by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN, with MOSHOOD JIMBA on FEBRUARY 21, 2014:
In a well-attended October workshop at Duke on Islamic Institutions of Higher Learning in Africa: Their History, Mission and Role in Regional Development, which drew a number of scholars and administrators from the U.S. and Africa, Dr. Moshood Mahmud Jimba (Kwara State University, Nigeria) presented a paper on ‘The Role of Al-Azhar University in Educating the Nigerian Youth: Ilorin – Al-Azhar Institute as a Case Study.”
(Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, Egypt, was founded in the tenth century as a centre of Islamic learning is today the chief center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world)
While he was at Duke, I had an opportunity to interview Jimba on the impact of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University on Islamic higher education in Nigeria, as well both the positive contributions of Islamic higher education to society and its limits (within the Nigerian context).
First, Bio-Data on Dr. Moshood Jimba:
Jimba was born in 1963 to a Muslim family in the city of Ilorin in North Central Nigeria; one of the big cities in the country and the capital of Kwara State. In 1975, at the age of 12, he was admitted to Azhar Institute, Ogidi, Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria where he spent the next six (6) years. At the age of eighteen (18), he went to Egypt to complete his secondary education; spending two years at the Institute of Foreign Students (ma’had al- bu’uth al-Islamiyyah) Cairo, a branch of Al- Azhar secondary school reserved for non-Egyptian Al- Azhar students.
(Secondary education in Nigeria is roughly equivalent to middle school or high school in the U.S. and it typically goes from age twelve (12) until around age eighteen (18 ).)
In 1983, at the age of 20, Jimba enrolled at Al-Azhar University, Cairo in the Faculty of Arabic language and graduated in 1987. After graduation, he went back to Nigeria and was employed by Kwara State Teaching Service Commission to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at the secondary school level.
He later joined Kwara State Univrsity, College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies, Ilorin, where he taught Arabic language & literature for thirteen (13) years and rose to become Chief Lecturer, having headed the department of Arabic language, and having served as Dean of School of Languages, School of Mass Communication and Directorate of Students Affairs at various times. He joined Kogi State University in Nigeria in 2006 as a Senior lecturer and also worked as an adjunct lecturer at the Universities of Ilorin, Kwara State, Ado- Ekiti, (Ilorin Campus) and Nasarawa State respectively.
In 2012, after six (6) years at Kogi State University, where he headed the department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, he moved to Ilorin to teach at the Kwara State University, where he is currently the Director of Centre for Ilorin Manuscript and Culture. Jimba specializes in Arabic language and Arabic literary criticism and Arabic-English-Yoruba translation. (English is the official language in Nigeria, while the other major languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Nupe, Edo, Fulfulde and Kanuri, among others).
What is your paper about?
It’s on the role of Al-Azhar University, Cairo in educating the Nigerian youth at the Al-Azhar Institute, Ogidi, Ilorin, Kwara State. The institute, which was established the year I was born, is now 50-years-old. The Ilorin branch was the first in the whole of West Africa to be affiliated with Al-Azhar University. Later on, I think in the early 1990s, Al-Azhar started another one in Kano and then in Maiduguri, both in Nigeria.
What did you find?
The impact was quite tremendous. First, I tried to look at the scholar who founded the institution, Sheikh Muhammad Kamalud- din al Adabiy, a renowned and erudite Nigerian scholar who had a very good working relationship with the Egyptian authorities. He was invited to Egypt in 1962 to meet with the then-Rector of Al-Azhar, Mahmood Shaltout, and he signed an MOU to establish the institute in Ilorin.
I have been told that since it was founded it has produced more than 2000 graduates from across Nigeria and from some West African countries.
What is the educational structure of the school and for how long do students attend it?
It is a seven-year program that starts with one or two years (as the case may be) with Yoruba as the language of instruction; then 3 years of junior secondary school; then 3 years of senior secondary school ( with Arabic as language of instruction). It is purely a religious school.
What does that mean?
You will be trained as a scholar either in Arabic language or in Islamic studies or Sharia law. It’s not a degree- awarding institute (you need to go to University for that). However, part of what I say in my paper is that, despite the fact that this is purely a religious institution, Al-Azhar in Ilorin has been able to inculcate in its students a rudimentary knowledge of science, mathematics, physics, biology. I mean the basics; not at the level that you might find in government- run secondary schools.
What are the benefits to society of having this kind of Islamic religious training, as opposed to attending a secular secondary institution?
The benefits are quite enormous. First, the institute contributes to the eradication of illiteracy in our society since the government cannot do it all alone, as it needs the contributions of individuals and corporate organizations. Secondly, graduates of this kind of institute are different kinds of citizens entirely. This is because they are well equipped in character as well as in learning. Good morals and God-fearing are the bases of their training.They are groomed to become good and exemplary citizens; not causing a nuisance. They contribute to the peace and stability of society. They do not give the government much trouble; by and large these graduates don’t participate in acts of hooliganism, cultism, drug addiction, and other vices that are commonly found among students of public schools in Nigeria.
When students study history or social studies at the institute, what parts of the world does it cover?
It’s not deep geography. It’s the elementary type that covers countries of the Arab world. However, students end up knowing more about Arab countries and less about our own geography. I point out, in my paper that Al-Azhar should look into this area and include Nigerian geography and history in the current curriculum being used at Al-Azhar institutes across Nigeria.
At my alma mata, Ilorin Al-Azhar Institute, a pure Al-Azhar curriculum — which is imported from Egypt and based on the Egyptian customs, culture and environment — is being used. The lecturers are mostly Egyptians. This is good to some level, because students need acculturation. They need to have firsthand contact with the native speakers of the language and that is the reason why the Federal Government of Nigeria has established two language immersion ‘villages’ for Nigerian students to study Arabic and French languages in Nigeria.
