Educating Muslim Women The West African Legacy of Nana Asma’u (1793-1864) By Jean Boyd and Beverly Mack Oxfordshire & Leicestershire: Interface Publications & Kube Publishing, 2013. 256 pages.

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Katrina Daly Thompson

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Abstract

Educating Muslim Women is a unique study of Muslim women told through
the story of Nana Asma’u, a nineteenth-century Fulani woman from Northern
Nigeria who became a renowned scholar and greatly impacted Muslim women
in Nigeria and beyond. Drawing on history, literary analysis, and ethnography,
the volume’s slimness belies a wealth of material that will interest historians,
applied linguists, and even sociologists of contemporary Muslim communities.
The book’s main argument is that Muslim women have played a greater
role in their communities than has previously been understood by historians.
While using Nana Asma’u as an example, Boyd and Mack argue that she was
not unique and offer painstaking details to show that her society supported
and encouraged female Islamic scholarship. In addition, they relate how contemporary
women continue to follow her example. The book is organized
roughly chronologically, although the chapter titles suggest a thematic organization
that is not always adhered to.
The introduction offers some background on Sufism, which in later chapters
the authors narrow down to the Qadiriyyah order. They define Sufism as
“the prayerful pursuit of knowledge aiming to move an individual closer to
God” (p. 15). Their focus on knowledge allows them to emphasize Islamic
scholarship and education: “Education, like Islam itself, was integral to all
parts of daily life” (p. 21). Nineteenth-century schools are depicted as places
where pupils learned Qur’anic recitation and received religious blessings, as
well as practiced farming, obtained medical treatment, and sought personal
advice. By depicting education as central to Islam and Islam as central to
Northern Nigerian society, their subsequent account of how involved women ...

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