Between wish and substance in matters of faith By Nasiru Suwald

It was a typical Kano day in the month of June, and I was following my usual route, when I was caught in a riot near the government house.  It was an armada of angry faces and they were destroying everything on their sight, shouting and cursing the governor, wondering aloud, why a true professing Muslim could be dithering on the full implementation of Shari’a, and as one of them exclaimed violently, it is a great shame for a city like Kano to be playing second fiddle to a tiny state like Zamfara.

I escaped from the increasingly rowdy situation, pondering at the irony of how the advocacy for the enthroning of the legal dictates of the law was being executed in the most brazen act of lawlessness. Doesn’t the Shari’a, as a compendium of religious laws, frown at such anti-social behavior?

Thunder never strikes twice in a single place, as conventional thought goes, but on the 21st of June 2000, I was again caught up in the same place, overlooking a sea of heads, a cocktail of the young, the old and individuals that could easily qualify as average folks. Upon enquiry, I learnt it was the day for the launch of the Shari’a legal system in Kano. I also noticed a young man crying of joy, openly exclaiming that from that day, there will be no more poverty in the land, as the prices of basic foodstuffs would automatically crash down, also, most of the unemployed would be given jobs by the government, while the eligible bachelors and spinsters will now have the financial wherewithal to get married.

These egalitarian promises galvanized my curiosity to attend the unveiling ceremony, to witness the momentous occasion that caused such a monumental shedding of joyful tears, but the share multitude was enough to convince that the path of wisdom should lead me home. The excitement that I would watch it all on TV was promptly deflated by the obnoxious unreliability of the National Electric Power Authority. The little bit I caught however blew my mind off.  Here, on my TV, was one of those very street kids now seeking an answer and posing a question to the presenter. While professing his deepest love for what happened that day, the young man triumphantly announced that he was one of the rioters of the previous week. What intrigued me, however, was his question. Is it tolerable by the dictates of Shari’a to play loud music on ones car stereos? He demanded from the cleric.  

The cleric was obviously caught unaware. He remained speechless for a short while, with evident rage stamped on his face, and probably wondering whether such a zealous advocate of a legal cause truly understood what he fought for.

If the cleric was genuinely shocked, the overarching emotion from this scenario, as far as I am concerned was more of the dilemma confronting our region, northern Nigeria, today such that a socio-economic system, and a people, deeply in love with the conceptual context of the juridical aspects of their faith, are so patently lost in the intricate contours to understand its innate technicality.

During my young and impressionable years, there is no greater pride in Kano than undertaking a journey to the east, obviously in search for knowledge as an austere, penitent, and reflective Almajiri, who is expected to learn the essentials of faith. In fact, it was in one of such occasions that the extent of my ignorance on the vector location of the holy lands of the east was exposed.

For so long, my thinking was that my northern brothers went to Mecca any time the reference was made to the east, until one day when my late mother introduced me to a visiting judge from the east, and directed me to greet the Alkali from Borno. I was frozen and mummified, and upon recovering my poise, the first question I asked was whether the guest is an Arab from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which only drew a rancorous laughter. My mother then proceeded to lectured me, albeit admonishingly, that although Mecca is the traditional east, pointing to directional bearing for the five daily prayers, a quintessential Kano man regards Maiduguri as a revered eastern enclave of scholarly learning.

My visits to the city in the later years only confirmed my confusion about the contradictory nature of the language of an essential northerner, of whom the Late Mallam Aminu Kano, in one of those devastatingly despairing moments of electoral betrayal, said; the northerner is an adept hypocrite even to himself. The fact is that, while the city of Maiduguri is far from being a holy land, with respect to sociological vices and communal deviance, Kano city is indeed a much holier place regarding strict adherence to the fundamental rudiments of faith, yet up to today thousands of children are sent every year to the east for scholarship and moral re-engineering.

It is a trite law that a person as indeed a city cannot give what he or it does not have, while an informal, un-standardized, and unregulated system of learning that is highly prone to abuse and infiltration, cannot produce the highly skilled individuals for national manpower challenges, which is evidently the fate that has befallen the Almajiri concept of scholarship.

Where a minor is sent to very far places, where he is expected to fend for himself in a very harsh and unfriendly economic environment, while still being able to withstand the likely negative peer pressures at such a very tender age, without the necessary parental guidance and financial support, with a taught doctrine never subjected to proper governmental assessment, while his only access to technical skill is through the enterprise of exploitative menial jobs, surely that the logical end is the Boko Haram-type of orientation that I will characterize as a monumental disaster.


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