battle of Gawakuke (Gawqkuke Ma’unde, lit., The Second Poem on Gawakuke); it was not the first time...

    • Work 39 A Warning, II
      (pp. 242-246)

      This is an exhoratation to repent, give alms, and pray. Written in the simplest language, this poem goes back to the fundamental principle in Islam, “speak to the people according to their understanding”, a saying ascribed to the Prophet. It is intended for Asma’u’s women students, with the still radical message of women’s obligation to seek religious knowledge, as well as their right to free movement in public with good purpose:

      In Islam it is a religious duty to seek knowledge

      Women may leave their homes freely for this. (v. 21)

      This sentiment echoes the concerns that the Shehu had...

    • Work 40 Prayer for Rain
      (pp. 246-249)

      This poem is not only a prayer for rain, but also a strong attack on the pre-Islamic customs which had surfaced during a period of prolonged drought. Precisely what these were is open to speculation. Obviously, drumming was one of the activities involved. In Katsina, around 1964, there was a drought during which many hundreds of women took to the streets chanting, “A ba mu ruwa, a ba mu ruwa, a ba mu ruwa” (“Give us rain”). It is not clear whether drumming was a major element during this event, but the possibility should not be ruled out. The scenes...

    • Work 41 Elegy for Zaharatu
      (pp. 249-252)

      This is an elegy for Zaharatu, who was important because she benefitted the Muslim community, performing the necessary, mundane tasks (laying out bodies, acting as midwife, teaching religion) unhesitatingly. She delighted in giving. Asma’u, by the very act of describing these homely virtues, restated how critically important they were to society, and how much she valued them. It is also clear in this work that the women of the community were not immured, isolated, or lonely. Asma’u’s world included “beloved women friends” (v.12). Nothing further is known about Zaharatu than what is stated here.



      1 I give thanks...

    • Work 42 Elegy for Hawa’u
      (pp. 252-254)

      This poem is an elegy for Hawa’u, ajajior leader of the bands of women students, known as ‘Yan Taru, literally ‘those who congregate together’, translated here as “Sisterhood”, who went to Asma’u for instruction.⁵⁹³ The poem is important because in it Asma’u says herself what she taught: “As for myself I taught them the religion of God ...” (vv.8-12). The poem makes it clear that Hawa’u came to visit Asma’u frequently, not just annually, and that she required her students to set out with the right intentions - not just for the thrill of a visit to the...

    • Works 43/44 Fear of the Hereafter
      (pp. 254-259)

      These works were written at the same time in two languages for two different audiences, indicating the immediacy and universal importance of the message. The poems address the issues of how the world will end and the fate of both the wicked in Hell (suffering degrading tortures) and the virtuous in Paradise (who are filled with joy). For more such eschatological poetry by Asma’u see her poems The Path of Truth Signs of the Judgment Day, and Yearning for the Prophet.⁵⁹⁵


      Poems 43 and 44 represent the complexities involved in working with Jihad period manuscripts that have been preserved,...

    • Work 45 Elegy for Halilu
      (pp. 260-264)

      This is an elegy for Asma’u’s cousin, Ibrahim Halilu b. Abdullabi, the Emir of Gwandu 1833-1856, in which she praises his scholarship, knowledge, and caring ways. In it there is a postscript asking for God’s protection on Halilu’s successor, his brother, Haliru (v. 31). Interestingly Asma’u talks of God’s protection having been given to “us” (the Caliphate) against the unbelievers. Halilu was the son of Abdullabi cran Fodiyo. We have not found the name of his mother, but it will be known in Gwandu. When Abdullabi died he was succeeded as ruler of the western part of the Caliphate by...

    • Work 46 Reasons for Seeking God
      (pp. 264-267)

      This poem is one which Asma’u used as a teaching device. In it she answers the unspoken question, “Why should we seek God?” by listing His creations - the heavens, the earth and all things on it. Then, in response to another unspoken question, “How can we find God?”, she lists the steps to take. The poem is straightforward in didactic admonition against “the forbidden things ...whispering slander ...jealousy ...theft ...deceit ...” (v. 19) which the Shehu had preached against in his sermon on sufism (See Introduction to The Way of the Pious).

