The term Almajiri is the Hausa domestication of the Arabic word al-Muhajir which means migrant. In those days and the present, there are various types of migrants with some even called by their host communities ‘illegal immigrants’ and face the threat of deportation. In this article I intend elaborate the status of migration in Islam and the types of migrations permissible or even prescribed in Islam to see where the present day almajiri practice characterised by urchins roaming the streets of towns and cities fits in.
In the first place there are two types of migration; whereby the first category is mental and spiritual which is incumbent upon all Muslims, everyone according to his capacity. That is the migration from evil to good, from virtue to grace and so forth until one equips himself for the role of khilafah Allah on earth; that is the representative of God on earth. Such a person whose heart is filled with the positive attributes of God is a personality that exudes nothing but virtue and grace; that is insan al-kamil; one with a fulfilled humanity. It is actually not compulsory upon everybody to reach the highest station but one must do as much as possible to always be a wayfarer; migrating from vice to virtue. This kind of migration is what is often misconstrued by saying the Prophet said everybody must migrate in search of knowledge; virtue is interchanged for knowledge.
In the second category of migration may be found migrations that were (the past tense is used intentionally because there were kinds of compulsory migrations that are now impossible) circumstantially compulsory and some migrations that are absolutely voluntary. One of such is that in which a person finds himself in a state of weakness, denied practicing his religion or other essentials of life; simply put, one under persecution. Such a person or people are challenged to migrate to where they would not be persecuted as the Qur’an emphasised the necessity of migration from such conditions by the question: “is the land (earth) of God not sufficient?”. The contemporary example is the case of the Rohingya Muslim. This is a typical case of where we must admit the reality of the fact that religion must go with time because the Rohingyas cannot migrate today, something which would have been equivalent to disobedience to God, due to the modern concepts of nation state and citizenship which the Islamic countries uphold more than any other. The Quran did not limit the number of people going to, nor does it require international passport and visa to perform Hajj. Today, one family determines how hajj is conducted; one may even fulfil all the requirements but get booted out at the airport because one has kola nuts in her baggage. Another allowed migration is when someone finds the society he lives in uncomfortable for him, that person may migrate at will not because he is persecuted. One may also migrate temporarily to other lands with the intention of seeking wealth or something else to come home after achieving his goal; the nomads, for instance are in constant migration from one region to another as the seasons dictate. This is also facing threat from modern values of statehood and the rest.
However, no one should migrate, or be forced to migrate from his place of comfort; where he enjoys care and protection from either family or society to where he may be maltreated, ridiculed ,enslaved and lack food, shelter and clothes. Migration should be, even as commonsense shows, always for better. It should also be noticed that only an adult can decide to migrate; no one should decide for a minor to go through an ordeal for any purpose whatsoever. In fact the Prophet said our children are God’s trust to us and everyone has the responsibility of looking after his children, everybody would also give an account of the trust given to him (his children). Sending a child to be an almajiri is like chasing him out of your house, from the comfort of his mother’s laps into wander land. What an evasion of divinely assigned responsibility. You hurt his mother because that emotional bond between mother and child can never be broken; she would always miss him, thinking in every passing night that her child would sleep in God knows where. But due to sheer irresponsibility and ignorance, both emotional and otherwise; one over rules the emotions of the mother and the sorry state the child would find himself into, just because you are the boss; the pharaoh of the house.
The Almajiri system, or tsangaya as it is alternatively known, in itself was use then when we had only a few scholars. At its historical appearance on the stage of the history of Northern Nigeria, it was an organised system of education that covered the whole gamut of Islamic learning; values, theology or kalam, tawhid and the Qur’an itself from which all are derived. However, history shows that even at that time, it was mature people who could decide to go out in search of knowledge whereby some of them even chose to become lifelong students; mastering a significant number of branches of Islamic knowledge; such that some of them would know every single dot in the Qur’an and why it was put where it is; they were the people who used to produce handwritten copies of the Qur’an for circulation. One needed a kind of certification (not certificates) known as Ijaza before one could be recognised as knowledgeable in a certain field; the Maliki order of jurisprudence was what held sway in Northern Nigeria at time whereas the theology was Ash’ari Occasionalism in substance. Therefore, one might be a master of one or more of these fields known in Arabic as Ulum. Medieval sciences such as mathematics, geometry and alchemy were also taught depending on one’s capacity and desire to learn them.
What made it respectable at the time was the fact the students were always in business of learning; having no time to roam the streets begging; they mostly supported themselves using the scarce allowance of time to do certain chores for people in the neighbourhoods, in some cases, well to individuals often volunteered to support some of them whereas some might be supported by their well to do parents from home. Other sources of sponsorship such as sadaqat and awqaf, which have disappeared and misconstrued, shall be discussed in forthcoming articles of this series. Thus; they were respectable people right from the time of their embarkation in search of knowledge. Some do return home after attaining a certain level of knowledge while some continue to revisit their scholars for more knowledge on periodic basis. It was, therefore, a system that used to produce responsible teachers, guides, judges and good role models for the society.
Today the system of tsangaya has been abused and turned into various forms obnoxious malpractices like child labour, child trafficking and so on and so forth depending on the objective of the father and that of the purported ‘mallam’, himself less likely certified in any of the branches of Islamic sciences. Many people today feign knowledge just to live off the sweat of little children.
In my next article, I intend to present to the reader a picture of the sordid condition of the almajiri of today’s Northern Nigeria; likely the only spot on Earth where it exists and, if time and space permit, suggest practical measures that I think can be used to do away with this socioeconomic cankerworm called “almajirci”.