- Category: ARTICLES
- Published on Friday, 10 August 2012 09:58
- Written by Abdulhamid Al-Gazali
Introduction: Assalamu Alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh,
Thanks and glory be to Almighty Allah—the Benevolent and the Merciful—for sparing our lives all to this blessed day of Ramadan. May His peace and blessings be upon His prophet, his household, companions and those who follow their path up to the Day of
To start with, I am exceedingly delighted and no less honored by the opportunity afforded to me by the management of Hilal Islamic Crescent to make my contributions in the ongoing Annual Ramadan Lecture on precisely this topic: “Almajiri Problem and Refutation of Begging in Islam: Possible Solutions”. No doubt this topic—the heart of which seeks to understand the moral base of Almajiranci-cum-begging in Islam entirely, at one hand, and the possible solutions to bring it to a total and permanent halt in complex Islamic societies such as ours, at the other, is a very complex one, and yet critical in what has become even more critical in current times. I know my invitation to contribute to the ongoing Lecture is not in any way unconnected with my being the Secretary General of Almajiri Tsangaya Foundation, a sister Organization which is now just about getting registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. I however, before anything, feel I have to first make this confession that I am setting my foot on a very complex topic with a very limited knowledge, but in spite of that, I will try to answer few of the many lingering questions, and I do honestly apologize if I only succeed in doing the reverse—i.e is raising or leaving you with more answers than questions.
Equally, I will do some sort of disservice to my friend Abdullah Abdullateef, who is also my namesake, the secretary of the venerable association, by effecting slight changes on the topic which he invited me to speak on, to suit the scope and direction of the paper, hence reads thus: “Between Almajiranci, Begging and Islam: Problems and Possible Solutions”.
The topic calls for both historical and Islamic approach, and to do average justice to it, I have decided to follow it on a four-step pattern. Firstly, I have tried to look at the historical epoch of Almajiranci through to this day—how it was run and managed; its meaning and interpretations, at least briefly. Secondly, its connection with begging and how it came to be connected—reasons which prompted the begging that came to be identified with it and around what time. Having done that, thirdly, I placed all in an Islamic perspective—to ascertain the moral base of the system within that context—Islamic context. And finally, from there made some recommendations as to how the past glories of the system would be restored and particularly how begging will be stripped of it—Almajiranci.
ALMAJIRANCI AND BEGGING
The issue of Almajiranci and begging—both of the Almajiri and the not—because there is very much the case of itself—is one of the problems the Islamic world is facing today, and Nigeria is in a principle no less, if not the mother of all. And it is today surprising enough that Almajiri and Begging are seen as synonymous to each other, or better still, as complementing each other, by many people, while they are absolutely two different things, of different historical background (Victor, 2011). Whenever we hear the mention of Almajiri, what comes to mind is the picture of that tattered, malnourished, hopeless young boy of a face of forced ugliness, mixed with spots of rashes, holding a plate roaming the streets, and house to house searching for leftovers, of even the lowest class of food, to eat for the day. Much as that depicts the lifestyle of, and describes the Almajiri as an individual, this is the greatest injustice we have done to the Tsangaya school system.
Almajiranci has been in existence for example in Bornu from as far back as the 11th Century A.D as a great learning institution, first of its kind in the entirety of what is today called Nigeria, when Islam made its inroad to the empire, but begging did not start along with it; it did, if anything, started only after about 9 centuries, because of number of reasons, which will be advanced below (Alkali, 2006; Ahmed, 2007). The same thing when it made its way to the Hausaland from Timbuktu, around 15th Century. Therefore, these two words—Almajiri and bara (begging, in Hausa)—are entirely different from each other, of which their usage together, or better still as complementary to each other, is of recent times, thus, being a point of intellectual tension, has to be clarified with deeper emphasis in order for us to have a better grasp of it, from where we could be able to draw from it the necessary and hopefully potent solutions (Victor, 2011).
