Discussing African Tsangaya Models for Nigeria By Isa Ali Pantami

I have been opportuned to visit some modified Tsangaya schools in Africa and other continents such as Malaysia (2009), Egypt (2007 & 2009), Saudi Arabia (2006, 2008 & 2009) etc. I also developed interest in following Tsangaya system(s) of many countries, such as Sudan, Indonesia, Mauritania and Mali. They have very similar methodologies but slightly differ in their approaches and ways of handling their socio-economic challenges. However, some models are highly technical for our adoption, at least for now, because of their economic demand and expertise. But, I intend to discuss some African models superficially in order to propose a model for our sinking darling Nigeria in an attempt to contribute towards saving the Tsangaya Systems and the country in general from drowning ultimately.

Before that, I wish to clear some misconceptions and injustice many Nigerians might have about Tsangaya pupils. It is our mentality whenever and wherever we see dirty and downtrodden children roaming about, begging in market places or stations to always assume they are Almajiri, pupils of Tsangaya, while the reality of the situation is far from that. Many of these beggars have no relationship with Qur’anic studies and only partake in begging as a way of life, no more, no less. In line with this, whenever we are discussing about integrating  “Tsangaya”,  we should always address these unfortunate kids differently, because it requires different effort from that of Tsangaya. This has been confirmed through an empirical investigation conducted in three Northern states. However, to be fair, a substantial number of them are from Tsangaya. But genuine Tsangaya pupils mostly resort to people’s homes in towns and cities for sourcing their food; they usually have/had what they called “Uwar-daki”- adopted mother, who takes care of some of their basic needs. Another interesting point is that, Tsangaya schools in rural areas and villages are far off from social vices we always complain of. Places where these challenges exist are mostly associated with Tsangaya pupils/students of urban cities.

A prophetic framework has been adopted in x-raying different models originating from different countries. The infallible Prophet (Pbuh) says: “The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Qur’an will be with the honourable and most obedient Angels and he who recites the Qur’an and find it difficult to recite, doing his best to recite it in the best way possible, will have a double reward”. (Agreed upon by Bukhari & Muslim RH).

This prophetic reminder emphasises the obligation of learning the Qur’an. Any believer in the Qur’an must either be proficient or a learner. Proficient here means one who reads the Qur’an in accordance with the rules of “Ilmut-Tajwid”- the science of Qur’anic recitation, as is evident from the words of Imam Bukhari’s narration and the title given to one of his chapters. This prophetic message also highlights the merits of the reader of the Qur’an who does not know “Ilmut-Tajwid”, and for that reason cannot read it fluently and eloquently. But in spite of this weakness, he reads it with great effort. He will be given a double reward, one for the difficulty encountered in reciting it, and another for reciting it. That is why the history of traditional Qur’anic school system commonly known as Tsangaya School is almost as old as the history of Qur’anic revelation.

In Sudan, the Tsangaya System is popularly called “KHALWA”. They are established by various Muslim communities in the country, in order to serve Qur’anic needs of their communities through a well-grounded curriculum based on learning the Qur’an and its sciences. In 1912, an establishment was established in accordance with the Azhar Institute at primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Students after memorising the Qur’an, join these institutions for a short period of time and finally enroll in a university. There are some prominent Tsangaya Schools such as Khalawiy of Wadul-Fadni, Shaykh Taha Al-Batahani Academy, and Omdurman Al-Jadida School. Their main sources of funding are contributions from pupils’ parents, Zakat, governmental assistance, organisations and philanthropists. Students of Khalwa in Sudan do not beg, they only memorise the Glorious Qur’an and partake in vocational training designed for them by their proprietors and/or governing bodies.

The “Khalawiy” model school, consists of Masjid, hostels, dining hall, clinic, sufficient and hygienic toilets and washrooms.  Education is free- no tuition fee of any kind. Admission is free for all. However, a certified medical report is required before admission. Students admitted to “Khalawiy” only report to school with their clothes. They are always fed with three-square meal. And different dishes are always available for students who find it difficult to eat the local food served, until they adapt to the weather of 39 degree Celsius and food. The school maintains an animal farm which generates revenue for running some of its affairs. Similarly, they usually receive contributions from students’ parents, philanthropists, individual zakat and the government.

