Whatever we do, Zakzaky must not die a martyr and we must not make another monster out of the Shiites.
From some of the reactions I received on my last week episode titled ‘killing the Shiites; in whose interest?’c I thank God I am not being accused of being a full blooded Shiite but only a Shiite sympathizer. If indeed, I harbor sympathy for any individual or group in this conflict it is for the military that I believe is being over used and their services to the nation abused by political leaders. The mandate of the military to protect Nigeria from external aggression, maintain its territorial integrity, secure its borders from violation on land, sea, or air; suppressing rebellions and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order is an enormous job that comes with plenty sacrifices hence I find no justification in deploying them to quell mere civil demonstrations.
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That we have nail in our hand does not mean the solution to every problem requires a hammer. With 2000 Shiites civilian deaths recorded between 2015 and 2018, I will hate the sight of any of our military commanders who dutifully served this country being made to face trials for crime against humanity.
My heart will be broken to find the politicians who instigate and fuel these tensions walk free while the military generals rot in jail instead of peaceful retirements. Need I remind the strong men of today that the military commanders who served under Gen Pinochet in Chile are still in prison with some of them celebrating in their 90th birthdays as prisoners for crimes against humanity. The army commanders are not in jail for killing hundreds and thousands of Chileans but for figures not more than fifty deaths.
Tables do turn and I do not want to see the table turn against General Buratai and his commanders. I think it’s time for our military high command to review their relationship with the civil population and may be formulate a civilized and less controversial rules of engagements.
It is impossible for any person with conscience to be silent over the plight of Nigerian Shiites no matter how much we disagree with them. I would have maintained this same stance if for instance the army and our political leadership are dominated by the Shiites and somehow they turn the state instruments of coercion against the Sunnis. I will still call such killings unjustified and demand for investigation.
It is not sufficient for anyone to tell us in general terms that we don’t know these people. I never claimed to know the Shiites sufficiently well and that is why in my last week write-up I asked, ‘what have they done wrong and why are they being killed and in whose interest? Killing 2000 citizens who never took up arms against the state is horrifying and can neither be justifiable today nor tomorrow, and we must stop the human wastage. The wasted bloods of the innocents are crying up to heaven and enough to make God very angry with us.
It is also not sufficient for the APC propaganda machine to lie to us that the Federal government is spending N3.5m every month to feed Zakzaky with Calvin Klein beverages, Gucci foods and Armani deserts. Zakzaky didn’t ask for such luxuries at the expense of the state neither did he ask for special privileges. All that he asks is the simplest of thing that civility and humanity demand of us, obedience to the order of the court which ruled that he should be freed on bail. Whatever we do, Zakzaky must not die a martyr and we must not make another monster out of the Shiites.
In truth, we cannot resolve the problem between the Sunnis and the Shiites on this page. Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are known rivals for political supremacy. In this rivalry, both sides seek to tie political goals to religious interpretations. Within such a context, the indiscriminate killings of Shiites in Nigeria and the continued detention of Zakzaky appears to be just other additions in the long history of an inner Islamic power struggle.
The division of Islam into the branches of Sunni and Shia arose from a battle over the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed. When the Islamic prophet died in the year AD 632, his followers had to choose his religious and political successor. Shiites believed that Mohammed had chosen his son-in-law Ali to be that successor. The group now referred to as Sunnis rejected the claim and prevailed.
Shiites represent only 10 to 15 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, yet they constitute a majority in the Gulf States of Iran, Iraq and Bahrain. The two million or so Shiites that live in the oil-rich provinces of Saudi Arabia, however, are a much-bullied minority.
There are, nonetheless, many religious similarities among all groups on both sides of the divide. The Five Pillars of Islam – Testimony, Prayer, Fasting, Pilgrimage to Mecca and Almsgiving, are practically identical among all denominations, although they vary greatly in their details.
A significant difference between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam are their individual relationships to power. Throughout history, the Shiites have mostly been a discriminated minority. That has shaped their theology.
In AD 680, Ali’s son Hussein died during a revolt against the Caliph. Each year Shiites recall his death by re-enacting passion plays during the feast of Ashura. This commemoration is also kept alive in today’s conflicts. It is therefore no coincidence that here in Nigeria the killings of the Shiites and their initial conflict with the military occurred during the feast and procession of Ashura, an equivalent of the Christian procession on Palm Sundays and the passion week heralding Easter. Somehow, the dominant Sunnis still see the Ashura procession as an affront and symbol of Shiites propensity to revolt against their domination.
Sunnis and Shiites also squared up against one another in the wars fought between the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shiite Shah of Persia, today’s Iran. Just how important these denominational differences and the historical references connected to them are in mobilizing large sections of the population can be seen in the proxy wars being carried out by Iran and Saudi Arabia today. Iran supports, above all, non-Sunni groups in the civil wars taking place in Syria and Yemen, whereas the Saudis have forged alliances with predominantly Sunni states.
But beyond the religious propaganda, there are in fact many examples of peaceful coexistence which I believe can be reignited in Nigeria. Representatives from both branches have often attempted to bridge their religious divides. In 1959, Mahmud Shaltut, then rector of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, declared that Shia religious practices were equal to those of Sunni Islam. Al-Azhar University is considered to be the most prestigious of all places of Sunni scholarship.