WHAT ALMAJIRI MEANS
Literally, Almajiri means student, as is also referred to in Kanuri, Ma’aajir. And technically, it is said to be corrupted away from the Arabic word “Almuhajirun” (as are many other Kanuri and Hausa words), meaning Emigrant (Aisha, 2012). However putting it in the rightful context is necessary as emigrant may not necessarily refer to what we mean. Thus, whereas an emigrant in the wider sense is any individual or group of, who move out from their place of living to settle somewhere else permanently, for various political and socio-economic reasons; in the context of Almajiranci, the individual purposely travels out or made to, from his home and look elsewhere, in the bid to acquire the Knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. The belief in this instance is that, one will concentrate the more when he is away from home—a belief held by many scholars, up to this day (Aisha, 2012).
By extension however, this concept is not only restricted to the Almajiris, it is virtually the same with students in the Universities and other institutions who travel elsewhere in the quest for knowledge. The only difference, if at all there is, being that the former seeks for Qur’anic knowledge in a Tsangaya, and the latter, Western, in the University. The Tsangaya in those days—before the advent of western education, is no less than a University. Muhammad Al-Amin El-Kanemi, an erudite Islamic scholar, has established and run a Tsangaya that attracted students (the Almajiri) from almost all over West Africa—indeed what would have been equivalent to a University today, in Ngala, in the erstwhile Kanem-Borno Empire; the same did Sultan Muhammed Bello in Silame (Alkali, 2006; Adamu, 2006). So in essence, the system of Almajiranci or Tsangaya system of education, has remained a noble educational institution, and in the rightful tone of Islam, until the Imperialist Scramble for Africa.
WHAT BEGGING MEANS: WHEN IT CAME TO BE AND WHY
Secondly the term begging, roko (general term for begging in Hausa) as against bara (the Almajiri begging) in Hausa, is nothing but that dishonorable and shameful act of soliciting for food, money, clothe, everything, from other people, because of laziness and heartlessness—very few of us don’t. We have to here acknowledge that begging is not restricted to the Almajiris only, there are varieties of them—common to many people. There are they: there is the case of disabled men and women courtesy of polio and other preventable diseases; there is the praise-singers, who shamelessly call themselves “Yan roko”—you see them in wedding ceremonies, political gatherings, offices…; the newly conceived Internet begging and etc; in fact, those who roam about from one office to another, “begging” for appointments, contracts and money are deservedly beggars (Ahmed, 2007).
This—begging, as part of Almajiranci, or what is more, as its economic lifeline, in itself, only started at about the time when the Imperialist powers had set their foot in the northern part of the nation and unfortunately destroyed all her important institutions—i.e only about a century now, after over 8 centuries it remained a respectable institution—without begging or other such dishonorable acts (Nasir, 2011). Out of these institutions which were intended to have been wiped out entirely, by the Colonial masters, is the Tsangaya system of education (but thanks to its strong foundation laid down by visionary leaders and statesmen) to impose upon us the Western education. This started by the substitution of the Ajami script by the Roman—in the bid to outdo Islamic traditions for Western—all under the guise of it being very costly in printing, lack of standard orthography, the Roman being faster to learn and so on and so forth (Adamu, 2006). It is instructive to note here that, before the colonialist British powers conquered our country and took over control of our affairs, the Tsangaya had reigned as the only and powerful educational system, which produced almost all the great rulers and scholars of that time, such as the quintessential 19th Century Sokoto jihadist, Sheikh Usman Danfodio, Sultan Muhammad Bello, the venerable Muhammed Al-Amin Elkanemi, the founder of the El Kanemi dynasty, Sheikh Muhammad Salih Bin Isharku, and a host of others; or if anything besides it, being the Traditional education (Alkali, 2012).
BETWEEN ALMAJIRANCI AND BEGGING
At this point, it is imperative to address the issue of the correlation between Almajiranci and begging, or bara, (as we call it in Hausa)—or how they came to be together. First of all, we have to understand what the economic life-line of the Tsangaya-school system was, and how it was run—and why there was no begging—before it was reduced too low by the “Imperialist reductionists”. From that point we can understand the reasons why begging came to be its economic lifeline.
