Ahmad At-Tijānī bin Uthmān al-Kanawī (d. 1970), popularly known as Mālam Tijānī ʿUthmān Zangon Barebari, was a leading representative of the fayḍha tijāniyya in Kano, also, one of the first to engage in public tafsīr, and the most audacious in innovating its practice in Kano.
His earlier formation was entirely local. He had studied Law and Linguistics with Muhammad Salga, and Sufism with Abū Bakr Mijinyawa. He had also studied tafsīr with Mālam Sānī (i.e. Muhammad ath-thānī) of Shatsari ward, the other leading place for the study of the discipline in Kano in the early twentieth century, side by side the Jar Ƙasa school.
In the 1930s, he had set a school of his own, where he was teaching primarily Mālikī Law. Mālam Tijānī ʿUthmān belonged to first group of Kano scholars that travelled to Kaolack to undergo training at the hands of Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse. Upon his return he started to organize annual public activities (night gatherings based on dhikr and reading of poetry during the month of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, the month of the Prophet’s birthday; sessions of public Qurʾānic exegesis during the early afternoons of the month of Ramaḍān) that transformed his school into the most popular venue of Kano collective devotional life during through the 1950s and 1960s. Tijānī ʿUthmān started performing his public tafsīr at the mosque of Zangon Barebari ward, which was located in the Daedalus of narrow roads of the birni, east of Kano central market, but had a small open place (dandali) in the front. As it was customary, Tijānī ʿUthmān would sit on a mat or on a goat skin (buzu) inside the mosque, facing the audience sitting in front of him. For those who could not find room inside, additional mats would be spread out of the small mosque. After a few years, when the people attending tafsīr increased dramatically, he decided to move a few hundred meters further, to the larger paved street where his native house was located, close to Gabari corner, adjacent the city central market. To meet the logistic needs of this new arrangement, he introduced the habit of sitting upon a wooden platform, making
his figure visible even from afar in the crowded street. An organizing committee had also to be established, to ensure that the increasingly demanding practical aspects of the organization be carried out efficiently. Later, also a loudspeaker was added, which enabled not only men attending, but also women of the surrounding neighborhood to listen from the courtyards of houses. The change from sitting on a goat skin to a small podium, and the
introduction of a loudspeaker, were very significant at that time, as they concretely marked the transformation of tafsīr in Kano from a discipline of indoor learning to a public expression of scholarly talents. Tijānī ʿUthmān was accompanied, canonically, by a mai jan Aya who reads the Qurʾān. Aside the mai jan Aya, three or four of his students also sat, each of them holding a particular book. Tijānī’s favorite sources were aṣ-Ṣāwī, al-Jamal (an Egyptian and one of Ṣāwī’s teachers, author of another commentary on the Jalālayn), al-Khāzin (a fourteenth century theological exegesis) and Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī. When he wanted to quote from a relevant commentary, Tijānī ʿUthmān would summon the correspondent student by saying, for instance: ‘mai Sawi, wuri kaza! (‘holder of Ṣāwī’s tafsīr, [read] the given passage’). The presence of different readers with several books displayed the assorted background of the salgāwā legacy, and the agility of the exegete in ‘calling’ quotations from them at the right moment showed to the public the novelty of their approach to knowledge.
(Andrea Brigaglia 2009)