It is obvious that the mere title of this write-up may raise readers' curiosity, because it is widely believed that, current typical Almajirci
phenominon is part of Islamic culture. However my arguments would simply suggest the conflict between what Islam actually stands for with respect to seeking Qur'anic knowledge and what is obtained in typical Almajirci
I deliberately use the term “typical” to qualify Almajirici to refer to the persistent scenario whereby one sends out his kid(s) to a particular person believed to be expert in Qur'anic reading sklls popularly known as Alaramma in a remote area ostensibly to memorize the whole of the Qur’an in his hand. Incidentally, in usual circumstances such Alaramma has no regular means of sustaining even himself let alone the many kids he is supposed to take care of. Instead he barely survives on alms and what those kids would manage by all means to fetch for him. He teaches them naked texts of Arabic Qur’anic verses, devoid from their meanings or even any other explanatory religious knowledge for that matter, as he himself does not know either, being a product of the same system.
The kids thus become destitute roaming the streets begging and scavenging desperately to survive and sustain their Alaramma. They lack the most basic life necessities, like regular and healthy food, health care, security, shelter, hygiene, proper clothing etc. They remain in this condition throughout their lives until they themselves grow up to become Alarammomi, and the circle continues. This is the summery of the typical Almajirci system, however there are some extremely few exceptional cases, where the kids may not necessary wander and beg, thanks to a different arrangement made along the line in one way or the other. But this is not our point of discussion, as it does not represent the typical picture as summarily depicted above.
As societies grew, so did cultural and socio-economic and political variables. Consequently many cultures were subjected to re-examination, so was also the relevance of Almajirci system. However, Almajirci phenomenon in particular has persistently proven so hard to solve, thanks to its assumed Islamic identity. I believe the failure to address it is due to the Muslim clerics’ reluctance to tackle it from the root, which is handling it with Islamic jurisprudential instruments to determine its status in Islam in the first place.
Such reluctance was prompted by some quite subjective reasons. Some clerics shy away from taking on the issue thoroughly because they are themselves products of the same system and perhaps still derive their social influence through it. Interestingly also there are many people among the masses and even among the elite, who assume that some of those well consummated Alarammomi posses some supernatural abilities to cause harm to whoever attempts to challenge the status quo of Almajirci system.
It is obvious that, the culture of Almajirci has been rightly or wrongly associated to many Muslims in Nigeria especially among Hausa-Fulani tribes, to the extent that almost everybody among them (us) is –in one way or the other- linked to Almajirci system. I my self was once asked by an unsuspecting southern Nigerian colleague whom I met outside Nigeria, where did I serve my Almajirci? Simply because she had assumed that as a northern Nigerian Muslim, I must have had such horrible experience.
It is unfortunate that whenever an initiative is introduced ostensibly to address this issue, we hear the stakeholders wasting time in simply repeating the same historical circumstances that led to the evolvement of Almajirici system. For instance, we are fed up of hearing that the word Almajiri was derived from the Arabic word of Almuhajiroon, which literary means immigrants and in this context means who emigrate from their land in pursuit of expertise in Qur’anic reading skills. Likewise, we are bored of hearing the politically motivated rhetoric often used to claim commitment to finding a lasting solution to this extremely embarrassing phenomenon. On the other hand, we hardly hear any comparison between those past circumstances and the present realities. For instance in the past, ignorance about Qur'anic reading skills was so widespread and clerics were extremely scarce, which informed the decision of sending kids to their whereabout to learn and memorize the Qur’an in their hands. Whereas nowadays the situation is quite simple, as highly versed Qur;anic clerics are simply accessible everywhere.
Moreover, in the past, those Alarammomi were mostly located in remote areas where they led simple life by largely subsistence farming to sustain themselves and the kids, who were also partaking in the farming. While nowadays the Alarammomi would immigrate to urban areas and fight their way through to acquire as much as possible, just like any other individual. Mind you, pursuit for the worldly matter is not wrong or limited to some classes of people only, however, for such Alarammomi what moral or religious justification they have to bring other people’s kids if they barely sustain even themselves? This is not reasonable. Ironically also, some Alarammomi succeed in making huge fortunes and become affluent, yet you hardly find one of them sponsoring even the very Almajirici school he had “graduated” from.
In short a simple comparison between past circumstances that warranted Almajirici and the way it was exercised in one hand, and the current realities of Almajirci on the other, would definitely dismiss any pretext to justify the system.
It is obvious that people who send their kids out to become Almajirai are basically inspired by religiosity and keenness to get them acquire and excel in Qur’anic memorization skills, which is rightly regarded pretty worthwhile. However, what they normally do not realize is that, just like all Islamic practices, Qur’anic memorization exercise is subject to all applicable jurisprudential technicalities and principles that regulate it. Hence it could be pursued only in the light of specific principles and guidelines, which could be summarized under the following points:
1- Jurisprudential status of memorizing the whole of the Qur’an.
2- Objectives of memorizing the Qur’an
3- Process of memorizing the Qur’an.
And only approaching the subject in their light can lead to the complete solving of this controversial phenomenon. Paradoxically however, it seems this is the only perspective that remains largely ignored and neglected in the efforts to address Almajirci problem, after all other less critical approaches have been exhausted to no avail.
1- Jurisprudential status of memorizing the whole of the Qur’an.
As a well regulated and realistic religion, Islam does not give blanket classification to all its rites and values. Instead it classifies their jurisprudential statuses as per their respective criticalities. There are for instance obligatory (Wajib) rites that are also subdivided into individual obligation and communal obligation, as well as recommendable (Mustahab) rites, which are also subdivided accordingly.
