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Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)
Ikhwan al-Muslimeen / Muslim Brothers

The Nigerian state of Kaduna declared the Shia group led by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky as illegal as a state crackdown against the Muslim community continued. The Kaduna state government warned on 07 October 2016 that those convicted of being a member of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) could be imprisoned for seven years, fined or both. It further claimed that the Shia group had "overtly continued with unlawful processions" and "obstruction of public highways" since December 2015 when the Army forces clashed with the IMN members. "These acts, if allowed to go unchecked will constitute danger to the peace, tranquility, harmonious coexistence and good governance of Kaduna state," the Nigerian state added.

Two of the oldest Islamist movements in northern Nigeria receive outside support. The Jamaatul Izalatul Bidah WaIkhamatul Sunnah (Izala), a Sunni organization founded by the anti-colonial critic Sheikh Abubakar Gummi, received financial aid from Sunni organizations in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, the Shia organization, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), founded by Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, received support from Iran. These Nigerian organizations utilize this external funding as a means to recruit people to their cause and undermine the authority of the government by highlighting the governments failure to maintain public social services.

Islamic reformist organizations in Nigeria, which compete with each other for influence to interpret religion and politics in the Muslim community, have been a fixture in the North for several decades. Earlier traditions of reform were often prepared to cooperate, at least in circumscribed terms, with the government and with other Islamic reformist elements in society. However, recent Islamic reformist groups emphasize the importance of struggling against the government, and condemning it for corruption, immorality, or for failure to respond to the needs of its citizens. These reformist groups also reproach other Islamic organizations which work with the government.


The Muslim Brotherhood formally transmuted into the IMN, in part, to reflect its "Shi'ite" orientation. However, while the leadership of the IMN appears committed to the doctrines of Shi'ism, the majority of its followers are not. In fact, it remains unclear to what extent it is appropriate to term the IMN a bonafide "Shi'ite" movement.

Nigeria's Muslims are virtually all Sunni, at least historically, with a few Shia and Sufi among scholars and Nigerians returning from other countries. The radical Islamic preacher Ibrahim El-Zakzaky led a mass movement based in Zaria that was widely regarded (feared) as Nigeria's most influential Islamists. If radicalism emerged in Nigeria, a focal point would be Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, a long-time center of Islamic activism. Zaria based Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, leader of Nigeria's Muslim Brothers, relished being known as a militant and would be a likely candidate to push Nigerian Muslims toward radicalism.

Ibrahim Yakub El Zakzaky initially advanced slogans like Islamic revolution, establishment of Islamic state, total change, etc. His group initially tagging themselves as Muslim Brothers (meaning, of course, that other Muslims are not their brothers) organized lectures and several demonstrations during the first phase.

During the Cold War, al-Zakzaky was known for preaching Islam as an alternative model to socialism and capitalism and leading rallies where followers burned Nigerias constitution to protest secularism and supported Irans Islamic revolution in 1979. In the 1980s, El Zakzaky told everyone he did not belong to the Shia, his group was not out to promote Shia Islam, and what they wanted was pure Islam and nothing else. Shia may engage in taqiyya, a kind of hypocrisy allowed in their religion when a person can pretend to be what theyre not in order to achieve a goal. Between periods of imprisonment in the mid-1980s, al-Zakzaky converted to Shi`a Islam.

Somewhere along the way over his 25 years of activism he picked up both Iranian funding and Shia theology; it is unclear which came first. From 1999, however, Zakzaky started losing the political edge to groups favoring imposition of Sharia as criminal law in Nigeria's northern states, led by Ahmed Sani, now governor of Zamfara State, and others. Zakzaky seemed to fade into the background.

As of 2004, it was reported that the "Muslim Brotherhood", led by Ibrahim Zakzaky, practiced Sunni Islam. This reports seems a bit confused, since Zakazy's Muslim Brothers were Shi'a. Zakzaky rebuilt a mass movement of activists who see themselves as Shia and celebrate Shia customs such as Ashura. This may be more akin to religious branding -- to gain Iranian funding and to differentiate themselves from other radical groups recruiting from the same alienated population -- than religious conversion.

Zakzaky called his followers the "Muslim Brothers," a term usually associated by modern Islamists with the Sunni Hasan Al-Banna's Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but here reflecting that Zakzaky seeks like Al-Banna did to build an Islamic society- within-society. Zakzaky has long called his organization The Islamic Movement of Nigeria. Its followers were known as Shiites, since the organisation took inspiration from the advent and activities of Ayatollah Khomeini and the establishment of an Islamic state in Iran. The Shiites rejected the Nigerian constitution, flag and legal institutions, accepting only Shariah as a source of law and authority.

