A RE-APPRAISAL OF THE ORIGIN OF MODERN ARABIC AND ISLAMIC SCHOLARSHIP AMONG THE YORUBA-SPEAKING PEOPLE OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA

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Based on the assertion that no one is always right; I am joining the league of those who know, and are intervening in the ongoing debate on who actually pioneered the modernization of Arabic and Islamic education in the Yoruba-speaking part of Nigeria. This is for no other reason than to set the record straight once and for all, and for the abiding benefit of those who always seek the truth.
The debate on the issue was ignited in a speech recently delivered by the Rector of the Marcas Arabic Training Centre, Agege Lagos, Shaykh Habibulahi Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory OON (b.1958); who dismissed the long-held belief that the effort was made by Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Habibulahi Al-Adaby,(1905-2005) the first Grand Mufti of Ilorin and Founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria.To him, the credit for the modernization of Arabic and Islamic education goes to his father, Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory (1917-1992). He backed his assertion with the enrollment of the Third Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Sofiyulahi Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy (1928-2014); (who happens to be the eldest child of Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Al-Adaby), in Marcas when it was first established at Abeokuta in 1952; with the assistance of Shaykh AbdulRahaman Salaudeen Al-Adabiy (1919-1987); who was also a member of the third generation of pupils and one of the first set of the beneficiaries of modern Arabic education from Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy.
Shaykh AbdulRahaman, otherwise called Baba Ile-Ila,was also the man who discovered the land on which the famous Marcas stands since 1954. Apart from that contestable position, Shaykh Habibulahi Adam Al-Ilory also made so many other illusionary allusions in the few-minutes-video that has since gone viral. It is however unfortunate that most of those who offered one form of intervention or the other on the matter were not guided by empiricism but simply goaded into action by mere emotion. Though many would dismiss the controversy as a waste of time and therefore a needless venture, but the man who “generated” the debate, which has since turned into a debacle, knew it’s essence. To those who belong to his (Mudir Marcas)school of thought, I beg to express my disagreement to them all because of historic value of reality. For this and other reasons; it is important for all those who know to let their voices be heard.The debate should not be treated as a “roforofo”fight; rather, be placed in the free market place of ideas that will facilitate self-righting which will enable the truth to submerge fictions. I must, however reiterate that l will never associate my humble self with those who are employing foul languages in the course of the debate. To be honest; the magnitude of fame and successes attained by the Arabic Training Center, Agege which was founded by Shaykh Adam remains unquestionably higher than that of any singular and similar Arabic school in contemporary Nigeria!!! Notwithstanding, the fact remains that Marcas was “experimented” in emulation of the earlier efforts of Shaykh Kamaldeen, who started the journey a quarter of a century earlier, as alluded to by Shaykh Adam, himself, in his 1982 book titled “Lamahat al-Ballawar fi Mashahir ‘Ulama’ Ilorin min 1200 ila 1400 A.H” !!!
To be specific, Shaykh Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy was the one who initiated the introduction of modern system of teaching, learning and evaluation into Arabic and Islamic education in Yoruba-land in 1938 sequel to his return from Hajj. He was also reputed for initiating the first private effort targeted at synthesizing western and Islamic education in Nigeria which informed the establishment of the Ansarul-Islam Primary School Ilorin; on the 1st of January,1947. Prior to that time; the system was simply unheard of. He (Shaykh Kamaldeen) was the one who initiated and weathered the “storm of innovation” through sustained perseverance and unusual agility until the system became generally accepted all over Yorubaland prior to the arrival of Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory on the scene.This enduring and impeccable fact can be gleaned from the works of Prof H.O. Danmole whose 1980 Doctorate Thesis was on “The History of Islam in Ilorin”; where he explained that Western teaching methods were introduced by Shaykh Kamalu’d-Din.These included the use of syllabus and attendance register, the employment of salaried teachers and the charging of school fees”. Others who also confirmed the pioneering efforts of Shaykh Kamaldeen include Alhaji Shafi Jimba who authored two different books on the History of Ilorin in 1982 and 1992 respectively; and Alhaji L.A.K Jimoh, a respected Historian and Community Leader; who in his authoritative book titled, “Ilorin: The Journey So Far”, published in 1994, remarked that Shaykh Kamaldeen “…changed the name of his schools from Zumratul Adabiyah to simply Adabiyah Schools. Modernized teaching methods, especially the use of text books, exercise books and black-board instead of slates was institutionalized in the School in Lagos in 1938. and adopted later by the school in Ilorin”. Alhaji Adisa Onikoko(1934-2015) corroborated this in his works- “The Cradle Rocker” (1997) & “The Legacy of Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy” (2006); where he gave a graphical record, qualitative descriptions and short biographical notes on his contemporaries at the Madrasat Adabiyah, Ilorin, which he attended along with Shaykh AbdulRaheem Ameen Oniwasi-Agbaiye Al-Adabiy (1930-2012),Imam Adebayo Kuranga, the father of Prof.S.A.Kuranga, the immediate past Chief Medical Director of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Ilorin, and several others in the 1940s.