Firstly the system was under the patronage of the Traditional rulers—they supported and encouraged it. Both the student and the teacher were then catered for by the state—i.e the Traditional administrations (Ahmed, 2007; Malcolm 2008). Although Nasir (2011) noted that the Tsangaya schools have never been taken any seriously by the State before the Sokoto Jihad, the ulama, under whom the Tsangaya schools were, had great influence over the state policy and were part of the ruling class—and even with that, they relied on goodwill of the Muslim community in the main. It was the Jihad leaders, who at individual levels (after the Jihad), being scholars themselves, strengthen the pattern of education; but it had never came to feature as a prominent state program even after the Jihad. In the Sokoto Caliphate, for example, after the revolution, in order to entrench it—what could be called the ‘intellectual revolution’ that came along with it—to dip the society out of ignorance, as was the case then, the Jihad leaders (who are mostly Scholars under whom the Tsangayas were) organized for the people more rigorous education—i.e is by enhancing and supporting the Tsangayas both economically and intellectually—in essence, the lot of the system rests on their shoulders, entirely (Adamu, 2006). Then most of the students were also studying within their communities—another reason why there was no begging.
Although the system of travelling out was there, it is assumed that it only got strengthened during and because of the faceoff between Sultan Attahiru Ahmadu and the Colonialists (Adamu, 2006). It was said that parents began to send out their wards eastwards—what came to be called Kauran Gabas in Hausa—in order to escape from the ‘evils’ of the so called Imperialists—the consequences of which happened to be the starter of begging by the Almajiri (Ahmed, 2007).
After the colonialists succeeded and passed over to themselves the powers and responsibilities of the state—from the traditional rulers, upon whom the responsibilities of catering for the Almajiri and running the Tsangaya rests, the system stood stripped of its economic lifeblood—and to this day, so it has remained. The imperialists having reduced the Traditional government to virtually nothing, passed over to themselves all other responsibilities of the state—except perhaps that of the catering for the Tsangaya, which they did not only neglected, but hated with all passion and set to be utterly outdone, but for the determination of some of the conservative scholars and parents. The traditional rulers having lost their powers—the power that to date is not restored to them—could not carter for the Almajiri anymore, and coupled with the newly conceived idea of Kaura gabas, the Almajiri and the Mallam had to find ways to fend for themselves outside their homes—hence the concept of begging as the easiest way was, what, for want of better word, misbegotten (Malcolm, 2008; Yusuf 2007).
The concept of Kaura gabas came to be distorted by some parents into becoming a systematic way of passing over the responsibilities of their children to other people in the streets—in places far away from their homes. Parents—who are absolutely poverty-stricken—marry many wives and give birth to many children they do not have what it takes to take care of. And what they do is to send them to the ‘streets’ to beg—to be taken care of by other people—under the guise of Almajiranci (Aisha, 2012). The system of Almajiranci as a way of obtaining Qur’anic education therefore became totally and dangerously distorted, abused, misinterpreted, and misattributed. It went on and gradually today, some studies say there are 10million children—Muslim children—roaming the streets, begging for food—in Muslim communities. Subhanallah!
BETWEEN ALMAJIRI, BEGGING AND ISLAM
At this point, it is imperative to ask some of the pressing questions such as: what is the sanctity of Almajiranci and begging—Almajiri begging—in Islam? What does Islam say about seeking for Knowledge outside your community—even when not necessary?
Firstly Islam does not stop anyone from travelling out of his community to acquire knowledge—especially the knowledge of Shariah, which in fact the prophet (PBUH) said is ‘… a duty of every of Muslim’:
“Seeking for knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim”
(Narrated by Ibn Majaa’ – 220)
So in essence, this has made it absolutely compulsory upon every Muslim—male or female—to seek for the Knowledge of Islam, perhaps even if it will take them to travel out—leaving the comfort of family care—but indeed not on the condition that it will put them through hardships—because Islam is the religion of ease, for those who know. Allah SWT in the closing of Suratul Baqara, directing us on how to invoke Him, says:
”…Rabbanaa wa laa tuhammilna
maa laa taaqata lana bih…”
“…Our Lord, burden us not
with that which we have no
ability to bear…” (Qur’an, 2:228)
Therefore we must first all admit that there is no problem whatsoever over the sanctity of Almajiranci—travelling out to seek for knowledge—in Islam—Islam stands indifferent, at best.
