Title: Understanding the Almajiri: Muslim Child and Youth Education in Nigeria
Author: Mohammed-Bello Yunusa
Publisher: Tamaza Publishing Company
Reviewer: Nathaniel Bivan
Tn Mohammed-Bello Yunusa’s ‘Understanding the Almajiri: Muslim Child and Youth Education in Nigeria,’ with a foreword by Dr. Sheik Ahmed Lemu, emphasises the role of children and youths as “prime movers in the development process.”
Yunusa points out that, Nigeria’s national population is youthful, which makes the development of the teeming almajirai across the country, particularly in the north, very crucial. Here, he examines the weakness of the system where “the individuals who organise the boarding Islamic schools, live on charity and expect rewards from the Almighty.”
In some cases, “the Almajiri fends for self and possibly the Mallam-teacher. It has been observed that the pupils beg for alms to pay Mallam-teachers for their services (Amali, 2005.8).”
Also, the inadequate housing structure of the pupils, cause them to end up living in their teacher’s home, which is likely to have limited space and health facilities, considering their numbers.
The research for this book was mainly done in Minna, Maiduguri, Gusau and Zaria where data was collected. The author was able to unearth the history of traditional Islamic education in Nigeria and pointed out that it had existed even before the nation was created. He goes further in his research to outline the socio-demographic profile of the almajiri pupils, covering places of birth, age, migration, and so on. He wrote on page 29:
“Migration in search of Islamic education is more the exclusive preserve of male children and youth. It is the males who are moved by parents and guardians to various Mallam-teachers at different locations for them to access Islamic education facilities.”
‘Understanding the Almajiri’ has coloured pictures showing almajirai sitting under trees or in front of their homes. This clearly explains the state they live in without any doubt. Afterall, it is said that pictures speak for themselves. They provide clear evidence.
Some of the pictures show some older pupils engaging in different businesses, such as cap washing, providing laundry services and so on. This reveals how they have evolved and are rendering service to their society. The author writes on page 55:
“Religious knowledge is basically for the advancement of the ideals of the religion with limited possibilities of generating income. Thus, in addition to the Islamic education, the pupils require some means and skills of earning some income needed for daily living.”
Yunusa’s book, undoubtedly, tries to correct misconceptions about the almajiri as simply “an ‘itinerant beggar,’ ‘orphan,’ ‘abandoned child.’”
He points out that, “As asserted by Enechi (2011), most common discussants forget that a typical almajiri is taught the values of kindness, respect, honour, dignity and honesty.”
The author, also adds that, “the lack of appreciation of the values of what can be gained from Islamic schools is responsible for the degeneration and the blaming of the institution for the production of destitute children and young persons. The government and indeed, the community ‘should be held responsible for neglecting and rejecting the Islamic education system,’ (Yakubu, 2001:17), as an organised mode of imparting knowledge and values, particularly for Islamic communities.”
‘Understanding the Almajiri’ calls for an improvement of the learning circumstances of the almajiri by “moderating the private initiative of providing Islamic education and strengthening the capacity to provide learning that meets common good and developmental goals of the country,” among other solutions.