Monday, March 27, 2023

On reforming the failed Almajiri school system: Lessons from Malaysia, by Sadiya Abubakar Isa

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tiamin rice

Countries such as Saudi Arabia or the Maldives with a 100% Muslim population do not engage in our type of Almajiranci to Islamically educate their youngsters. Even countries with the recorded highest number of huffaz (Quran memorizers) do not use the said Almajiranci as the methodology for achieving such academic goals. Why Nigeria? The last I checked, the best Quran reciters from Nigeria that occasionally attend and win global Quran recitation competitions in Saudi and other countries aren’t from the Almajiris we see helplessly wandering in the streets. They are products of our modern Islamiyya schools. Then why must the failed Almajiri system prevail?

In my over three years of residence in Malaysia, I have never seen a child, or supposed student of Islamic knowledge begging for alms. They also have a Tsangaya-like school where children are taught the Quran, Hadith and theology. Its more like a boarding school, the parents of these kids admit them to these schools and pay for their feeding and upkeep as well as the teachers’ remuneration (if the govt is not already sponsoring). That it is an Islamic education doesn’t mean it should be done free of charge. Anything free is valueless, they say. There was a day I considered this version of school in my university for my son, but because the medium of instruction there is Malay, we couldn’t get our son admitted as he only speaks English and communication would be a huge barrier.

Once upon a time, while serving as the president of the Postgraduate Students’ Club at the School of Humanities at my university, I organised visitation to one of the orphanages in Penang. It was a girl-only orphanage home in the heart of Penang, and the girls were so sweet. In fact, some of them had phones. I was mesmerized by their systematization and discipline, I told one of the Nigerian students with me there, judging from the aesthetics, this could be a minister’s house in Nigeria, and we laughed. But Dr Odi, one of the staff amongst us confided in me that, “next time take us to the community Tahfiz in the villages, they need this money the most”. I asked why, and she said the orphanage we visited is in the city, so they have full attention and support from both the state government and NGOs. But the Tahfiz in the villages are orphanage homes and schools combined for orphans, they only get sponsorship from the government, and sometimes that is not enough. If we raise this much money for them (RM 4000 gathered from staff and students at my school), they will be happier. I responded in the affirmative and planned for more visitations there until Covid 19 came by. While researching about these Tahfiz schools, I saw something very interesting. They are just like conventional schools, the pupils are numbered, the information about every Tahfiz is available on some websites, the number of aalims (teachers) and even their priority needs-list. They would engage in skill acquisition classes after normal Quran lessons. I was amazed that orphans had this privilege. I thought to myself, back home these would have been automatic Almajiris, probably begging from door to door, but here, they are taught Quran and skills.

Malaysia is an Islamic country, take it or leave it, they practice Islam in their daily lives and constitution more than we do here in Nigeria. But an average Malaysian family has three to four children. Of course, there are exceptional cases, but no matter how poor one is, food is the least they can afford. There are very little or no hungry people in Malaysia. Thus, the poverty rate is remarkably low. That is how effective their policies are, you can’t even take a second wife without the authorities’ approval. So that there wouldn’t be too many children beyond your financial capacity.  We love to visit Saudi, Dubai and other exquisitely advanced countries, but what do we learn from them? How do we implement our experiences to better our situation here?

You see, we have the choice to either be religiously guided or misguided. The same Islam used to subjugate these poor kids is the same religion practiced in Saudi, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia, Indonesia and a host of other Muslim countries. But why is ours different? Why? The Prophet SAW says “the quest for knowledge is compulsory upon every male and female Muslim”. Learning is indeed mandatory for every Muslim, whether Western or Islamic, we all must keep learning. But also, the Prophet SAW discouraged begging? Why would Almajiri beg for alms? Who failed them?

Some pro-Almajiranci advocates claim that late Sheikh Ja’afar was an Almajiri too. Really? Should that even be the case? I bet he didn’t have to go around begging for food to sustain himself. Also, he wasn’t vulnerable to child labour, slavery or even a victim of forced sodomy during his pursuit of knowledge. If he was really a product of Tsangaya then it must be when the system was favourable, when the state was in charge, when the scholarship has an organised system, when parents and Malams only pursue the goal of educating the Umma, not now that everything has turned against the system leaving the poor children victimised from all angles. The solution is simple, every parent should care for their child(ren) and in cases where Islamic boarding school is preferred, the kids should be enrolled in decent schools that are well monitored. The govt should oversee the management of these schools, the sub-standard ones should be closed and all their operations should be scrutinized. Most importantly, if at all they have the license to operate, every Tsangaya must introduce skill acquisition lessons in their curriculum. Gone were the days when menial labor could sustain an Almajiri as disruptive technology, inflation and global capitalism have almost ended their services.

