Yusuf Lawal
Yusuf Lawal, Ph.D, fsi, FNIM

Reading Culture: Nigeria As A Case Study, by Yusuf Lawal Ph.D

NEWS DIGEST – There are two concepts in the topic of this paper namely Reading and Culture. It would be most appropriate to situate the concepts within the purview of this paper for the understanding of the audience.

According to Oxford Dictionary, Reading is a noun meaning the action or skill of reading. It is equally a verb when used in a present continuous tense. Whether as a noun or a verb, it is derived from the word READ. What then is the meaning of Read? It is a verb meaning “look at and comprehend the meaning of written or printed matter by interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed.

Simply put, when one is able to look at some printed or written characters, which are comprehended and interpreted as composed, it means that one is able to read. I am able to read this paper which I have written in English alphabets that are in form of characters, as I have composed them in such a way that I am able to comprehend and interpret them as an expression of my mindset.

The second concept is Culture. While there is a wide range of meanings of Culture, the most appropriate for this presentation is its meaning of being an habit or way of life of a person or a population that is either acquired through skills or knowledge.

Drawing from the above conceptualisation therefore, reading culture can be said to be an habit of a person or population (collection of people) who are able to understand, comprehend and interpret characters and symbols in printed or written forms as may be composed by themselves or by others.

From ancient time, through the medieval period and up until the present moment, human beings who by nature are social entities and who, for as long as we live must interact and communicate with one another, have therefore developed different means of network including verbal and non-verbal communications. The art and act of writing and reading are non-verbal forms of communication which are also means of dissemination and acquisition of knowledge.

According to Oxford Dictionary, knowledge means facts, information and skills acquired through experience or education. This is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. The issue of knowledge naturally leads to the concept of education. According to Abdulrahman (1994), the greatest investment which a nation can embark upon is the provision of educational opportunities to its citizens.

Reading Culture in Islam

Coming to the realm of Islamic Religion, the first verse of the Glorious Quran that was revealed to our noble Prophet Mohammed (SAW) revolves around knowledge and education when Allah (SWT) through His Angel Jibril directed the Holy Prophet to READ in the name of your Lord who has created all that exist. (Surah 96: Al-Alaq).

As Muslims we are all enjoined to be well educated in the words of Allah as composed in the Holy Quran, and to have comprehensive knowledge, and be guided by the Quran. We are to have a proper understanding of not only the Quran but also the Hadiths. In order to comply with the words of Allah and the teachings of the Prophet, we must therefore have READ and understood the book comprising 114 surahs/chapters and 6,348 verses/ayats. Is it therefore possible to do this without being educated or knowledgeable? It naturally and logically means that Allah, the creator of al living and non-living expects us all to be educated. It follows suit that Allah expects us to develop a culture of reading and understanding. In other words, the issue of reading culture as encapsulated in the topic of this lecture can be argued to be one of the many of Allah’s injunction on all humans especially the Muslims. In my opinion, this also applies to people with different beliefs and faiths. Logically, if the Bible is the guiding document of our Christian brothers and sisters, they must also naturally have comprehensive understanding of the tenets of the Holy Bible. I think it is the same for others with different types of beliefs and religions as incantations, symbols, signs and all forms of worship follow systematic patterns which have meanings and are revered by their believers. These require knowledge, education and reading culture to comprehend. Directly or indirectly, one requires knowledge to make it to paradise.

Ibn Abi Nayii narrates that the Prophet (SAW) appointed Mu’adh (RA) as the governor of Yemen, stating to the people of Yemen, “Indeed I have sent to you a governor who is the most knowledgeable of my people and the most well-versed in the maters of faith”(Ibn Sa’d, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol.3).

In addition to the foregoing, one requires excellent knowledge and outstanding education to comprehend and practice Islam and abide by its five pillars.

Faith which is the first pillar of Islam requires a Muslim to have beliefs in the Oneness of Allah, Angels of God, Books of God, Prophets of God, Day of Judgement and Premeasurement.

Prayer/Salat can best be performed only with an appropriate knowledge of what to do starting with knowing the time for each prayer, procedure of ablution, knowing the direction to face, making of intention, recitation of verses of the Quran, knowing the number of rakahs for each prayer and clearly knowing the things that purify or obliterate the prayer.

Zakat is prescribed in measures. This would take an understanding of the measures to comply with. Only those who are educated are able to carry out this or engage professionals to do so on their behalf.

Fasting is prescribed for people of different faiths even before the advent of Islam, as it has been prescribed for Muslims. A Muslim must be well educated to comply with the conditions attached to fasting as it is not all about not eating or drinking. Muslims are encouraged to recite (read) the Quran more in the month of Ramadan, a month that is wholly devoted to fasting.

