Models of Qur'anic Schools in Nigeria
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
With due respect to my brother and learned scholar, Ibrahim Bello Dogarawa, I have in my five part series on Almajiri said all what he said below about the Almajiri and much more. The issue of lumping this student of knowledge with "western elites to note and reflect" does not arise here. The Almajiri are my friends and companions for twenty years now. All Nigerians have something to note and reflect about the Almajiri. In any case, both Dogarawa and myself, are Western in as much as we are students of Western education and living by its bread.
However, I think I will use this opportunity to make a taxonomical clarification on the Quranic schools that we have in Northern Nigeria, something i missed out in my Almajiri series and which did not catch my attention until I visited Guinea recently. Not all Qur'anic schools are Almajiri based, as is popularly thought.
There has been two models of Quranic schools in Northern Nigeria. One is what I will call the Guinean Model; the other, the Borno Model. The two reflect the two waves that introduced Islam into Nigeria.
The Guinean Model
The Guinean Model is the one which the Fulani have imported into the country from the more western countries of Guinea and Mali. It predominates Fulani homes throughout the North and are also the predominant in Fulani founded towns like Sokoto, Yola, Gombe, etc.
The aim of the Fulani model is not memorization of the Qur'an other than the basic last one of two of its sixty sections for use in regular prayers. In fact, memorizing the whole Qur'an by heart is not even contemplated there. Its aim is to ensure that the child is fluent in reading and writing the Qur'an and any Arabic text. The school, like the one I reported from Mamou, Guinea, is day, mostly operating in the morning, afternoon and night. Pupils at the age of seven or just after may start combining the Qur'anic syllabus with learning elementary books on Fiqh.
The graduation in the Guinean Model, from which I graduated before I went to my boarding secondary school, is with jippingo in Fulfulde, or sabka/sauka in Hausa, when a child has completed writing the Qur'an in about 480 portions on slate and reading it fluently to the satisfaction of bis teacher. By the time he graduates, he would be around the age of 11 or just beyond. He then enrolls in a school of ilm, where he will start learning the books of Fiqh, if he wouldn't be home-taught.
The child, now a tean, grows in this open-ended school that doesn't have any graduation mark or completion date. He would move from one teacher to another as he also carries himself through the routine of life: trade, marriage, etc. This school therefore doesn't produce almajiri. Pupils here are day students that stay with their parents.
That is why there is no Almajiri in Guinea or among the students of this model wherever it is practiced.
In a nutshell, the Guinean model which, as I said above, limits itself to simply learning how to read the Quran and Arabic text, has not produced any significant amount of people who have memorized the Qur'an. Even in Guinea and Mali from where it was imported, there are few people who have memorized the Qur'an. However, it has to its credit the flourishing zaures, the centers of Islamic learning in many towns in West Africa.
The Borno Model
The other type of Qur'anic School, the Borno Model, is the much older school that is practiced predominantly in areas covered by the old Borno and Kanem/Borno Empires. It is also imported into distant towns in Hausaland proper by graduates of the school. This school differs from the Guinean Model in three important respects.
One, it has a boarding component which allows for children students to be admitted from distant homes to stay with the teacher, usually a someone who himself is a product of such a system. It is very rare to find a teacher who feeds his pupils. So they live off charity. The boarding student is called almajiri, meaning a migrant pupils that has left his home for scholarship elsewhere. The term is a domestication of the Arabic word al-muhajir, a migrant for the cause of God.
All almajiri are boys.
Two, the Borno Model school itself could be permanently based or migratory. The migrating schools move seasonally from their base to other towns where the teacher and his students would weather the harsh dry season through farming and commercial opportunities away from home. They usually return to their home base at the debut of the rains. Sometimes, it would be day students who migrate to live with some teachers in distant places. They too would return home at the beginning of the rainy season where they stay at home and farm like other Nigerians.
It is important to note that only the young pupils of the Borno Model schools live on charity. The bigger ones, as I have pointed out in my Almajiri series, live on various trades.
Three, the Borno Model has the memorization of the Qur'an as its chief objective, which is a giant step beyond the Guinean model. We are indebted in Nigeria to the Borno Model for producing the bulk majority of people who memorized the Qur'an. Until recently when Islamiyya schools opened, almost every person who memorized the Qura'n by heart is a product of the Borno model. Until now, whenever anyone in Hausaland, including Fulani, wants his children to memorize the Qur'an he will send him to gabas, meaning areas under the old Kanem-Borno Empire or to a teacher who is a graduate of that model and who operates its curriculum.
Than products of the Borno Model I have never met anyone better in the memorization of the Qur'an. Their tone of recitation, even if they would be in Katsina, Zaria or Kano, is unique. Kano traditional Qur'anic schools, which have recently also excelled in the memorization of the Holy Book, largely belongs to the Borno Model. The tone and its nomenclature of the Quran - i.e the manner its students name its portions - of both Kano and Borno schools are the same. Following the dictum of precedence, the originality must be conceded to Borno, where Islam has stayed for centuries before reaching Hausaland.
I am not quite acquainted with the schools of lslamic sciences under the Borno Model. I know they do have them. Someone can help us with that knowledge please.
Certainly, the Borno Model is facing many challenges today especially in its Almajiri practice. I have discussed what should be done about it in the series. The country may decide to gradually phase out the boarding aspect of it that produces the Almajiri in preference for day schools. But the day schools must not be limited to the syllabus of the Guinean Model. It must also include other areas of Islamic sciences and, significantly, the curriculum of 'western education' (if I must use the term, misleading as it is).
For detailed discussion on the Almajiri in contemporary Nigeria, please read the following links from my blog:
We remain indebted to all scholars who preserved the tradition of learning in the Qur'anic schools over the centuries. May God reward them abundantly. They were responsible for producing the civil servants that manned various departments of government in the old caliphates of Borno, Mali, Songhai, Kanem-Borno and Sokoto. The chain has remained unbroken up to the present day. It is our hope that the ongoing pressure to modernize the schools will not break that chain but introduce the changes that will task their students with achieving the targets of both the traditional system and, as much as possible, that of basic education as outlined in our national curriculum.
Aliyu U. Tilde
12 October 2011