Due to the inherent inadequacies of the Almajiri system of education, which 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 challenge for millions of socially displaced youth, with high susceptibility to terrorism and criminality as survival strategies.


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 that Abubakar was an “Almajiri” who left home from their village in search of Islamic knowledge to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, also in North-East Nigeria. Like most Almajiri lads, Abubakar ended up roaming the streets of urban centres begging for alms and food, and it was in Maiduguri that he came in contact with Mohammad Yusuf, 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 the Boko Haram insurgency, with the former seeming to birth the latter. In this sense, the Almajiri scourge laid the foundation for the dire terrorism of the Boko Haram by turning over socially displaced young men like Abubakar Shekau as easy prey for recruitment into the fiendish Islamist 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 waters that run deep, the nexus between the Almajiri scourge and the menace of Boko Haram insurgency, is deeper than the often simplistic narrative of the former preceding the latter.

A careful reflection on the history of Muslim Northern Nigeria from the preceding century reveals a deeply embedded animosity towards the 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 were part of the layered complexity of purpose associated with British colonial rule. The conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1903 and the deposition of Sultan Attahiru by the British forces of Frederick Lugard, working in concert with local rival emirates of the West of Sokoto, deepened this animosity. The military conquest rekindled in the native population the century’s old rivalry between Christian and Muslim powers in their mortal struggle for supremacy throughout the ages.

The suspicion that education was a British ploy to convert Muslims to Christians led to the emergence of the reactionary ideology of Boko Haram among the native Muslim populace struggling hard to conserve their Muslim traditional ways of life. It was this deep-seated belief that planted the original seeds of the Boko Haram ideology as a protectionist tool…


Following the British conquest of swathes of northern Muslim land, there was a subsequent determination by the natives to preserve their rich Muslim heritage from the conquest of the rampaging civilisation through the instrumentality of modern education, which was regarded as part of the Western Judeo-Christian heritage. The suspicion that education was a British ploy to convert Muslims to Christians led to the emergence of the reactionary ideology of Boko Haram among the native Muslim populace struggling hard to conserve their Muslim traditional ways of life. It was this deep-seated belief that planted the original seeds of the Boko Haram ideology as a protectionist tool to withstand the onslaught of Westernisation, 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 of 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 elevated to the status of Islamic education. This created a deep dichotomy between rudimentary 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 institutionalisation of the Almajiri Islamic educational system in the Muslim north of Nigeria.

Due to the inherent inadequacies of the Almajiri system of education, which 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 challenge for millions of socially displaced youth, with high susceptibility to terrorism and criminality as survival strategies. Like millions of other socially displaced youth in the Muslim North, Abubakar Shekau is the 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 others in the Muslim north, didn’t enrol him into formal educational 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 Judeo-Christian heritage, in this instance not limited to education alone, but includes the entire concept of a modern, democratic and plural Nigeria.


This peculiar form of Muslim culture, which holds formal education in contempt as a Western Judeo-Christian heritage is uniquely Northern Nigerian, with no parallel anywhere in the Muslim world. Historically, the Muslim world had always been receptive of education from whatever source and by whomever. As far back as the 9th century AD, Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun established an academy, famously known as Dar al-Hikma (House of wisdom) for the purpose of learning in Baghdad. The study of medicine, philosophy, mathematics, geography, alchemy and other forms of natural sciences were appropriated from the earlier works of preceding civilisations. From the world of Hellenism came the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Plato and Galen, which were studied and translated into Arabic with the invaluable help of Arabic speaking Christian scholars from the Levant and Asia minor. This period in the history of the Muslim world was regarded as its golden era and has continued to inspire successor Muslim nation states into rapidly adapting modernity without reservations.

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The current Boko Haram insurgency is only a manifestation of a determined attempt to forcefully obliterate every imprint of a widely despised Western Judeo-Christian heritage, in this instance not limited to education alone, but includes the entire concept of a modern, democratic and plural Nigeria. The Boko Haram insurgency is a reinforcement of the Boko Haram ideology, now given impetus by a global Islamist revivalist movement that seeks to re-establish a unified Islamic State. As a result of a ground made fertile by a deep seated animosity towards whatever is considered as part of the Western Judeo-Christian heritage, northern Nigeria easily got entangled in the raging clash of civilisations between radical Islam and the western civilisation. In addition to the raging insurgency, the status of the Muslim North as the most educationally disadvantaged part of Nigeria, with a resultant ranking as the lowest in every available index of human development, is a direct consequence of these unique 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 pre-renaissance 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.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.