The perusal of the late Prof.Musa A.Ajetumobi’s (1949-2008) work titled “Alhaji Mohammad Kamalud-Din and His Educational Reforms”(1979) is also significant here. Similarly, Prof.Shittu Agbetola’s Doctorate Thesis on the growth of Islam in the old Ondo State with enormous references to the contributions of some of the early beneficiaries of the modern system of knowledge acquired from the Adabiyah Arabic School by Shaykh Kamaldeen right from the 1940s across the present-day Ekiti and Ondo States would also be sufficiently useful. Also contributing to the issue; a well-known product of the Marcas Arabic Training Center Agege, and the first Yoruba Muslim Professor of Arabic, Rasaq ‘Deremi Abubakre(b.1948) in his contribution to a book titled; “llorin: The Center of Learning”; a publication edited by the late Professor Shehu Ahmad Jimoh OON(1944-2014) in 2006 to mark the 11th Anniversary of the reigning Emir of llorin, submitted that Shaykh Kamaldeen “introduced a new method of teaching Arabic which recognized duration of courses, classroom management and impeccable articulation of Arabic sounds and ability for a learner to use the language for communication within a period of four years”. He went further to say that “sustained propaganda was mounted against his methodology of teaching Arabic; an innovation that was then considered an accretion. He noted that the man persevered until he became reputable, one revered by the royals, the eminent and the scholars”.
Therefore, one must also use this opportunity to express disgust at the ridiculous virulent vituperation being poured on the glittering reputation and glowing memory of Shaykh Tajul Adabiy(1877-1923) by some misguided contributors who are hiding under the unfortunate polemics to attract patronage from the gullible and appalling members of the public to themselves.ShaykhTajul Adabiy was a phenomenal Islamic Scholar whose place in the history of Ilorin and, indeed, Islam in Yorubaland and Nigeria can never be attenuated. According to Shafi Jimba in his book, “A Short Story of Ilorin published in 1982; Shaykh Tajul Adabiy was the greatest Islamic Scholar in the history of Ilorin and indeed Yoruba-speaking part of Nigeria. He based his evaluation on his assessment of the ability of a Scholar as remarkable, influential and sophisticated as Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy. One of his students, Shaykh Yahaya Aliyu Tajudeen(1875-1956), worked for the sustainance of Islam in Ebiraland just as the progenitor of the turban-wearing ubitiuous Monkodoro group, Shaykh Yusuf Agbaji(d.1979), was a pupil of another outstanding student of Shaykh Tajul Adabiy, Shaykh Zakariyah Omoda who also taught Shaykh Abdullahi Alabi OnikijipaI1910-1952).Those remarkable achievements might have informed Shaykh Adam’s submission before the Panel of Scholars who interviewed him at Al-Azhar University; Cairo in 1946 to say that “he was taught by Shaykh Kamal” when they wanted to know the source(s) of his amazing brilliance as he also voluntarily rated Shaykh Tajul Adabiy as one of the most influential Islamic Scholars of his country when he was asked by his interviewers to mention reputable Scholars.
Those who doubt such testimonies of a man who does not adulate should listen to Shaykh Adam’s audio-record on the matter which was released in 1985 or thereabout as a response to some unnamed students of Shaykh Kamal who allegedly criticized him earlier. Shaykh Kamaldeen was, therefore,a model Islamic Scholar with unparaleled and enduring achievements who deserves respect rather than denigration. He was the Founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria (established in 1942) which is the Proprietor of more than two hundred primary schools, over a hundred Arabic Schools and more than twenty Secondary Schools scattered across Nigeria and beyond.The Society is also on the verge of securing an operational license to run a private University in Nigeria. His role in the establishemet of the Jamaatul Nasril Islam is also on record for posterity. The great man, even in death; remains the most decorated Islamic Scholar in Nigeria. He was honoured by the Federal Government of Nigeria with M.F.R and O.F.R in 1963 and 1981 respectively; while the Arab Republic of Egypt also honoured him with the country’s Gold Medal for his exceptional contributions to Islamic and Arabic education in 1992. He was also the Winner of the Kwara State Merit Award in 1988. He was awarded a Doctorate degree by the University of Ilorin, in 1998; which according to Prof. Abubakre in the earlier quoted work,was in appreciation of his “better by far” contributions to the development of humanity.The sage was also selected by”The News”Magazine as one of the greatest Nigerians of all times in the year 2000.In 2010, as part of the activities for the celebration of the golden jubilee of Nigeria; Shaykh Kamaldeen’s contributions was rewarded by the Kwara State Government which also found him worthy of being celebrated again in 2017 when the State marked her golden jubilee. He was also blessed with innumerable students, great children and promising descendants who are worthy of being celebrated for their individual glorious accomplishments in all walks of life. Of particular reference is the current Khalifa Adabiya; Shaykh Ahmad Olayiwola Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy(b.1938),who graduated from the renown Al-Azhar University Cairo,in 1966 and; thereafter, worked as a teacher in the course of which he influenced the establishment of the National Association of Teachers of Arabic and Islamic Studies in 1971 where he served as it’s pioneer National Secretary and later the National President. He thereafter, retired as a Director-General in the public service of Kwara State. He capped his public service career as the Kwara State Commissioner for Education during which he facilitated the establishment of the State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies in 1992 against all odds to cater for the preliminary higher education needs of the products of Modern Arabic and Islamic studies; scattered across the state and beyond. That was not to down-play the accomplishment of his worthy predeccessor, Shaykh Sofiyulahi Kamaldeen, who equally capped his own career with his appointment as the Third Grand Mufti of Ilorin.Their younger brother, Brigadier-General AbdulRasheed Kamaldeen, who graduated with a B.A Islamic Studies from the Abdullah Bayero College of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria,in 1969, retired as the Director of Islamic Affairs of the Nigerian Army as well as it’s Chief Imam.