Early History

The history of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) is a bit obscure. The reformist Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), had formerly been known as the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), which was an offshoot of the Muslim Student's Society (MSS) founded in 1954. Following this, the Jama'atul Tajdid Islam (JTI, Society for the Revival of Islam) then broke away from the Muslim Brothers in 1994, excoriating its founder Ibrahim al-Zakzaky for his undemocratic leadership style and for secretly promoting Shi'ism as the group's ideology.

Following al-Zakzaky's periodic arrests in the late 1990s (he had been released in 1999), the JTI fused with the reformist Jama'atul Izalatul Bida'a wa Iqamatus Sunnah (JIBWIS or Izala, Society for the Eradication of Innovation and Restoration of Tradition), and acceded to cooperation, not confrontation, with the Nigerian government (and the North's Sufi brotherhoods).

In December 1994 the Muslim fundamentalist group the Shiites brutally beheaded Goron Dutse, an Igbo man who was accused of using pages from the Koran to clean the toilet. Dutse was arrested, but while in prison a group of mob of former IMN members turned Salafi-jihadists Shiites defied all security arrangements, broke into Dutses prison cell and a publicly beheaded him.

Activities - 2000 - Sharia Law

Many Northern states adopted versions of expanded Shari'a law in the two years since 1999. While this movement was based on local considerations, it was also, in part, a rejection of a dysfunctional secular legal system. The personal physician to Governor Sani, Dr. Bello Buzu, amputated the hand of convicted bicycle thief Lawal Isa on 03 May 2001. Isa had been convicted of stealing three bicycles by the Upper Sharia Court in the Gummi Local Government Area of rural Zamfara State on July 7, 2000. The timing of this amputation may not have been co-incidental. It was performed four days after Muslim fundamentalist Ibrahim Zakzaky publicly described Sharia in Zamfara as being a sham.

Zamfara's politicized Sharia punishments continued to be focused on the most defenseless of its citizens, while the well-known misdeeds of Zamfara's political elite--including some recently dismissed Sharia judges -- went unpunished. Sharia "Hadd" punishments, such as amputation, are intended to be imposed only in extremely rare cases (Pakistan has not had an amputation since it introduced Sharia law in 1979). In Zamfara, however, they appeared to be used to advance purely political interests.

The Federal Government continued in 2001 to settle property claims by Muslim Brotherhood leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky for compensation for his home and mosque, which were razed by law enforcement in 1997. All 96 of the Muslim Brotherhood followers jailed under the previous regime were released during 2001.

Both Zakzaky and his movement lost support because of his opposition to the adoption of "partial" Shari'a law under a secular government. Muslims expressed concern and mistrust for Ibrahim Zakzaky. They warn that while he stopped short of preaching that violence against Americans is justified by Islam, some of his followers may be more radical.

Activities - 2008 Assassinations

The group was believed to have gone into quiescence in the late 1990s; however, the 2008 assassinations of imams critical of the IMN heightened concerns that al-Zakzaky and the IMN were seeking, at minimum, to raise their profile in the North, particularly in Sokoto.

Sokoto is the seat of Nigeria's Caliphate and home of the Sultan of Sokoto, the senior Muslim traditional leader in Nigeria. In February 2005 in Sokoto State, at least three persons were killed and dozens injured in fighting between groups of Sunni and Shia. Zakzaky's Shia supporters claim their public commemoration of Ashura was attacked in an attempt to stop their procession, and one person was killed. They blamed the Sultan of Sokoto, who is the head of Nigeria's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, and some days later there was a fight at the mosque in front of the Sultan's palace. Skirmishes continued off and on through March and April.

A major fight broke out 13 May 2005 as the Shia sought to control strategic mosques in the ancient city of Sokoto. Fighting started Friday afternoon during prayers, continued until Saturday evening. There were reports of further skirmishes on Monday but sources said the police quickly stepped in to contain the situation. Three people were confirmed dead while dozens were being treated at various hospitals for minor and major injuries.

