Almajiri as a consequence of Boko Haram, by Majeed Dahiru

The exclusive interview granted the Voice of America, VOA, by a woman simply identified as Falmata, may perhaps be the most far-reaching insight into the early life of her son, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram terror group.
Speaking to VOA, from the village of Shekau in Yobe state North-east Nigeria, Falmata said of her son, “I don’t know whether he is dead or alive, only God knows, I have not seen him in the last 15 years.” Abubakar Shekau is from a deeply rooted Muslim family, whose father was the Imam of the local mosque in Shekau village.
She also revealed Abubakar Shekau an “Almajiri” who left home in Shekau in search of Islamic knowledge in Maiduguri town, the capital of Borno state, North-east Nigeria.
Like most Almajiri lads, Abubakar Shekau ended up roaming the streets of urban centres begging for alms and food.
It was at Maiduguri that Abubakar Shekau came in contact with Mohammad Yussuf, the founder of the Boko Haram sect and got indoctrinated.
The Falmata narration appears to give credence to an already entrenched narrative, which provides a nexus between issues of illiteracy, poverty and general social deprivation that defines the Almajiri scourge and the menace of Boko Haram insurgency.
It is as though, the Almajiri scourge birthed the menace of Boko Haram insurgency.
In this sense, the Almajiri scourge laid the foundation for the menace of the Boko Haram insurgency by turning over socially displaced young men like Abubakar Shekau as easy prey for recruitment into the Islamist terror group.
This appears simple and straight forward enough only as long as the flow of this narrative remains on the surface of deeper fundamental issues.
Like still water that runs deep, the nexus between the Almajiri scourge and the menace of Boko Haram insurgency is deeper than the often simplistic narrative of former preceding the latter.
A careful reflection on the history of Muslim Northern Nigeria from the preceding century reveals a deeply embedded animosity towards Western ideals, values and norms associated with British colonialism.
The native population of this region with a rich Muslim heritage and robust Islamist revivalism associated with the 19th century western Sudan did not make a clear distinction between what was religion (Christian missionaries), government (colonial authorities) and the enlightenment (education); all of which are the complexities of purpose associated with British colonial rule.
The conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1903 and the deposing of Sultan Attahiru by British forces of Frederick Lugard working in concert with rival local emirates to the west of Sokoto deepened this animosity.
This military conquest rekindled in the native population the century old rivalry between Christian and Muslim powers in their mortal struggle for supremacy throughout the ages.
Following the British conquest of northern Muslim lands, there was a subsequent determination by the natives to preserve their rich Muslim heritage from the conquest of civilization through the instrumentality of modern education, which was regarded as Western Judeo-Christian heritage.
The suspicion that education was a British ploy to convert Muslims into Christians birthed the reactionary ideology of Boko Haram among the native Muslim populace struggling hard to conserve their Muslim traditional ways of life.
It is this deep-seated belief that planted the original seeds of Boko Haram ideology as a protectionist tool to withstand the onslaught of westernization, which was denounced to be in conflict with northern Muslim culture.
This reactionary attempt to conserve the culture and tradition of the Muslim North was enhanced by a relatively high level of literacy that was associated with the Islamic faith.
The pre-existence of a unique form rudimentary education among the native Muslim population, which was fundamentally the study of Arabic texts of classical Islamic works that were largely limited to theological jurisprudence, was, however, elevated to a status of Islamic education.
This created a deep dichotomy between Islamic education and what was considered Western education.
The far-reaching effect of this dichotomy was the unwillingness to embrace modern education and the consequent institutionalization of the Almajiri Islamic educational system in the Muslim North of Nigeria.
Due to the inherent inadequacies of the Almajiri system of education, that does not equip its millions of subscribers with the requisite skills to be socio-economically relevant in the modern world, it has been reduced to a menace of millions of socially displaced youths with high affinity for terrorism and criminality as survival strategies.
Like millions of other socially displaced youths in the Muslim North, Abubakar Shekau was a product of a conservative society that is steep in the culture of mistrust for what is considered Western education (Boko Haram).
Abubakar Shekau’s parents, like millions of other parents in the Muslim North, didn’t enrol him into formal education institutions and was left to roam the streets of urban centres as an Almajiri in search of rudimentary Islamic knowledge and basic sustenance.
The Almajiri menace is a consequence of a preponderance of a deep-seated Boko Haram ideology as typified in a culture of hostile animosity towards whatever is generally considered a Western Judeo-Christian heritage in the Muslim North.
The current Boko Haram insurgency is only a manifestation of a determined attempt to forcefully obliterate every imprint of a widely despised Western JudeoChristian heritage, this time not limited to education but the entire concept of a modern, democratic and plural Nigeria.
In addition to the raging insurgency, the status of the Muslim North as the most educationally disadvantaged part of Nigeria, with resultant ranking as the lowest in every available index of human development, is a direct consequence of religious and cultural choices.
To reverse this self-inflicted incendiary trend, education should be declassified as a Western Judeo-Christian heritage and reclassified in the consciousness of the Muslim North, as a universal phenomenon, which is considerably enriched by knowledge from the golden age of the Muslim world of prerenaissance Judeo-Christian Europe.
The dichotomy that was created between what is considered Islamic education and Western education should be dismantled in the hearts and minds of the Muslim North in order to remove the guilt of Boko Haram to give way to the unreserved embrace of Boko Halal.

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