      The poem also has its political aims,...

    • Work 47 Destroy Bawa
      (pp. 268-270)

      This poem was created in immediate response to a raid by Bawa as an expression of Asma’u’s vexation and a message to buoy the spirits of her people. It was not intended for the ears of the enemy because it was written in Fulfulde, a language Bawa did not speak. Bawa had raided for nearly ten years, and the Muslims were getting tired of his constant threat. Asma’u’s annoyance with him was exacerbated by the fact that the Caliph Ahmadu’s (1859-1866) goodwill gesture of allowing Gobir resettlement at Alkalawa (see fn. at v.1) was treated with derision by the Tsibiri...

    • Work 48 Elegy for My Niece Faɗima
      (pp. 270-272)

      This is an elegy for Fad’ima, Asma’u’s niece. She is believed to have been Bello’s daughter who married Halilu, son of Abdullahi, (see Elegy for Halilu). Her mother may have been Asma’u’s great friend, ‘Aysha (see Elegy for ‘Aysha I & II.) Fad’ima’s qualities are highlighted here: a cheerful, gracious manner linked to intelligence and kindliness. Nothing more is known about Fad’ma than what is described here.


      As in other elegies, Asma’u focuses here on positive character traits that can lead a person to salvation; never on the position, power, or wealth of the individual.

      I ask God, who...

    • Work 49 Ɗan Yalli
      (pp. 272-277)

      This poem is a release of Asma’u’s feelings about the wanton acts of misgovernment which Caliph Aliyu had allowed to go unchecked. In it she criticizes her kinsman, Mamman Dan Yalli, ruler of nearby Yabo. He was known by his title Sarkin Kebbi , and “behaved unlawfully, [doing] wanton harm” (v. 2). The son of Moyijo (see The Journey) who had played an important role in sheltering the Shehu when the Community was starving after the Battle of Kwato, he was expected to rule in accordance with the guidelines clearly laid down by the Shehu (Bāyan wujūb al-hijira wataḥrīm muwālāt...

    • Work 52 Elegy for Modibo ɗan Ali
      (pp. 277-280)

      This poem is an elegy for the genial elder cousin of Asma’u. He was noted for his happy nature, strict life style, and his care for the young and the elderly. Modibo derives from Moda (F.) “to be learned” and means “learned person”; a woman too, can be called Modibo. Whether this meant that Modibo aan Ali was learned or not is difficult to say. Asma’u mentioned nothing about his scholarship (cf. Elegy on Abdullahi, Elegy on Malam Tafa,) and the term is commonly used in Sokoto of a respected adult. His father was the Shehu’s full brother, news of...

    • Work 53 Elegy for Malam Dandi
      (pp. 280-282)

      This poem is an elegy for Malam Dandi, who was a good, pious, helpful man, and was one of the Shehu’s followers. Malam Dandi lived in Sokoto very near to the place where Bello extended the city wall to create a new area of residence for the Shehu. The line of the wall which Bello breached is close to the present-day homes of Tafida and Alhaji Ibrshim Gusau; “Katangar Dandi” (Dandi’s house Wall) is in this vicinity and it marks the place where the house of the old scholar stood. Malam Dandi’s farm at Dinawa, a few miles from Wurno...

    • Work 54 Welcome to the Mauritanian Scholar
      (pp. 282-284)

      This is a formal piece welcoming a visitor from Mauritania which is at least 1500 km to the northwest of Sokoto. It was written in reply to the visitor’s poem to Asma’u announcing his arrival en route to Mecca from Mauretania,⁶³⁰ The identity of the scholar, Alhaji Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Shinqiti is not clear; “al-Shinqiti” in Mauritania is the only clue, but further investigation in the national archive in Nouakchott may provide an answer.⁶³¹ Alhaji Ahmad was well known to Asma’u which is evidence of the extent of scholarly linkages over the Saharan region; in fact she refers to him...