This discourse ignited by the cerebral Mudir Marcas; to me and many discerning observers, was a continuation of the sustained and attempted efforts at attenuating the accomplishments of Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy and those of his products. I remember reading Femi Abass in his column in “THE NATION Newspaper titled, “The Message” , where he described the translated copy of the Holy Quran into Yoruba Language as the work of Shaykh Adam; whereas the Committee that completed the job was headed by Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen while Shaykh Adam was it’s Secretary. It worthy to note that the first Yoruba Professor of Arabic, Isaac Ogunbiyi had earlier and appropriately described the work as Kamaldeen’s Yoruba translation of the Holy Quran. Apart from Femi Abass who is a product of Marcas; I have never heard it any where else where a work is alluded to a Committee’s Secretary instead of its Chairman. I have also read of another proud product of Marcas; who is also a Columnist in a National Newspaper, paying glowing tribute to the magical erudition of the Chief Imam of the University of Ilorin, Prof. AbdulGaniyu Oladosu(b.1950) without making reference to the fact that he is one of the several outstanding products of Mahad Al-Azhar established by Shaykh Kamaldeen; juxtaposing that with how he advertized Professor R.D Abubakre as “a product of the famous Marcas established by the globally-renowned Shaykh Adam Abdullahi “Al-Ilory”. Another product of the respected Marcas also ridiculed the Owo-based
Al-Adabiyya Arabic School as a traditional institution established by Alhaji Apaokagi while he was appraising the career of the recently retired Prof.Yasir Anjola Qadir(b.1948) who attended the school in his early years.
Those who always read between the lines would agree with me that; that description was indeed intentional! The School, from where Scholars like Professor Qadir and Professor Z.I.Oseni(b.1950), the Waziri and Chief Imam of Auchi, left for the University of Ibadan where they eventually excelled cannot be described as a mere traditional Arabic School; where pupils learn through slates and other archaic means. The school which produced a former Grand Khadi of Kwara State, Justice Idris Haroon and a retired Brigadier-General, among other high-flying Scholars, can also be compared with any other modern Arabic institution of learning considering her contributions to the growth and development of Arabic and Islamic learning in Ondo, Edo and Ekiti States; and Nigeria at large. Shaykh Apaokagi was not an anonymous person! He was a childhood friend of Shaykh Adam Al-Ilory, and a truly sophisiticated Islamic Scholar who was initially contacted by Shaykh Adam Al-Ilory for partnership towards the establishment of me even Marcas. His inability to take the offer led Shaykh Adam Al-Ilory to contact another of their mutual friend, Shaykh AbdulRahaman Salaudeen Al-Adabiy, who was eventually released by Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Habibulahi Al-Adabiy.
Readers who are interested in knowing more about Shaykh Khidir Salaudeen Apaokagi are enjoined to read- “Shaykh K.S. Apaokagi: A Visionary Nigerian Islamic Scholar and Mufti of Ilorin”; authored by Profs Z. I.Oseni and Hashir AbdulSalam as well as “A Short Biography of Shaykh K.S. Apaokagi” written by Alhaji Shehu Adisa Onikoko.It is better to round-off this piece by reminding readers that it was in appreciation of the monumental accomplishments of Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Habibulahi Al-Adabiy that, on his death, the Federal Government of Nigeria,in a letter signed by the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, regretted his demise.
On a concluding note, may Allah bless the souls of all those great servants of His who did all they could to advance the cause of Islam beyond the frontier of their birth and may He also grant all their successors, surviving students, disciples and followers the fortitude to protect their heritage so that the labour of those heroes will not be in vain. Above all; there is no single one of them whose contributions to Islam and its teaching are not worthy of emulation!!! Salam alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatu.—–Yinka Ayinde Jimoh, Idigba Quarters, Ilorin.

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