How Shi’ism came to Nigeria
The group known as Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) did not start as Shi’ite sect. When its propagation became known to the Nigerian public, it was then referred to as Muslim Brothers. The initial ideology was tailored towards de-emphasising sectarianism and promotion of one Islam under the guidance of the Holy Qur’an and Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh).
The activities of the Muslim Brothers received an inspirational boost from the 1979 revolution in Iran which overthrew the US-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and brought Ayatollahi Khomeini to power. At the time, young Sheikh Zakzaky’s pre-Juma’at prayer preaching at the Central Mosque of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria used to be the highpoint of all activities on campus in the late 1970s. This gave credence to Zakzaky’s belief about the possibility of dethroning any government, including that of Nigeria, and replacing it with an Islamic-oriented one.
Although Zakzaky did not have any formal contact with the new government in Iran until 1980, his mode of preaching had long endeared him to the country’s authorities. As Deputy President (Ameer) International Affairs of the Muslim Students Society of Nigerian (MSSN), Zakzaky was invited to Iran for an Islamic function in 1980 and this marked his formal interaction with the Iranian government and as well marked the infiltration of Shi’ite ideology into the Muslim Brothers Movement, people close to the group said.
One of Zakzaky’s close aides at the beginning of the Muslim Brothers movement recalled Zakzaky’s early contacts with Iran.
“Zakzaky’s movement had its root from the MSSN. He was an active member of the body and became its Vice President International Affairs in the late 1970s. In 1980 when Iran organised one-year anniversary of the Khomeini revolution, Muslim youths from different parts of the world were invited and Zakzaky being a Vice President in MSSN, represented the body. That was his first contact with Iran,” the former associate who wants to remain anonymous, said.
Not long after his return from Iran, the MSSN organised its routine Islamic Vocational Course (IVC) at Funtua, Katsina State.
“It was at that forum that Zakzaky withdrew his allegiance from the Nigerian state. That excited the teeming members of the Muslim Brothers who were mostly youths. He, therefore, began the struggle for Islamic revolution and for the evolvement of an Islamic state (in Nigeria). This was why the Funtua event later became prominently known as Funtua Declaration.
“This was how the movement continued and youths continued to join in numbers, largely because of the belief that Islamic state would bring justice to all Nigerians and end atrocities of leaders. Our activities were largely organised at the ABU, due to the fact that most of the members were students. Therefore, Islamic Movement of Nigeria was formed at the ABU.
“We continued to be influenced by books written by scholars from the Ikhwanul-Muslimun (Muslim Brothers), Egypt. But after Zakzaky’s contact with Iran, he was made to take an oath of allegiance to Khomeini through his deputy, Muntazeri. At the time we couldn’t understand whether the allegiance was in support of the revolution or a vow to overthrow the Nigerian government and to make our movement a Shi’ite movement. However, most of us believed that the allegiance was just in support of the revolution and kept moving with Zakzaky as the leader,” he said.
The Iranian authorities continued their relationship with Zakzaky, sending Islamic magazines to members of the movement. The prominent magazine from Iran at the time was the one called Mahajubah, he said.
In a famous column in the Mahajubah Magazine by Taba’i Taba’I, ideologies of Shi’ite were discussed and that began to raise concern among members of the IMN.
“However, we continued with our anti-establishment movement. By 1994, the movement was divided into factions of the Sunni and that of the Shi’ite and eventually, Zakzaky decided to go with the Shi’ite and (on the other hand) we formed the Jama’atu Tajdidil Islamy. We split from the IMN because of the introduction of Shi’ism into the movement,” the source said.
As Zakzaky’s ties with Iran grew stronger, some members of his movement were taken to that country to receive military training, especially from the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, our source said. This gave birth to Zakzaky’s Hurras (Guards) who were the military arm of the IMN.
The Hurras, according to our source, were responsible for the protection of Zakzaky, his family and other leaders of the movement. They also provide security at Shi’ite gatherings and ceremonies, even if it will be at the cost of their lives, Zakzaky’s former associate said.
Having established itself as a formidable organisation with allegiance only to the Shi’ite state in Iran, according to our source, the Shi’ite began to engage in clashes with both the Nigerian state and the general public.
Other sources close to the group further disclose that many of the members were encouraged to take courses and further their education in Iran, on the country’s scholarships, a development that increased the number of intellectuals in the movement.
Unlike the days of Muslim Brothers when Zakzaky discouraged his followers from taking Western education and working for state, now Shi’ite members are working in public institutions, holding senior positions in government, security and academia, the sources added.