First published in 1990, ‘’Then I was Guided’’ was a scholarly treatise by the Tunisian theologian, Mohammed al-Tijani al-Samawi, clearly outlining his transition from a Sunni to Shia Muslim. This piece of scholarly theological classic, which seeks to authenticate Shi’ite doctrine while fundamentally challenging Sunni orthodoxy, has become akin to a raison de etat for members of the global Shia Muslim community. While Mohammed al-Tijani al-Samawi’s ‘’Then I was Guided’’ is praised in Iran and the larger Shia Muslim world, it is condemned as heretic in the Sunni Muslim world with an outright ban in Saudi Arabia.
This is symptomatic of the ailment of a deep sectarian fault line within the ranks of the global Muslim community dating back over a millennium to 632 AD, the year the death of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Like so many other misconceptions that has coalesced into the firmament of religious orthodoxy, the concept of Caliphacy [successor of the Prophet], was at the root of the great schism that is Shia and Sunni Islam. The companions of the Prophet, who were pious men of great faith in God but were limited by human knowledge didn’t come to the terms with the fact that Muhammad PBUH, was a messenger of God by divine commission, whose prophetic duties can neither be inherited by filial blood ties nor transferable to associates. As a matter of scriptural fact, the divine commission of the long line of messengers of God, which began with Adam [AS] terminated with Muhammad PBUH, when God described him in Quran 33:40, as…….’’ the seal of prophets [Khatam an-Nabiyyin]. The Prophet’s worldly duties as the political head of the Muslim state, pales into insignificance upon his death as Islam is an empire of faith, which cannot be presided by an ordinary mortal without divine commission and can only be guided by the divinely revealed word of God [Quran] and prophetic tradition [Sunna]. In conceptualizing the issue of Caliphacy, a distinction was not clearly made between the Prophet’s worldly political leadership and his divine commission as a messenger of God.
Unfortunately, the ensuing struggle for the successor of the Prophet created a crack among the early Muslim community between a minority, which favoured a direct blood line succession through Ali Ibn Abu Talib, his cousin and son in law [Shi’ite] on the one hand and the majority, which believed in succession by consultative consent of the majority of the people [Sunni]. This struggle will culminate into several centuries of division, strife and blood shed as Muslims fell upon Muslims on a concept [Caliphacy], which has no foundation in divine scriptures, prophetic tradition and logic of common reasoning. The fallacious concept of Caliphacy and its associated division, strife and bloodshed has been sustained throughout the ages by empire builders who seek to use man’s subjective interpretation of faith [religion] as a potent weapon to achieve power for personal socio-economic gains.
After a brief period of respite between the collapse of the last Muslim Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and rise of political Islam, which culminated in the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Muslim world is once more plunged into complex web of sectarian wars. From the civil war in Lebanon and Iran-Iraq war in the 80s to the insurgency in Iraq following the fall of the Saddam Husain regime and the current civil wars in Syria and Yemen, are all Shia/Sunni sectarian conflicts for supremacy at the behest of regional rivals Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.
The current stand-off between the Shia Islamic Movement in Nigeria and the Sunni dominated government in an equally majority Sunni Muslim country portends an existential threat as the next possible frontier of the Saudi Arabia/Iran proxy war, which is currently ravaging Iraq, Syria and the Levant. Nigeria is already a country at war with itself as it is battling different conflicts on multiple fronts ranging from the Boko Haram Insurgency in the north east, Herdsmen terrorism in middle belt and cross border banditry in the north west and cannot risk the additional security challenge of being drawn into a very destabilizing Shia/Sunni sectarian war. Recent happenings that have been described as a clash between Shi’ites and security forces in and around the capital city of Abuja is nothing but a full blown uprising of a religious minority in protest of entrenched persecution and injustice by the Nigerian state. For two consecutive years, in 2014 and 2015, the federal government of Nigeria through its security agencies have used disproportionately heavy force in the crackdown of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, leading to hundreds of death for offenses of traffic obstruction and other related issues that do not attract capital punishment according to the laws of the land.
Over the years, the Nigerian geographic space has retrogressively degenerated into a fragmented ground of competing ethno-religious groupings for political dominance, resulting into the usurpation of law and order by the dictates of religion and culture. Major religious groups in Nigeria are as guilty of varying degrees of malfeasance ranging from obstruction of the free flow of traffic, noise pollution and other forms of social irritation as the Shi’ites under the guise of carrying out their religious obligation. It is a common experience for streets of major cities to be completely taken over by both human and vehicular traffic when Sunni Muslims are observing the weekly Friday congregational [Jummat] prayers. It has also become a routine experience for commuters plying the Lagos/Ibadan express way to get held up for many hours whenever Christian faithful of the Redeemed Christian Church of God are observing their monthly Holy Ghost convention. In both of these instances, it is very doubtful if a ‘’blocked ’’ army convoy will shoot its way through, return in the night to demolish both worship centres and massacre hundreds of men, women and children extra judicially. Singling out Shi’ites for routine disproportionate punishment by security forces for offences made possible by the failure of the state to uphold law and order smacks of persecution of Nigeria’s most significant religious minority.
And now we must be guided by the rule of law to reverse the fast deteriorating security situation posed by the current Shi’ite uprising. The continuous detention Ibrahim El-Zakzaky the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in defiance of the orders of courts of law can only push the Shi’ite Muslim community to the next stage of self-help to resist the on-going brutal crackdown by security forces. Ibrahim El-Zakzaky should be released on bail immediately while his prosecution should continue in accordance with rule of law. By the same stretch, officers and men of the security forces that were involved in the Zaria massacre must be held accountable for their actions by the state while compensation for the victims adequately made. Denial of justice is an open invitation to anarchy by self-help. And Mohammed Bin Salman, the butcher of Riyadh and the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran will be only too willing to extend a helping hand to both sides of the ensuing sectarian conflict.
Beyond the current Shi’ite uprising, efforts should be made to pull out the Nigerian state from its status as a competing ground of religious supremacy. The Nigerian government must begin to impartially uphold the rule of law and execution of order to roll back the encroachment of ethno-religious tendencies in the society. No religious group should be allowed the privilege of breaking the law in whatever form as well as constituting an encumbrance on the rights of others. Most importantly sanctions against offenders should be applied only in line with the rule of law.