Thursday, September 13, 2012



My name is Almajiri from Tsangaya, my school. Unlike what the manyan mutane (big men) are trying to do now; building classrooms and all these strange boko things, my Tsangaya is a group of huts made of cornstalks and plastered on the inside with clay. Here, we sleep in open space, even when it rains. Our bed mates are driver ants, lice and bed-bugs. You may find some Tsangayu (plural of Tsangaya) in cities nowadays. Mostly they got to the cities before the cities got to them. Put differently, the Tsangaya, in such a case, was not situated in the city; rather, the city grew around them. Just like Malcolm X said, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us; landed right on top of us…”

I will tell you something about my life as Almajiri, how we live in Tsangaya, our syllabi, and why we have to beg for food; mark the word food. I will also tell you my doubts about the government’s sincerity on the Almajiri school project, and suggest a solution to the almajirci problem.

For those who do not know the meaning of my name, Almajiri is the name we call one who left behind the comfort of his home and the love of his dear ones to live with total strangers in a life people like you only know through books like Oliver Twist in search of knowledge of the Glorious Qur’an. The only thing we take along with us from home is the iron portmanteau, may be of a granny, in which we fold our clothes, a wooden slate and a tattered copy of the Qur’an tied together with a leather string. Some of us are lucky to have their parents take them; otherwise, an uncle or an elder brother will do so for their first day at school. We don’t choose the schools; that is for our parents to decide after listening to former students and even teachers. In some cases, they just tell the Sheikh or head of the Tsangaya that a new student has arrived. We don’t fill forms; we never get admission letters or ask for one; no boko things of any sort and we do not pay any fees.

We take shelter from the storm of worldliness and ignorance in the peaceful home of scholarship, frugality and learning. We don’t need passports, visas or ID card. We go to the Qur’an, and we are welcome.

My father left immediately he handed me over to our malam. He did not give me a kobo as pocket money and I do not see anyone from my home until Sallah-break, twice in a year. After sallah, we return to school within two weeks. Our mallam has no other job and this one pays nothing; we beg for food to survive daily. Our parents are mostly poor peasant farmers but some of us came from affluent homes; their parents just want them to live a Spartan life while studying.

After my dad left on my first day at school, I was on my own, and part of the ƙolawa (plural of ƙolo), new students of between the ages of 7 to 14; I was not yet a gardi (matured independent student). As a ƙolo, my seniors showed me pepper! I got flogged all the time for any mistake.

Let me tell you about bara (begging). I will explain how, where and when we may go for bara. Not everybody begs at the Tsangaya. Once you are over 14 years, you do not take part in bara. You are now a senior student. Only ƙolawa go out for bara for what to eat; we beg on behalf of the rest. Because ƙolawa are still children, we could enter any house without risking the anger of the mai gida (master of that household).

We say: ‘ko dan ƙanzo iya’, “please, give me even the crumps, mother”; we go from house to house, looking for leftovers from the mistress of the house. We pack together all we get from this bara which are all kinds of leftovers like rice, beans, tuwon shinkafa, dawa, with miyan kuka, kuɓewa, and what not, and bring them back to the Tsangaya and everybody eats to remain alive and learning. This food of many colours, especially what we bring for dinner, is what we also have for breakfast. We do not beg in the morning. Any boy you see in the morning begging is not one of us; he belongs to something else. This is how we feed here.

We do bara for about 3 hours from around 11am to 2pm to get lunch, and between 8pm and 9:30pm for dinner. We do not have any other time to spare; our school hours stretch between Subhi (dawn) prayers to 7am; 9am to 11am; 3pm to the time for Magrib (sunset) prayers, and from the time Ishaa (late night) prayers are said until 10pm. Any beggar you see during these periods is not one of us.

We don’t beg for money and we do not clean your windshields. Bara is done only by us the young children for what to eat. We are only allowed to visit uwar gida (the mistress of the house) - she has kids of her own and will show us mercy, eateries and restaurants. If you see beggars over 14 years old in traffic hold-ups, fuelling stations, markets, and other places apart from where I have mentioned, asking people for money, they are not one of us; we cannot beg in such places. Tsangaya is not responsible for that kind of begging. If only these big men would do what they promised when they were asking everybody to vote for them, all these other kinds of professional beggars won’t come and spoil our name. I am angry at those governors, Allah knows!

Our school does not have any written syllabus; what for? We just memorise the whole Quran in 4 years, and that is just the beginning. We will, in another 3 years try to write portions of the Quran from memory until we have written the entire book without any mistake. Our malam will not take any nonsense or laziness.

During the time we write the Quran from heart, we are not allowed to take a peep at a copy of the Quran. Our malam will not as well when he is checking our work, but if you compare what we write with the printed Quran, you will be amazed to see no difference. I mean every sentence, phrase, word, full stop and comma is correct! Our final year project is to write the whole Quran again without anyone checking from time to time until the whole book is written. At the end of all our exertions, we graduate and we are called alaramma (one blessed by Allah).

When I finished, I became an authority in reciting and writing the Quran only. I would later move to a zaure (outer chamber of a malam’s house) for further studies. I got ijaazah (complete permission) from my malam to write, distribute and teach the Qur’an. All the years of toil, hardship and bara are over at last!

I am yet to decide on which zaure to attend where they will teach me how to understand the language of the Quran and other higher studies. I am also thinking of going back to my school and teaching others.

