The Shi’a Uprising and the Rule of Law, By Majeed Dahiru
…we must be guided by the rule of law to reverse the fast deteriorating security situation posed by the current Shi’ite uprising. The continuous detention of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, in defiance of the orders of courts of law, can only push the Shi’ite Muslim community to the next stage of self-help…
First published in 1990, Then I was Guided was a scholarly treatise by the Tunisian theologian, Mohammed al-Tijani al-Samawi, clearly outlining his transition from a Sunni to Shia Muslim. This piece of scholarly theological classic, which seeks to authenticate the Shi’ite doctrine, while fundamentally challenging Sunni orthodoxy, has become akin to a raison de etat for members of the global Shia Muslim community. While Mohammed al-Tijani al-Samawi’s book is praised in Iran and the larger Shia Muslim world, it is condemned as heretic document in the Sunni Muslim world, with its outright ban in Saudi Arabia.
This is symptomatic of the ailment of a deep sectarian fault line within the ranks of the global Muslim community, dating back over a millennium to 632 AD, the year of the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Like so many other misconceptions that have coalesced into the firmament of religious orthodoxy, the concept of Caliphacy (successor of the Prophet), was at the root of the great schism that is Shia and Sunni Islam. The companions of the Prophet, who were pious men of great faith in God but were limited by human knowledge, didn’t come to the terms with the fact that Muhammad (PBUH), was a messenger of God by divine commission, whose prophetic duties can neither be inherited by filial blood ties nor transferable to associates. As a matter of scriptural fact, the divine commission of the long line of messengers of God, which began with Adam (AS) terminated with Muhammad (PBUH), when God described him in Quran 33:40 as, “…the seal of prophets” [Khatam an-Nabiyyin]. The Prophet’s worldly duties as the political head of the Muslim state, paled into insignificance upon his death, as Islam is an empire of faith, which cannot be presided over by an ordinary mortal without divine commission and can only be guided by the divinely revealed word of God (the Holy Quran) and the prophetic tradition (the Sunna). In conceptualising the issue of Caliphacy, a distinction was not clearly made between the Prophet’s worldly political leadership and his divine commission as a messenger of God.
Unfortunately, the ensuing struggle for the successor of the Prophet created a crack within the early Muslim community, between a minority, which favoured a direct blood line succession through Ali Ibn Abu Talib, his cousin and son-in-law (Shitte) on the one hand and the majority, which believed in succession through the consultative consent of the majority of the people (Sunni). This struggle was to culminate in several centuries of division, strife and blood shed, as Muslims fell upon Muslims on a concept (Caliphacy) which has no foundation in the divine scriptures, the prophetic tradition and the logic of common reasoning. The fallacious concept of Caliphacy and its associated division, strife and bloodshed have been sustained throughout the ages by empire builders who seek to use man’s subjective interpretation of faith (religion) as a potent weapon to achieve power for personal socio-economic gains.
The current stand-off between the Shi’a Islamic Movement in Nigeria and the Sunni dominated government, in an equally majority Sunni Muslim country, portends an existential threat as the next possible frontier of the Saudi Arabia/Iran proxy war, which is currently ravaging Iraq, Syria and the Levant. Nigeria is already a country at war with itself…
After a brief period of respite between the collapse of the last Muslim Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, in 1922 and rise of political Islam, which culminated in the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Muslim world is once more plunged into a complex web of sectarian wars. From the civil war in Lebanon and Iran-Iraq war in the 80s to the insurgency in Iraq, following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime and the current civil wars in Syria and Yemen, are all Shi’a/Sunni sectarian conflicts for supremacy at the behest of regional rivals, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’a Iran.
The current stand-off between the Shi’a Islamic Movement in Nigeria and the Sunni dominated government, in an equally majority Sunni Muslim country, portends an existential threat as the next possible frontier of the Saudi Arabia/Iran proxy war, which is currently ravaging Iraq, Syria and the Levant. Nigeria is already a country at war with itself, as it is battling different conflicts on multiple fronts, ranging from the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, the terrorism of herdsmen in the Middle Belt and cross-border banditry in the North-West, and cannot risk the additional security challenge of being drawn into a very destabilising Shi’a/Sunni sectarian war. Recent happenings that have been described as clashes between Shi’ites and security forces in and around the capital city of Abuja is nothing but a full blown uprising of a religious minority in protest of entrenched persecution and injustice by the Nigerian state. For two consecutive years, 2014 and 2015, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through its security agencies, have used disproportionately heavy force in the crackdown of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, leading to hundreds of death for offences of traffic obstruction and other related issues that do not attract capital punishment, according to the laws of the land.
Over the years, the Nigerian geographic space has retrogressively degenerated into a fragmented ground of competing ethno-religious groupings for political dominance, resulting in the usurpation of law and order by the dictates of religion and culture. Major religious groups in Nigeria are as guilty of varying degrees of malfeasance, ranging from obstruction of the free flow of traffic, noise pollution and other forms of social irritation, as the Shi’ites have under the guise of carrying out their religious obligation. It is a common experience for streets of major cities to be completely taken over by both human and vehicular traffic when Sunni Muslims are observing the weekly Friday congregational (Jummat) prayers. It has also become a routine experience for commuters plying the Lagos/Ibadan express way to get held up for many hours whenever Christian faithful of the Redeemed Christian Church of God are observing their monthly Holy Ghost convention. In both of these instances, it is very doubtful if a “blocked” army convoy will shoot its way through, return in the night to demolish both worship centres and massacre hundreds of men, women and children extra judicially. Singling out Shi’ites for routine disproportionate punishment by security forces, for offences made possible by the failure of the state to uphold law and order, smacks of the persecution of Nigeria’s most significant religious minority.
Beyond the current Shi’ite uprising, efforts should be made to pull the Nigerian state out of its status as a competing ground for religious supremacy. The Nigerian government must begin to impartially uphold the rule of law and roll back the encroachment of ethno-religious tendencies in the society.
And now we must be guided by the rule of law to reverse the fast deteriorating security situation posed by the current Shi’ite uprising. The continuous detention of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, in defiance of the orders of courts of law, can only push the Shi’ite Muslim community to the next stage of self-help to resist the on-going brutal crackdown on them by security forces. Ibrahim El-Zakzaky should be released on bail immediately, while his prosecution should continue in accordance with the rule of law. By the same stretch, officers and men of the security forces who were involved in the Zaria massacre must be held accountable for their actions by the state, while compensation for the victims is adequately made. Denial of justice is an open invitation to anarchy through self-help. And Mohammed Bin Salman, the butcher of Riyadh, and the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran will be only too willing to extend a helping hand to both sides of the ensuing sectarian conflict.
Beyond the current Shi’ite uprising, efforts should be made to pull the Nigerian state out of its status as a competing ground for religious supremacy. The Nigerian government must begin to impartially uphold the rule of law and roll back the encroachment of ethno-religious tendencies in the society. No religious group should be allowed the privilege of breaking the law in whatever form, while constituting an encumbrance on the rights of others. Most importantly, sanctions against offenders should be applied only in line with the rule of law.