    • Work 55 Poems Exchanged Between Asma’u and Shaikh Sa’ad
      (pp. 284-287)

      Here is an exchange of greetings between Asma’u and her kinsman, Shaikh Sa’ad, to mark his return from Mecca. He was a scholar from Gwandu:⁶³⁷ whose pilgrimage would have taken a number of years to complete. The usual route led through Wadai and Darfur to Khartoum and the Red Sea ports. His son, Ahmad, was a prominent advisor on Caliphate policy at the time of the British invasion 1902-3.


      Shaikh Sa’ad’s tribute to his kinswoman is remarkable, and provides clear evidence that she was famous in her own lifetime:

      In every century there appears one who excels. The proof...

    • Work 56 Poems Exchanged Between Asma’u and Aliyu
      (pp. 287-290)

      This exchange could be connected with theQādiriyya/Tijaniyya rift which came into focus as a result of the prominent Tijaniyya leader, Alhaji Umar’s prolonged stay at the court of Caliph Bello. In a short four page work,Kashf al-hijāb wa-raf al-niqāb,Gidado refuted claims that Bello was a Tijani. Gidado and Asma’u’s son, Waziri Abdulkadir, continued the argument in a nwnber of works, which shows how the issue rankled (Last 1967: 216-219). A book by Alhaji Umar on the Tijaniyya began to circulate in Sokoto circa 1845 further fueling the controversy. Donal Cruise O’Brien has commented that:

      A bitter controversy...

    • Work 57 Poems Exchanged Between Asma’u and Ahmadu Rufa’i
      (pp. 291-293)

      This exchange is one of many salutations that Asma’u received, in keeping with the custom to pay respect to senior people by visiting them. For example, it is common to make visits to greet people after attending Friday mosque, or at the time of the Id ceremonies, and these customs are an integral part of the society. Among scholars, verse served as an important means of expressing respect; Asma’u said here “sweet words lighten the heart” (v.31).

      Ahmadu Rufa’i was born circa 1812, and served as Caliph from 1867 to 1873. His appointment was made after Asma’u’s death. He was...

    • Work 58 Remembrance of the Prophet, II
      (pp. 293-294)

      This work is another of Asma’u’s poems in praise of the Prophet, listing evidence to prove his uniqueness.



      1 I thank God and praise the Prophet, sent by Him to mankind.

      2 May He bless him and the four righteous Caliphs:⁶⁵⁵

      3 I intend to praise the Prophet in this poem.

      4 If all Creation were to assemble and praise him, their praises would not add up to a tenth of what he deserves.

      5 If all Creation, even the very insects, were assembled, they would not be worth a tenth of the value of the Prophet.


    • Work 59 Signs of the Day of Judgment
      (pp. 295-304)

      This poem was written to scare people. Asma’u said the signs of the Day of Judgment were known (v.12) and some had already occurred (v.17). Soon it would be too late: the Day of Judgment was nigh (v.10) and the days were fast approaching the end (v.16). Signs of the Day of Judgment, along with other literature of the same genre, was aimed at establishing practical longterm sanctions against any tendency to resort to magic. The Islamic eschatology was radically different from the Hausa traditional understanding of what happens after death. Muslims, newly converted or partially persuaded, had to be...

    • Work 60 Yearning for the Prophet
      (pp. 304-345)

      This work served a two-fold purpose: it was meant to inform the listener about the life of the Prophet Muhammed, but it was also intended as a prism through which the Sokoto audience could view the life of the Shehu, Usman dan Fodiyo. Composed in the classicsīra(biography of the Prophet) style, this work is a condensed yet extremely detailed history of the Prophet Muhammad. According to the model, it focuses on battles and strategies in promoting Islam more than on the details of a life. Therefore this, like other such works, must be understood as the telling of...