But again, conversely, Islam does not say you ‘must’ leave your place of living to look for knowledge elsewhere. The Hadith above simply goes to say that nothing—including distance—should be a barrier that should separate you from knowledge. Islam does not say anything beyond this—it does not say you must leave your home to learn even if at the cost of begging or of staying hungry, homeless and etc—in fact, in such instances, provided that you have at least the basic knowledge, such as knowing the Oneness of Allah, the prophethood of his messenger, how to observe prayers, clean your body, recite Suratul Fatiha and the few rest basic knowledge, it is enough. If you could find such knowledge within your community, it is not necessary that you must travel, the basic thing is that you must know Islam first; you must know Allah first before worshipping Him. In Hadithul Qudsi, the prophet said that Allah SWT says: “Search for knowledge about Me before you worship Me. How will he who does not know Me worship Me correctly?”
Imam Shafi’I is the greatest advocate of migration for the sake of seeking for knowledge. He had travelled widely himself in the course of his education, but never had we, throughout his life heard that he had begged on the streets, holding plate, in the course of his education, or is anyone telling us that he had? Or, his students? It is instructive to note here that, he himself mentioned that migration comes along with relief. As he asserts in one of his poems:
“Emigrate from your home in
quest for excellence, and travel,
for, in travelling, there are 5
benefits: relief…, earning livelihood
knowledge, good manners and friendship”
Dear brothers and sisters, is this enough to justify and almost necessitate migration for the quest of knowledge? Does the Almajiri today get any relief? Shafi’I did not say one “must” emigrate in the course of his learning. He did not also say “travel even if it will take you to beg before learning”. Imam Shafi’I is literally sharing his own experience of migration with his contemporaries. For us Historians, because nothing in History stands still, we believe in the otherness of the past. We believe that the difference of time has made Shafi’I’s migrate-to-learn theory inadaptable and not fitting in our current settings in the Islamic world. No doubt most great Ulama of those days had to travel seeking for knowledge. But this was so because during those days, not most people have the knowledge of Islam—the knowledge was not widespread as is the case today. Within a community, you would find few or literally no educated man, from whom to learn. The few educated were sometimes only limited to some certain fields of specialty, for which if one wants to explore deeper, he has to look elsewhere. These were some of the possible conditions upon which most of the proponents of migrate-to-learn based their arguments.
Whereas today one does not find the relief as Shafi’I puts, and on the contrary hardship even pushes him to bring dishonor and shame to Islam and himself, travelling out for him, besides all other thing, is absolutely wrong, such as what we have today in the name of Almajiranci. I believe Shafi’I would have been among the first to condemn had he been here to see what is happening today—that is assuming if at all, our own case today is not the hatch out of Kauran Gabas. Islam did not say a child of 5 or 6 years should be denied the comfort of being taken care of by his parents and be sent out to wallow in hardship in the name of seeking for knowledge, when what is more, he at least has the basic knowledge of Islam. This we must all admit.
Now, all other things aside, at this juncture it is just too appropriate to ask the question as to whether these young children—these army of 5-6year children—are sent out for Almajiranci in their best interest or imposed upon them? It is a common knowledge that no 5 year old boy will opt to leave the comfort of his family for any reason. Parents are those who impose upon their children the choice to leave—to widen up space for another on-the-arrival child or children; and to pass their parental responsibilities to people on the streets. However, this is a grave injustice we have done to the child, Islam does not approve of it, Allah SWT says in His holy book:
”If you fear that you shall not be
able to justly deal with the orphans,
marry women of your choice, two
three or four. But if you fear that
you shall not be able to deal justly
(with them), then marry one, or
that which your right hands possess.
That will be more suitable, to prevent
you from doing injustice”-(Quran, 4:3)
Secondly begging—whether as a occupation or part of seeking for knowledge (Almajiranci)—is wrong, Islam equally strongly disapproves of it, unless perhaps on three very strict conditions: One, the person who is indebted because of acting as a guarantor for a person or community and cannot pay their debts; two, the person whose properties were destroyed as a result of disaster; and three, a person who becomes poor and which is acknowledged by those who know them. Besides these categories of people, it is completely impermissible for any other person to beg (Muslim, Zakkat, 109). Islam encourages us to work hard and earn a living. The prophet of Islam (PBUH) throughout his life encouraged us to work and always warned against begging:
“It is better for one among you to bring
load of firewood on his back and give
charity out of it (and satisfy his own
needs) and be independent of people
than that he should beg from people,
whether they give him anything or refuse
him” (Muslim, Zakkat, 107)
On other related Hadiths, the prophet SAW also told us of what would be of those who refuse to heed and keep to begging as occupation, in the Last Day:
”Some among you do not ever abandon
begging. Finally on the Day of
Resurrection, that dishonorable
person will meet Allah with no
flesh left on his body.”