The Tsangaya Schools are established and managed by their proprietors, not government. One amazing thing is, students who graduate from the Tsangaya Schools automatically enrol into the public schools. After memorising the Glorious Qur’an, they are requested to undertake an aptitude test which will officially allow them gain admission into secondary schools or universities directly, according to their ages and performances. However, the government of Sudan made an attempt to hijack the school and enrol them into their educational system without success.  This failure did not prevent further efforts towards integrating and developing new frameworks by the school proprietors and their governing bodies. 

In Mauritania, Tsangaya Schools are locally called “Mahraza”, and until the country’s independence in the same year with Nigeria, these Tsangaya called “Mahraza” was the only educational system, and the only way of acquiring knowledge. “Mahraza” was a self-sufficient system established and funded by local communities to cater for their children without demanding monetary assistance from outside to provide classes, rooms or foodstuff for their pupils/students. Only one scholar is mostly assigned to take care of a single school, who also teaches the Glorious Qur’an, Arabic language and law, and he is assisted by older and more learned students teaching the younger ones. Like Tsangaya Schools all over Nigeria or elsewhere, the “Mahraza” system is ready to admit students of all ages at any time until the intervention of their Ministry of Education. Even before then, the graduates of “Mahraza” served not only as Qur’anic instructors but also as teachers of religion in government schools and judges all over African countries. After the government subsequently hijacked the system, it started diminishing until its presence became unnoticeable both technically and spiritually. 

In Mali, the Tsangaya system is locally known as “Madrasa”, which originated from an Arabic word, because Mali had an ancient tie with the Arabs, particularly the Magrib. After the intervention of UNESCO and Mali Ministry of Education, their national language, which is written in Arabic script, has been maintained as the medium of instruction and the sciences of religion are taught alongside worldly courses such as hygiene, mathematics etc. These schools were integrated and handed over to their respective scholars. A Shaykh or locally called “Marabut” without pedagogical training remains in charge of all spiritual matters and teaching as well. Some teachers completely handed over their “Madarasa” to the government, and they were selected to receive training and assistance elsewhere through the government, which finally ended their schools. 

Tsangaya schools in Mali were originally established with the main objective of teaching Qur’an and vocational skills, and subsequently find jobs for their students. So many renowned local scholars with vocational training had been produced through the system before it finally lost its spirit and substance as a result of an evil intervention under the pretext of integration.

In the Tsangaya School I once enrolled, students/pupils were allowed to enrol in public schools (to acquire worldly knowledge) from morning up to 3 p.m, and start their Qur’anic lesson of Darasu, Rubutu and Qami from 4p.m. until Subhi, with breaks between 6p.m.-8p.m. and 11p.m.-4a.m. During weekends, students usually go to the school farm and work in order to take care of their needs. As a result of that, some students benefited a lot from this model by acquiring Qur’anic knowledge, worldly knowledge and agricultural skills. Currently, we witnessed some gigantic effort towards that direction in Nigeria, in some boarding Islamic schools like Al-Bayan School, which I happen to be a member of its board of Governors. This is definitely another wonderful achievement by a community towards integrating Qur’anic school and take pupils off  begging, lack of worldly training and social vices of any kind. The main source of funding comes from parents, philanthropists and internally generated revenue through organising evening/weekend classes for adult education.

Similarly, I visited another inspiring Tsangaya boarding school in Alkaleri established by Alaramma Bala and his associates, in which students memorise the Glorious Qur’an within two years and understand its sciences including its interpretation with only little contribution from parents and local communities. In this school, pupils are not allowed to enrol in any other school or vocational training within the period of memorisation, but after graduation, are strongly encouraged to enrol in public schools. 

Furthermore, from the models we have so far discussed, I wish to remind us of a wise proverb by a pious predecessor which says, “Wisdom is the lost property of a believer, wherever he finds it, he grasps it.” Definitely, a word is enough for the wise. May our Lord give us the ability and the wherewithal to grasp wisdom wherever and whenever we find it.

I am presently in Bauchi for over a week now, enjoying the company of students of my darling modified Tsangaya School and a weather of over 40 degree celsius. Alhamdu lil Laah, what a wonderful holiday! 

Mr. Pantami (isapantami@yahoo.com), an Islamic cleric, is a lecturer at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, and Ph.D Candidate (Computing & IT) in the United Kingdom

 


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