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Between the State and the Malam: Understanding the Forces that Shape the Future of Nigeria’s Qur’anic Schools *

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The present paper attempts to answer the question: what accounts for the persistence of Qur’anic schools as separate schools operating at cross-purposes with the Nigerian state in the provision of education to millions of Muslim children officially reported to be “out of school?” To answer this question, the paper traces the long years of mutual isolation between the state and Islamic institutions, particularly in northern Nigeria, that was at first a product of colonisation, but subsequently a reflection of state failure to meet its obligations toward a people struggling to come to terms with the loss of their cultural and religious values as western influences became pervasive. The paper suggests that by remaining faithful to those values, ideas, and practices that hold together the cultural-religious essence of life, Qur’anic schools and their owners fill a void that neither the new religious elite nor the post-colonial Nigerian state has been able to recognize. The paper expresses concern, however, that although culturally-relevant, the bond between Qur’anic schools and their communities further isolates young generations of Nigerian Muslims from constructively engaging with the state. An inclusive state policy on education based on constructive engagement with the hidden clients of Nigeria’s submerged Qur’anic schools is what the country needs if these schools are to play any future positive role in education.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Curriculum Studies and Educational Technology, Faculty of Education, Usmanu Danfodio University, PMB 2346, Sokoto, Nigeria,


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