Jama’are, Nigeria: The Tsyangaya System Fast Losing Relevance

in #culture3 years ago


Disoriented sounds echo from an hurriedly assembled shelter made from dried up stems of elephant grass. Inside, over 30 children aged within 5-15 decked in dirty, torn clothes and unwashed dusty faces are bent over small wooden tablets or shredded pieces of papers bearing sections of the Qur’an. Overseeing them is a young adult, constantly observing and tutoring them as they consistently recite words from their tablets and papers. These children are here to memorize the Qur’an. They are the Almajiri.

Almajiri is a Hausa word which proceeds from the Arabic word Almuhajirun meaning the emigrant. The word refers to a person who migrates from his home to other places in the quest for Islamic knowledge. An ancient tradition and a societal norm specifically practiced in northern Nigeria, the Almajiri are student scholars in search of knowledge away from their parents in an Islamic school known as “Tsyangaya”. The Tsyangaya system of education also known as the Traditional Qur’anic school entails entrusting of children by their parents to Mallams; learned persons and teachers, for the sole purpose of memorization of the Qur’an.

Day and Night, these little ones gather at their shack rocking back and forth as they recite, in a forlorn murmur, verses from the Qur’an. They also practice writing these verses in Arabic from right to left under the watchful eyes of their guardian. These kids are meant to be models for society.

Initially, upon conception, the Tsyangaya system was a very useful means of education. Parents who entrusted their children in the care of the Mallams, or teachers, provided sufficient and timely funds to cater for their children. Moreover, the children were unified as they had small tasks to help their teacher on farms and do domestic chores for him because these teachers were representatives of Allah and helping them would be beneficial. The community assisted these schools to grow too with timely contributions and donations.

But as almost every ancient tradition, the Almajiri educational system has become a pale imitation of what it is supposed to be. As time went on, parents often abandoned their children in the schools without offering the necessary regular assistance required. The teachers now had the burden of catering for these children from their own personal funds and this proved to be very burdensome.

With inadequate facilities and resources to cater for the needs of the students, these ones are forced to fend for themselves. At almost every street corner, you can see an Almajiri with his plate begging for money, groveling for scraps from leftover food and partaking in any task to ensure he feeds. These ones are left to the mercy of society and the elements as they scavenge day and night just to survive.

Most can barely speak the English language or interact. They are easy prey for child destitution, violation and trafficking. The Almajiri system has been overwhelmed and neglected with residents even admitting that most of the boys never make it back home and live almost all their lives on the streets.
A revamping of the system or a total scrap and reintegration of these ones back to the society, curtail on polygamous marriages where there are no resources to fend for a resultant large family are a few ways forward. Else, we will continue to lose some of our brightest minds to an age long tradition that might be losing its relevance.

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