THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RELIGION AND LITERATURE: BORN ON TUESDAY
Born on a Tuesday is a gruesome story of literature and religious violent. It is the story of a young man, Dantala, whose father, following a traditional Islamic practice in Northern Nigeria, sends him and his brothers out to Quranic schools to learn under Islamic scholars so that they would eventually become Mallams or religious teachers. As we see in Born on a Tuesday, the parents of these boys pay for the training or at least show appreciation by providing the Mallams or Sheikhs with food such as millet every year. The objective of this paper was to study the major themes the text focused on: issues as (1) the Almajiri question, (2) the issue of assigning anything that happens to one to fate or the will of God and (3) the issue of religious violence: how it grows, what causes it and why it mostly and always has to do with Islam? In conclusion, recommendations are proffered with regard to how the entire system of Almajiri, which includes the teachers or Mallams could re-engineered to ensure that the system does not remain a breeding house of terrorism and terrorists.
1.1 Background of the study
Religion has always been an integral part of the literary tradition: many canonical and non-canonical texts engage extensively with religious ideas, and the development of English Literature as a professional discipline began with an explicit consideration of the relationship between religion and literature. Literature also plays an important role in religious writing, as twentieth-century work on narrative theology has acknowledged. Both the recent theological turn of literary theory and the renewed political significance of religious debate in contemporary western culture have generated further interest in this interdisciplinary area. An Introduction to Religion and Literature offers a lucid, accessible and thoughtful introduction to the study of religion and literature. The most apparent and apposite justification for including literary materials in the study of religion is the historical one. What is most obvious, however, is often overlooked. In virtually every high-cultural system, be it the Indic, the Islamic, the Sino-Japanese, or the Judeo-Christian, the literary tradition has, though in vastly different forms and guises, developed in intimate—indeed, often intertwining—relation to religious thought, practice, institution, and symbolism. Without paying due heed to Greek myth and thought, to Hebrew saga and wisdom, and to Christian symbolism and piety, the twenty-five-hundred-year “drama of European literature,” as German scholar Erich Auerbach calls it, simply cannot be understood (Gülen, 2009). Conversely, our knowledge of these three religious traditions, of their self-expression and cultural impact, would be grossly truncated without specific consideration of their literary legacy in both canonical and extracanonical writings. In a similar way, Daoist rituals, Buddhist dogmas, and Confucian ethics joined, in imperial China, to shape and sustain the classic forms of Chinese lyric poetry, drama, and prose fiction. The itinerant Buddhist priest and his exorcistic exploits in medieval Japan have provided numerous plots for Nō drama, while subtle debates on the buddhahood of trees and plants (somoku jobutsu ) underlie many of the exquisite waka of Saigyo, the twelfth-century poet. In Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and several major divisions of Buddhism, sacred and secular hermeneutics have developed, at various periods, in a parallel or mutually influential manner. To ignore this interrelatedness of holy and profane texts and the interdependence of their interpretive sciences is to distort large segments of the world’s literary and religious history (Iro, 2016).