Pilgrimage is encouraged on all Muslims who can afford it and the conditions, procedures, duties and obligations of pilgrimage are clearly specified. One must therefore be well educated to perform this pillar of Islam.

Reading Culture in Nigeria

Having established the obligation of education and knowledge on every human being, and logically submitting that reading culture is enjoined on all persons of faith, we can now examine the level of compliance in Nigeria as a case study. Education in Nigeria has come of age, whether it is western education or the Arabian education (Islamic education). None of the two types of education is indigenous to Nigeria. Each was introduced by different groups of people and, each took a gradual process to spread across the country. Due to colonialism, the western education has become more prominent than the Islamic education, as the acquisition of western education at different levels represented by different certificates determine the status and standing of individuals in the society. Having become the meal ticket of sort, it has become incumbent on everyone who desires meaningful means of livelihoods to ensure that western education is acquired. Meanwhile in order to achieve success in any sphere of life using the western, or even using the Islamic education, one must strive to be well educated as the outcome of one’s efforts, at least to a greater extent would determine one’s status in the society. This is where the issue of reading culture then rears its head again. In the past, it was clear that only those who studied hard in school made good grades and they were the ones who became successful in careers that demanded and required western education to progress. The other attributes were hard work, honesty and moral standing. Nowadays, we have witnessed a decline in reading culture, particularly among the youths, as their orientation towards life seems to have been twisted which has affected their attitude and outcomes. Many things have been responsible for the decline among which are laziness, deficit in honesty, societal vices, lack of mentorship, moral decadence, abdication of parental responsibilities, social media distractions and many other negativities. Instead of reading to pass examination, attentions have been shifted to acquiring undeserving results through examination malpractices, irregularities, sorting, bribing, nepotism, violence, cultism and other negative vices. The resultant effects of these are manifested in the output of the beneficiaries of this corrupted system which has led to a decline in our developmental efforts as it has become extremely difficult to have the best as we used to have them in the public service and private sector. It is clear that no one can give what he does not have. However, this situation is not beyond remedy but it requires great efforts to change the narratives. It is not all negative and unpalatable stories. There are still some of our youths who have not departed from the ways of the Lord. They have continued to uphold the tenets of our different religions, they are hardworking, they are upright, they are studious, they are doing us proud in different fields of endeavours and they are exhibiting excellent manners. They need to be encouraged and celebrated while those with negative attributes should be advised and encouraged to change their ways. There must be consequences for each of the two ways. Those requiring compensations acknowledgement and reward should be so recognised, while those deserving of punishment, shame and correction should also not be spared. It is the responsibility of everyone to do the needful to change the narrative. For example, during the Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, it was recognised that the reading culture had declined and that there was a need to address the situation. The education section was challenged to take the bull by the horn. However, it was only JAMB that took giant stride by introducing compulsory reading text in its examination whereby it made it mandatory that each candidate must purchase a recommended reading text which was tested in the Use of English in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. JAMB went further to introduce the Computer Based Test to raise the level of computer literacy and ensured that every candidate sits for the UTME using the CBT mode. Ten years after, none of the other public examination bodies has come close to the JAMB efforts. Meanwhile the nation requires all hands to be on deck to change the negative narratives of the decline.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, I must commend Al-Mustofiyyah for the launch and public presentation of the book titled MERIT AND DEMERIT OF ANGER: ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE Authored by Ustaz Maisuna, M.Y Ph.D. This is a manifestation of the recognition of the leadership of this society on the need for proper education and understanding of the Islamic Religion. However, whether the book would be read or not is another issue. This then brings us back to the topic of this paper on reading culture.

In order to encourage reading culture among our youths, I suggest that religious bodies like Al-Mustofiyyah also take part in the change that the nation requires. It should not be difficult to ensure that as a society, the organisation can come up with more books with good story lines laced with moral and religious teaching, and made compulsory for all members to read and be made to demonstrate their knowledge of such books, when on each occasion of your meeting every week, members are called up at random to demonstrate and teach the congregation what they have learnt in the books. Such session can be made interactive for teaching and learning without any prejudice. I think this will broaden the knowledge of everyone. It should not be only the Imams that should display their knowledge as sole preachers, I urge the leadership to always allow the followers to also exhibit their knowledge or ignorance as the case may be, in order that everyone can benefit from one another.

I thank you for listening.

This lecture is delivered by Yusuf Lawal, Ph.D, fsi, FNIM, Senior Research  Fellow, University of Abuja, Abuja, Nigeria, at the Ramadan Special Prayer/Book Launch organised by Al-Mustofiyyah Society of Nigeria held on Sunday, 16th April 2023, in Abuja, Nigeria.

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