Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky: Who exactly is this Abusite?

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The media today is awashed with news that the Leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Shiekh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky has arrived at the Abuja international airport in company of his wife Zeenat, and should about now be on his way out of the country to India to receive medical attention. Who exactly is Ibrahim El-Zakzaky? Let’s take a look:

Ibrahim Zakzaky (Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky) (born May 5, 1953) is an outspoken and prominent Shi’a Muslim leader in Nigeria. He is the head of Nigeria’s Islamic Movement, a movement that he founded in the late 1970s, when he was a student at Ahmadu Bello University, and began propagating Shia Islam around 1979, at the time of the Iranian revolution which saw Iran’s monarchy overthrown and replaced with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Early life and Education

Ibraheem Zakzaky was born on 5 May 1953, 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.

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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.

Sheikh Ibraheem El Zakzaky
Sheikh Zakzaky giving a lecture at ABU‘s mosque in the 1990s.

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.

Islamic Movement in Nigeria

Ibraheem Zakzaky is the primary figure and spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (formerly: Muslim Brothers), which is the most prominent Shi’a movement in Africa. Of Nigeria’s 200 million population, around half are Muslim, a small minority of which belong to Shi’a Islam.

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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

Zakzaky was jailed several times for his ideas by all the successive Nigerian regimes from Obasanjo during the military Era to Abacha/Abubakar regime to the current Buhari administration. Charges against him were always sedition or inciting disaffection to Government. In Abacha time it was believed to be because of his declaration; “there is no government except that of Islam”.

His total prison experience before his current incarceration is nine years in nine different prisons across the country – the most famous being Enugu (1981-1984), the Interrogation Center of NSO, Lagos (1984-1985), Kiri-Kiri Maximum Security (1985), Port Harcout (1987-1989 and 1996-1997) and Kaduna (1987 and 1997-1998).

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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 May 21, 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 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.”

Ibraheem El Zakzaky‘s Personal life

He is married to Zeenah Ibraheem, with whom he had nine children. Currently, only three of his children (one son and two daughters) are living. He lost three of his sons in the Zaria Quds Day massacres in 2014. Three more sons died in the 2015 Zaria massacre.

He has traveled widely across the world. Countries visited include UK, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon, Sudan, South Africa, US and Russia

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Chila Andrew Aondofa

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