The Almajiri System of Education in
Professor Idris A. AbdulQadir
Forwarded By Hassan M. D. Chiranchi
The Almajiri system of Education in Nigeria
Today: Prof. Idris A. Abdulqadir, during the 21st convocation lecture of
Bayero University in 2003, was quoted as saying "The Almajiri system of
education as practiced today in the northern Nigeria is a completely
bastardized system compared to the form and conditions under which the
system was operating and its output during the pre-colonial period. The
system has been forced, especially with the coming of the British, to its
present pitiful state. During the pre-colonial era, begging was never
involved and certainly the pupils were not reduced to doing menial jobs
before they could eat"
. History has shown that, this system started in the 11th century as a
result of the involvement of Borno rulers in Qur'anic literacy. Over
seven hundred years later, the Sokoto Caliphate was founded principally
through an Islamic revolution based on the teachings of the Holy Qur'an.
These two empires run similar Qur'anic learning system which over time
came to be known as the Almajiri system.
Under the Almajiri system, during the pre-colonial days, the pupils lived
with their parents for moral upbringing. All the schools were located
within the immediate environment from where the pupils came from. The
Dan-Fodio revolution brought with it some modifications; the establishment
of an inspectorate of Qur'anic literacy. The inspectors reported directly
to the Emir of the province, concerning all matters relating to the
school. It was argued that, this period, was the height of Qur'anic
education in the northern Nigeria.
The schools were maintained by the state, communities, the parents, 'Zakkah',
'Waqf' and supplemented by the teachers and students through farming. "Bara"
as it is known today, is completely unheard of. Teachers and their
pupils, in return provide the community with Islamic Education, reading
and writing the Qur'an, in addition, to the development of Ajami
i.e. writing and reading of Hausa language using Arabic Alphabets. Based
on this system, which is founded upon the teachings of Qur'an and Hadith,
the then Northern Nigeria was largely educated with a complete way of
life, governance, customs, traditional craft, trade and even the mode of
Enter, the Destruction of the Almajiri System; the coming of the British:
The British invaded the region and killed most of the Emirs and disposed
some. The Emirs lost control of their territories and accepted their new
roles, as mere traditional rulers. They also lost fundamental control of
the Almajiri system. The British deliberately abolished state funding in
respect to the system arguing that, they were religious schools. With
loss of support from the government, its immediate community and the
helpless Emirs, the Almajiri system collapsed like a pile of cards.
Karatun Boko, western education was introduced and funded instead.
The pupils now turned, Almajirai together with their Mallams, having no
financial support resorted to begging and other menial jobs for survival.
This is certainly the genesis of the predicament of the Almajiri system
The current practice: The National Council for the Welfare of
Destitute (NCWD) puts the current population of the Almajirai at about 7
million. One can imagine 7 million potential judges, accountants,
engineers etc. being wasted away. The system as it is presently being
practiced has outlived its usefulness. The system lack good teachers and
a fairly healthy environment. The standards are very low because of the
emergence of half-baked semi-illiterate Qur'anic Mallams who use the
system as a means of living rather than a way of life itself. The pupils
struggle to cater for themselves and to support the Mallams; which takes
most of the time rather than engage in learning. The society and the
parents have abdicated their obligations of properly caring for and
educating their children. These bowl-carrying children have now become so
ubiquitous in almost all nooks and corners of the Northern states such
that we would almost be made to believe that, that is where, Almighty
Allah (SWT) wants them to be.
Allah has given us these children in trust, and given us guides on how to
bring them up and will surely ask us on the Day of Judgment of what we
have done in the discharge of that aspect of what He entrusted upon Us.
As it was rightly observed by Prof. Idris A. Abdulqadir, there seems to be
a conspiracy of silence between the parents, authorities and the society
at large. For the parents, the system provides an outlet, and a drainage
for the excess children at home, for the authorities, it is a relief that
they do not have to budget for about 7 million Almajiri children's
education and welfare. As for the elites, they care less as long as their
own children are not involved.
As the system is currently being practiced today, lots of the children
never make it. Some are lost through violence in the streets, some
through child stealing, while others are lost through diseases and
hunger. Those who make it usually complete the reading of the Holy Qur'an
and eventually became traders, drivers and so on. Those who could not
make it are condemned to menial jobs, since they have no skills at hand.
They resort to wheelbarrow pushing, touting and so on. They remain as
untrained armies available to anybody poised to ferment trouble. They
have their own axes to grind against their parents, authorities and the
society at large.
However, it appears as if the Northern states of Nigeria have a monopoly
of 'Bara'. Young and old, able and disabled have taken to streets,
on a permanent basis, legitimizing begging on socio-economic and religious
This phenomenon represents a scar on the face of the Northern Nigeria.
Nothing could be more degrading and further from the truth. Islam enjoins
man to work, to use his brain and hands in order to eke out a living for
himself. It is when all this fail, that, one could resort to begging.
For any person, who is hail and hearty, it is Forbidden 'Haram' to
In Islam, Girl child education is just as important as boys' education
because Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was reported to have said "Education is
compulsory for both male and female believers". History is replete with
stories of women intellectuals who have impacted tremendously on the
development and spread of Islamic education. Unfortunately today, the
girl equivalent of Almajiri child, presents its own social
problems; though they do not leave home, they are however free to roam the
streets, hawking, fetching water and engage in other house-hold jobs.
Most of them are enrolled into one form of school or the other. But
attendance is occasional or at times practically zero. Hawking becomes
their main occupation. The South-Eastern states also have their own share
of problems of girl child education. A recent survey shows that, more
than 50% of them end up hawking on the streets.
As for the North, yes, it is true we could blame the British almost (100%)
for deliberately destroying our indigenous education system but we could
not blame them for our collective negligence in allowing the system to
continue unabated in its present form.
Ø The system must be stopped, remodeled and integrated into our
Ø The northern states must put their heads together, through the
Northern Governors Forum, to tackle this phenomenon.
Ø The solution may not be a one shot solution, but a gradual one.
Ø The private sector should be encouraged to set up Islamiyya
primary and secondary schools to complement the efforts of the various
tiers of governments.
Ø For those states that adopted the Shariah legal system, the Zakkah
provision, can be used to tackle the problem. The Zakkah if properly
implemented as is the case in Sudan; it can provide a permanent solution
as it is better than any social welfare system any where in the world.