This over-flogged issue of the Almajiri system must be addressed once and for all. It betrays common sense and basic logic. No human with apt reasoning would allow the continuance of this menace. If you still want them to remain on the street begging and studying, you should be aware that if they don’t get alms, they will take arms.

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  1. Thank you Dr for the well researched submission on the discussions around Almajirci and Begging.

    I feel strongly that scrapping the system should’nt be the case. It is important we acquaint ourselves on: How the system emerged, its nature, development and its driving objectives? Whether the state has been regulating it? And why did the state abandoned it now and embraced the western education system?

    Maybe disscussions on the above questions can help answer some of the questions you raised in your article. Worthy to note also is the fact that, begging is not a consequencial effect of Almajirci. Almajirci is just a victim!

    The blame should be aportioned on Global capitalism and failure of governance whose policies forced nations and individuals to go begging on the street.

    My take:
    I believe we need to reform the Almajiri system to incorporate the asoect of vocational training as per the Malaysian one. The state should give it same priority as the western system. Tjen governance should be responsive enough to deal with the trigger of begging!

    • Lets forget about Malaysia or indonesia for a moment, at the level of Nigeria Almajiri begging is only rampard in the core North. there are countless Quranic schools in the South West and South South and you dont find their students on the street begging.

      The problem is with the way of life of a core Notherner that accepts beggging( with all due rspect). Why will a farmer in the rural part of Funtua forinstance sends his child to sokoto without food or seeing the child for a year, and this farmer’s averages
      100 -200 bags of grains as harvest annually. This farmer never cares to send even a bag of grain to the Mallam tutoring his child . We have to look inward for internal revival as a people .

  2. My only comment to this excellent article from Dr. Sadiyyah would begin from her last sentence: “if you don’t give them alms they will take alms” My question here is which arms? Unless Sadiyyah means nuclear arms because they now have all the arms you an think of in the Nigerian Army armoury including anti aircraft guns, tanks and APCs. Yes, they have all the modern communication gadgets that even our military do not posses. These were the genres of almajiris of 40 to 50 years ago when these kinds of articles began to emerge from our academic circles and other conscientious citizens. They first manifested as Qala Qato, the Maitatsine then the Qur’aniyyoon and finally their full manifestation as the “Ja’amatu Ahlssunnah lid da’wati wal Ijtihad” otherwise know as Boko Haram. The bandits are an affiliate of this group as recent events have now proven. All the members of these violent anti-societal gangs started in the streets of our urban centres as marauding almajiris and they are daily increasin in number due to biting pivetty and carefree attitude of governments and the society at large. They are a huge reservoire for politicians as election thugs and for criminal gang leaders in our urban centres. It is almost too late. We are now fully reaping the fruits of our decades of collective neglect of these despndent youths. You cannot sow grass and expect to reap wheat. With the exception of one or two state governors who made some feable attempts to address the menace, everybody else is asleep at the moment, Ostritch kind of sleep, while the solution lies in.all of us coming together, with our voting cards and shouting voices, to say NEVER AGAIN!

    • She said alms not arms. Alms means sadaqa or in hausa we say barar abinci. Malam you don’t understand this article. Your English is not strong enough to understand. You are talking about nuclear as if we are in a war zonet.

  3. In fact, we don’t need to cite an example with any other foreign countries, rather our case should be looked at from our general mindset. Qur’anic schools are established all over the world from the time immemorial. Never in the history that these schools had ever exposed their student to roam the street for begging alms from the people. To nip this practice in the bud,there is the need for the government at all level to show greater commitments and political will to come up with a legislation that totally ban this acts. Islamic and Qur’anic education should be made accessible to all Muslim school aged going children, and must be under the care or sponsorship of the parents. On the other hands,Qur’anic teachers, should be adequately provided by both the government and parents for the smooth and healthy atmosphere for effective teaching and learning activities


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