Friday Discourse (93)
A Tribute to Malam Ibrahim Bakane
This piece is a tribute to Malam Ibrahim Bakane, an Islamic traditional scholar (malamin zaure) in the great city of Sokoto who passed away some months ago. The news of his death reached me a month ago and I felt compelled to say a word of appreciation to the service he rendered to our community in Sokoto as well as to the honour which the custodians of the hubbare granted the deceased.
Underneath the personal account of my relationship with him, the careful reader will easily discern the nature of the institution that Malam Ibrahim represented, the type of profession he practised. I wish I were permitted to call him ‘Sheikh’, for certainly he was one, but it appears that the highest title any scholar can attain in Sokoto is ‘Malam’ while Sheikh is reserved in reverence to Sheikh Usmanu Danfodio (May God grant him His Mercy). Thus even Balaraben Kasar Hausa, Sheikh Abdullahi Danfodio, is referred to as ‘Malam Abdullahi’ in Sokoto. I would not like to breach that protocol after the honour which the great city granted our Malam.
My contact with Malam started in 1986 when I was introduced to him by one of his students, Alhaji Sani Adamu. I went there to specifically recite the Qur’an to his hearing. That was as a result of the advise of a lecturer colleague at the University, Malam Usman Hayatu Dukku, to whom I complained of my poor retention. He had just returned from Kano, where he started his memorization program with Malam Nasiru during a Masters degree program. A friend of Malam Nasiru once had a similar problem and the Malam advised him to find someone before whom he would recite the Quran. The advise was effective because what was missing, was the link in chain of transmission back to the Prophet (SAW) and Jibril (A.S).
This made me to look for such a teacher in the town, assured that I have found the medicine to my then three-year old problem. But Sokoto, like Zaria, Bauchi and many other cities dominated by ‘Fulbe’ scholars, does not, perhaps until the last fifteen years, normally engage in memorization of the Holy Quran beyond what is necessary for the conduct of Salat and other rituals. So my choice was actually limited. Alhaji Sani Adamu eased my difficulty with the immediate suggestion of Malam Ibrahim. Malam was lucky to have arrived Sokoto with his hadda as a teenager, fresh, after completing it around 1945, according to his account.
We reached the school of Malam Ibrahim which was nothing more than the reception room of his house usually referred to as zaure. The zaure that was not more than a 4m x 5m doubled as the passage in and out of his house not only for members of his household but also for his one or two cows, which he kept as is common with most households in Sokoto city.
There was no furniture in the zaure. In one corner was his collection of Islamic literature. The collection was purely within the range covered by his students. Just near the collection was his buzu and the rest of the floor was covered with mats. With this simple provision, hundreds and possibly thousands of students were turned out over the past four decades, each competent to handle issues on Islamic law and culture. Of course there were always children learning the recitation of the Quran outside, under a shade (rumfa). They were in hundreds and under the control and guidance of some of Malam’s pupils, headed by Mustapha, a son of Malam. The school was therefore complete, with only one room and a shade, from primary to university level.
Malam received us warmly. After exchanging pleasantries, Alhaji Sani introduced me and mentioned my request to him. He agreed and went further on to generously appoint for me Thursday, his leisure day. Other days were not suitable because of the crowd of students of “ilm”, their number, the need for rapt attention during the recitation and the time it would take to recite two hizbs (sections or parts) on each sitting. We planned that in thirty weeks the recitation would be completed. It however extended to fifty, and perhaps more, not for any fault on our part, but due to a lousy Masters degree that dragged on at Ahmadu Bello University for four years.
Hafs and Warsh
I kept my appointments and Malam kept his words. Every Thursday we will cover the agreed portions. Our first station was sayakulu, then tilkar rusulu, then lantana, then walmuhsanatu, and so on. It was the first time, since my graduation from our Qur’anic school, to be introduced to the differences between hafs and warsh, the two most popular forms of recitations in Nigeria. Malam was of course conversant with warsh, while I was reciting from the hafs I learnt from Sheikh Suleiman, the Egyptian that once lived at College of Arabic Studies, Sokoto.
As we passed through the various portions of the Holy book, I would fall here, err there and many times go ‘blank’. Malam would lift me wherever I fell; he would correct me whenever I erred; and would reawaken my brain whenever I went blank. As we moved from one form of narration to another, like the narrations on Adam and Moses (AS) that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, I would on many occasions mix up one with another. Malam would clarify the resemblances in shapes and distinguish the subtle differences in the forms. Sometimes the difference would be due to an addition of a word or an alphabet; another time due to their subtraction or their substitution with another; other times, facts are regrouped or their sequence altered to meet the emphasis intended in theme or the poetic structure of the portion; etc. It is lovely.
As we went on, Malam would show me, using his fingers, the frequencies at which certain expressions or words appeared in the Qur’an, as do other professional memorizers (allarammomi) in Hausaland. Sometimes, instead of the fingers, he would speak, saying farda for a single occurrence, yindi for two, wande for three, dewu for four, and so on. With this ease and informality, Malam opened my eyes to the vast knowledge of tashbih (similarities) in the Quran long before my coming across the al-Itkan of Imam Jalaluddin al-Suyudi, or al-Burhan of Imam Badruddin al-Zarkashi, or still when I would later sit amidst allarammomi who have perfected the memorization of the Holy Book to astonishing degrees.
One other thing was of interest to me, i.e. how our traditional students of the Qur’an named its various parts, fractions and chapters. I was to realize that any verse in the Qur’an, according to their taxonomy, could only be either in Baqarah (first half, named after the second chapter in the Qur’an) or Nasi (named after the last). Strange to my ears also, they would always locate a verse by the name of the section, izu, in which it appeared, not by its chapter as we do in hafs. They would say, “The verse is in kulawallau, or lillazi, or ittaku, or kadsami.”
That aside, even the differences in stations generated interest in variety between the warsh of Malam and my hafs. Thus, while in hafs we stop at ata’muruna, they will stop two verses earlier at wala talbisu; while we stop at afatadma’una, they go on to stop a verse later at wa’iza lakullazina; while they stop at lantana, we will stop at kullud da’ami. Sometimes the differences could be greater: for example, we stop at the beginning of A’araf, they stop later at da’awe, a difference of four verses; we stop at wa lau basada, they stop at au yubikuhunna, a difference of seven verses.
These differences were appealing to both Malam and his student as they helped to drive away fatigue and offer the student a rest, whenever a break is taken to discuss them. Malam was full of cheers and humour. I always remember an incidence involving one Malam Ahidjo, an elder Cameroonian student of Malam who appeared to have memorized a substantial portion of the Qur’an during his childhood. He used to attend my recitation sessions. One day when we started jawaba and shortly reached the five repeated questions – a’ilahum ma’allah? – while we were at the second, Ahidjo mistakenly jumped the gun and said ta’alallahu amma yushrikuna, which is the fourth. Malam could not help moving his head sideways and smiling widely. He politely turned to Ahidjo, whose interruption appeared to have confused my memory, saying, Malam Ahijo, kai taka haddar ta zube tuntuni, ka hakura da saurare mana… (Your memorization has since faded, be content with listening.)
I wondered how Malam retained his memory of the Holy Book for over forty years then since he left Borno and Kano and despite his preoccupation with ilm thereafter. As I later on interacted with other students of the Qur’an that graduated from the traditional schools, first in Kaduna, then in Jos and finally now here in my home village, I realized the sharp difference between their method of memorization and our ‘modern’ one. Under the traditional form, memorization has so much been perfected that a student would require only a little effort to retain it throughout his lifespan. The allarammas also have an advantage over us, in that they have made the Quran their profession, learning and teaching it daily, while our attachment to it is, if I am allowed to put it sincerely, only casual. We are involved in many other things that tend to distract us from giving it the attention it deserves. Taura biyu ba ta tauno. May God overlook our shortcomings and forgive us.
I cannot quantify the immense benefit I derived from my recitation sessions with Malam. It gave me the hope of reaching a city of my dream in scholarship where I will be able to bring, with ease, any portion of the Holy Book anytime without the ta’ta’ah (hiccups), like the ones of Sahibuna in al-Ayyam. He showed me the path to that great city, and I tried, within what my secular activities would permit, to keep focussed within the beam he lit fifteen years ago. Alhamdu lillah. With the small distance I have covered in that journey so far, I now feel highly indebted to him. May God reward him abundantly!
It is difficult to describe the dedication of Malam to his students. Many times, one would see the sign of fatigue in him but he would not relent in his teaching. Dozens of students will come on days of their appointments, each will individually learn from the books of his choice or of his level. Whichever book you brought, Malam was equal to the task.
Almost all the students were adults of different vocations, coming on days of their convenience. Everyday, except Thursdays, they would start trooping in to the school as early as eight. The first session would vacate before zuhr, around 1.00pm. After ‘asr, as the day cools, the second session will start with different sets of students.
The features of the school of Malam Ibrahim are similar to those of others like it, found in almost every settlement in Northern Nigeria. They are the schools that have for centuries provided for the literacy and other educational demands of the society at the barest minimum running cost and bureaucracy-free. The schools are set up and run privately, individually, informally and voluntarily. Enrolment is also voluntary so that no one is deprived as a result of his position in society; fees are not charged; salaries are not paid, so teachers have no basis for strikes; there are no holidays, except during Ramadan; there are no examinations taken, so the desire to cheat is completely absent; certificates are not issued, so the case of ‘Toronto’ or ‘Chicago’ does not arise. Knowledge is sought for the true value it represents. The evil of paper qualification is exempted from visiting such schools. What a beauty!
All the above has helped to make education in such schools affordable, from structures to management. This is undoubtedly enviable. Perhaps, for this reason, they have remained resilient, despite the attempt by colonialists, as a matter of policy, to alienate them from serving the society in the wider perspective they used to do. The principal means through which this objective was achieved was the abolition of Arabic language as a medium of administration or official language and the imposition of secularism and English.
One thing that caught my attention is that Malam is not among those that vie for material gains of this world. He surprisingly lived comfortably. Perhaps it is for his ascetic disposition and his commitment to service that God eased the means of his livelihood. Long before his children would be involved in commerce, students of Malam have tried to cater for him whenever an opportunity presents itself as a sign of appreciation of the services he offered them. Whenever he has a naming ceremony for example, there will be a competition for delivery of rams and other items.
Malam does not beg for anything, big or small, from anybody, at the top or the bottom. Neither was he among those that visit traditional rulers or government houses looking for one favour or another. On invitation from the Palace, he would humbly present himself; otherwise, he remained at home. He hardly visited others, perhaps due to his teaching engagement at home. These habits have put Malam on a pedestal different from that of many in his position.
The people of Sokoto would certainly know about Malam Ibrahim better than I do. Nevertheless, I hereby express my appreciation to them, and to the Sultan in particular, for the great honour they gave Malam, who left his hometown, Kiru, in Kano State, as a teenager in 1945 and lived throughout in Sokoto, with a life dedicated to scholarship. We appreciate how he has been accommodated as a full citizen for fifty-six years or so, with no discrimination whatsoever.
This is the type of treatment we expect to find in the nearby Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto (UDU). When other places in the country degenerate into politics of local representation in the federal institutions in their locality, we expect that in UDUS, the principles of Shehu Danfodio, after whom the university was named, would be upheld. There would have been no reason to consider its VCs who came at different times from Kano, Yauri, Gwandu and now Zaria as non-indegenes of Sokoto. Sokoto, we must remember, is a fountain from which all other Hausa States drunk to satisfaction when no other fountain was running. It is the mother or a commonwealth; we expect it to accommodate all as it accommodated Malam.
It is important to note that such differences are only generated by some selfish and lazy elite who cannot get things through merit. There is no better evidence to this fact other than the burial of Malam Ibrahim. Apart from his funeral prayer which was massively attended at the Mosque of Shehu Usmanu Danfodio, his corpse also was taken directly into the hubbare (tomb) for burial. No other person in the Caliphate who was not a descendant of Shehu Danfodio was buried in the hubbare before. Malam was the first. It is a record set not by an indigene of Sokoto, but by that of Kano (bakane). “The believers are but a single brotherhood.” (49:10) In this, there is a lesson for our brothers in UDUS and elsewhere in the North to contemplate. May God reward the Sultanate and the entire people of Sokoto on this noble example! We appreciate the honour given.
Finally, may God forgive and reward Malam Ibrahim Bakane the best he would reward a teacher from his students. May a commission reach him out of every good deed that we his students would perform out of the knowledge we have acquired from him! May God keep custody of whatever Malam left behind! Certainly, God is the Custodian in whose hands no deposit is missed. As Mustapha takes over the position of his father, may God give him the capacity required to shoulder the enormous family and scholastic responsibilities that rested once on the shoulders of Malam.
For me, a visit, as soon as possible, to his grave in the hubbare at Sokoto has become necessary, after two years of absence. It will be a tribute, like our discourse today, to the gentle soul that once received me warmly, listened to me patiently and corrected me gently. Gone is the warmth, and with it also are the patience and the gentleness! But the memory of his service remains.
“As for the Righteous, they will be in the midst of Gardens and Rivers, in Assembly of Truth, in the Presence of a Sovereign Omnipotent.”(54:55)
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8 July 2001