The Illiteracy And Ignorance In The Removal of The Arabic On The Naira

It falls into the category of the supposed Malaysian ban of Christians from using the name, “Allah” to refer to God—which was actually a ban of a single notorious paper and not at all Christians—which  makes the Malaysian event trivial in comparison, actually. It fits the category of Blacks being banned from buses or told to sit at the back of them in the USA.

How does the removal of the Arabic script on the naira note relate to these? They all are borne not only out of inappropriate sentiment and malice, but more importantly out of ignorance. Whites actually believed that Blacks were inferior to them; and some Muslims actually believe that they have a monopoly to Arabic and God’s name. The ignorance is what makes these crimes more shameful and deadly.

The question is- why was the Arabic script on the naira removed? What did those words have to do with Islam? Unfortunately the text was removed out of bigotry and sheer ignorance; not just by the government of Nigeria, but influenced by some among the populace who were misinformed, ignorant or malicious.

What was always written on Nigeria’s legal tender had absolutely no more to do with Islam than the translation of this article into Arabic will render. Arabic text but not Arabic language was written on our notes.  It was Hausa language written in Arabic orthography; and not Arabic language in Arabic. And even though had it been Arabic language it should still not warrant the ill-meant removal; it was not. The words on the note included, ‘Naira Biyar,” “five naira” in Hausa, “Naira Goma” which means “ten naira” in Hausa and not Arabic.

Arabic is one of the world’s most common writing systems and it predates the birth of Prophet Mohammed of Islam by hundreds of years. Bibles are written in Arabic as are many other books. Though Islam brought Arabic to Nigeria it does not own it.  Arabic orthography known as Ajami was the first common writing script across Nigeria, utilized to write and keep the records of early history and for academic instruction and teaching across the north and parts of the southwest before the arrival of the colonialist; Arabic however does not mean, “Muslim.” Hundreds of books were written in pre-colonial Nigeria in Arabic and many of these were on all types of topics from science to poetry and not limited or defined by Islam.

Indeed when Lord Lugard visited Nigeria he observed that the literacy that prevailed was Arabic and that the north of the nation was well literate with over 25,000 Arabic literacy schools. This script defines our history and in addition remains the most important second literacy system widely used in Nigeria and across its northern-region neighbor nations. Many Nigerians, Chadians, Malians are only literate in Arabic/Ajami and for them, for the purpose of trade, a Nigerian legal tender that has Hausa Ajami has been valuable in fostering trade and regional acceptance and strength of the Naira. Hausa, written on the notes in Ajami is a popular language across West Africa.

On Lugard’s problems with the Ajami, According to John Edward Phillips:

“…Lord Luggard stated his real objective forthrightly: “I hope that, in course of time, this [policy] may result in the formation of a class of people who can read and write Hausa in the Roman character, though unable to speak English.” Of course this meant that a new educational system would have to be created to teach Romanized Hausa to Africans.

By Lugard’s own admission there were at this time about 25,000 Qur’anic schools with about 250,000 pupils, but from this time on the education they offered would be useless for those seeking employment with the administration. Lugard’s struggle against the Arabic script went to absurd lengths.  At one point he actually wrote a letter to Khartoum, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, asking whether anyone had yet succeeded in publishing Arabic books in Roman script!  There is no record of any response in the files.

It would be easy, but unfair, to portray Lugard as an idiot who had no understanding of the issues and who could not even tell the difference between a language and the script it was written in.  Brigadier  F. J. D. Lugard was not a linguist sent out with recording devices and a knowledge of comparative phonetics to determine the best method of writing African languages. Neither was he an educator sent out with slates and textbooks on a civilizing mission to bring western education and its benefits to the benighted inhabitants of the Dark Continent.  He was a military man sent out with maxim guns and seven pound cannons to bring the people of a territory under British rule.”

Ignorance appears to have always been at the center of the perceived threat of one of the world’s oldest and most established writing scripts.

The problem is, many who battled to remove this Ajami do not realize that the number system we use today is Arabic as well. The 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0 are Arabic-Hindu text. I produced a video about this a while back explaining it at the height of the controversy [ and]. The Roman script adapted these numerical and the text as we write it today is simple Arabic. So for those who dislike Ajami and fight to remove it, they might wish to remove the numbers we still have on the legal tenders too recognizing that these are Arabic numbers.

Ignorance has been proven deadly most especially in the Nigerian equation. Love and understanding will really develop the world.

Dr. Peregrino Brimah; [Every Nigerian Do Something] Email: [email protected] Twitter: @EveryNigerian