The Almajiri system is as old as Islam in Northern Nigeria. Among the areas of West Africa in which Islam was early introduced is Kanem-Borno, some territory of which forms part of present day-Nigeria. Complex communication systems on land and water connected several areas which later came to be known as Nigeria (Balogun, 1980).
Almajiri system has been a medium of early childhood Islamic education in Northern Nigeria since the 11th century (Bolujoko, 2008). As far back as 1921, there were 30,411 Islamic schools in Northern Nigeria (Rechmuth, 1989).
The Almajiri system as an age-long tradition of Muslims across the globe developed as a result of the instruction given by Prophet Muhammed that knowledge is a cherished value and that all Muslims should be encouraged to go in search of Islamic knowledge and scholarship irrespective of the distances (Khalid, 2007).
The term ‘almajiri’ is a Hausa word for pupil or student. The word is derived from the Arabic term al-muhajir, meaning the migrant.
Historically, the term has its origin in the famous migration of the Prophet Muhammed and his compatriots from Makkah to Madinah in the early days of Islam (Khalid, 2006).
In its Nigerian usage, the word almajiri means those who left their villages or town, parents, relations, and friends in search for Islamic religious knowledge and scholarship.
It can also be perceived as the young vulnerable person who was sent to informal Islamic school in search of knowledge with out proper care and supervision or those in informal Islamic settings roaming the street, houses and market begging for money and food in order to feed and secure their lives.
The almajiri system was established as an organized and comprehensive system of education for learning Islamic principles, values, jurisprudence and theology. It was a replica of Islamic learning centers in many muslim countries such as the madrasah in Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt and Indonesia (Danbuzzu, 2013).
During the precolonial period in Northern Nigeria, the system was funded from the state treasury and ‘zakkat’ funds under the control of the emirs. Apart from this, the community supportes these almajiris most especially those that came from faraway places to enroll in these schools.
The students were at liberty to acquire vocational and occupation skills in between lessons and so were involved in farming, fishing, well construction, masonry, tailoring, etc (Danbuzzu, 2013).
This is well captured by Bala (2014), who posited that the almajiri schools, as practiced during the pre-colonial days were maintained by the state, communities, parents, zakkah (almsgiving), wagf (endowment) and supplemented by the teachers and students through farming.
Many of these almajirai in the pre-colonial era later became farmers of the northern Nigeria and groundnut pyramids. They were the leather tanners and leather shoe and bag makers in the old Sokoto Empire as well as cap weavers and tailors in Zaria city (Danbuzzu, 2013).
In most cases, delinquents have been viewed as individuals who come from less-intact families often referred to as “broken homes.
The aforementioned shows the relationship between family-related problems and juvenile delinquency in society which mostly sources from the failure or inability of the father and mother to cater and effectively take care of their children as their legitimate responsibility ordained to them by Almighty.
Almajiris are outrightly neglected and abandoned by their parents and exploited by their Mallams and members of the public as they end up facing a future lifestyle shaped by poverty and hardship.
This is because the Islamic education they receive only equips them with few skills that do not fit into the harsh and capitalist oriented modern economy that the nation operates and thus cannot offer them profitable employment.
There is an observations from many like Asuelimu (2015) who observed that almajiri system is a dysfunctional educational system, which produces children the parents don’t care for but dumped them with mallams or quranic teachers who misuse impressionable kids as beggars and means of livelihood was a time bomb the nation set recklessly with fatalistic assumption that what would be would be as if the almighty has not given man the wisdom to recreate life and environment.
It is well known fact that most parents who send their children to Almajiri schools do not provide or contributes to the upkeep of their almajiri children. This shows that almajirai are neglected by their parents which is capable of pushing them into social vices as they are on vulnerability to different young and adult criminals for their indulgent in to criminal species.
Those in the village constitute the major source of labour in farms while those in the city are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation of different magnitude (see Tilde, 2013; Khalid, 2000).
Closely related to the deteriorating role of the families of Almajiris is the issue of polygamy. This is a situation where people just for religious permissiveness, marry as many as 3-4 wives and produce as many children as possible only to be taken to mallams so as to relief themselves of the responsibilities of training them.
As a corollary, children from such families who suffer deprivation seek alternative means of survival which may only be found in the easily accessible ‘trade’ of street begging. Thus, child abuse and neglect has continued unabated in Northern Nigeria (Aluaigba, 2009). This shows a close relationship between polygamy and the plight of almajiris.
Begging is the most distracting aspect of almajiri system as it takes them out of the control of mallams, and exposes them to negative habits as they come in contact with people of low virtue like prostitutes, cultists, drug addicts, traffickers, terrorists, arsonists, etc.
These are some of the features of the almajirai of nowadays who are victims of neglect and exploitation. They are seen everywhere singing and begging for food and money, which according to Tilde (2009), are vulnerable to abuse, drugs, trafficking, and various forms of exploitation. Their conditions of living is less than average as reflected in their torn, dirty looking cloth, hungry stomach, and unkept body.
almajiris are outside their place of domiciliation in search of Islamic knowledge, which means they are not staying with their biological parent, parent mostly lower class structure or even those that are in primitive locality take the advantage of religious permissiveness, marry as many wives as possible and produce scores of children. These children are dumped in almajiri schools because Islamic education is free; some of the parents will not show up again, let alone caring for their children.
Contrary to the recent trending opinion of the emir of Kano who completely condemned the almajiranci system and attract the opinion of many others in response to what he shared to the public as his view to the system. I don’t have or share similar though with sight but what the almajiri system is all require is the total reformation through the institutionalization of the system to meet the formal national educational standard. This attempt was once been done by the Kano state government under the then Ibrahim Shekarau administration who was even mounted a Tsangaya programe that sought to address the excess of almajiri neglect and their easy transformation in to any form of atrocity in the society, this is by taking in to consideration on how Almajirai played a major role during the then Mai tatsine feud in 1980.
The call for deserved reformation of Almajiri system is the general effort. they require the collaboration of our political leaders particularly in Northern region, traditional rulers, Religious leaders and members of the community who should complement the effort of the parent and the Almajiri’s malams in oder to review the system and see where an appropriate action needs to be taken in the act of reformatory efforts, but not just giving it a mere loud voice in the public gathering rather than actions taken instead.
Raula Abdulkadir Dauda writes from Kano, can be reached via Raulerabdul6gmail.com.