Our learning system in the Tsangaya that I have described is unique. If you go to any part of the world to study the Qur’an – Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and so forth; you will memorise it, know its meanings and exegesis, but you cannot know, for example, how many times a certain phrase is repeated; what is the textual difference between verses having similar messages, wording and intonation; you cannot, also, reproduce, verbatim, what you memorised as text; only a Tsangaya graduate can do that!

When the King Fahd Printing Press of the Glorious Qur’an opened in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, it invited more than 40 distinguished Qur’anic scholars around the world to work on the text of the Qur’an that the establishment will adopt. They went too far, if you ask me; one scholar from a Nigerian Tsangaya, who may not even speak Arabic as a language, is pre-eminently qualified to do the job; he would have done that without checking any text of the Glorious Qur’an. That is what Allah has favoured us with even before Nigeria was born!

The other day President Jonathan said the Tsangaya system is the problem, and source of Boko Haram. No, Mr President! It is not. I am Almajiri from Tsangaya, and I am not Boko Haram. Tsangaya is rather a source of pride to this nation. It only needs help with better learning conditions, well-paid teachers and better student welfare to end begging. We don’t need help with curriculum, time-table, computers and school anthem. We don’t want much food or luxury either. We wish to remain frugal so that we will concentrate on our studies better. We want school uniforms and ID cards too; at least that way, you will fish out the impostors better.

While you’re at it, don’t give all these tasks to any contractor; they will ensure you fail. Have records of all Tsangaya malams and their locations and standardize their living conditions and learning centres to make it easy for the students to learn better. Mandate the products of our school to get boko education too. Don’t run the two concurrently; they don’t mix well. The Tsangaya studies are very intense and require complete concentration. It takes 7 years, at least. Help the malams by reducing the ratio of students to teachers.

Graduates of our school do not become thugs and killers; that is the prerogative of those who did not go to school anywhere- neither our type nor boko. Only ignorance breeds hatred. Ignorance of our education makes the boko educated think we are illiterate; we are as illiterate in their language as they are in ours. Who said one is superior to the other?

We love boko too; many of us finish from Tsangaya and start the boko one afterwards. It will mean that we would start learning ABC at age 14, but we would have had 7 years of education in another field which the kids who got only boko education can only dream of. In fact, I challenge any boko professor to show that his thesis is superior to reproducing the entire Quran from memory both orally and textually. We get the best of both worlds.


Is the Almajiri School Project of the Jonathan government a genuine concern to improve our lot, or is it, rather, a political tool with which to hoodwink the gullible among our members? What is the aim behind this project? Is it to strengthen or to weaken and destroy the Tsangaya system? But why can’t we support this initiative given the huge amount, a whopping 5 billion naira, the government is putting into the formation of 100 Almajiri Schools in over 18 Northern state?

Putting a lot of money into a government project does not translate into success of the desired goal. Did the crazy amount expended in the power sector translate into more megawatts of electricity in Nigeria? Yes, the money is pumped in but siphoned out from another opening within the system, so, nothing happens. Look at the 100 Almajiri School Project under discussion, for example. Apart from the Steve Jobs-like dazzling commissioning of one Almajiri Model Boarding School each by the President and his vice, have you heard anything about the project? Media reports have it that less than 30% of such schools are almost ready but the remaining 70% are at various stages of completion, or are they? What happened to the 5 billion; so soon in the day?

The project is another opportunity for some people to help themselves to public funds, not least, at this time when public servants, sorry, public thieves steal in trillions.

Why should I support the handling of the future of my Tsangaya by people who have failed dismally in sustaining this country’s education system? If they want me to have faith in the Almajiri Project let them fix Nigeria’s dead public education section, and stop taking their children abroad for studies. Otherwise, the fate that befell the public schools is certain to engulf the Almajiri Project sooner rather than later.

Keep your Almajiri Project alive; keep stealing funds earmarked for the project; let your children take our quota as they are doing already, you will not see us in your classrooms! If you want to help us, help us within our system. Your modern buildings should be in an existing Tsangaya. If you provide feeding arrangement and wages for our instructors, we shall not have any reason to beg whatsoever.

If you see anyone calling himself one of us on the streets afterwards, arrest him and he will produce his ‘employers’ who lurk in corners with keen eyes counting from afar the money you give to the boys. I have told you our timetable and begging schedule; even with that alone you can weed out most of the fakes. Add standard uniforms and ID cards to that and you will help us a lot.


  1. May Allah strenghten you ustaz, this is a good piece at least to deflate the moral ego of the ruling elites.


  2. Mallam, thank you once again. However, you can continue to write the truth as it were, the big picture as we all know is attack on tsangaya. That is why any ignorant person can just open his mouth and say lies about it like they have lied about just anything to do with there perceived enemies. I think we are witnessing the return of the crusaders. But Allah is the best planner.

  3. salam ustaz, may Allah help the Ummah. If only muslims would diligently perform their duties to Allah; we would be able to fund the tsangaya system using zakat and charity. Alas! what we have are muslims that can’t even defend the course of islam and would rather take bags of rice and drinks to the already "over feed" kids in the name of orphanages. Don’t get me wrong please. I am not against giving to the orphans, but one need not take a close look to see that the stores of these orphanages are filled to to the extent that parts of the reception areas or administrative blocks are now used to pile bags and cartons of various food items, am also guilty of this though. Perhaps if we have the addresses of these tsangayu, we might start taking some of the food items and money to the tsangayu in order to alleviate their conditions and keep the virtue of the glorious Quran alive. It’s a known fact in Nigeria that the government is insensitive to the needs of the people. It is also obvious that what they dole out as policies are just whims meant to enrich some of the party loyalist. The earlier we realise this and take our destiny in our own hands; the better for