Nana Asmau to Mos Def: Uplifting Poetry

The messages entertainers send to teens and young adults are essentially sex, drugs, and rock & roll—and in a much more explicit manner than just a few barbiedecades ago. Hip-hop and other music venues are essentially a microcosm of larger structural problems in society.  The pop culture icon,  Nicki Minaj is a textbook case exemplifying this growing problem. In one of her songs, Nicki Minaj states that, “I’m Nicki Minaj. Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki Barbie,” thereby comparing herself to Bill Clinton’s mistress as well as a Barbie doll.  Her music also encourages drugs, dependency, and having children outside of marriage.  She states that,”If  I got weed then im lacing it. I got my welfare check, smoking on that crack. Hell yeah, i’m unemployed, daddy on my back.”  While women with more politically-oriented music who dress more modestly are largely ignored and unpopular, Nicki Minaj is a millionaire from promoting such vulgar messages.


How did thesnanae problems emerge? Malcolm X provides an important analysis on how women are objectified in society. In his autobiography, Malcolm X states,” Wherever the spiritual values have been submerged, if not destroyed, by an emphasis upon the material things, invariably, the women reflect it. Witness the women, both young and old, in America—where scarcely any moral values are left.” Indeed, centuries before Nicki Minaj, there was another woman who in many ways was similar to Nicki Minaj but who lived in a non-materialistic society. Like Nicki Minaj, she was a poet, a public figure, and a cultural icon. But the views that this she promoted was vastly different to that of Nicki Minaj. Her name was Nana Asmau of Wet Africa;  she was a scholar, a poet, an intellectual, professor, and a linguist.  In her poem, Nana Asmau states:


As for myself, I taught them the religion of God in order
to turn them from error, and instill in them the knowledge of their obligatory

so they would know how to act.
I said they must distance themselves from sins such as
lying, meanness, hatred and envy,
Adultery, theft and self-esteem. I said they should repent
because these things lead to perdition.
The women students and their children are well known for
their good works and peaceful behavior in the community (vv. 5?13)


While  Nicki Minaj openly promotes drug usage, Nana Asma’u as an Islamic Legal scholar issued a fatwa against drugs such as tobacco stating that,” It is a waste of money. It affects a person’s face features. It leads to immodesty. It makes a person look undignified. It not a common sense thing to do. Anyone who smokes is a fool.”


sister5 The mainstream media continues to inject their values and morals onto the society at large. In order to foster values that improve the community and purge detrimental ethics, it will be necessary to craft an alternative media.  There are many positive poets  that teach uplifting  messages, but they are not the ones who are played on the radio.  One example of this is the duo,”Poetic Pilgrimage”,  who in there, “Modern Day Marys” poem, encourage women to emulate the mother of Jesus. Challenging the message of Nicki Minaj, Poetic Pilgrimage states that, “We don’t aspire to life like babies, because we’re part of Allah’s army.”  Furthermore, they highlight a common problem that leads this cycle of social break-down. While  telling the story of a misguided young woman, Poetic Pilgrimage states,” She wasn’t taught stories of mothers of believers so she started imitating MTV divas.”


The mothers of believers are the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the message promoted by the mainstream media, they are frequently invokedmosdef  in the poetic tradition of the African Diaspora.  In a world in which Eurocentric standards of beauty are ubiquitous, the duo of Mos Def and Talib Kweli state that they are, “Black like the veil that the Muslimah wear.” Furthermore, they state that their love for black people is so strong that, according to Talib Kweli, it is “like the prophet love Khadijah.” In the Islamic tradition, Khadijah is renowned for loyalty, strength, and devoted devotion to her husband’s missions. Khadijah was a wealthy businesswoman and the Prophet’s call to monotheism was controversial, thus enemies put in place economic sanctions on him and his followers; it reached a low-point in which their household was devoid of food. Despite the multiple struggles, calamities, and changes in her lifestyle from a wealthy businesswoman to malnourished persecuted minority, she stood loyally by his side. In comparing his love for black people, with the love the Prophet had for Khadijah, Mos Def and Talib Kweli note that no matter the struggles and trials that they experience as a result of being black, they will continue to love each for that very reason.



Surrounded with peers in a cypher, a common Afro-American tradition, the poet Boona asserts that, “Aisha was a genius, every word was like a thesis, Mother to all believers, pure like that of Isa’s” lauding the wife of the  Prophet Muhammad for her scholastic achievements and comparing her purity to the mother of Jesus.   Centuries before Boona, the west African poet, Nana Asma’u, born in 1793,  also stated, “I bring all women to Aisha; Aisha, the Noble Daughter of Al-Siddiq.”, “She was held in esteem by the Prophet”, “I speak of all the mothers who were wives to the Prophet.” The purpose of such a poem in her education campaign was to call upon her community to study the life of Aisha bint Abu Bakr to foster an attitude of women’s learning and scholarship. Nana Asma’u continues her poem, stating, “She had a mastery of learning.” And ,”Oh Aisha. Oh what a woman!”   The academic work entitled, ‘Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge ‘by Professor Asma Sayeed  notes:


 this work …challenges two opposing views: that Muslim women have been historically marginalized in religious education, and alternately that they have been consistently empowered thanks to early role models such as ‘Ā’isha bint Abī Bakr, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.”


