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Here is why Shiites keep clashing with soldiers and police officers

If you have been wondering why Shiites and security officers keep clashing, here is your answer.

Who are the Shiites, what do they want from the Nigerian government and why have they been described as violent by some sections of the society?

This explainer piece will answer some of the questions you’ve been asking about all the Shiite stories you have read this week.

Who are The Shiites?

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Shia, Shiah or Shi’ah is a branch of Islam that is remarkably different from the Islam you are used to or the one you grew up knowing.

Adherents of the Shia kind of Islam are called Shiasof Ali,Shias or Shi’a. Individually, they are called Shi’I or Shi’ite.

For easy understanding, we will refer to them as Shiites or IMNs in this piece.

What do the Shiites believe in?

It’s important to state that the origin of Shia Islam is a subject of dispute among Islamic scholars.

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Depending on who is doing the story telling, Shia Islam originated from Morocco, Syria, Iraq or somewhere in India.

There are millions of Shiite devotees around the world and about 3 million Shiites in Nigeria.

Modern day Shiites draw their inspiration from Iran.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s divide Islam into two—Shia Islam and Sunni Islam.

The predominant variant of Islam practised in northern Nigeria is Sunni.

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However, while Sunnis believe that Muhammad is the prophet sent by Allah, the Shiites believe that someone else called Ali, is Allah’s true messenger.

The Shiites believe that the Islamic prophet Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor .

Shia Islam is the second largest branch of Islam. Shia Muslims constitute about 30 percent of the world’s Muslim population.

What do Shiites want in Nigeria?

The Shiites in Nigeria want the country declared an Islamic Republic.

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Led by Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the Shiites have been clamouring for an Islamic Republic in Nigeria since the ‘70s.

El-Zakzaky often travels to Iran to sort of touch base with what can now be regarded as the Shia headquarters of the world.

65-year-old El-Zakzaky is a native of Zaria, Kaduna State. He was so impressed with the 1979 Iranian Revolution that he travelled to Iran to become a Shia cleric.

El-Zakzaky imported the second largest branch of Islam into Nigeria, racking up an impressive amount of followers in the 1990s in a country that's dominated by Sunni Muslims.

El-Zakzaky is intent on the application of a more rigorous hue of Islamic legal and administrative system in Nigeria. He is also keen on ultimately turning Nigeria into a fully Islamic state.

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Who is El-Zakzaky?

El-Zakzaky never attended a formal primary school. His early education took place at the Provincial Arabic School, Zaria (1969-1970) and the School for Arabic Studies, Kano (1971-1976).

El-Zakzaky obtained a first class degree in Economics at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria (1976-1979). However, that degree was denied him because of his extremist Islamic views and activities.

For most of his life, El-Zakzaky has remained an Islamic scholar and activist.

For more on El-Zakzaky, kindly read this piece.

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Why do soldiers and police officers often attack Shiite members?

The Shiites often embark on a procession called Arbaeen.

The Arbaeen procession or walk is held globally by all Shiites.

Arbaeen is a Shia Muslim religious observance that occurs forty days after the Day of Ashura.

Ashura is the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic calendar.

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According to security forces, whenever Shiites in Nigeria embark on the Arbaeen walk in major cities across the country, they get violent, obstruct free flow of traffic and attack anyone who stands in their way.

Shiites and police officers have clashed in Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara and elsewhere in northern Nigeria.

El-Zakzaky was twice jailed by late Military President General Sani Abacha for his extremist, inciting and uncompromising Islamic stance. El-Zakzaky famously declared that "there is no government except that of Islam" during Abacha's regime.

During a pro-Palestinian procession by the IMN in Zaria on July 25, 2014, soldiers fatally shot 35 of El-Zakzaky's followers to death. Three of them: Mahmud, Ahmad, and Hamid, were Zakzaky’s sons. In total, six of Zakzaky's sons have been reportedly killed by soldiers.

Shiites and law enforcement also frequently clash in Abuja and northern Nigerian States. In 2015, Shiites clashed with soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State.

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The military claimed that the Shiites attacked the convoy in which Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, was traveling.

Shiite places of worship and homes were destroyed by soldiers afterwards and El-Zakzaky was arrested and jailed by the military.

And this week alone, 42 Shiites have reportedly been killed by police and soldiers. The Shiites have become increasingly violent as they demand Zakzaky's release.

El-Zakzaky is still in jail

In December of 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, ordered El-Zakzaky’s release, but the Nigerian state ignored that judicial directive.

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After rumours made the rounds that El-Zakzaky and his wife may have been killed in military custody, the Shiite leader was finally allowed a public appearance in January of 2018and arraigned in May.

El-Zakzaky is currently facing trial for charges bordering on unlawful gathering, criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide.

He is still in detention and hasn't been granted bail. There are reports that El-Zakzaky has gone blind in one eye following his continued detention. Zakzaky was spotting a neck brace during his first public appearance since 2015.

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