The representative of the Leader of Islamic Movement In Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as Shiites, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and the head of the Islamic Group in Katsina State, Sheikh Yaqoub Yahaya Katsina explains the motives behind their incessant protests and what they really want from government. SAXHONE AKHAINE reports.
The Shiites have been protesting and confronting authorities. What do the Shiites really want?
I think we should understand that followers of the Islamic Movement are practising Muslims, and it is their fundamental right to practise the religion of their choice.
As Muslims, our Creator demands that we practise Islam in totality and this is what we set out to do. We are not demanding any territory or oil wells or traditional emirate council or rights that belong to others. What we really want is to be allowed to practise Islam as Allah commanded without interference from anybody, as enshrined in the religious books of Islam.
But it seems that though government has agreed in principle that citizens can practise the religion of their choice, in reality, it does not want Muslims to practise Islam according to what Allah decreed. In a nutshell, we demand justice, which has to do with placing things appropriately
The Constitution says religion is a private matter that should not be undertaken in a manner that deprives others of their rights. But it seems your sect has been acting contrary to this…
We know the constitutional provisions that allow everybody to practise his/her religion, and that is why we have never forced anybody to follow us. We have never interfered in the way others practise their own religion, whether Islam or Christianity. Also, in the 44-year history of Islamic Movement, no religious group or political party has ever taken us to court, accusing us of trying to infringe on their rights or to do as they wish.
Does it not bother the Movement’s leadership that the lives of the youths that often go out to protest are at risk?
There is no way a group of people, no matter their ideology, will not feel concerned with the loss of any member’s life. We are deeply touched by this unnecessary loss of lives inflicted upon us by the government. But you should understand that no struggle would be victorious without sacrifices by its members.
Look at the struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa led by the late Nelson Mandela. Did you know how many lives were lost before Mandela was freed and eventually the apartheid system was dismantled?
I think it is those killing us that should be forced to stop their act of brutality against unarmed citizens. They should be asked why they are killing people when the Constitution has given them the right to protest peacefully.
What is the fundamental difference between the Shiites and the rest of Muslims that makes it so difficult to broker peace?
What should be understood is that Islam is a religion sent by Allah the Creator through his Prophet Muhammad with the command that his progeny are his vicegerents after him. If at all there is any difference between the Shia and Sunni Muslims, it is on who should be followed after the Prophet. But basically, there is no much difference.
It is only when religious bigotry comes into play that you find it difficult for the two to live in peace. The Islamic Movement believes and calls for the unity of Muslims and even non-Muslims. That is why we have a preaching session termed Unity week, where people of different Islamic thoughts and Christians are invited to attend and speak on their worldview. The aim is to help in interfaith peaceful coexistence.
Aside engaging in protests, in what other activities or skills do you engage your youths?
It seems you think those you see on the streets protesting are jobless youths, or that they don’t want to enjoy life. This is far from reality. Most of them are gainfully employed, with some in government employment and others in the private sector. Some followers of the Movement are university graduates and undergraduates.
Indeed, we help those not employed to get jobs. Islam prohibits becoming a liability to others. Accordingly, the Islamic Movement empowers its members in one way or another. And as citizens of this country, we enjoy government services like the Anchor Borrower scheme and others. Those you see in Abuja sponsored themselves to participate in such protests. Going to Abuja is not for the unemployed.
Government controls the society and could work in any manner to suppress a group. Are you willing to subject yourselves to civil authorities?
We believe in the necessity of having a government, which is why we participate in all government affairs. We pay our taxes. And you see us going to court to demand our rights? If we don’t believe in government, why should we go to court? Our children go to government schools, and we go to government hospitals.
So, anyone claiming we don’t believe in constituted authority is just lying. When criminals are being identified in society, you hardly find any of them in the Shia community. We are law-abiding citizens.
You are not the only Islamic sect in the country. So, why does your group seem confrontational towards civil authority? Is this in your DNA?
Confrontation towards authorities can’t be in our DNA. Carefully examine any confrontation we are involved, and you will find that we are always the victims. We don’t cast the first stone, so to say. We don’t fight governments, as they come and go. It is the other way round. For one reason or the other, governments choose to fight us. Even in the case of the Zaria massacre, initially what government said led to the killings was a road blockade, allegedly made by our supporters. Let’s assume it is true, but did government security agencies act according to the law of the land? They didn’t. Rather, they chose to exterminate us, which was wrong.
From your view, what is the simple way to peace outside the judiciary, because this has been an endless face-off with successive governments?
We believe every country thrives when the laws of the land are obeyed. Those in authority derive their power from these laws. Therefore, the solution to these crises lies in following laid down rules. Last week, the House of Representatives advised that our leader should be released. Also, a Federal High Court has ruled in favour of our leader, Sheikh Zakzaky. Human rights bodies and activists have made the same call that our leader should be freed.
So, we see no reason why the Buhari administration should be adamant to such calls. Even the Kaduna State judicial commission of inquiry into the Zaria genocide said the military should be probed and those found culpable prosecuted. But till date, there is nothing like that. One can even safely say it is a government that is asking us to come out on the streets, due to its stubbornness and refusal to act according to the law.
How connected are your group to Iran and foreign sponsorships?
It is religious understanding that binds us with Iran, just like most Salafist are affiliated to Saudi Arabia, Sufis to Morocco and Baghdad or Senegal. If you look at the Christians, they are affiliated to the Vatican and Jerusalem. It is not something different when it comes to affiliation with Iran. What is known is that there is no financial sponsorship to us from Iran. Even the Kaduna State judicial commission of inquiry came to the same conclusion that the Islamic Movement is not sponsored by any foreign country.