ENDING THE ALMAJIRI SYSTEM
by Mubarak Bala
'Alaysa Minkum Rajulun Rasheed!?'
‘Isn’t there present amongst you, a single good Man!?’
[Prophet Lut (Biblical Lot), searching for his peoples’ conscience]
No society or nation would prosper, when the so-called elite, do not think for the less endowed majority. Society term all above the age of forty as wise, but I see no wisdom in my society, none in my nation. For how could there be, in a system that rots the lives of its children, a staggering 10 million of them (Fed. Min. of Education, 2011 estimate), currently, (as at 2011), not to talk of those that grew out of it, and babies yet admitted. Regrettably, apparently everyone had turned a blind eye.
When did a sophisticated system, well intentioned, diverted so dismally? I say this is not Islam, because if it were, it would have been practiced in Makkah, Madinah, Tehran, Basrah, Cairo, Damascus, Dubai, Jakarta or Islamabad. This practice is unique only to black Africa, West Africa to be precise, and where it grinds most; Northern Nigeria, with an estimated population of 10 million boys as young as 4 to 17, roaming the streets of Kano, Potiskum, Sakkwato, Minna, Kontagora, Maiduguri, Daura, Yola and Zaria. A practice purely a Hausa/Fulani culture, what an archaic culture!
These boys are sent off mostly from the rural areas by their irresponsible parents, to the city, without any provision or proper clothing, to study the Holy Qur'an, under harsh and despicable conditions. They are left to cater for themselves their immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter; toiling in squalor, not to mention medical care, security and most importantly parental love and guidance. O people! Where is our conscience!?
Agreed some of them are orphans, but the Shari'ahis clear on who is in line of responsibility by guardianship. It is evident that these harsh and deplorable conditions expose them to both untold hardships and told misery, they tend to be left to themselves when ill. They are mostly exploited negatively; becoming ready-made subjects for ritual purposes, the politicians find in them eligible thugs, worse, some end up disciples of a wayward 'cleric' who indoctrinates them into fanaticism.
Recent skirmishes with the Boko Haramand the Maitatsinewar of the early '80s in Kano are of direct consequence. In the end, their lives are wasted by the security forces indiscriminately, largely extra-judicially. The latter imbroglio consumed a whopping 10,000 lives by official estimates, on the sect’s members alone. As for the former, the body count is yet tolling, on mostly the side of the security forces and civilians.
Of course not be cynical, a lot of good comes out of these boys. Perhaps, those saved from this grow up to be cobblers, tailors, drivers, handymen, errand boys, some even enroll in school. They undertake most of the menial jobs in the society, and they provide people with an alms-giving opportunity, save in Lagos of course (with recent law passed criminalizing alms-giving and begging).
Now the really heart-wrenching scenario manifests in the younger ones, in the age range of 4 - 12. So helpless they appear to be recently weaned, sleeping under no roof but that of the Almighty, serving as blood bank for the drastically soaring mosquito population. This is true given that they have no blankets, no matter how harsh the weather. When it rains, they all pack into unventilated rooms; you wouldn't want to take a second breath inside. It’s a miracle they seem immune to meningitis.
By God, it is not the children’s fault. In my opinion, it is not their parents' fault either, per se. This is because these parents do not think; they are too dumb to think, to them, it is just a 'religious duty'. And doubly a way of easing off themselves the burden of feeding, they then are keen on taking more wives, which otherwise they may not afford, churning out more of them for the society to cater for. They prefer others to take-over their Allah-ordained responsibility of parenthood. This is why we must help them think.
The female daughters of these irresponsible parents are not exempt from such abuse. They are married off at a pitiful age of 12, a little more or less. In connivance with selfish people in the society that hide behind religion to commit selfish acts. Such zealots do not and cannot match prophetic patience and humility. Quote me anywhere, very few of them could marry a 40 year old widow in their youthful first marriage, as did the Prophet at 25.
