The Women of Islam: Queen Amina, the Woman Warrior and the Woman Ruler
Queen Amina (1533-1610) is a woman who became legend. From 1576 to 1610 (for 34 years) she was the queen of the state of Zazzau (the Muslim state of the Hausa people in the territory of modern Nigeria; the state of Zazzau is one of more than one hundred dwarf Muslim “historical states” that still exist in modern Nigeria as the country’s cultural regions; after the displacement of the Hausa people in the 19th century CE, the Fulani people established themselves in Zazzau, one of the Fulani, the former school teacher Shehu Idris had occupied the throne of the Emir Zazzau until his death on September 20, 2020, a new emir has not yet been named). Amina achieved the maximum expansion of the borders of her state, including all seven previously independent states of the Hausa people and the states of neighbouring tribes in northwest Africa. Amina possessed all the qualities of a valiant warrior, firmness, determination and courage. During her reign the role of women in the state increased significantly. And although after her death the process of feminism among African Muslims died down, her name still remains a symbol of women’s struggle for their rights.
Amina’s father was Crown Prince Zazzau Nikatau. The family had a son and two daughters, the eldest Amina and the youngest Zaria. In honour of Zaria the British colonialists will name the city of Zaria, the capital of the kingdom of Zazzau. Amina was the favourite of her grandfather who personally trained her and mentored her in politics and military affairs. One day her grandmother caught her playing. Amina played with a dagger and what struck her grandmother the most was how she held it, like a real warrior, with the fighting grip of the Hausa people. It is unlikely that her grandfather could have taught her this. The grandmother realized that an unusual woman had appeared in their family.
When Amina was 16 years old, her grandfather died, her father became king, and Amina, along with her elder brother, received the title of heiress to the throne and forty slaves as confirmation of her new status. A string of suitors from neighbouring Hausa states began besieging the royal palace but Amina kept turning them all down. Her soul was filled with dreams of military valour, campaigns, battles, great deeds and the conquest of all of Africa.
When her brother Karama became king, she begged him to entrust her with the command of Zazzau’s army. The brother loved Amina and fulfilled her request. Very soon, Zazzau and the neighbouring kingdoms were filled with stories of the military prowess of the female warrior. She not only participated in battles on an equal basis with men but also often surpassed them in her valour and courage. At the same time, Amina was a zealous Muslim and observed all Sharia laws. Admiration with Amina was growing. Men did not consider it shameful to follow her orders and serve under her command.
The brother died in 1576. After his death, Amina, at the age of 43, was proclaimed queen. In her address to the people of Zazzau, she urged them to “sharpen their spears, for the time of Zazzau’s glory has come.” In the ensuing military campaigns, Amina was able to conquer and unite the entire territory of the Hausa people into a single entity. With the acquisition of new territories, the country’s economic power had grown. In those days, the Gulf of Guinea, which now became available to Zazzau after the conquest of the southern territories of modern Nigeria, overlooking the coast, was the centre of the slave trade. Amina’s government established mass slave trade with Arab merchants.
Queen Amina set up administrative structures for women’s rights and complaints. Women became one of the privileged groups of the Hausa people. Alas, the state of the warlike queen rested only on her personal prowess. After her death, all seven Hausa kingdoms became independent again, and women’s
rights were again violated. But the legends about “Queen Amina, daughter of Nikatau” remained among the Hausa people as a symbol of the role and power that are inherent in Muslim women.