Thus, Boona’s poems fit within the tradition of the African Diaspora, continuing the tradition of Nana Asmau.   While highlighting several noteworthy betcompanions of the Prophet Muhammad, Boona states that “It’s a shame, we know more about them monkeys on B.E.T. this is our history, all the sacrifices that they made for me, gave me a legacy, that I could be proud to keep.” Though it is called “Black Entertainment Television,” many would label it  “Black Exploitation Television.” The station is owned by white elites from Viacom, and it inculcates values antithetical to black-determination; Boona highlights that these companions of the Prophet are more worthy to be studied and emulated than the entertainers on B.E.T.



During the sixties, many Black Muslims changed their names that were inherited from their white slave masters into Islamic names to form a new identity  outside of the confines of white supremacy. Today, Islamic names are heavily popular among African-Americans, even non-Muslims, such as Aaliyah and Rihanna. In “Black Girl Pain”, the artist Talib Kweli seeks to empathize with the plight of black women, stating, “This is for Aisha” and “This is for Khadijah.” He further notes, “She got a black girl name, she living black girl pain.” Black women in America often must cope with seeking to provide for their families as single parents, and it is black women who must deal with the emotional trauma of having the children that they gave birth to often shot down by racist police officers.

mos4343 The names that Talib Kweli highlights   are strongly associated with African-American women, and are also names that have their etymological origins from the wives of the Prophet. Thus, he roots himself in an African tradition of poetic expression that is also found in the works of the West African poet, Nana Asmau.  In her poem entitled, “Laminations to Aisha,” she honors a childhood friend who had passed away stating that she, “Shed copious tears for the loss of Aisha, the noblest of my dear ones of my age group, my friend. I praise her for her worship, her modesty, religion, morals, and kindness.” Yet, for Talib Kweli in the 21st century, it is not the physical death of “Aisha” and “Khadijah” that he mourns over, rather it is the social and mental death of  women in a white supremacist  materialistic society.

With communities facing issues such as the spread of drug addictions,  STDs, out-of-wedlock children, and single parenthood, we need to  study  the mother of the believers and Nana Asma’u’s poetry, and other upright poetry and craft an alternative media that promotes upright values. . Nana Asma’u taught the women in her society to be chaste and upright and to avoid envy and promiscuity – problems which run rampant in our society today.

From Nana Asma’u to Nicki Minaj: The Commodification of the Black Woman!

Warning: some of these lyrics from Nicki Minaj are very vulgar. I did not censor them because I feel that I must quote her words exactly to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem discussed in this article.

This is not a bash Nicki Minaj post.  I do not know Nicki Minaj personally nor what is in her heart. All human-beings are capable of change. Nonetheless, I do vehemently disagree with the materialistic  values that Nicki Minaj promotes in her music and would like to create an alternative to this.

In one of her songs, she sings, “I’m Nicki Minaj. Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki Barbie,” thereby comparing herself to Bill Clinton’s mistress as well as a Barbie doll. This clearly shows that she has internalized the negative messages that capitalism’s commodification of black women’s bodies sends. In turn, she reinforces these messages to the rest of society. In one song, the lyrics include the following:

“Never let a clown nigga try to play you
If he play you, then rule #2:
*uck his best friends.”

In this song, Nicki Minaj promotes the idea that the way a young lady should deal with being “cheated on” while in a relationship is to cheat with her significant other’s best friends. Such a mentality results from the liberalization of sexual affairs, which has encouraged a “do what you want” individualistic attitude in which fulfilling one’s sexual urges is a priority and is not limited to the bounds of marriage.  Outside of the courtship, men and women pursue each other in an insecure,hazardous,  and unhealthy environment.  The normalization of sexual intercourse outside of marriage has led to major family problems, such as single parenthood and children not knowing who their biological parents are. Men now pursue relationships primarily for “game,” as they call it—they prioritize their carnal desires over the duties and responsibilities of marriage such as providing for their spouse financially, protecting their spouse, treating their spouse with honor and respect at all times, and meeting their spouse’s spiritual and emotional needs. No man deserves the pleasure of a female unless he is willing to uphold the responsibilities and duties of marriage. The liberal attitude governing sexual affairs in society is destructive.

