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The Al-majiri problem

THE  root cause of the Al-Majiri in Nigeria,  is due to the fact that the Nigerian Muslim intelligentsia, have failed to adopt the modernist scholars’ interpretation of Holy Koran Chapter 4 verse 3 and in preference chosen to hold on to the old orthodox school’s interpretation of the above-mentioned verse.

There are two interpretations of Holy Koran 4:3 viz: the orthodox scholars’ interpretation and the modernist scholars’ interpretation.

The Holy Koran which is the final authority on all matters concerning the religion of Islam legislates in Holy Koran 4:3 thus:

“…..then you may marry other wives who seem good to  you, two three or four of them. But if you feel you cannot   maintain equality among them, marry one only…… This will make it easier for you to avoid injustice.”

 The orthodox Islamic scholars

The orthodox scholars who had held sway in the past one thousand three hundred years of the existence of Islam have always regarded the above verse as an exhortation to believers to piety. Thus in those countries in which the old orthodox school of thought holds sway, the Muslim male is permitted to marry up to four wives without any kind of interference from the State Islamic authorities.

Thus, the  orthodox scholars’ interpretation  of the relevant verse of the Holy Koran, Holy Koran 4:3, has permitted Nigerian Muslims for example, to marry up to four wives without consideration of the level of income of the men involved. This has led to the creation of very large families by the lower income group of the Nigerian Muslim society which has in turn deposited this problem on society at large as  the Almajiri.

 The modernist Islamic scholars

But the modernist Islamic scholars of the 20th and 21st Centuries adopt a different interpretation of Holy Koran 4:3. To them the clause below is fundamental to the interpretation of Holy Koran 4:3:

“This will make it easier for you to avoid injustice.”

To them therefore, the above is a positive legal clause of the Sharia which must be taken into consideration by the Islamic State, if a man is to be given permission by the State to marry a second wife.

According to the modernist Islamic school of thought, justice among four wives also means social justice to the off-springs of such a marriage in the form of good education, proper housing and other necessary amenities. This standard concludes the modernist scholar, is well-nigh impossible for many believers to achieve in the socio-economic setting of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Moreover the individual Muslim is unjust to society when he saddles the rest of the society with the problem of children he is incapable of taking care of, as in the case of the Almajiri.

The modernist scholars view themselves as men who through their own interpretation of the Sharia seek equity and social justice for all sections of the society especially women and children including orphans.

The modernist Islamic scholars therefore urged the Islamic State to intervene by legislation to discourage Muslims from marrying more wives than they are economically capable of maintaining.

Hitherto as noted earlier, the Islamic State did not intervene in such matters. The modernist Islamic scholars have been greatly successful in their efforts. Their influence has stamped itself on the legislation as regards marriage in  over 80% of the Islamic world.

The Syrian Law of Personal Status of 1953, Article 17, provides   “The judge is empowered to refuse permission to marry another woman if it is established that he the husband is not in a position to support two wives…………….. Defaulters are liable to penalties and the court will not recognize such a marriage. Please see The Sharia  by Professor A I Doi  Chapter 26.

In Iraq, the Law of Personal Status 1959, Article 3, reads: ”It is not permissible to marry more than one woman without an authorization from the judge. The grant of permission is regulated by  the condition that the husband’s financial status permits for supporting the wives and it is for a genuine benefit.” Similar legislations are in force in Algeria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco and Sudan.

Turkey and Tunisia went even further. Both countries prohibited polygamy entirely.  In Turkey, the Civil Code of 1926 provides: ”If at all such a marriage is contracted, the court is empowered to declare such marriage invalid.” And in the case of Tunisia, the Law of Personal Status of 1957 states: ”Polygamy is forbidden. Any person having entered into a bond of marriage contracts another marriage before the dissolution of the preceding one, is liable to one year imprisonment and a fine.

Criticism of the modernist Islamic scholars

The scholars of the old orthodox school are up in arms. ”By rejecting the prohibition” writes the much respected scholar, Professor  Abdurraham Doi, formerly of Ahmadu Bello and Ife Universities, “the so-called modernist reformers have refused to accept Quranic injunctions and have indirectly rejected the Sunnah (the ways and examples of the Holy Prophet Mohammed, may the peace and blessings of God Most High be with him), declaring such to be unworkable, and have disregarded the opinions of the pious scholars and Imams.”

To the orthodox, the views of the modernist scholars’ position is the result of a subtle brainwashing over the years by European colonialism. Hence also the modernists’ scholars readiness in accepting hybrid legal systems such as Anglo-Mohammedan and Franco-Mohammedan legal systems. Hence also, the modernist scholars’ unacceptable interpretation of the family laws of  the Sharia.

The views of the modernist school of thought in interpreting Holy Koran 4:3 is recommended for adoption  in Nigeria. This will in consequence lead to an amendment of the Marriage Laws of the Sharia to ensure that Muslim males marry only the number of wives they are economically capable of maintaining.

By so doing, the Almajiri problem will over a period of time disappear from Nigeria.

Mr. MURID JARIKRE, a social critic,  wrote from Sapele, Delta State.


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