The Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Ishaq Akintola, recently reacted to the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Mathew Kukah’s plan to train 10 million almajiri children and spoke on the imperative of reform of the almajiri system. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: What is the Islamic perspective of the almajiri system?
Prof. Ishaq Akintola: The almajiri system is not synonymous with the ideal Islamic educational system. Etymologically, the word ‘al-majiri’ is originally from ‘al-muhajirun’, i.e. migrants. This is a reference to the early Muslims who followed the prophet from Makkah to seek refuge in Madinah in 622 C.E. Nowadays, the word ‘almajiri’ refers to child beggars. These are children whose parents gave them out to teachers to obtain Islamic education. Islam came as an education-friendly creed and the first five verses of the Qur’an which were revealed to Prophet Muhammad reflects advocacy for an aggressive pursuance of education: “Read in the name of your Lord who creates from a clot of congealed blood. Read! And your Lord is the most generous. He teaches by the pen. He teaches man what he does not know” (Qur’an 96: 1-5). The sayings of the prophet (SAW) on education are revolutionary as it transformed the conservative and ignorant desert Arabs into seekers of knowledge. He commanded his followers to seek knowledge even if they have to go as far as China to get it. He instructed them to start seeking education from the cradle ad infinitum. But the almajiri system as we see it in Northern Nigeria has bastardised Islamic education. We can send our children out in search of education but not in an irresponsible manner as we have it now. This is because the same Qur’an which encourages education commands parents to cater for their children.
The glorious Qur’an enjoins the father to cater for the educational, economic and social responsibilities of his children from infancy to maturity. Qur’an 2:233 says: “It is the responsibility of the father to provide all necessary wherewithals for the mother of his children and all the children by inference.”
Here, the Qur’an makes it mandatory on the father to provide food, money, education (rizq), clothing and shelter (kiswah) for all his children within his means until the females get married and the males reach the age of 40 (Qur’an 46:15). We get it wrong where we send out little children out and abdicate all responsibilities. We abandon them to their fate in the mallam’s house without making provision for feeding, clothing, etc. The mallams also have their own blame. They turn the children into money spinning machines. They send them out on the streets and turn them into modern kid-slaves who do the washing, tilling, hawking, among others.
DT: What do you say to calls for the reform of the almajiri system?
Prof. Akintola: My response to that is positive. The system has been badly bastardised. Almajiri system as presently practiced must go. We need a modernized system of Islamic education where children learn in a conducive environment. There must be modern hostels, a good feeding arrangement, security, clinics where their health is taken care of, Shariah-compliant school uniforms and so on. Even the curriculum must change. The whole North must work on an all-embracing curriculum for modern Islamic education such that all the almajiri schools will be learning and teaching the same subjects. The subjects in the new curriculum must also include English Language and a few Western subjects like Literature, Economics, Commerce, Government and History.
Some of them should also be encouraged to go into the sciences like Medicine, Nursing, Management Science and even social sciences like Economics, Banking, Accounting, etc. Nothing stops an almajiri school leaver from reading common law or Shariah so long as he possesses the right subject combinations. In this respect, I think those in charge of the reform should provide a robust counseling system for effective guidance for all the products of almajiri schools.
This will enable those who finish in almajiri schools to continue to university level if they so desire in order to obtain degrees in Arabic Language or Islamic Studies. That is not all, the mallams must undergo training or be replaced with those who have certificates from modern Arabic schools in the North.
DT: What should be done about children going to almajiri schools without provisions for their food, clothing and shelter?
Prof. Akintola: Islam does not give anyone the license to procreate without taking responsibility. The state governments in conjunction with Northern lawmakers have a lot to do in this regard. This kind of careless abandonment of children must be criminalized. The Northern political class and the elite must come together on this. Government must muster the political will to tackle irresponsible parentage. It is a disservice to Allah to consciously dump social miscreants on the rest of humanity. Neither are the rules of fertility so elastic in Islam. While it is true that Islam has a strong pro-natalist propensity as single Muslims are encouraged to marry (Qur’an 24:32 and 4:3), to have sexual intercourse within the bond of marriage (Qur’an 7:189; 30:21 and 16:72) and forbidden from aborting pregnancies (Qur’an 19:31 and 6:151-152), it is still clear that contrary to popular beliefs, polygamy is not a religious duty. A Muslim is cautioned to marry only one wife if he knows that he does not have the capacity to cater for more (Qur’an 4:3) or even to remain unmarried if he doesn’t have the means to care for any woman (Qur’an 23:33). The prophet in his hadith also warned against unbridled polygamy when he said, “A man who has two wives but does not treat them equally will come on the day of resurrection with half of his body fallen off”. There is no doubt that that statement is meant to discourage polygamy.
DT: How would you react to comments that the failure of Muslims to tackle the almajiri issue necessitated the involvement of people like Rev Mathew Kukah’s intervention?
Prof. Akintola: Let me be frank here. Muslims have not been proactive at all on the almajiri affair. So, all said and done, I won’t heap all the blame on Rev. Kukah because if he had seen the Muslim authorities doing the needful on this matter he would not have taken the trouble. It only happens that Kukah should know where to stop. He knows the Muslim intellectuals in the North. He should have mobilized them and put his card on the table. He should also have informed the foreign donors to co-opt Islamic NGOs. After all, we all know the rat race going on between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. I blame the foreign donors too, whether from Spain or Britain or wherever. Why do they reject proposals forwarded by Islamic organizations but they are ever eager to accept same from Christian groups? And what do they give Islamic NGOs if their proposals are ever accepted? Do they think we don’t know? They know the almajiris are Muslims, how do they assume that Muslims will cooperate fully? No, we cannot. Not after what they did in the Southwest of Nigeria. Not with the kind of opposition Nigerian Christians give Muslims each time Muslims want to claim their right or introduce anything Islamic. Are Kukah’s hands clean in such matters? We have not forgotten what he said about Shariah. What of his opposition to Islamic banking? How can he now suddenly become our savior? Please try another trick. This one will not work.
DT: What is your take on the concern that Muslims give birth to children they cannot cater for?
Prof. Akintola: Yes, we do and it is absolutely wrong. Islam’s fatalistic philosophy has been largely misunderstood by the Muslims themselves. This has been responsible for many Muslims assuming that they could marry as many women as they like and produce as many children as they like without planning how to take care of them. This is the crux of the problem.
Many Muslims are unaware of verses of the Qur’an which place full responsibility for actions on the performers. The Qur’an says, “Allah will not place a burden greater than a man can bear on him. He earns the reward for every good that he does and he suffers the consequences for his excesses” (Qur’an 2: 286). It further affirms that “Man shall only get what he strives for” (Qur’an 53:39 and 6:164).
It is therefore wrong to place the blame for marrying four wives on Allah when you can only take care of just one or to claim that it was Allah’s fault that you have 21 children when you can only care for three only. It means that every Muslim will be held responsible for the number of children he brings into the world. Perhaps some of us are unaware that birth control was even practiced in the days of the Prophet Muhammad. It was done in form of coitus interruptus (or withdrawal before the exit of spermatozoa). The Islamic term for this is ‘azl. Jabir confirmed that ‘azl was practiced even after the Qur’an had been revealed and the prophet did not ban it.
DT: What would be the solution to the almajiri crisis?
Prof. Akintola: The Muslim governors in the North should come together, assemble Muslim intellectuals in the region and prepare an action plan. There is nothing Kukah has put together which our intellectuals in the North cannot do. Even Kukah can be involved in a way. How? Kukah and the foreign donors can monitor the use of funds but the real implementation must be done by Islamic NGOs in conjunction with Muslim intellectuals from the region and there are many of them.