There were different versions of how the fight began, once the Shia began to seek leadership roles in mainstream mosques' governing mosque committees, especially at the central mosque named for the Caliphate's founder Shehu Dan Fodio. Some on both sides say the "Sunni activists" (themselves street toughs and little better than rent-a- mobs) attacked to stop the spread of Shia doctrine in Sunni Sokoto. Apologists (or the paymasters) for the "Sunni activists" say the Shia displayed contempt and disrespect to Sunni leaders, especially the Sultan.

The IMN's largely unsuccessful strategy of taking over mosques to co-opt followers and establish a presence in communities, rather than obtaining permission to purchase land to erect their own mosques, reflected, in part, IMN's limited funding and local support.

Bloody "religious" fights stemming from socio-economic competition are commonplace in Nigeria, as are aspiring politicos egging on such conflicts for their own political gain. The Shia seemed to be making inroads into the ranks of artisans, students and other less-privileged in the society, capitalizing on widespread alienation from northern Nigeria's dysfunctional society. Zakzaky's followers' expressions of contempt for the local establishment were therefore quite appealing to these categories of people, who were also a bedrock of support for the city's traditional Muslim rulers like the Sultan.

Clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslims historically have occurred for political reasons, as the latter views perceived excesses of institutions such as the sultanate, the emirates, and other mainstream Islamic institutions and their leaders as "un-Islamic" or too closely allied with secular government.

By 2008 intra-religious strife among Muslims in Nigeria was growing, as evidenced by several assassinations of Sunni imams, who had been critical of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), which was thought to be responsible for these murders. The perceived "Shi'ite" orientation of the IMN distinguished it from other Islamic reformist organizations in northern Nigeria, which are Sunni. However, these assassinations did not take place because of inherent doctrinal disagreements between Sunni imams and "Shi'ite" followers of the IMN. Rather, the IMN presumably went after these Islamic religious figures because they used the pulpit to undermine and discredit the IMN's contention that the Nigerian government is corrupt and un-Islamic, and that Islamic leaders who work with the government are breaching the tenets of their faith.

Activities - 2014-15

Zakzaky reported the army killed dozens of his supporters and three of his sons 25 July 2014, during a religious procession. Zakzaky said the army targeted the annual Quds Day procession in Zaria, Kaduna State, while the army argued that it acted in self-defense after being shot at by IMN members. The army and the National Human Rights Commission said they had opened investigations into the killings.

There were multiple confirmed reports in 2014 that Boko Haram had targeted individuals and communities because of their religious beliefs, including Christians in remote areas of Borno and Yobe States. On November 3, a suicide bomber in Yobe State killed more than 20 Shia members of IMN participating in a procession commemorating Ashura.

Soldiers opened fire 12 December 2015 on Shia Muslims attending a ceremony in Hussainiyyah Baqeeyatullah, a religious center and funeral parlor in Zaria. The Shias had reportedly stopped the convoy of Nigerias Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai as IMN leader al-Zakzaky was planning a speech in the religious center. The Nigerian military said one of its convoys was attacked by followers of Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the IMN. "The sect numbering hundreds carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tyres," an army statement said. "The troops responsible for the safety and security of the Chief of Army Staff, on hearing explosions and firing, were left with no choice than to defend him and the convoy at all cost."

Following the incident, Nigerian forces raided the home of the top Shia cleric and arrested him after killing several of those protecting him, including one of the groups senior leaders and its spokesman. Zakzaky was detained after being shot and injured by troops. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria confirmed that Zakzaky had been apprehended by government troops. Nigerian authorities accuse Zakzaky of trying to assassinate the Nigerian army chief, a charge that he vehemently rejected. Some reports had put the death toll of the attack at about 20 but the Islamic Movement of Nigeria said the army had killed hundreds of its members.

The movement, in a statement on 13 December 2015 by its spokesperson, Ibrahim Musa, said About a thousand of members of the movement have been massacred at the moment as counting continues, but the soldiers are now busy evacuating the dead bodies to unknown destination.... We believe that the army is clearing the corpses to unknown locations for mass burials to cover up for its crime. We hereby demand unequivocally that they should release the corpses to us, so that we can give them a proper Islamic burial. The people they killed are not foreigners; they are citizens with their relatives known."

