It was lunch time at work, the norm is as we eat, we gossip about anything under the sun, Shitnaan a colleague of mine was telling a story of her niece, they were to be speaking English language in the house but her niece always speaks Hausa language, so her aunt scolded her saying; “sai hausa kamar wata bahaushiya” and the girl was cried saying she isn’t a” beggar”. To the six-year-old Bahaushiyya means a beggar, we all laughed over it, but it stuck to my heart. I was eager to go home and discuss with Mallam about this social disease.
Upon my arrival, I sighted Mallam quietly meditating; after exchanging greetings I ask, Mallam you were a product of Al-majiri education, begging has become a social disease affecting our community to a larger extent Northern Nigeria as a whole, what will you say about Al-majirai.
He looked at me smiling lovely and said; one of the traditions states that the best man among you is he who learns the Qur’an and then cares to teach it. Islamic learning started on this prophetic advice, with the result that teaching religion to others was considered a duty for which a person should expect no reward. The system of teaching and learning the Qur’an and the Arabic language started in Northern Nigeria where the teachers in early stage depended for their living on charity or be precise Sadaqah; for the teacher is one of those persons to whom Sadaqah is prescribed Fi Sabil Allah (in the way of Allah). This noble principle, which was successfully applied in the early stage of development of Islamic education, reduced the status of a teacher (Mu’allim) to that of a mere beggar: he came to occupy socially a rather low status. He wanders from place to place looking for charitable Muslims to patronize him and give him food and shelter.
Whenever his efforts were not sufficient to procure the bare necessities of life, he had to send his pupils from door to door asking for charity. They were considered as Al-muhajirun (emigrants) who had left their homes in search of knowledge.
Mallam looked quixotic at me, he paused and asked me to go inside his room and bring him his honey which he hid. He took three spoons of it, and gave me the spoon, I also did the same. Impromptu he said, “even today a pupil (undergoing training) in the traditional way of education is called Al-majiri in Hausa, which is a corrupt form of Al-muhajir, meaning an emigrant. Don’t got me wrong, the Ulama, who were deeply learned in the science of Qur’an and Hadith, Islamic theology and etymology were highly respected in the Northern States right from the time Islam was first brought to Hausa land and the Kanem-Borno empire”, he finished belaboredly.
At that point Ummi brought Mallam his fura which she had prepared, at the same time asking me why I didn’t enter the house after returning from work, I smiled softly at her explaining, to her, how snoopy I felt until I engaged Mallam, drawing a deep breath, I told Mallam, if this was the practice in your generation, and still in my generation, then it means we haven’t evolved, I suddenly felt drained by the conversation that all I needed was a shower and a cup of tea.
In between sipping my tea and going over our conversation, I look at begging from the lens of poverty which exacerbated the phenomenon, family disintegration, which is the main indicator in the crack of the social environment, where children have the largest share of exposure to homelessness and therefore the need to beg. For a second I reflected who is to blame? Why are we not bringing up these conversations? Are we not looking at its effects?
I remembered eavesdropping in a commercial bus, a man saying after sighting a child beggar, “it has a social impact on the child and a profound impact on all stages of his life. A child cannot develop in a healthy manner, unless he lives in the right environment, going further to say it also has economic impacts because the economic situation of any country is inversely proportional to the unemployment rate of that society, as the general economic situation is reflected in the situation of the family, which increases the unemployment rate, lethargy and laziness and thus encourages family members to beg and leads to lose an element that can be effective within the country”.
The passenger forgot to add the psychological effects, the humiliation, I gulped down the tea to lessen my poignant feeling.
After looking at my wall clock which is decorated with feathers, giving it the vibe of culture and art, it was 10:00pm, pretty late, but I needed to speak to my friend Professor Sambo Junaid on this sequela which has eaten deep in to our pride and integrity, after the second beep, he picked, he sounded active and lively, I went straight to discuss with him our societal lesion, his tone immediately changed into that of worry and seriousness, I wasn’t looking at him, but I could feel his warmth as a father and a friend.
This phenomenon is very disturbing and disheartening, but we are trying our best, as at now we are trying to adopt the Indonesian Pondol Pesantren Madrasah system of education as an alternative to the existing Al-majiri system in the state. I remember hearing the word for the first time via my aunt’s husband who once worked in Indonesia before their marriage, he said their system of education employs mosques and a blend of Islamic and western education as well as adopting existing local institutions such as Islamic assembly buildings.
Though I didn’t understand fully, I will research it later.
I was lost in my thoughts and only brought back when he said, it needs our collective efforts Sumayya, with everyone giving his quota, he reiterated that all hands must be on deck for us to tackle this phenomenon, after some few minutes we dropped the call.
With a smile on my face, my bed beckoned and straight to bed and right away to lalaland and I don’t know if it is my dreams or some far away thoughts…
Beggars with a choice, which way to go?
One road leads to fortune, one to woe.
The streets are long and winding, fraught with danger and with pain,
Each step is a new decision, each choice a different gain.
Some choose to beg for pennies, pleading with a weary eye,
Hoping for a handout, praying for the passersby.
Others take to stealing, snatching food and goods with haste,
Risking life and freedom, driven by their need for taste.
But there are those who choose to rise above the fray,
Determined to make their way, to find a brighter day.
They work and sweat and toil, with dignity and pride,
Building up a life for themselves, and leaving the streets behind.
Beggars with a choice, which way to go?
The path is yours to choose, and only you will know.
So choose with care and wisdom, and follow your own voice,
For in the end, it’s your own path that defines your own true choice.
*Sumayya Abubakar is a development worker, she is an educationist, and peace builder. She is the lead of Plateau based Muryar Fulani Peace Initiative Network Inc. She runs a schools system for marginalised populations in Plateau state, North central of Nigeria and can be reached at [email protected]