The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II, was recently reported to have suggested that mosques be used as primary schools in parts of the Northern States of the country. In making the suggestion, he alluded to the probability that it would save the states concerned the money they would have spent in the construction of new classrooms in these lean times and that such savings would be channelled into educational manpower development. He cited an example in Morocco where such combination of a religious structure and a conventional educational institution is working seamlessly. For effect, he said that such an arrangement will wipe off the wrong notion that Islam is against western education.
The royal father means well by putting forward such an elegant postulation. The only snag is that we are Nigerians and not Moroccans. Morocco is a country where Islam as a religion is practiced by almost everybody and a very thin line differentiates Islamic studies from western education. So, the combination the Emir referred to is possible because there is a unanimity of faith in Islam.
Furthermore, the revered Emir based his suggestion on some assumptions that we know are faulty. It is erroneous, in our opinion, to imagine that turning mosques into conventional western educational institutions will suddenly change the mind set of those sold on the idea that that system of education is ‘haram’. On the contrary, it is likely to harden their position. They may even consider it a contamination of Islam to teach such subjects in a mosque.
Also, the thinking that all primary school pupils are Moslems, even in Kano, is decidedly misplaced. They are in the majority, no doubt, but there are a sprinkling of other faiths whose beliefs ought to be respected. If the Emir’s position is adopted and pupils from those faiths are compelled to take lessons in a mosque, then, there is a likelihood of misconception if not misinterpretation. The state government may not be able to handle the backlash. Religion in the country today is a very sensitive issue particularly with the speculation that there is a plan to Islamise the country. We may not agree with that school of thought but it is there and simmering. Turning the mosques as an extension of conventional schools will only add credence to it and the authorities would have wilfully played into the hands of mischief-makers who will try to make a capital out of it.
If the governments of the Northern states buy into that suggestion, it will, in our view, create an unintended dislocation in the school system that maybe difficult to manage.
Even among observers of public affairs in the country, Moslems included, there is an ongoing argument about the negative effect of what is seen as radical Islamic teachings in the mosques on the young ones and their correlation to the emerging fundamentalism in Islam. The Northern States and, indeed, all the states in the federation need to uplift their school infrastructure base but certainly not along the line suggested by the royal father. In the states, there is always budgetary allocation to all sectors of the economy. Infrastructure whether it is education, health, roads and the like receive allocations. The government there must see the necessity to apply them appropriately. They may reduce the volume of application as dictated by available resources. That will be understood. The argument that the times are hard is tenable. But the hard time will not be softened through a process that will complicate existing situations.
We appreciate Emir Sanusi’s concerns about the decline of formal education in parts of that region. We also empathise with him over perceptions of Islam vis-à-vis western education. However, our assessment of his suggestion is that it is too radical for country like Nigeria. Worse, at this time that Islam and Christianity are engaged in a macabre dance.
On the basis of this, we plead with the Governors not to give it the least thought. There are other ways of uplifting education in the North without adding to matters that are already tending to tear peoples and places apart. Mosques must be left alone to cater for the spiritual needs of the people while schools are directed to the intellectual aspirations of those who engage in them.