Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky (alternately Ibraheem Zakzaky; Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky) (born 5 May 1953) is an outspoken and prominent Shi’a Muslim leader in Nigeria. He is the head of Nigeria’s Islamic Movement, which he founded in the late 1970s when he was a student at Ahmadu Bello University, and began propagating Shia Islam around 1979 as at the time of the Iranian revolution—which witnesses Iran’s monarchy overthrown and replaced with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini. Zakzaky believed that the establishment of a republic along similar religious lines in Nigeria would be feasible.
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He has been detained several times due to accusations of civil disobedience or recalcitrance under military regimes in Nigeria during the 1980s and 1990s and is still viewed with suspicion or as a threat by the Nigerian authorities. In December 2015, the Nigerian Army raided his residence in Zaria, seriously injured him, and killed hundreds of his followers. Since then, he has remained under state detention in the nation’s capital pending his release, which was ordered in late 2016.
In 2019, a court in Kaduna state granted him and his wife bail to seek treatment abroad but they returned from India after 3 days on the premises of unfair treatment and tough restrictions by security operatives deployed to the medical facility.
Early life and education
Ibraheem Zakzaky was born on 5 May 1953 (15 Sha’ban 1372 AH), in Zaria, Kaduna State. He attended the Provincial Arabic School, Zaria (1969-1970), the School for Arabic Studies, Kano from 1971-1976, where he obtained the ‘Grade II’ Certificate, and the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria (1976-1979), where he earned a first-class bachelor’s degree in Economics.
The degree was denied to him by the university authorities due to his Islamic activities. During his university days, he was active in student Islamic unionism, where he became the secretary-general of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) at the Main Campus of the university (1977/78), and later became Vice President (International Affairs) of the National Body of the MSSN in 1979.
The same year, he is said to have become so impressed with the 1979 Iranian Revolution that he wanted one at home. Later, Zakzaky went to Iran, ultimately becoming a Shia cleric. At home, he became the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and turned it into a vehicle for proselytizing and gaining followers in the 1990s. As a result of his activities, millions have converted to Shia Islam in a country once with hardly any Shia population.
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Islamic Movement in Nigeria
Ibraheem Zakzaky is the primary figure and spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (formerly: Muslim Brothers), Africa’s most prominent Shi’a Muslim movement. Of Nigeria’s 180 million population, around 50% are Muslim, a small minority of which belong to Shi’a Islam. According to Nnamdi Obasi, Senior Analyst on Nigeria at the International Crisis Group (ICG), the IMN’s goals are twofold: “to ensure more stringent application of Islamic legal and administrative systems…then ultimately to create an Islamic state in Nigeria.” Dr Iqbal Siddiqui described El-Zakzaky as “the de facto leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria”.
Political alignment and Activities
The Resource Forum of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) held a symposium on “The Creation of the Illegal State of Israel” at Arewa House Kaduna on 21 May 2008. Zakzaky said,
“when Israel is celebrating sixty years of occupying Palestine’s land, we are mourning because the truth is Israeli State is created on the basis of terrorism and what is not yours, no matter years of oppression and hostage it would slip someday along with those supporting them. Israel will fall with her allies certainly.” - Cited by All Africa
Detention and ordered release
According to the judgment of the high court of Nigeria on 2 December 2016, Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky was ordered to be released from Department of State Services (DSS) detention into police custody within 45 days. El Zakzaky and his wife were to be paid the sum of 50 million Naira ($164,052) in compensation. The judge announced that the justification of “holding him for his own protection” is not sufficient.
On 16 January 2017, Amnesty International demanded that the “Nigerian authorities must immediately comply with a High Court order and release […] Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife from detention.”
On 13 January 2018, Zakzaky, detained at an unknown location without charges since December 2015, made a short public appearance, his first in two years, being allowed to see his doctor. Since 2014 Zakzaky was held captive by Nigerian federal government and Kaduna State government for criminal charges, since then, many of his followers have protested in some state for his release. The act of detaining Zakzaky in this manner for a long time argued to be against the law of the federation.
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