(Muslim, Zakkat, 103)
“Whoever continues to be people
for their property in order to accumulate
much property, surely asks for piece of fire.”
(Muslim, Zakkat, 105)
Anyone who indulges in, or encourages begging, such as that of parents sending out their wards, knowing fully well that they are going to beg on the streets to earn a living out of, will verily be greeted with no less. Because begging brings disgrace to the religion of Allah, anyone who indulges in it unbeknownst to him puts Islam in disgrace. Besides, anyone who begs to live puts his belief in Allah under great question because he fails in the face of one of the three foundations upon which Islam is based—tawakkul—believe in the Oneness of Allah. Therefore the Almajiri begging—and all other—have no place in Islam as is utterly disapproved. What the Almajiri does is as dishonorable as is wrong. We should not encourage it, we should all do everything possible to discourage and stop it. The religion of Allah should not be put to ridicule by the young Almajiri, his parents or teachers.
Howbeit, one gets disabused of all these when he considers the age at which the Almajiris are sent to the Tsangayas and the conditions they find themselves—and what is more, when you realize people who are neither Almajiris nor young, who take to begging to eke a living out of it. Some of us accuse the Almajiri of laziness and indolence, which to a large extent is not true. If you go to markets, mosques, etc, you will see them tirelessly working as porters, shoe shiners, manicurists, etc, in fact they have given themselves out to do anything to earn a living, do most of us do or will we ever? The Almajiri should be helped in the areas of skill acquisition and self reliance, such as what we are about doing in the Foundation. That is all they need; they are not lazy, they are just neglected—by their parents, government and us the Muslims Ummah.
THE POSITION OF THE MUSLIM UMMAH
However, all other things aside, it is unfortunate that today, we have 10million Muslim minors panhandling on the street to feed themselves from hand to mouth—with all the super rich Muslim population. Muslims are very conscious of the fact that the West-controlled capitalist states would not in any way come to the helping of what is entirely Muslims’ problem and Islam’s benefit. The capitalist-operated economies brawling about to be counted among the 20 most developed in the world, will not find space to accommodate what they refer to as old Islamic tradition, when they are before the mirror trying to get dressed as modern, western, global or whatever they call it. It hangs on their necks—the rich—our necks, the Muslim Ummah, to salvage the Almajiri, because nobody would. Through continues charity, sadaqa and zakkat—which is compulsory upon us all—in the proper way and channeling, we could no doubt take all our brothers off the streets. Muslims today are into wasting their monies in absolutely misplaced priorities in the name of purification and getting closer to Allah. We have heard of people whose houses share walls with Tsangayas but take to Hajj every year without giving a hoot about the plight of the Almajiri right in the neighborhood. This is as misplaced as is unrewarding. Our venerable Dr. Ahmed Gumi has brought out to the open for us some of the deeds better than the yearly Hajj and Umra, better than giving out overabundant Ramadan and Sallah gifts to the already rich, better than... as carried by Dr Aliyu Tidle in his article. These are:
1-Feeding the poor
2-Treating the sick
4-Solving these issues requires money and spending generously on them is better and more virtuous than to spend in Umrah or the voluntary Hajj.
The Almajiri has fallen into both categories 1, 2, and 3. We must wake up to the fact that we acquire all our wealth just to do the work of Allah. We must use our resources to help Islam and Muslims who need to be helped in the rightful way. We must do everything at our disposal to stop begging.
HOW COULD WE? POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Today it baffles one that in countries like Nigeria with all her wealthy Muslims, young boys continue to languish in poverty, hunger, and hopelessness, making them clueless over how to go about life and how to sustain their lives daily—what is: from hand to mouth survival. It even baffles the more that we have such a problem within us that we have to look for solution today—because Nigeria is not a poor country; not a country of poor or minority Muslims—it is, to the maximum, a country of many wealthy Muslims. However, problems are made to be solved, and we could still do something about it.
