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|Crisis in Muslim Education: The Almajiranci System in Northern Nigeria and Response of State and Civil Society|
Sulaiman Khalid, firstname.lastname@example.org; Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (Presenter)
The migrant Qur’anic school pupils (Almajirai) increasingly populate the urban centres of northern Nigeria. The Almajirai are boys of primary and junior secondary school age mostly from rural families. This network of schools are are common in northern parts of Nigeria and other parts of West Africa, notably Chad, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Niger. The schools lack physical infrastructure beyond a canopied forecourt where the teaching takes place and operate largely beyond the purview and regulatory interventions of the state. The system is highly gendered in that it recruits only the male, and neither female students nor teachers form part of it. The Almajiri system is designed in the form of an Islamic boarding school. State support for these schools exists in pre-colonial Sokoto and Borno Caliphates in northern Nigeria where, until the advent of colonial rule, were the institutions for training the elite and government officials. Colonial rulers brought with them modern western (boko) institutions, which displaced the value of local knowledge including makarantun allo (Qur’anic schools). The result was that over time makarantun allo and their almajiranci (itinerant) variant became marginalized as their certificates lost relevance in the market place and students from upper income groups moved to the secular schooling system. Nevertheless, the schools remain highly revered institutions of religious learning throughout the past the school is now usually headed by Qur’anic teacher or mallam (Arabic: alim), its sole proprietor. Forsaken by both the colonial and post-colonial state, the mallam receives no salary but lives off the support given by the local community, the contributions of his students and supplementary income-generating activities. Accordingly, for most part of the day, the students are preoccupied with learning to reading, writing and memorization of the Qur’an. In between lessons, they engage in a plethora of different activities to secure their livelihoods, notable among which is street begging. These multitude of children as young as five, in tattered clothes, bowl-in-hand, soliciting for food and money on the streets of urban centres has made almajiranci system to be synonymous with child destitution, a development that has been accompanied by a decline in respect for the system. The Maitatsine sectarian riots in Kano in the 1980s mark a turning point in writing about them. There has develop the apprehension that this sorely neglected section of the young population could be dragged into major political crises, if urgent steps are not taken to integrate them into the mainstream of the socio-economic life. Already there has been wide, yet to be substantiated, allegations of the involvement of almajirai in the spate of sectarian crises which bedeviled the Northern states in the last decades. Since September 11, there has been renewed pressure on the governments in Nigeria to take a hard look at the system. The pressure has become even more intense since the debut of Taliban-like boko haram armed insurgency in the region.
This paper attributes the increased presence of destitute-looking begging almajirai in the towns and cities of the region to structural factors, such as dry-season induced food shortages and mounting economic pressures on scarce resources particularly in rural areas, exacerbated by structural adjustment and rapid population growth which undermine both the ability of the household to provide adequately for the young and the capacity of the community to offer support. Increased individualism and growing mistrust have also been amongst the reasons put forward to explain dwindling support structures. Instead of responding to the structural challenges of the problem, the post colonial rulers of the country, who often inherited the modernization vision of their colonial masters, responded with uncoordinated attempts to reform and integrate the system so as to integrate into modern economy and society. However, this half-hearted attempt at reform and integration of the system was challenged opposition by the ulema and a section of Islamic civil society groups who exercise a high moral authority within Muslim societies.
Key words: Islamic education; almajirci; child-destitution; ulema; state; civil society.
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