Born on a Tuesday is a work that is set in Northern Nigeria. It aims at giving insight into religious extremism, especially Islamic religious extremism in Nigeria. It articulates the consequences of sending little children far away from home to learn the Koran. Sending children away from home to Quranic schools to learn under Malams and Sheikhs brings them automatically within the system known as the Almajiri. According to Asogwa I. S and Asogwa D.O, ‘the word Amajiri was derived from Arabic “Almuhajiri” meaning an emigrant. It usually refers to a person who migrates from the luxury of his home to other places or to a popular teacher in the quest of Islamic knowledge’ (Vol. 15 Issue 5 Version 1.0, 2015). It has been an age-long practice that dates as far back as the Kanem-Bornu Empire, one of the oldest empires of the world that extended from the frontier of northern Libya. The system collapsed with the advent of colonization during which the invading British Empire around 1904 conquered and colonized the Northern Nigerian territories and imposed Western form of education at the detriment of the already existing Almajiri system of education, which had been under the sponsorship of the then ruling Emirs, whom the British had deposed during their invasion and made to function as mere traditional rulers (Asogwa, I.S & Asogwa D.O.). Having now been relegated to the background by the British as a mere religious school, the internal dynamics of the system as sustaining collapsed as well, exposing the children to various hazards including exploitation by their teachers or Mallams, who had been exposed to the so-called civilized life-style of the West, and receiving no more financial support from the state, had to subjugate the children brought under their care to begging and other menial jobs to survive (Asogwa & Obeta, 2012). As Prof Idris A. AbdulQadir puts it
Under the Almajiri system, during the pre-colonial days, the pupils
lived with their parents for moral upbringing. All the schools were
located within the immediate environment from where the pupils came
from. The Dan-Fodio revolution brought with it some modifications;
the establishment of an inspectorate of Qur’anic literacy. The inspectors
reported directly to the Emir of the province, concerning all matters
relating to the school. It was argued that, this period, was the height
of Qur’anic education in the northern Nigeria.
The schools were maintained by the state, communities, the parents,
‘Zakkah’, ‘Waqf’ and supplemented by the teachers and students through
farming. “Bara” as it is known today, is completely unheard of. Teachers
and their pupils, in return provide the community with Islamic Education,
reading and writing the Qur’an, in addition, to the development of Ajami
i.e. writing and reading of Hausa language using Arabic Alphabets. Based
on this system, which is founded upon the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith,
the then Northern Nigeria was largely educated with a complete way of life,
governance, customs, traditional craft, trade and even the mode of
He further argued that begging as a component of the Almajiri system became inevitable after the British had vanquished the emirs and stopped the state support of the system reason being that the state could not support it because it was part of a religious practice. In place of the Almajiri system, Karatun Boko or Western Education was introduced and this system had state support (AbdulQadir, 2003).
Separating children from their parents under whatever intention exposes them to a lot of hazards: First, the bond that is supposed to be created between a child and its parents is lost. Of course being alienated from family destroys whatever love that is supposed to be built between parents and children. The children are exposed to poverty of the worst kind and so they resort to begging or work or even go into crime. For example, when Dantala finishes his training after six years and is to go back to Sokoto, Malam Junaid, under whom he trained, gives him only seventy naira transport fees. The Malam is angry that Dantala’s father did not pay for last year’s training nor did he pay for the training of the year before. Dantala, however, needs about 300 Naira to be able to get back to Sokoto; but the truth is that years of being separated from family have also alienated him emotionally and even spiritually from it. This sense of alienation is also noticeable in his two brothers, who were also sent out like him but who somehow joined another Islamic group, the Shiites. They too have also lost that sense of brotherhood. So not necessarily wanting to go back home and also not having enough transport fare, Dantala decides to join a group of boys known as the Kuka tree boys, who engage in criminality. It is in being with the Kuka tree gang that the narrator explores that nature of fundamentalism and how it starts; for there, ‘the boys like to boast of the people they killed’ (1). The leader of the gang, Band, ‘doesn’t like to talk about it. He just sits there and smokes wee-wee while they talk over each other’s heads’ (1). Furthermore, being only boys, there is also the possibility of sodomy as is the case between Abdulkareem and Bilal (59-60) (Agbo-Paul, 2012)
The Kuka tree boys are indeed street urchins, because they made a living through touting and criminality as well as through being used by politicians for their machinations. Violence, death and killing have become normal to these children. They have lost the capacity to feel. But when they indeed indulge in the luxury of feeling, they attribute the deaths, violence and killing to fate, the way God wants it. Moreover, the Bayan-Layi society has been culturally conditioned religiously to attribute everything that happens to be the will of Allah; as the narrator in the work puts it ‘no one separates fights in Bayan-Layi except if someone is about to be killed or if the fight is really unfair. Sometimes, even then, we just let it go on because no one dies unless it is Allah’s will’ (2-3). The way Allah’s will is repeated in the text shows that there is indeed a problem with this particular mind-set (Ile, 2013).