*Why he didn’t establish Markaz in Ilorin
BY MUMINI ABDULKAREEM
For many students and scholars of Islamic studies and knowledge, the last 25 years signifying a quarter of a century, has no doubt been one full of reminiscence of the efforts and contributions of the one many regarded as a revolutionary Islamic scholar of national and international repute, Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Ilory.
His death in Lagos in March 1992 was created a big vacuum in the Islamic hall of fame on scholars that have had profound and far reaching impact in the propagation of Islam across the world from Nigeria. His exploits and massive revolution to the education and teaching of Islam across the West African sub region made Ilorin and Kwara State in general, a city to reckon with in the world of Islam till this day.
Although some accounts held he was born in Ilorin while others in Benin Republic, what was undisputable was that the late scholar was born into Dawah, lived for Dawah and left many Dawah legacies that have continued to shape the religion up till this day. Late Shaykh Adam Abdullah Al-Ilory’s entire lifetime was considered an epitome of the struggle and determination to acquire knowledge in line with the provision of the Qur’an as instructed in first five divinely revealed verses and other traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
But despite being a prominent son and great scholar of repute nationally and internationally from the religious city of Ilorin, why did Shaykh Adam Al-Ilory decided to establish what has become today a phenomenon of Islamic institute and learning, Markazu’t-ta limi l-Arabi al-lslami in Abeokuta, Ogun State in 1952 which he later moved to Agege, Lagos State in 1957?
According to one of his students and present Dean of Post Graduate School, University of Ilorin, Professor Lanre Badmas, the action of late Adam Al-Ilory to site Markaz outside Ilorin was visionary and meant to fill the yearnings of the need expand the frontiers of Islamic studies and knowledge.
“Shaykh Adam established Markaz outside Ilorin because the demand for Arabic and Islamic studies was very high and he felt the need to meet the aspiration of the Yoruba Muslims in the South West.
“Upon his return from studies to abroad, the first place where he settled was Abeokuta where he established Markaz and then he moved the institute to Agege in Lagos. Being a scholar with foresight, he discovered that the modern Arabic school of his plan is better located in the Yoruba land and Lagos precisely which was the then capital of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Speaking on the 25th year anniversary of his demise, Professor Badmus noted that the period was significant and synonymous, adding that late Shaykh Adam lived a very eventful life.
“He lived and died for the spread and propagation of Arabic and Islamic knowledge. Ever since his death, the institute has been growing in leaps and bounds with many branches within and outside Nigeria like Benin Republic, Ghana, Lome, and Ivory Coast among others.
“That is to say that Sheik Adam lives on because what he has laboured for has continued to grow. We are proud of the source of our knowledge and training and we pray to almighty Allah to continue to grant us that fortitude to bear the great loss. He left a big shoe behind and it is difficult for anybody to step into it in this century, maybe such can be possible next century. He represented everything as an Imam, a teacher, a prolific writer, an author and a community leader and anywhere you go in Yoruba land, especially as the month of Ramadhan which is approaching now, certainly we will see his impact. His legacies have been sustained and when you go to Markaz during the Ramadhan period, present Mudiru (Rector) of Markaz, Sheikh Habeebulahi Al-Ilory has continued with his legacies. The activities, revolution that he used to do have been a continuum and the fire is still glowing. He was not opposed to people learning English but his opposition was for people to bring English to Arabic institute so as to cancel or confused the students as to what should be the priority. Today in the curriculum of the University of Ilorin and other universities in Nigeria, some of his works are being taught”, he added.
On the lessons to be learned from his death, Professor Badmas believed the government need to do more than it is doing to immortalise Islamic heroes in the state.
“The state unfortunately has not been attaching importance to our great heroes especially in the area of Arabic and Islamic studies. Sheikh Adam Al-Ilory deserves to be studied and all his works deserve to be collected. The government should set up a high powered committee to go through them and extract what the state can immediately use in order to assist in good governance in the society. But unfortunately, nobody seems to care’ he added.
A REVOLUTIONARY LEADER
To Muslim communities in West Africa, two names, Sheikh Adam and Markaz are synonymous, and often used interchangeably. Only a few know that Markaz is a name of an institution, and Sheikh Adam is the name of its founder. Both names symbolize a revolution in the way Islam is taught. The late Sheikh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory was both an Islamic scholar and revolutionist. His famous centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies (Markaz), in Agege, Lagos State, testifies to both of these qualities in him.
With the establishment of Markaz in 1952, Sheikh Adam introduced modernity and standardisation to Arabic learning in Nigeria. Through Markaz, he brought revolution into the propagation of Islam in West Africa.
Perhaps no 20th century Muslim scholar, dead or alive has had such a profound impact on West African Muslim communities, in terms of Islamic scholarship and propagation as Sheikh Adam. Before he emerged and set up Markaz, there were scholars and there were Madrasahs (Quranic schools), no doubt, but such scholars operated within a very narrow scope and their Madrasahs were primitive and unstandardised.
In those madrasahs, pupils were merely handed over to muallims (teachers) without any agreement on what to teach them and for how long. This provided the muallim with an opportunity to turn the pupils into personal servants, and keep them under his custody for as long as long as he wished. Thus, a pupil could stay with his muallim for as long as 20 years or more, just learning to recite the Qur’an.