It is also noteworthy that, just as jurisprudential statuses of worship rites differ, so do the implications resulting from neglecting or abusing them. For instance, the performance of five daily regular prayers is an individual obligation that every muslim adult has to observe accordingly. Consequently abusing or neglecting them implies committing a prohibited act or forbidden omission hence exposes the doer to the risk of appropriate punishment. While in case of Da’awah (inviting non-Muslims) to Islam for instance, it is a communal obligation which implies that some part of the community must undertake it on behalf of the whole community. And the whole community is considered sinful in that regard only if no body undertakes it at all.
Looking at the subject matter in this context, it is quite obvious that, memorizing the whole of the Qur’an, which is the main objective that drives people to send out their kids to Almajirci is not an individual obligation, but rather a communal one, hence remains recommendable for individuals. Meanwhile it is jurisprudentially established that, while doing a recommendable deed/rite, one should not neglect either an obligatory duty or commit a prohibited act or omission for that matter.
As such, providing parental care for children is an individual responsibility on parents towards their children, and that they would be accountable for it accordingly. In other words, parents for instance, are under religious, legal and moral obligation to provide food, shelter, security, health, education, moral and professional training….. etc to their kids. And under no circumstances they should neglect such duties and send/abandon them to the harsh uncertainties of Almajirci under the pretext of memorizing the whole of the Qur’an. Allah the Almighty would never charge parents if their kids do not memorize the whole the Qur’an, but He would definitely hold them responsible for neglect of duty and exposing their children to unnecessary risks without justification if they send them to Almajirici, because memorizing the whole the Qur’an is recommendable (Mustahab), whereas giving such care and service to kids is obligatory (wajib).
2- Objectives of memorizing the Qur’an
It obvious that every worthwhile thing has objectives it aims to achieve. With respect to the Noble Qur’an, Allah the Almighty repeatedly makes it clear in various parts therein that, the main objective for reading and/or memorizing the Qur’an is to enable individuals and communities learn how to worship Allah the Almighty in the right way, derive His Pleasure and avoid His Displeasure. That is why He simplified its texts to read and understand; hence all its teachings are practicable, as they are precisely compatible with human nature, values and aspirations.
Though it is only in Arabic language and not all Muslims are Arabs or Arabic speaking for that matter, nevertheless, it is not obligatory to all Muslim individuals to master Arabic language skills, even though it is highly recommendable. However, for the sake of learning what it takes to understand the basic principles of the religion and perform compulsory regular worship rites, it is mandatory to all able individual Muslims to learn at least Arabic reading skills.
In the process of Almajirci, it is clear that, learning the meanings of the Qur’an is totally neglected, and even learning/reading it properly is substantially compromised and indeed massively abused to the extent of stripping it from its classical Arabic form, which in turn distorts its meanings. In fact the scenario amounts to even opposing any other Islamic literature designed to further simplify the understanding of the Qur;an and appreciating the religion in general. No wonder some of them turn extreme and fanatic to the extent of dismissing all other sources of Islamic knowledge including the Prophetic Traditions (Hadith) and the appropriate Jurists' explanations. They simply “read”, “memorize” and “repeat” the naked texts devoid of their essence and goals.
3- Process of memorizing the Qur’an.
It is wrongly assumed that, dedication to perfect and memorize the whole of the Qur’an entails incurring unimaginable hardship, destitution, prolonged and exhaustive stress. Such wrong assumption motivates even some well-being to voluntarily expose their kids to such "hell" on assumption that only going through it can lead to the perfection and mastering of Qur;anic memorization skills.
This wrong view is not only wrong, naïve and uncivilized, but undermines the attractiveness of learning the Qur’an to the people and indeed generates confusion. Because how can any logic justify and reconcile the culture of unnecessary/professional begging, wandering, deprivation and frustration with Islamic principles and civilization? It is absolutely irreconcilable. As per as Islam is concerned, begging and dependency as such, and the many other related attributes of Almajirci have no room in Islam whatsoever.
Interestingly, like many other forbidden (Haram) things in Islam, begging is reluctantly allowed in some few extreme cases, and memorizing the whole of the Qur’an has never been among those listed cases at all.
As a young Almajiri grows up through Almajirci system passing through its ranks from Kolo, Titibiri, Gardi up to the level of Alaramma, he is exposed to a wide range of superstitions and heresy to the extent that they characterize his attitude. He comes to assume/claim ability to intercede with Allah to make, mar or change a particular condition for individuals and communities, and possesion of some spiritual and supernatural skills to cure illness, influence minds and manipulate circumstances. And due to his religious appearance in the eyes of the unsuspecting public, many ill-informed or ignorant people come to him with their various needs to ask for his intercession with Allah. And he exploits their circumstances to extort money from them.
Such process does not only involve tricks, but it involves committing Shirk by either dedicating a particular worship to a Jinn, or sheer Kufr by subjecting some sacred Qur’nic verses to abuse. They maintain a collection (Kundi) of some vaguely written words some of which are distorted forms of some Qur’anic verses, and some strange names of what are apparently Jinns, worshipping them and calling upon them under the pretext that they are some special names of Allah. In short in many instances it is extremely hard to differentiate between a bloody witchdoctor or magician and a deeply consummated Alaramma.
Such are just few characteristics of typical Almajirici system. And had they been addressed accordingly in the process of tackling Almajirici issue it would have been solved once and for all. Because people would simply come to realize that, it is a phenomenon that has substantially violated Islamic culture and teachings. And once this is clear the confusion it has generated will automatically be cleared.