Amina, Warrior Queen of Zaria

Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.

The first of her kind, a Nigerian warrior Queen of Zaria (née Zazzau), Amina broke the bounds of a male-dominated society. A little side bit to note; she was Muslim. While much of her history is that of legend (due to word of mouth tradition) she remains an integral part of Nigerian history, a statue spear in hand, on horse, erect in Lagos. Her legacy remembered. She is amongst the many Muslim women who often go unheard of or unspoken about in history. Moving forward with plans for the National Photographic Exhibition with CTS, celebrating 100 women and marking the centenary of women’s suffrage, it is integral to celebrate Muslim women throughout history. They demonstrate that they have and always will contribute to whichever society they belong, deconstructing the misinformed narrative placed upon them. Here is one amazing example to start with, and plenty more are to follow.

Amina was born in 1533, 200 years before British colonial rule, to the ruler Bakwa of Turunku and resided in the city state of Zazzau. She grew up surrounded by wealth as her family traded in imported metals, cloth, cola, salt and horses. Her time was spent improving her military skills with the Zazzau cavalry warriors. Her devotion to the military practice led her to become a leader of the cavalry, over which time she accumulated notable wealth and numerous military accolades.

One of the many beauties of pre-colonial Nigeria was that men were not threatened by power and strength held by women, which made Amina’s forthcoming role as Queen all the more respected and a matter of commonplace where assertion of female authority is concerned.

Throughout Amina’s reign, she faced relentless competition to expand her kingdom amongst the Hausa states. These states belonged to neighbouring powers of Zazzau,  where she ruled. There lay three trading routes through northern Africa which connected the Sahara with the south and western Sudan. These routes were imperative to hold power beyond her own kingdom. To conquer these sites, she conjured an army of 20,000 men who went on the serve a 34 year long war the length of her reign, expanding her kingdom to the largest in its history. With this expansion, she brought indescribable amounts of wealth to the lands, introducing new skills and trades to the people. Amina's skills knew no bounds, looking beyond her military life she also established her architectural skills whereby the earthen walls around the city became a prototype for all Hausa states.

Refusing to marry and never to have bore children, Amina instead chose to take a temporary husband from foes whose legion had been vanquished after every one of her battles. She disposed of them shortly after and left no heir, her brother assuming the throne after her death. Her legendary tales led her to be the model for the television series Xena Warrior Princess. She truly represents a woman who is not as capable as a man, but in this case, more so. She is the perfect case to show that Muslim women have and always will be challenging the narrative by simply existing.

Noteworthy Women in Islamic History

Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.

Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, Fatima al-Fihiri, Razia Sultan.

These are three extraordinary Muslim women, amidst many, in history whose stories are more than just exemplary; they are awe-inspiring and most importantly empowering. All three played pivotal roles in their communities as a warrior, educator and ruler. These roles of monumental power that Muslim women held centuries before us should be used as examples to encourage a continuance of empowerment today. 

Advocacy of women’s rights isn't anything new in Islam, in fact, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab is said to be one of the first to note to have done so, being one of only two women to have pledged her allegiance to Allah and his messenger in the religions early years.  Her most notable role was her defence of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at the Battle of Uhud. When he was left vulnerable by archers uphill leaving their post in a moment of false victory, she was the first to his defence from the enemies acting as a shield, utilising bow and arrow to protect him. She was wounded 13 times in the process. This bravery wasn't just demonstrated on the battlefield but in her questioning the Prophet about why only men were mentioned in the Qur’an. It was because of this that Ayat 35 of Surah Al’Ahzab was later revealed, where we first see the acknowledgement of women as well as men to be rewarded a place in Heaven for their faith in Allah (SWT).  

Education and academia being of significant importance make it striking to note that the worlds oldest operating University was opened by a Muslim woman in 859 AD. Al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco is recognised in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ as the oldest institution in the world that operates as a university which grants degrees. The library itself holds a 9th century Qur’an still in its original binding. The woman behind it? Fatima Al-Fihri, a Tunisian who migrated to Fes. After the death of her Father, Fatima used the money that she inherited to establish what was first a Mosque and later became a university. It was one of the first in the Islamic world. The subjects available were diverse, ranging from mathematics to music, encouraging people from all over to study there. It remains today as one of the most respected universities in Morocco, where both women and men can study. 