Major General Adeniyi Oyebade saying, I want to convey to you members of the press that the Shia leader al-Zakzaky is safe and in protective custody in a very secured facility. His wife is safe and also in protective custody. In the course of time he himself will be speaking to his members." Ibrahim Musa, spokesman for the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, gave a different account, saying the groups leader was injured in the attack and had been unable to leave his house "because of the gunshot wounds he sustained in the indiscriminate fire soldiers opened on the house and his followers who tried to protect it.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) condemned what it has described as "the massacre of ordinary civilians and key members of the Islamic Movement" which started on Saturday, 12 December 2015. It said at least 1,000 had so far been killed, countless have been injured and medical attention was being deliberately denied to the victims.

Nigerian government is responsible for the safety of prominent Nigerian Shia leader Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, Supreme Leader's Office said on 14 December 2015. Deputy Head of Supreme Leader's Office for International Affairs Hojjatoleslam Mohsen Qomi made the remarks while touring the Islamic Republic News Agency. He expressed concern about whereabouts of Nigerian religious leader al-Zakzaky. He said that the Nigerian government should not let the current critical situation to get worse. 'Regretfully, in recent days we see a suspicious episode is taking place in Nigeria and the Israeli regime is likely to be clandestinely involved,' he said.

Iran summoned the Nigerian Charge d'Affaires in Tehran to protest against deadly clashes between Shia Muslims in the country's north and the army. Iran's foreign ministry called the violence between the military and followers of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) "unacceptable",

Support & Membership

Zakzaky combined his various sources of funding with various sources of recruits, drawing on northern Nigerians' combination of great anger at their society's dysfunctionality and great unemployment from it. Zakzaky put together a large enough organization to hold rallies in many places on Shia-connotated holidays such as Ashura, and tried to take over mainstream mosques through infiltrating their mosque committees and membership.

The appeal of the IMN appeared limited to northern Nigeria's disenfranchised and uneducated youth, and its growth remains hampered by lack of funding, local support, and an emphasis on political reform without an accompanying program for social reform like other Islamic organizations. Unsurprisingly, Sunni religious leaders were apprehensive about the presumed or rumored growth of Shi'ism in Nigeria, given pervasive antipathy for Shi'ism's doctrine and fears that the IMN's followers may possibly be violent toward other Muslims.

IMN drew its followers from among the uneducated urban and rural underclass, in contrast to its former appeal when it was under the MSS and Muslim Brotherhood, which primarily constituted northern university intellectuals (some of whom since became leading northern politicians and technocrats).

The IMN has been most popular across the emirate states (i.e., Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Jigawa, Bauchi, and Gombe) because of its criticism of the emirs (including the Sultan of Sokoto), establishment Nigerian Islamic institutions like the Sufi brotherhoods, and other Islamic reformist organizations like the Izala.

The IMN's appeal, in part, resulted from al-Zakzaky's capacity to effectively discredit other Islamic reformist organizations for aligning themselves too closely with what al-Zakzaky deems a corrupt, un-Islamic government. The youth who identify with the IMN also do so for the sense of identity and community (and economic advantage) such associations engender.

Overall, the IMN's allure has not been a function of its association with Shi'ite doctrine. Its popularity emanates from al-Zakzaky's capacity to present himself as a voice for Islam in Nigeria by articulating the concerns of northern Nigeria's disenfranchised and unemployed youth, and by himself maintaining the appearance of incorruptibility and righteousness.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria reportedly mobilized more than one million people for Shi`a religious events and 50,000 people for political rallies where Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei, and Hizb Allah leader Hassan Nasrallah are revered, while flags of the Great Satan [the United States] and Israel are burned.

The IMN maintains an impressive ability to draw a crowd, as attested to by the January 18-19, 2008 commemorations for Ashura, in which thousands gathered in Kano, Zaria, and Sokoto to recognize the martyrdom of Shia Islam's most revered figures. At the celebrations in Zaria on January 18, 2008, al-Zakzaky delivered a speech (in Hausa) extolling the virtues of Islam (and not Shi'ism) and exhorting followers to resist excess in worldly affairs. He also admonished followers to emulate the example of Sokoto caliphate founder Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, who al-Zakzaky said exemplified the virtues of Islam in militating against unbelief and moral laxity. Moreover, al-Zakzaky censured the Nigerian government for corrupt practices and "godlessness" and accused the U.S. of fomenting discord between Muslims around the world

The Shia organize an annual pilgrimage to Zaria, El Zakzaky's base. They trek in large groups from certain points to meet their leader. While trekking, they block major highways and create a lot of trouble for travelers, and security agents turn a blind eye to it.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2019 18:41:56 ZULU