This book chronicles the story of Dantala, renamed Ahmad, and his inner struggles with a hard life in Northern Nigeria.
Dantala is an Almajiri, a learner of Islam and Arabic who joined a group of political thugs and eventually became an Islamic scholar under the tutelage of the charismatic and accommodating Sheikh Jubril, whose accommodating nature became his own undoing.
At first, it seemed as if the radical Shiites, who only destroyed properties and injured people, were the only threat to peace and tranquillity in this book. However, a more dangerous religious sect led by the manipulative Mallam Abdul-Nur, a Yoruba Christian convert who bit the hands that fed him emerged.
Trust me, nobody rested until they established themselves as the ones with the most radical followers, united by their hatred for all things Western (sounds familiar?). They were angry at the easygoing Mallam Jubril for welcoming all and sundry to join in the religion of peace which, in their opinion was not supposed to be peaceful, and deceived by one man’s excessive ambition to amass followers and rule with an iron fist.
There are also the secondary themes of friendship and love, loyalty and hatred, religious intolerance and hypocrisy, and what should be considered Haram and what shouldn’t be.
Although one can argue that Elnathan John is not a Muslim Hausa and is not well-placed to adequately discuss the struggles and triumphs of Hausa Almajiris because he cannot identify with their ways of life, at least he tried. He came up with this masterpiece, and so far, he has done a better job than most writers who have ventured into this theme. This is shown in Dantala, a boy who started as unsure, naive, rough around the edges, and undisciplined. However, as the story progressed, he became a confident, learned, disciplined, loyal and inspirational young man. However, he is still very naive about the ways of the world.
This book is both necessary and vital. It is necessary to know how easily a little spark of rumor can cause a wildfire in that part of Nigeria, and vital to see how religious intolerance has taken squatter’s rights in Northern Nigeria and how our indifference to this will be our undoing.