Recent UNESCO report (2011) revealed that the Hausa/Fulani women of West Africa, are the least (formally) educated people in the world. I tell you; even the basic Islamic Education is deficient in them. Those that seek the formal knowledge count as the majority of those that attend the Islamiyya schools. The others only get to know the basics of the faith through either their husbands or later from their children at old age.
These innocent girls are sent off to hawk spices around, to rather illiterate Casanovas. Later serving as housekeepers and nannies in rich homes, the least callousness meted upon them is the early marriage we mentioned, thus repeating to their progeny, all over again, such unfortunate circle of life. The less fortunate among them however, are the ones you hear of on the pages of the daily tabloids.
Subsequently, it appears very normal in my society, to see a 17 year-old divorcee, already a mother of say two, illiterate in either phase (ba na bokon balle na Muhammadiyya), toiling to eke out a living in rich homes, with her kids potential Almajirai. Later in life she flocks with other mates to blotch the roadsides and traffics as ‘Allah baku mu samu.’
The whole of this blame is first on the governments of all levels and all tiers, followed by our traditional rulers. Equally culpable are the elite of the society, especially the self-appointed regional 'elders' and 'wise men' whom we only hear of when it comes to politics and power play, on these matters, they apparently are absent-minded. The presumption that they and their families are immune from this labyrinth of misery has fizzled out with the post-election violence of last April, 2011; a disgruntled majority going on a rampage on the privileged few.
Needless to mention again, is the ongoing 'clerical' struggle of the Boko Haram. These foot soldiers were the sect leader's Almajirai, disciples that metamorphosized from the ‘Nigerian Taliban’. Maitatsine started just like this. Evidently, a lot others are covertly undergoing the same indoctrination. This is just the tip of the iceberg, a precursor of what's to come; when a whole 10 million strong potential army come of age during the coming decades, and given the system is perpetual, consider this relative peace (as at 2011) a lull. Somalia shall meet its mother. We are on the precipice!
Equally culpable are our Ulama'who together with the traditional rulers have a perpetual reign, as against the tenures of governments. The practice slipped out of the right way well under their watch. They could have innovated ways to sanitize the system, long before this mess. Most politicians however, are jittery on such topics due to the sensitivity of the ill-informed society, lest they strike a nerve and vandals go berserk: "they want to outlaw Qur'anic studies! Another Western conspiracy!"
So also, consideration need to be made as to the large chunk of votes these boys could muster, under-aged regardless. Another detriment is that people in authority, especially those from the sister faith, are wrongfully on the impression that this is what Islam entails, and so they feel it is their ‘no-go-area’, causing more harm, though they too suffer it.
Had these boys been left to study the Qur'an at home, their communities would have been more productive especially in the mainstay of the region’s economy; Agriculture. The fact is that, the vast majority of them stay back in the city as they come of age. Thus the intensity of social ills like joblessness, okada taxiing, urban-rural population disparity as well as political thuggery would have been more trivial. Back home, they could even enroll in evening classes, swapping venues with the morning goers who attend Islamiyyalessons then.
Some good-hearted people help alleviate these kids' predicament, enrolling them in schools, feeding and or employing them. I also was in the habit of picking the worst dressed Almajirioff to the market; buy him a full set of clothes and a pair of slippers, collecting the rags to throw away, but our feeble effort seems like emptying a vast lake with buckets, when the feeder river is perpetually gushing.
Were the Prophet of Islam to visit us today and observe the plight of these ragged children in the name of his religion, he would ban it outright! So also would anyone who wishes this religion or nation good. I assure you, no sane person will consider 'this Islam' seriously, not even if his deity says a cow created him.
A few years back, I overheard a radio program in Kano, proposing a solution directing all abled households to take in at least one destitute, and be responsible for him. I thought this is ludicrous! Our home, have at least three boys at any given instance during the last two decades, most homes do, taking in new ones when the latter come of age. The then govt. moreover, started an intervention process; The Tsangayasystem. Yet, despite this ambitious move, the impact went only skin-deep and only scooped the surface.
