‘Government’s neglect of Islamic schools, poverty responsible for menace’

Almajiri, Children in school

Renowned Kaduna-based Islamic scholar and former Special Adviser to the Kaduna State governor on Islamic matters, Sheikh Halliru Abdullahi Maraya told ABDULGANIYU ALABI that the Almajiri system collapsed due to government’s stoppage of sponsorship of Islamic schools. He canvassed that rather than a ban, the system should be restructured to offer both Islamic and Western education to the children. 

At what point did the Almajiri system become part of Islam in Nigeria?
The history of ‘Almajirism,’ the system that allows people to seek Quranic education, is traceable to the advent of Islam in Nigeria. Islam came to Nigeria in the year 1086. It came through the defunct Kanem Borno Empire. It was introduced by the Arabs who came for economic purposes. They came along with the Quranic system. 

The first thing a child is expected to do as far as educational pursuit is concerned in Islam is to learn the consonants and vowels of Arabic letters and subsequently how to form words, read and write.

The ultimate goal was to commit the entire Quran to the memory. In those days, the traditional institutions and host communities funded the system. People gave accommodation to the pupils and fed them because their number was considerable.

At that time, the students also partook in economic activities, particularly on Thursdays and Fridays; they embarked on masonry, manicuring, tailoring and were temporarily employed as labourers in various forms. So when people send their children to any Quranic scholar, they ensure that they went with what will sustain them for the stipulated period of three to four months. They were not just taken to the Islamic schools without any sustenance.

How did things go bad with the system?
Government neglect and lack of sponsorship are major problems. Government today doesn’t take responsibility for the Quranic schools.

In the past, prior to the coming of colonialists, traditional institutions, parents and host communities to the pupils sponsored the system. This is no longer so, as government only caters to the Western style of education. Host communities and parents are now also impoverished. So, we could say poverty is major contributing factor to the present menace of almajiri.

In the past, government sponsored health services and other basic amenities and one did not need a dime to purchase drugs in the hospitals; they were free. You also didn’t need money to sponsor your ward’s Western education.

Today, the Western system of education is in a sorry state. In the past, there were public taps that provided portable drinking water; today, you have to buy. Yet, salaries are not living wages. Look at the battle NLC is into with government over a minimum wage of just N30, 000.

Currently, we have more than 90 million Nigerians wallowing in abject poverty. A reasonable number of children roaming around are not almajiris; most are children of parents who have been laid off or whose parents are still in the payroll of government but do not receive their salaries when due or those who have retired but have yet to collect their pensions and gratuities. All these are effects of the prevalent poverty in the land.

Rather than abolish, could the Almajiri system be salvaged?
If the system must be sanitised, it must give quality education. First, parents should know that their children have rights. This includes right to education, health services, shelter and other basic needs. So, parents must embrace their parental responsibilities.

Second, government must wake up to its responsibilities of security and social welfare. People are in abject poverty; government should provide economic and job opportunities with a view to reducing poverty across the country. As long as people live in poverty, this mess will continue.

What is your take on government’s plan to ban the system?
I don’t think the idea of banning the system is the best. You don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. What does government have as an alternative system? You don’t ban something until you have an alternative.

Government agrees that the Quranic education system is good; the problem with it is that of begging by the wards. So, the onus is on governments at all levels to restructure the system in a way that it leaves no room for the pupils to roam the streets without acquiring the Western-style education, which is equally important. The Mallams should also be consulted and made to suggest how best to tackle the challenge, while also ensuring that the students acquire both Quranic and Western education through the system.

In the past, almajiris pursued Quranic education and engaged in economic activities alongside. Now, economic activities could be swapped with Western education so the children could go through both simultaneously. But government must sanitise the Western education system too and put in place structures to deliver the best to the children.

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