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In the sixteenth century, there is evidence that a learning association for women existed. The teachers were called Yan Taru, a Hausa appellation which literally means: “those who have come together” or “the collective”. The lead teachers therein were known as Jajis, in Hausa it means ‘the leader of a caravan’, but this simply referred to the leader status of women. Three centuries later, at the request of the Caliph Muhammad Bello, her brother, Sayyida Nana Asmau, a scholar, poet and teacher systematized the Yan Taru for the benefit of women and children.

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Her vision was that a kingdom wide spiritual and educational network will emerged which complemented the development of the Caliphate as a whole. If one can make parallels with Sino culture, the Yan Taru was the 'yin' network for women which was the paired opposite of the 'yang' network for men. It surfaced simply so that the spiritual and academic needs of women could be met without them intermixing freely with men. Her method of instruction was so successful that it has survived to this day. Today, in America, we the members of the Yan Taru are the successors of this renowned organization.

Circles of knowledge for women are a long standing tradition in Islam. Since the inception, women have been activists starting with the wives of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him. Our mother Khadijah was the first to convert to the religion and later her financial contribution was crucial. After the passing of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him and family, his wife Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was instrumental in transmitting, clarifying and interpreting the faith. She received the license (an ijaza in Arabic) stating that the companions should learn two third of Islam from her. She was undeniably the greatest scholar. It is said that: “Aisha used to interpret the sciences and inform outstanding men on obscures matters. She corrected companions in many hadiths.

Islam indisputably emphasizes the pursuit of knowledge as a mean to attain intimacy with God. Allah commands us in the Qur’an to seek understanding “Only those with knowledge will understand it” (29: 43) and also “and they say:” if only we had listened and used our intellect we would not have been among the people of the blaze” (67:10). The prophet, peace and blessings upon him, said:” Seek knowledge even in China”. He also said:” Wisdom adds honor to the noble and exalts the slave until he attain the level of kings. Plus he told us:” A single jurist is more formidable to Satan than a thousand worshippers”. The above traditions address both men and women. It is for this reason that our Mother Aisha said: “How splendid are the women of the ansar. Modesty did not prevent them from becoming learned the deen”. Shéhou Uthman Dan Fodio addresses us when he said: “O Muslim women! He exclaimed in Nur al-Albab, do not listen to those who are themselves misguided and misguide others; who seek to deceive you by asking you to obey your husbands without asking (first) to obey Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). They say that a woman’s felicity lies in her obedience to her husband. They say so only to fulfill their selfish ends and wishes through you. They compel you to do things which neither Allah nor His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) has originally imposed on you, like cooking, washing clothes and similar things, which are among their numerous desires while they do not in the least demand of you to perform the real duties imposed on you by Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Yes! A woman is obliged by the consensus of the jurists, to heed her husband, in open and secret, even if he is of very low social status, or even a slave, and she is prohibited by consensus to disobey him outrightly except if he orders her to disobey Allah in which case she must refrain from obeying him, as of necessity, because there should be no obedience to a creature if it means disobedience to the Creator. In addition, a woman is rewarded twofold for complying with her husband, yet, that is conditional upon her obedience to Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace)”.

Only by beneficial knowledge can we truly submit to our Lord. As a result, learning is paramount for Muslims, because action is contingent on knowledge. The companions used to travel for days just to hear a single narration. Moreover later generations of Muslims like Malians of Timbuktu used to trade gold for books as they believed that true wealth is that of the soul. So was also the belief of women. Given that history is replete with biographical dictionaries attesting to the outstanding erudition of numerous Shaykhas (a term used to address women intellectuals). Furthermore, we find countless scholarly Muslim women who taught women and men and issued legal judgments. That is a stark contrast to women of other religions who were denied any kind of instruction. Until this day we find students who acquired knowledge from female relatives sages but admittedly this tendency has become rare. The reasons why female scholarship has decreased is another area of research and study all together.

However, the truth remains that Muslim women elevated the standards of the religion with their exceptional ability to impart. Like Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad said in the following contention: “Misogynist? Hafsa held the future of the Book in her hands; Aisha held the Sunna (Prophetic schooling).” This means these two women, (may Allah be pleased with both of them), were entrusted with the foundational teachings of Islam after the demise of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings upon him.

Nowadays there are multiple misconceptions about Islam. Most diatribes are directed toward Muslims women, stating that they are oppressed, ignorant and archaic although, as we previously discussed, that idea does not square with facts. For instance, the Yan Taru has been passed on to us from generations to generations with an unbroken chain of transmission. In other words, this tradition of Muslim female scholarship thus transmission lives on. In addition this legacy of training future heiresses of the Prophets is as crucial and relevant today as it was in the past. Currently, this is our window in time, so we pray that Allah give us the piety to incarnate the spirit of this fine group plus the accuracy to hand it down to next generations. We hope that in this age of desacralization and intellectual turmoil, the Yan Taru could be a safe haven, a preserver of the sacred for women and children who aspire to draw near to their Lord. Amiin.

Jaji Dylia Bint Hamadi Camara

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