1 - THE TRADITIONAL INSTITUTIONS AS POTENTIAL SAVIORS OF THE ALMAJIRI
If the government of Nigeria cannot find space to accommodate the Tsangaya school system, it should pass it on to the Traditional rulers—who in the first place fashioned and embraced it—by providing them with all the required resources. It appears that the Traditional institutions have the best mechanism with which to handle this very sensitive issue. They have the advantage of being closer to the people or the Almajiri than any other person. They are more trusted and respected by the community and so heard of. In essence, they are in control of whatever it is that is going within their local communities. Hence:
•They can find ways of ensuring that any Tsangaya within their locality is registered, together with its Almajiri-size and accordingly providing some ethical codes—such as the age at which the Almajiri is admitted, entrance exams, time basis, how to conduct themselves, graduation time, syllabus etc—for which they should enforce obedience.
•They can, because there are people who feign to be Almajiris to beg, ensure that nobody within their locality begs, for any reason. They are the ones in the best position to do that, because as put above, they are respected and heard of.
•If anyone wants to send his child out to other place, it should be through the traditional rulers. Instead of sending them themselves, the traditional rulers should bear that responsibility. More especially it should be on some sort of time-basis—for example annually or biennial—when all District heads will send out—and equally receive—the potential Almajiris from within their village—and outside, respectively. In essence, the sending out of children for Almaliranci should be inter-District Heads.
•The traditional rulers could impose upon parents certain amount of fees to pay before their wards are trooped out. These fees could naturally discourage parents whose aim is not to send their children out for education.
•The fees, plus the allocation from the FG, for the purpose of the Almajiri, should be used for their welfare—feeding, medication and the rest. The teachers too should be put on a monthly salary under the Traditional government or LG—since it has space for ghost workers.
•Equally, after graduation, the graduates too should be employed to work under the Traditional institutions or LGs as teachers, overseers and etc.
That way, I believe there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
2 – MARRIAGE, NEGLIGENCE AND OTHER MISPLACED PRIORITIES OF THE UMMAH: ISLAMIC CLERICS TO THE RESCUE
One of the main reasons why today we are faced with the problems of the influx of young children panhandling in the streets, and house-to-house begging for food to eat is not unconnected with the misconception of marriage—polygamous—by the majority of the Muslim population—as taught by the prophet (PBUH). We have noted above, albeit briefly, how some people out of ignorance marry many wives and give birth to too many children they don’t have the wherewithal to take care of. This is just a matter of misconception and inadequate knowledge.
The prophet (PBUH) is the most rational of all men, and he backs whatever he says or orders with great amount of sensible reasons—and indeed comprehensible ones.
Therefore this has become necessary upon Islamic scholars under to own up to the challenges and address issues and places of misconception in Islam—particularly in the areas of polygamous marriage, misplaced priorities, and negligence of the Ummah. It has become their lot to embark on a very rigorous enlightenment campaign in order to clear the misconception on all these and bring it to the most-plain level for the Muslim Ummah to comprehend.
Although I have not said the half of what I intended to have said, because of time and space, I am hopeful that I have succeeded in answering few of the many questions. At least, I have tried to find where the blames of the plight of the Almajiri ought to be put, and did so accordingly; I have attempted to answer the question of the historical epoch of the beginning of Almajiranci at one time and begging at the other; and their position in Islam—the problems involved and few possible solutions. As I have said earlier, the topic is very bulky one, so I thank the management of Hilal Islamic Crescent for giving me the opportunity to share my own limited views on the topic and I believe other people will continue from here and educate us more. God knows best.
Allahummaj alna mimman yattabi’oona qaula fayattabi’oona ahsanah. Wa aakhru da’waana anil hamdulillahi rabbil aaalameen.
RAMADAN LECTURE BY ABDULHAMID AL-GAZALI DELIVERED TO HILAL ISLAMIC CRESCENT ON 21ND OF RAMADAN, 1433A.H, 10TH AUGUST 2012
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13.Holy Quran, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim