Qur'anic School in Mamou, Guinea
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
These are my relevant observations about the picture in the email of some Qur'anic school in Mamou, Guinea-Conakry when I visited it last month:
1. The children are resident pupils, not almajiris. They do not have almajiris in Guinea. Children learn the Qur'an in their neighborhoods. We hope we in Nigeria will one day graduate to this. They go to their respective family farms after the morning lesson during the weekends. They go to modern schools on school days. Education is free and compulsory in Guinea, though there are many absentees.
2. Their teacher, Diallo, the boy standing, has a shop. It is his economic base. In fact, the school is in the space right in front of his shop. He would have held the lesson in his house. No. Money too is important and he has to earn it. He is not begging for charity. So he runs it at his shop. He is rendering a community service, you can say.
3. The teacher also has a sense of time. See him standing attending to a customer briefly before he returns to teaching the children. What a sensible use of time. Guinea is not blessed with Igbos. The Fulani are the Igbos there.
4. Diallo the teacher is wearing jeans. Can we be so liberal in Nigeria? Or would it be the Guinean piety that would one day also come to be measured by wearing the 3/4 trouser that has long become commonplace among us? I remember praying behind a Sheikh in Kano two years ago who always insist that every member of his congregation must wear a 3/4 trouser. He insisted that I fold my trouser well above my ankle. I complied simply because I didn't want to embarrass him by proving to him that his figh is really weird, very extreme. I have never read or heard where it is said a 3/4 trouser is a precondition to prayer. Diallo in his jeans and jacket is not only a Muslim in Guinea but also a scholar that renders valuable service to the community. His liberality reminds me of what I saw at their National Mosque - the King Faisal Mosque in Conakry. At the backyard premises of the mosque, I had the pleasure of watching three teams playing football one evening, each taking its turn after an hour. Come to think of it in Nigeria. Football in the premises of the National Mosque? Chineke! What? Are you crazy? Hakkun. Tafiya mabudar ilmi!
5. The girl with off-white cover behind the teacher that was 'giraffing' at the camera is about 16 years. I didn't find her reading the Qur'an but a small home written book on figh of women. The teacher was translating it to her in their native Fulani. You can see the logic: she is prepared for adulthood, equipped with the essential knowledge she needs. What a beautiful curriculum.
6. The boys and girls are mixed in their sitting. Taboo in Nigeria.
7. Can you see how neat and well-fed the children are? Can you see that they are all sitting on something, a mat or so, not on bare ground and those whose feet were touching the ground kept their slippers? Can you see that even the teacher wore his slippers for the few steps he took to attend to his customer? Have you seen any fly on any of the children or in the surrounding? The Guineans are not richer than us but they can afford to be very neat.
8. Have you also noticed the relaxed atmosphere of the class? Enlarge the picture and notice the light-complexioned girl sitting on the chair behind the teacher was laughing...with her slippers on.
9. These boys will grow up educated in French and many of them will be businessmen. We communicate with the teacher in French. The Fulani possess most of the shops in Guinea, big and small. They are into every business - men and women, boys and girls - and control the largest share of the Guinean economy. Is there a comparison with Nigerian Muslims, our Fulani in particular. As it is now only about 10% of us, mostly heads of families, are economically active - while the women and children remain to dependents - creating a conducive atmosphere for the spread and entrenchment of poverty. Can we please rise to the ocassion and try to change things in one or two generations to come? The world is a fast moving train. It doesn't wait for anyone, as Shata said in Ummarun Dandanduna.
10. Throughout the tour, I didn't feel at home anywhere as I did at that spot. I saw my past in the present Guinea. I saw the present Guinea that is just opening to the world - simple, humble and hardworking. And I could see its future too - prosperity, which I cannot see in our northern community here.
May God bless these children and their young teacher.
Guinea, I love you. I will return to you many times.
Fulbe Fouta, Jaaraama.
Please study the picture and write your own observations of the picture in the comments below.
29 July 2011