Rare look at Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Nigeria

March 21, 2008

Sultan of Sokoto Saad Abubakar, spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, 3 March 2007/Afolabi SotundeSunni-Shi’ite tensions are regularly in the news, but usually from a small number of countries in or around the Middle East. Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan are probably the most frequently mentioned. It’s much rarer to hear how Islam’s two main families get along (or don’t) further afield. Now, two of our reporters in Nigeria, Farouk Umar and Estelle Shirbon, have written a feature about sectarian strife in Sokoto, a historic Muslim city in the remote northwest of the country. As they explained:

Shi’a Islam was almost unknown in Nigeria until the early 1980s when Muslim radical Ibrahim Zakzaky, fired by the Iranian revolution, campaigned for an Islamic government and stricter adherence to sharia, or Islamic law.

For many youths in the poor, predominantly Muslim north, joining Zakzaky’s movement was an act of rebellion against a disappointing political and religious establishment.

Zakzaky’s personal religion is an eclectic blend of Sunni and Shi’ite ideas but many of his followers have come to identify themselves as Shi’ites. For Sunnis in Sokoto, these followers present a threat to their own religious hierarchy.

Read the whole feature here.

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