In search of justice and tolerance among Muslim groups in Nigeria

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It is the duty of every Muslim to help his brothers, whether he is the ‘oppressor or the oppressed.’ With this, helping the oppressor involves standing against his injustice, in a good manner and campaigning for the cause of the oppressed to ensure that justice is achieved.

Like many other segmented communities worldwide, the possibility of violent skirmishes is high in Nigeria for an array of reasons which are too numerous to mention here. One of these violent confrontations occurred between the state security forces and the Muslim-Shia group resulting in wanton destruction of lives and property with a confirmed death toll of about 348 Shiites after the excessive use of force by the military – 348 is the conservative figure given by the mainstream media, individual accounts range from 700 to 800. The exact number will never be known because there are reports of mass graves in the aftermath of the confrontation. Yes, it is wrong for the Shia group to block the major high ways in the course of their procession, but does this justify the brutal use of force by the Nigerian army on the group in a crackdown that lasted more than two 24 hours after the immediate threat has been removed?

In 2016, following the annual Ashura processions of the group, a new round of mild violent ensued. This time between the youths and the Shia group (largely because of long standing ideological differences). In response, a ban was issued on the group by governor El-Rufai following the new wave of affrays between the group and the youths (mostly Sunni). In a certain way, the new law effectively criminalizes membership of the religious group through the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) – an umbrella group for the shiite brotherhood with more than 70% affiliation from the entire members within Nigeria. The governor may be right in his intention to allow for peace as contained in his statement most especially when he re-affirmed that the state will continue to support freedom of religious practices and tolerance among the citizens, though in some quarters, the statement has been tagged as phoney and mischievous. From a rather different perspective, the criminalization of the group is a rather sensitive issue. It’s practically like telling ‘other Muslims’ not to go out for Eidul Adhaa, or telling Christians not to celebrate Christmas in order not to irk other groups of people who do not agree with them, probably to avoid an attack on members of the their group, thereby putting lives and properties in danger.

Effectively, it indirectly implies that the group should not continue their rituals to avoid the displeasure of other groups. The statement reads “Section 97A of the Penal Code (Cap 110, Laws of Kaduna State, 1991) empowers the Governor to declare as an unlawful society any organisation whose activities are dangerous to the security and good governance of the state.” Contrarily, the media coverage of the unfortunate situation has it that the group did not initiate an attack, rather, some angry youths attacked them first. Still, they are the culprits. In a practical expression of this new law, the state government ordered the arrest of one Ibrahim Musa for identifying himself as the spokesman of the group.

Another appalling part of the narratives is the unchecked irrational activities of some youths despite the presence of security operatives of the state. In a footage of the first encounter in 2015, some of the anti-IMN youths were even seen stealing from the lifeless members of the Shia group. It was so unappealing that some desensitized youths were even celebrating the mass killing of other youths!

In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “Whenever you see a funeral procession, stand up till the procession goes ahead of you”. One day a funeral procession passed in front of him and he stood up. When he was told that it was the coffin of a Jew, he said, “Is it not a living being (soul)?” Also, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) used to visit non-Muslims who were sick. Hence, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) visited Abu Talib in his sickness, and he also visited a sick Jewish boy. Yet, brain-washed UNISLAMIC MUSLIMS are happy for the death of other Muslims. They were even stealing from their pockets!

It is very sad that this is the same way many minorities and immigrants are treated all over the world. I will never be part of dhulm or injustice. I’m a Muslim! I don’t belong to any sect! I hate injustice, not even being unjust to animals. The Quran says:
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So, follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” (4:135)

“Oh you who believe! show integrity for the sake of Allah, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to taqwa. Fear [and respect] Allah. Allah is aware of what you do.” (Surat al-Maida, 8).

Like El-Rufai reiterated, the Nigerian constitution allows for freedom of association and of independent thought as well as safety for all citizens. Contrarily, his actions along this line is in the ‘other way around’ in what can be called democratic injustice. Allah will hold us all accountable for our deeds. When we talk of injustice, it means not giving a level or plain playing ground to peoples of whatever denomination. Religious freedom is expressly allowed in Nigeria and there are no socio-cultural impediments to it, except of course, the silly intolerant youths who do not understand the Quran but act with irrational and unintelligent emotions.

Sometimes, I don’t understand the values some people who claim to be Muslims follow because they can be so ‘unislamic’. What I can think of now is ironical, I’d call them UNISLAMIC MUSLIMS because they are so far away from Islamic teachings. They, in their ignorance can be the opposite of what Islam stands for.  Some UNISLAMIC MUSLIMS are supporting injustice against others and jubilating in support of the mass slaughter of Shias in Nigeria.

The government too was implicitly complicit. The best way to respond to this is not by issuing an outright ban on them, but to create an atmosphere where freedom is given to all without prejudice. Muslims and Christians in Nigeria all get favourable conditions in terms of holidays and treatments. If the Shia want to have their processions, then they should be lawfully recognized as a group in need of preferential treatments like other groups. The Shia procession is not limited to Nigeria, it is also observed across the world in many countries where there are adherents of the creed in Africa, Middle East and Asia. The government should adopt an accommodating approach to the issue without any ideological bias, even, it means creating a holiday for them in such a way that their procession will not necessarily lead to crises and collisions. After all, others enjoy the same privilege, and an injustice against any group is a timed-bomb!

by Murtala Wazeer

Murtala Wazeer is a researcher with a background in History, International Relations, Strategic Studies and Islamic studies. He’s currently doing his second MSc. In development Governance and Development studies at a leading university in Belgium. He’s ideologically not affiliated to any sect, rather he sees himself as a muslim following the teaching of the Quran and Sunnah.

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