As destructive  as the lyrics that  Nicki Minaj states are  lyrics are, I do not mean to attack her directly. The commodification of women is a product of the capitalistic system. It allows men in corporations and record labels to utilize sexuality as a selling point. As a result of these liberal values and freedoms, along with capitalism, women undergo plastic surgery and utilize their sexual appeal to make money. Nicki Minaj’s breasts and buttocks are the result of plastic surgery. She wears promiscuous clothing, and her lyrics largely consist of objectifying herself It is a truly sad scenario and one which must be challenged. But how? Prior to the European slave trade, and prior to the rise of capitalism, there was a woman who was similar in some ways to Nicki Minaj. She was a public figure, she performed spoken word poetry, and she was known throughout Africa and the Middle East.  Jean Boyd wrote of her:

nana“To be aged 21 and at the heart of a revolution must have been exciting. To have been part of the intellectual powerhouse that through a new basis for society …To be able to look back over a long life of debate, writing, and action must have been a cause for at least some satisfaction. Remarkable times produce remarkable people. But it is not Napoleon Bonaparte that I speak, rather a near contemporary of his in a very different part of the world. A woman, a scholar, an intellectual, an organizer, and a linguist, Nana Asma’u was a leading figure in the establishment of what came to be known as the Sokoto Caliphate.”

                Nana Asma’u went around educating women, and she is a perfect example of a woman who was respected and admired for her intellect, rather than her sex appeal. For instance, Nana Asma’u promoted the message:
As for myself, I taught them the religion of God in order
to turn them from error, and instill in them the knowledge of their obligatory
duties… so they would know how to act.
I said they must distance themselves from sins such as
lying, meanness, hatred and envy,
Adultery, theft .. I said they should repent
because these things lead to perdition.

                Nicki Minaj, in contrast, promotes sexually immoral acts and drug use. In one of her songs, she sings,

“If I got weed then I’m lacing it, .. I got my welfare check, smokin on that crack. Hell yeah I’m unemployed, baby daddy down my back.”

In contrast, Nana Asma’u, an Islamic legal scholar, issued a fatwa against drugs such as tobacco, and spoke out against wasting money:

“Scholars are divided about tobacco.sokoto

Some say it is forbidden.

Other says it is allowed.

But the case of he who says tobacco is allowed is weak.

To use tobacco as a medicine is permissible

But addiction to tobacco and its use in order to somehow to be attractive, is forbidden.

Its drawbacks are six in number; it dries one up.

It is a waste of money.

It affects a person’s face features.

It leads to immodesty. It makes a person look undignified.

It not a common sense thing to do.

Anyone who smokes is a fool. It originated in pagan countries

Pay attention to what I have said and do not dispute it.

This work of mine is finished.

Thanks be to God and the grace of the Prophet.”

Sokoto_caliphateReturning to the issue of Nicki Minaj being valued for her sex appeal, while Nana Asma’u was instead valued for her scholarship, one finds that a poem about her by a contemporary reads:

“Greetings to you, o woman of excellence and fine traits!..In every century there appears One who excels.The proof of her merit has become well known, east and west.. She is marked by wisdom and kind deeds; her knowledge is like the wide sea.”

Whereas women in today’s society are objectified and seem to be valued primarily for their sex appeal, those in Sokoto were valued for their virtue and intellect. With communities facing issues such as the spread of STDs, out-of-wedlock children, and single parenthood, we need to investigate Nana Asma’u’s poetry and look for solutions to these problems.N ana Asma’u taught the women in her society to be chaste and upright and to avoid envy and promiscuity – problems which run rampant in our society today. She was successful and crafted a society upon the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. In contrast to this message of piety, Nicki Minaj, who is unfortunately a role model for many misguided sister today, promotes the exact opposite of this message. Female rappers promote excessive sexuality; for instance, Nikki Minaj advocates “twerking,” which is a sexually provocative dance involving a woman shaking her butt on a man’s groin area. This bizarre behavior is promoted by entertainers, who completely ignore the consequences of behaving in an immodest manner, and our daughters and sisters consequently learn to mimic this inappropriate behavior.

Nana Asma’u, on the other hand, promotes virtuous values:

In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge
Women may leave their homes freely for this.
Repent and behave like respectable married women
You must obey your husbands’ lawful demands.
You must dress modestly and be God-fearing.

It is truly in this society, that black women who are  celebrities, must undergo all sorts of plastic surgeries simply to be valued. We need to begin to challenge the commodifcation of black women and evoking  Nana Asmau  can be crucial in the task.


Boyd, Jean (Editor); Mack, Beverly (Editor). African Historical Sources, Volume 9 : Collected Works of Nana Asma’u : Daughter of Usman Dan Fodiyo, (1793-1864).

East Lansing, MI, USA: Michigan State University Press, 1997. p 266.


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