A Mamluk Ruler in the 13th century, the first and last that Delhi saw of that kind; a Muslim female. Her name was Razia Sultan. She is one of the few females in all Islamic civilisation to have had a role as magnanimous as this. Ordinarily, the females were referred to as Sultanas, meaning wife or mistress of the Sultan, but she refused to be known as either. During her reign from 1236 to 1240 she broke away from conservative Muslim tradition by adopting male attire and not wearing a veil, having coins minted in her name as “Pillar of women, Queen of the times, Sultan Razia, daughter of Shamsuddin Altumish.” Even though she broke religious traditions she remained not only respected but also her faith did not falter; establishing schools and public libraries that taught the works of the Qur’an. Despite not having a female ruler since the time of the Mamluk dynasty, her example demonstrates how the role of a woman in Islamic society is contrary to peoples perceptions today. 

Growing up, I wasn't taught about the role of women in Islam from a historic stance. At 24, the ability to learn more about Islam has not only played into my love for history, but it’s also allowed me to rediscover the religion on a personal level. On top of that, it has given me the understanding of the roles I have as a woman. The past is what makes much of the present and with examples like these there is hope which can inspire Muslim women to break the stereotypical perceptions of who we are made out to be.

Identity, Religion & Home

 Blog post published on the website AMALIAH.COM.

There are 24 days, 1 hour, 44 minutes and 40 seconds from the point of which I'm writing this until the day I turn 24. At this very moment all I can keep thinking about is whether or not to question myself, what I want in life and who I am. 

Up until around four months ago, I thought I very much knew where I stood when it came to a number of different elements in my life. To note, the areas that have changed the most are where religion is concerned. The thing that has changed the least is my desire to have a family of my own. The two have become interchangeable and intertwining. It’s a strange clarity I didn't expect to grace me with its presence this year. When I explore the deep running roots in my mind as to why for so long I rejected the notion of Islam, I realise there is only one that stares me in the face yet I had an army of various and intangible excuses to justify myself. But I don't want to justify it anymore, it has little to do with the choices I have made as an individual, the inability to understand how I could possibly fit into my surroundings, the blue eyed blonde haired popular girls at school who thought it was cool to have an “exotic” girl a part of their clique, the teenage years of rebellion, the men who found me attractive or even the dumbfounded curiosities I wanted to explore just to say I had experienced them. The truth is, being able to blame a higher being for the suffering I have endured in my personal life is the only real reason I chose to reject my religion. It wasn't until someone recently asked me whether I had planned to bring the children I want to have as Muslims or not, that I realised I was not being honest with myself.

Time passes, and in that time it is unnerving how vast amounts can change. Throughout the month of Ramadan, I kept thinking about how, when I have children, I would bring them up. I also thought about how so very little of the ideas of my future I had built up in my head were plausible. By removing myself from the religion I grew up with, I would also be removing myself from my family. It wasn't as I had always thought, that they pushed me out for not being the same as them but rather it was the very opposite. They would never reject me for the choices I make, it would be me rejecting them. 

Religion to me means home. It’s the love that my family runs on like clock work. It’s the heritage of my Father’s family, defining the very acts and statements they made in its name. It’s the mutterings of prayers I can hear my Grandmother making quietly in her armchair. It’s the thing that binds my Mother and her sisters together as a strong female unit. It’s my brothers and cousins praying all together on Saturdays no matter the space they are in and how many of them there are. It’s the only way I can connect to the memories left of my Grandfather. It is and always has been in every part of my life, when I wanted it and when I didn’t. I could never walk away from what will always be home. So, aside from providing the family I have of my own one day with a physical home, I want to bring them up knowing that there isn't just one definition for it. 

I now have 24 days, 32 minutes and 49 seconds until another year has passed. For a change, I am settled. Im not afraid of not having achieved everything I wanted to. All that matters to me now is how the thoughts that form my blurry goals make me feel; a sensation I would love to be able to lament in words, sadly though scouring the dictionary hasn't come up with anything satisfactory for me yet. Let’s revisit this subject in another 389 days and I might just be able to say.