But at the same time, when one learns the Arabic language using a book produced in Egypt, all the examples given in the book are based on the Egyptian environment, their cultural life and all without giving any consideration to the students’ immediate socio-cultural environment. In this circumstance, students would have to struggle hard to be relevant in their socio-cultural milieu. Apart from the curriculum, Al-Azhar should train their teachers on how to teach the Arabic language to non- native speakers, so that they don’t adopt the system that they use for the Egyptian students.
However, despite all these challenges, Al-Azhar institute, Ilorin has been able to perform wonderfully well, producing many great scholars and enlightened minds. We have lots of great scholars, thinkers who have passed through this school. They are doing fine and are contributing immensely to national development today.
What do these scholars go on to do?
The graduates have this zeal to go forward to pursue a university education in the Arab region or within Nigeria. The majority of them have gone further in their education up to the university or tertiary level. They go for the study of Sharia, Arabic language translation, and education; that’s one aspect. Others go for sciences or other fields, including agriculture and medicine; and some even banking. Some of them have become clerics of great repute. Many of them establish their own schools. Some become great administrators and career officers in government ministries and parastatals, while others become university dons and professors in the fields of Arabic/Islamic studies and law. Our instructors really imbibe the spirit of ‘wanting to learn’ in us.
What do the majority end up studying at University?
Between 10-15% go for these other fields, but the rest choose Arabic, Islamic Studies or Sharia Law. Sciences carry a very narrow percentage.
Have these Ilorin students made a difference in Nigeria?
Nigeria is a very big country. We have at least five (5) of them who have become professors. Some of them have passed away, while many are still active in Nigerian society. You can’t ignore their contributions to Nigerian society. Some have written books that are used in secondary schools and universities.
Do they influence members of the Nigerian government?
Probably not. Nigeria is a different country. We, as scholars, don’t just have much influence on the politicians. They are in a world of their own. They don’t allow outsiders. To influence the government means that you must be in the mainstream. Unfortunately, most of Muslim scholars in Nigeria are running away from politics. They perceive it as a dirty game, which can corrupt people. I believe this must change. The problem we have in Nigeria is that Nigeria it is a very difficult country to rule and to understand. It is quite different from most countries in the sense that citizens don’t know much of what happens in government circles. So, if you want to beat them, then you have to join them.
How does education impact your society?
I wouldn’t say it’s really impacting on the society that much; it’s unfortunate. The educated ones are given the tools to work. Let me say that maybe they are appointed as ministers, or as commissioners at the state level, or as ambassadors, but they cannot do much. This is because the moment they get in, they become inactive and incapacitated; as they dance to the tunes of their employers. He who pays the pauper, they say, dictates the tune. Even the so- called ‘radicals’ or ‘elite’ easily become ‘absorbed’ the moment they get into the system.
Many Nigerians, including government officials, go to Saudi Arabia almost every year, and they go to South Africa and European countries — and find that everything is working there. There is a constant power supply. Water runs regularly into their homes. There is security. … They will go there and see this, but with little or no attempt to try to replicate this back home. They prefer to go there and invest their money, because they believe that Nigeria is not safe for them.
The only problem we have is corruption and that is why education is not impacting much. If corruption was taken out of Nigeria today, the country would have all it takes to be one of the greatest economies in the world.
Whenever Nigeria is in the headlines in the U.S. lately it is usually to do with corruption or to do with terrorism by Boko Haram. That sect, according to a Reuters report, “has killed thousands in its attempt to carve out an Islamic state, in a country split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.”
Such things do happen, but not as is being exaggerated by the Western media. Within my short stay here in America, I have seen on the TV, heinous crimes being committed on daily basis in America that are really shocking. If all this can happen in America with all its technological advancement and the wherewithal to combat crime, then what would you say of a third world country like Nigeria? Nigeria is not all about negative stories, and no country in the world today is without her own social vices. But despite the challenges, the country is still very safe. I invite you to come to Nigeria and see things for yourself. Not all the negative reports that the Western media carry on Nigeria are true.
What would you like to say to people about your country, Nigeria, and about the academic institutions that you think they don’t know?
Well what I want to say is that despite the challenges of leadership in Nigeria, despite the challenges of very inadequate or decaying infrastructure, you know we have people of honor who are struggling to make Nigeria a better place to live. Nigeria has produced great scholars in the field of Arabic and Islamic studies such as Shaykh Junaid Al- Bukhari, the late Waziri of Sokoto, Shaykh Muhammad Kamalud-deen Al-Adaby, Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Ilory, Shaykh Nasiru Kabara, Shaykh Salih Al-Husainy etc. It has also produced academic giants in the field of English language such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and more. We have a lot of Nigerians in the Diaspora; most of them whom are icons in their areas of specialization. They work in America, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and other places as expatriates, but they were produced in Nigerian universities. The Nigerian environment is not conducive for them to give their best. If Nigeria, as corrupt as it is labelled today, can produce great scholars like those mentioned, then there is light at the end of the tunnel.
More information on the scholars who presented papers at the “Islamic Institutions of Higher Learning in Africa: Their History, Mission and Role in Regional Development” workshop at Duke University, October 2013.
This article was made possible by the Transcultural Islam Project, an initiative launched in 2011 by the Duke Islamic Studies Center —in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies— aimed at deepening understanding of Islam and Muslim communities. See www.islamicommentary.org/about and www.tirnscholars.org/about for more information. The Transcultural Islam Project is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
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