This year, Nigerian Shia Muslims have visited Nigerian Christians to celebrate Christmas with them in solidarity. Both groups, Nigerian Christians as well as Shia Muslims, a muslim minority group, have been repeatedly targeted by Muslim extremists in Nigeria.
Shia Muslims, together with other minorities such as Christians, have been repeatedly targeted by groups such as Al-Shabab, however they have also faced state-sponsered religious persecution carried out by the Nigerian army. During the Zaria Massacres, over 348 Shia Muslims were gunned down by the Nigerian military for holding demonstrations in public. 347 bodies were secretly buried in a mass grave and 800 went missing. The leader of the Shia Muslim group, Ibrahim Zakzaky, was shot seven times and blinded in one eye. He has been detained by the Nigerian army since 2015. His elder sister was burned alive and his wife and two sons were shot dead by the army. Thousands of Nigerian Shias have been killed by the military and hundreds of others detained, some have died for lack of medical care. 1,866 children were orphaned due to the attacks of the Nigerian army against Shia Muslims. Last week, January 2018, a demonstration was held calling for justice of the innocents that were killed merely due to holding a specific faith and against the ruling authorities who have had leading Nigeria Shia cleric detained without charge for over 3 years. They were met with tear gas fired by the police and some have been critically injured due to gunshots.
In 2016, an open letter was written to the Nigerian president in which Shia Muslims were deemed to be a greater threat to Nigeria than Al-Shabab, a terrorist group which has pledged allegiance to ISIS, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls and displaced more than 2.3 million Nigerians. The letter also warns the president to ‘beware of Shia Muslims’ to which the letter held hateful, anti-Semitic and racist views. Muslim extremists, especially adherents of Wahhabism or Salafism, the same ideology of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab and Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored interpretation of Sunni Islam, have long alleged that the Shia sect is a Jewish movement created to disunite the Muslim community, which was also included in the letter. Iran today is a country with a Shia Muslim majority country, and also added in the letter is that ‘Persians embraced the Shia religion in order to distort the true Muslim religion.” It is important to note that Saudi Arabia has spent over 100 billion dollars exporting Wahhabism, the exact same ideology as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, all over the world in building mosques, schools and religious institutions. It is therefore no surprise that this type of religious intolerances is very much prevalent. The writer also then pleaded the president to ‘cut the Shi’a down’, to ensure no member of this group ‘occupies an important position in your government’ and to disallow them from voting. I want to emphasise that this letter was written and approved by NAIJ News, a site which gains over 13 million readers each month and is the 7th most visited news website in Nigeria. It is evident that anti-Shiism and religious intolerance is extremely widespread and normalised by the state, directly due to the sponsoring of this ideology abroad by Saudi Arabia. This religious intolerance, especially anti-Shiism, is found all over the world in Muslim organisations that have been directly funded by Saudi Arabia in the billions. This year, targeted Shia Muslims have visited churches in solidarity with Christians in order to promote peace and religious tolerance, which one would think is a good ‘distortion’ of the ‘true religion’ rather than it being bad. Not once has a member from Nigeria’s Shia Muslim community ever attacked Non-Muslims or Muslims of other sects.
“I will protect their religion and their Churches wherever they are found. We therefore hold that Christians are not our enemy but our brothers and neighbours.” said Dr Shuaibu Musa, the leader of the Shia Muslim group.
The Nigerian government fails to keep religious minorities such as Christians and Shia Muslims safe in their own homelands due to the legitimisation and approval of religious discrimination carried out by the Nigerian military itself, as well as to how sympathy for groups such as Al-Shabab is publicly expressed in the most mainstream media outlets of the country so normally.