    • Work 61 Fear This
      (pp. 345-367)

      In this powerful poem the torments of hell are described in frightening detail.⁸⁷² It opens with a warning to prepare for death because a terrible fate awaits those who do not (vv. 1-7), and closes with a brief account of the delights of Heaven (vv.95-100), and a prayer for the poet’s personal salvation. This work should be read with a copy of the Qur’an in hand, because it reiterates‘the terrors cited the Qur’an, which are put into local terms that the people readily would understand. Such punishments include being: fried alive (v.24), flogged (v.26), blinded (v.41), clubbed (v.42), starved (v.45),...

    • Work 62 Forgery I
      (pp. 367-370)

      This is a prophecy that a shift in power structures would occur in the mid 1960s in Northern Nigeria. The work, which is an irregular composition of mixed Arabic and Fulfulde prose is buttressed by unreferenced quotations from Asma’u, her brother Bello, and her cousin Ibrahim Halilu. It is clearly dissimilar from anything previously seen in Asma’u’s works. It was collected from Mallam Balarabe of Gusau who is said to have had Tijjani affiliations. This religio-political document may have been forged in the 1950s. There are several points in defense of this view. First, the quotations from Muhammad Bello, Asma’u...

    • Work 63 Forgery II
      (pp. 371-374)

      This work seems to be about the appearance of a Reviver of Islam in the year 1950 A.D.. It is a forgery, and the evidence that it is seems clear. The writer says that the Shehu (Usumanu) foretold the coming of theMujaddid(Reviver of Islam), who would be followed by theMahdī(vv.17-18). This is a statement throbbing with political and religious controversy. In his poemMunasaba, the Shehu said, “I am the precursor, like the wind before the storm / This is how I am to the Mahdi” (v.62). In another poem, he said, “In the century in...

    • Work 64 List of Asma’u Students
      (pp. 375-377)

      This is a list of Asma’u’s students, which is not exhaustive, since it covers only the villages lying south and south-west of Sokoto.


      The spellings reflect both pre-colonial pronunciations, and miswritings by copyists who did not understand what they were writing. For example,Bodinga(1.8) is written “Bodiyga” which was perhaps the received pronunciation at the time. Also, as is always the case, transliterations frequently lead to complications. To take the example again of Bodinga: Ogunbiyi (1982) transliterates this as Butighay, Shuni as Sun, Chacho as Shasu, Jarecfi as Jarita, Kilgori as Kilghur, and so on. This is not...

    • Work 65 Elegy for Asma’u
      (pp. 377-381)

      This is an elegy written for Asma’u, most probably by her brother Isa b. Shehu, which concentrates on her personal qualities, altruism, kindness, and role as a family peacemaker. Its value is self-evident. It is assumed here that Asma’u’s elegy was written by her poet-brother and close associate, Isa.

      There is no text for this elegy. Alhaji Muhammadu Magaji heard it being sung in Tambawal in 1978 by ‘Yarbuga, wife of Sarkin Makahin Tambawal, dan Wuronangay, and wrote it down.

      The doxology is missing at the end. Perhaps Alhaji Magaji did not write it down, or the singer failed to...

    • Work 66 Praise Song for Asma’u
      (pp. 381-383)

      Asma’u’s great-great-grandson, Dr. Sambo Junaidu, told how, as a boy, he had escorted his

      little sister, Asma’u, to a house where, on account of her name, she had been greeted with this praise

      song (Kirare,H).

      Inclusion of this contemporary praise song indicates the enduring nature of Nan a Asma’u as a living legend. Women poets throughout Northern Nigeria cite Asma’u as their mentor and role

      model, speaking of her as though she were still living in Sokoto.

      Nanuwa yar Shehu, uwar-gari

      Ba ki aure kauyi ki sha wuya

      Daga Sarki sai attajiri

      Sai ko lami do, uban gari


  10. Glossaries

  11. Published Works Cited
    (pp. 398-418)
  12. Selected manuscript works and reports
    (pp. 419-423)
  13. Appendix A. Hausa Roman
    (pp. 424-501)
  14. Appendix B. Original Manuscripts (facsimile)
    (pp. 502-743)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 744-753)