Sheikh Adam, who also passed through the same system, pointed out this anormally with a resolve to change it. To do that successfully, however, he needed to equip himself educationally. Therefore, he went in search of Arabic and Islamic scholars, moving from one scholar to another from his early age. Two of his teachers were Alfa Namaji (a Nupe from Niger State) and Alfa Esin ni o biwa (an Ilorin man) who settled at Oke-Aare, in Ibadan, Oyo State. He also studied with a number of other Islamic teachers.
He was, however, dissatisfied with the depth of knowledge he acquired from those teachers, as well as their teachings methods. Despite his very limited finances, Sheikh Adam, therefore, decided to proceed abroad, for further studies. He arrived in Cairo in the early 1940s, where he had an academic sojourn at the prestigious Al-Azhar, the oldest university in the world.
In Cairo, Sheikh Adam saw, with administration, how an organized madrasah could be run back home, to the advantage of Nigerian Muslims and Islam. He studied the Egyptian curricular of education at various levels, and the methodology of teaching.
On returning home, in 1947, he worked briefly for Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria as a missionary. His burning desire, however, to reform the madrasah in Nigeria spurred him to start planning for the establishment of Markaz. Thus, with merge financial resources but relentless determination, he established his Markaz in Abeokuta, Ogun State, on 16th April, 1952. the institution, which was to become a center of the revolution of Arabic and Islamic education in Nigeria, started with just 19 pupils and four teachers including Sheikh Adam himself. The founder’s foresight, however, would not allow Markaz to remain in Abeokuta. He moved the institution to Agege in 1955.
The uniqueness of Markaz is not to be seen in the quality of education taught to its pupils alone. The modern teaching methodology and reformation with which the institution is characterized confirm that uniqueness. It was in Markaz that the use of black board and chalk as a means of teaching was introduced for the first time in Nigeria. Islamic education was modernized through the standardization of the curriculum which classified studies into subjects. It was also in Markaz that Arabic pupils first wore uniform and were arranged into classrooms where they sat on chairs and wrote in notebooks rather than sitting on the ground and writing on local wood slates. It was also in Markaz that examination was first introduced as a means of promoting pupils from class to class, and certificates were issued to madrasah graduates as a measure of their level of education. Markaz was also the first Islamic school to introduce dormitories, library facilities, a printing press and a clinic.
For doing all these and for teaching pupils subjects like syntax, morphology, mathematics, geography, history, philosophy, logic and semantics among other subjects, Shaykh Adam faced implacable hostility from the traditional alfas. That hostility became aggravated when he added a central mosque to Markaz in which the Friday Arabic sermon was translated to Yoruba simultaneously. But Shaykh Adam remained undaunted.
With the first graduation ceremony of Markaz in 1997 which many people watched with admiration. Shaykh Adam won an important victory for his revolution. Following that graduation ceremony, some ambitious muallims shelved their pride and enrolled to markaz, as adult students, to improve their knowledge and undergo a tutelage in the modern teaching methodology. Some of these muallims came from Benin Republic, Ghana, Cote d’Ivore and other West African countries. Each of them went back on establish a similar school in their countries.
Today thousands of the products of those schools, especially Markaz, are university graduates in various field of discipline. Some of them are highly placed in their various societies and professional fields. Despite his financial constraints, and his close relationship with the Arab world, Shaykh Adam never sought financial aid. Not only did he believe that such a quest was capable of diminishing one’s status, he also represent begging, in whatever form, as a means of fulfilling an ambition. Personally, Shaykh Adam was an ascetic individual, shunning avarice in all its ramification.
Due to his ascetic nature, he was highly respected by personalities like Sir Ahmadu Bello, General Muritala Mohammed, General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Tunde Idiagbon and Bashorun MKO Abiola, who had associated with him at one time or another.
In 1967, Shaykh Adam initiated the formation of the League of Imams and Alfas of the South-West of Nigeria. He was a co-founder of that league to which he served as Secretary-General till his demise in 1992. He was also the leader of a ten-man scholarly team that translated the Quran into Yoruba.
He was a powerful orator, and he used his Friday sermon as well as his annual Ramadan Tafsir (exposition of the Quran) to create religious awareness and consciousness in Muslims throughout West African. In his sermons and open door preaching, he never spared the government on the issues of corruption, human rights abuse, democracy, economic mismanagement and the arrogant use of power.
An author of over 60 scholarly books and booklets, Shaykh Adam was internationally acknowledged as a towering Islamic scholar whose contribution to Islamic scholarship and propagation, in West Africa, remains unequalled in the 20th century. Some of his books are still being used in some Arab universities.
An avowed bookworm and vociferous Islamic preacher, Sheik Adam designed a special melody for the recitation of the Quran, to distinguish Markaz, he made Islam easier to understand and more appreciated in West Africa.
He was first black African to win the coveted Egyptian Gold Medal award in Arabic literature which was presented to him by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 1989. He had earlier in 1975 won the Mauritanian International scholarship award presented to him by the late President Moukhtar Quld Dada of Mauritanian.
Shaykh Adam traveled far and wide in the Arab world, Europe and Asia, attending many academic and Islamic conferences where he often presented papers. He was a member of many international academic and Islamic bodies in the Arab world and Asia.
Born in Ilorin to Abdul Baqi and Aisha in 1917, Sheikh Adam who died in March 1992 was married with many children. One of those children Sheikh Habibullah Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory is the current Rector of Markaz.
Culled from The News Magazine: A Survey of Nigerians of the 20th Century.