Who really is Ibraheem Yaqoub El Zakzaky? Yes, you know he is a Shiite, but what do the Shiites stand for? In what way is a Muslim Shiite different from a Muslim Sunni?
El-Zakzaky, 65 years old native of Zaria, Kaduna state is a fiery Islamic preacher who first showed his true colours at the Ahmadu Bello University, in his Zaria home town, which his followers now call The (Islamic) Holy City. Please, do not ask me how El-Zakzaky who never attended a formal primary school but had his early education at the Provincial Arabic School, Zaria (1969-1970), the School for Arabic Studies, Kano (1971-1976) gained admission into ABU and achieved the rare feat of earning a First Class degree in Economics, because I too do not understand it. To get a full grasp of that issue would entail a treatise on the three variants of Islamic schools (Islamiyya, Madrassa and Traditional Qur’anic Schools) that have evolved in the core north. Yet, despite having completed his educational pursuit (1976-1979), and obtained a first class degree in Economics at ABU, he was denied that degree due to his red-hot Islamic activities. That is a big surprise really for by 1990 El-Zakzaky would be welcomed into ABU’s Arewa House to say the same things for which he was denied his degree. Or did anything change? If it did, why is the man now in trouble with the government? And why did the man become a radical in 1979? Now, remember that 1979 was a watershed year in the modern day development of Islam as not only a religion but also a political force, for that was the year of the Iranian Revolution—which saw Iran’s monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi overthrown in February 1979 from his Peacock throne and replaced with an Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Khomeini. The Shah, whose beloved title was Shahenshah (Emperor) died in July 1980. Zakzaky was not only impressed, he believed that the establishment of a Republic along similar religious lines in Nigeria was not only feasible but desirable. So, to Iran he went. And Nigeria’s first Shia cleric was minted. Then he imported the Shia branch of Islam into Nigeria. He quickly made inroads into the Islamic establishment, despite the fact that until his return from Iran, Nigerian Muslims had embraced the undiluted Sunni beliefs. His political ideal has remained turning Nigeria into an Islamic Republic based on the Iranian model, where the Ayatollah is the highest political authority ahead and above the President. This is why he opposed the application of Sharia Law in certain states in the North, as he wanted its total application and the country devoid of other religions. What would that entail for Nigeria? Well, look at Iran for the answer. At the top of Iran’s power structure is the Supreme leader, who holds power until he dies. He is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces and controls the Islamic Republic’s intelligence and security operations; he alone can declare war or peace. He has the power to appoint and dismiss the leaders of the judiciary, the state radio and television networks, and the supreme commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He also appoints six of the 12 members of the Council of Guardians, the powerful body that oversees the activities of Parliament and determines which candidates are qualified to run for public office. The Supreme Leader’s sphere of power is extended through his representatives, an estimated 2,000 of whom are sprinkled throughout all sectors of the government and who serve as the Leader’s clerical field operatives. In some respects the Supreme Leader’s representatives are more powerful than the president’s ministers and have the authority to intervene in any matter of state on the Supreme Leader’s behalf. May we please contemplate Shiites and Sunnis. Non-Muslims should not kick themselves for not knowing the difference, for even the British World War I leader, the great Winston Churchill—in 1921, while busy drawing razor-straight borders across a the Middle-East—asked an aide for a three-line note explaining the “religious character” of the Hashemite leader he planned to install in Iraq. He asked: “Is he a Sunni with Shaih sympathies or a Shaih with Sunni sympathies. “I always get mixed up between these two.” What caused the original divide? The groups first diverged after the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, and his followers could not agree on whether to choose bloodline successors or leaders most likely to follow the tenets of the faith. The group now known as Sunnis chose Abu Bakr, the prophet’s adviser, to become the first successor, or caliph, to lead the Muslim state. Shiites favoured Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali and his successors are called imams, who not only lead the Shiites but are considered to be descendants of Muhammad. After the 11th imam died in 874, and his young son was said to have disappeared from the funeral, Shiites in particular came to see the child as a Messiah who had been hidden from the public by God. The largest sect of Shiites, known as “Twelvers,” have been preparing for his return ever since. With this unpopular agenda for the Nigerian state, El-Zakzaky has always been an adversary of the government, both military and democratic. Another difference between Sunnis and Shiites has to do with the Mahdi, “the rightly-guided one” whose role is to bring a just global caliphate into being. As historian Timothy Furnish has written, “The major difference is that for Shiites he has already been here, and will return from hiding; for Sunnis, he has yet to emerge into history: a comeback versus a coming out, if you will.” In a special 9-11 edition of the Journal of American History, Appleby explained that the Shiite outlook is far different from the Sunni’s, a difference that is highly significant: … for Sunni Muslims, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim world, the loss of the caliphate after World War I was devastating in light of the hitherto continuous historic presence of the caliph, the guardian of Islamic law and the Islamic state. Sunni fundamentalist leaders thereafter emerged in nations such as Egypt and India, where contact with Western political structures provided them with a model awkwardly to imitate … as they struggled after 1924 to provide a viable alternative to the caliphate. Yet, Osama bin Laden was a Sunni Muslim. To him the end of the reign of the caliphs in the 1920s was catastrophic, as he made clear in a videotape made after 9-11. On the tape, broadcast by Al-Jazeera on October 7, 2001, he proclaimed: “What America is tasting now is only a copy of what we have tasted… . Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more [than] 80 years, of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated.” Last line: Shiites are in the majority in just three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. It will be a mighty task for El-Zakzaki to make Nigeria the fourth one.