Yet again, the recently proposed Almajiri educational curriculum proposed by the Federal Govt. is evidently unsustainable, both in the short and long run. The President during his campaign tour pledged to integrate the Almajirai into formal schools, pledging to build 400 model schools nationwide, as if it will be enough. Well, I know and you know this will just encourage the parents to send more... The panacea in my opinion is for the Government to be courageous enough to send them all back home.
Let every father take to his responsibility towards the family, this is the Shari'ah. Let the kids live under the care, provision and security of their wards/parents. Aliyu grew in his guardian's household (the Prophet), all children of the companions did. Those that journeyed to seek out enlightenment were old enough to cater for themselves. The Muhajiroon (where I think the Almuhajir got the name) were escaping from persecution, seeking the source of the faith, not food.
We can all attest to the fact that the ancient city of Bakkah(Ancient Mecca) was more economically endowed than Yathrib(Medina) of then. Sadly, the direction of this exodus is reversed today. All are headed in one direction; the city, leaving the towns and villages to wallow under poverty, depopulation and underproduction, whereas these communities evacuated are better environs to seek the Qur'anic knowledge, with minimal distraction and bustle.
Conclusively, I call on these individuals, whom I have faith, are the ones that could impact on the lives of these innocent children to free them from this bondage. Here below is the list of their respective offices in order of priority, with the hierarchy of roles they can play to bring this quagmire to a drawdown in their lifetimes, as time and tenures are against them. Thus;
The Office of the Vice President (prioritized given his regional heritage and lineage), the Seat of the Caliphate in Sokoto, the Emirate of the most populous state; Kano, the council of traditional rulers, the Governors’ Council, especially the 12 ShariahStates, the Council of Ulama', the National Assembly, the Education, Youth, Women and Culture Ministries, the ECOWAS parliament, UNICEF, NGO’s both Local and International, the Office of the President (who signs the bill into law), the law enforcement agencies-cum-Hisbah, and finally the Courts, to pacify recalcitrant parents and or violent protesters.
To be realistic, it will be naive to assume that this will be a smooth swallow, anticipate resistance, there could be revolt and it may go violent. The system had been in our veins far too long, yet terminating it is inevitable, sooner or later. This task must be done, and is doable if we have the will and the resolve. Now, the line of action starts thus;
ü It is incumbent on the elite in the society to bring the topic to the fore for analysis and idea sharing via the media. Those that can afford placards for marches and peacefully organized demonstrations, please do. Because ‘we are just as responsible as those rigging the boat’. - This is a Hadith.
ü Our Madinah-educated Islamic Scholars (Ulama’) should also come in and offer their expertise and interpret the Shari’ah to a layman level. They also have the mandate to sit with these parents and talk to them ‘in tones ripe with humility, respect and eloquence’. - This is the Da'awah, their mandate.
ü The traditional rulers will then come in and offer lasting solutions, directing the politicians on the best ways to handle it. ‘They are in a better position to communicate to the Alarammas(tutors) and the parents in the best way audible to them’. - This is their long lost mandate on their subjects, which they seek.
ü The government of all three tiers at all three levels, especially the 12 so-called Shariah States of the North, the region’s leaders, and their consultative forum, must as a matter of urgency, ‘implement the final negotiated rendezvous point’. - This is the real Shari'ah, the Child Right Act.
In the end, the governments could absorb the Alarammasto the salary level of the school teacher, to be posted to the rural communities to tutor under the patronage of their respective ward-heads. This way, the system is not just eradicated but formalized. Assigned a parcel of farmland, an accommodation and a monthly stipend, these tutors will be better off, for it is worth your knowledge that they rendered these services free.
Now picture this; a household where all the children, both male and female, are loved and well cared for, going for their lessons, preferably both schools, returning home to eat, attending the family heritage whence they come of age... Could there be a better model? Who knows, with all mouths to feed present, the next time the whimsical thought of taking an extra wife (mostly via divorce) crosses such a father's mind, he will have to think deeper!
Mubarak B. M. Kano is a graduate of Chemical Engineering Dept. A. B. U Zaria, Nigeria.