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Killings in God’s Name and the Travails of Nigerian Shi’a Muslim Community, By Abuchi Obiora (Part I)

Since the time man became conscious of himself and his environment as he indulged in human socialization, man has asked questions as to his origin.

Observing his limitations and sundry mysteries around him, man believed that a hidden power far greater than his own – a power which actually controlled him and the mysteries he observed, existed.

Man’s search for knowledge to explain out this superior power and other things that perplex him as well as explore his origin created the vacuum which has been filled with the sundry religions that sprouted from multiple cultures in different locations around the world.

In his natural self-protective instinct, protecting himself and all of his own, man began to assert a selfish authority over the religion which he discovered as a tool to contemplate his origin from that ultimate superior source which he called God. In time, he was to breathe in an air of exclusivity, asserting ownership of this God over whom he also claims sole knowledge of. Growing in selfish pride and ego, man instituted the process of dismantling all obstacles to his belief in the God he has just discovered, including killing fellow human beings in God’s name.

In his investigative, best-selling book titled “In God’s Name”, David Yallup took a swipe on the business activities of the Roman Church in what he called ‘Vatican Incorporated’ to examine the reasons preceding the 1978 suspected murder of Pope John Paul I, who refused to play ball and allow the business men in cassock at the Vatican to continue their multi-billion dollar swindles, after the Pope’s election to the papacy by the college of cardinals.

Apart from the Pontiff, so many other people were either poisoned, assassinated or suicided in that gruesome duel between the power of light and that of darkness, – a duel which read like an epic fictional drama cast by international celebrities.

To the shock of the world and chagrin of the faithfuls of the Roman Church, David Yallup chronicled the sordid details of events and the multi-billion dollar politics and business of some highly placed cardinals and other powerful members of traditionalist families of the Roman Church laity that led to the controversial death of Pope John Paul I.

Pope John Paul I who was the Catholic Pontiff from 26th August 1978 to 28th September 1978 was born Albino Luciani in Belluno, a Province in Veneto region in northern Italy. He was said to have been poisoned a month and two days after his ascension to the papacy through a careful displacement of either his food or beverage which were usually served indiscreetly in accordance with the simple specifications of a Pope whose humility was legendary. There were more deaths both in the Vatican and around the world following the death of the diminutive Pope,  to cover up the unholy scandal of money laundering, stock round-tripping, stealing and killing in God’s name, which we will not bother ourselves with, in this work.

During the Protestant Reformation in England in the 16th century, King Henry VIII started the process of creating the Church of England after his split with Pope Clement VII because the king was anxious to ensure a male heir after his wife, Catherine of Aragon had borne him only a daughter. He needed to divorce his wife and marry another wife, to which the Pope rejected. As a result, the king who had been knighted ‘The Defender of the Faith’ by the Pope caused the English Parliament to pass a series of acts that separated the English Church from the Roman hierarchy in 1534.

These acts made the English Monarch the head of the church, with the name, Church of England, Anglican (means ‘of England’) Domain, or Communion, as most commonly used. Rome did not go to war to force England back to the Church of Rome, so no human blood was shed in that split.

However, several centuries before, precisely in 1170 before the Church of England split from the Church of Rome, something happened. The playwright, T.S. Eliot composed an epic drama on a true life story in England. This true life story is the murder of Thomas Becket, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of Church of England, Anglican Communion, who was later canonized and declared a saint by the Church of England.

Thomas Becket presided over the Church of England between 1162 – 1170A.D. Elliot told the story in his play titled, “Murder in the Cathedral” which was heinously committed on 29th December, 1170 A.D. The murder was the culmination and the end of the struggle, the conflict between the Crown, represented by King Henry II, and the Church, represented by Thomas Becket.

Killing in God’s name is not exclusive to the Christian religion. As a matter of fact, more killings have been recorded in the religion of Islam than in Christian religion. Killings in the religion of Islam are done either as a result of Islamic Fatwa, or as a result of inter-sect squabbles. One of such inter-sects squabbles started immediately after the death of Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.) in 632 A.D, and what is known as Shi’a Isalm was formed.


Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) began preaching Islam at Mecca before migrating to Medina from where he united the tribes of Arabia into a singular Arab Muslim religious polity. With Prophet Mohammad’s death (S.W.A), in 632 A.D. disagreement broke out over who would succeed him as leader of the Muslim community. According to WIKIPEDIA, while Ali Ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-law, and the rest of Mohammad’s close family were washing the prophet’s body for burial, the tribal leaders of Mecca and Medina held a secret gathering at Saqifah to decide who will succeed Mohammad as head of the Muslim state, disregarding what the earliest Muslims, the Muhajiruns regarded as Mohammad’s appointment of Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khunium.

Umar Ibn al-khattab, a companion of Mohammad who was the first person to congratulate Ali at the event of Ghadeer, nominated Abu Bakr in what was regarded by a school of Islamic thought as a betrayal. Others, after initial refusal and bickering, settled on Abu Bakr who was made the first Caliph. This choice was disputed by Mohammad’s earliest companions who held that Ali had been designated the successor by the prophet himself.

According to Sunni accounts, Mohammad died without having appointed successor and with a need for leadership, they gathered and voted for the position of a Caliph. Shi’a account differs by asserting that Mohammad has designated Ali as his successor on a number of occasions including on his death bed. Ali was supported by Mohammad’s family and the majority of the Muhajirun, the initial and early Muslims, and was opposed by the tribal leaders of Arabia who included Mohammad’s initial enemies, including naturally, the Banu Umayya. According to WIKIPEDIA, Abu Bakr’s election was immediately followed with a raid on Ali’s house where most of the holy Prophet’s spiritual collections were kept. This raid was led by Umar and Khalid Ibn al-Walid.

It must be noted that the succession to Prophet Mohammad (S.W.A) spiritual stool is an extremely contentious issue. Muslims ultimately divided into two branches based on this issue which forms the primary theological barrier between major divisions of Muslims: Sunni and Shi’a, with the latter following Ali as the successor to Prophet Mohammad.

Furthermore, the two groups also disagree on Ali’s attitude towards Abu Bakr and the two Caliphs who succeeded him, Umar (or Umar Ibn al-khattab) and Uthman (or Uthman Ibn Affan). Sunnis tend to claim Ali’s acceptance and support of their rule, while the Shi’a maintains that he distanced himself from them, and that he was being kept away from fulfilling the religious duty that prophet Mohammad had appointed to him by the more powerful allies of the Caliph appointed by the converted Muslims who did not constitute the majority of the Muhajiruns, the earliest Muslims, close confidants, compatriots and associates of the prophet. The Sunni Muslims further say that if indeed Ali was the rightful successor as ordained by Allah (S.W.T), then it would have been his duty as leader of the Muslim world to levy war with this people (Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman) until Ali established the decree by force. But Ali preferred to toe along the path of peace and net levy war with competitors to the vacant spiritual stool.

The Shi’a Muslims also say that Ali did not fight Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman because firstly, he did not have the military strength and secondly, if he had fought them, a civil war would have erupted amongst the Muslims of the Arabian world which was still a growing Muslim community at the time. Shi’a Muslims also say that apart from peace which Ali desired amongst Muslims as a true and anointed successor to Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) and his blood relationship with and love for the Holy Prophet (S.A.W), he also reasoned that the conquered people of the Arabian nations would have had an opportunity to backslide from the religion if and when a war erupted.


In this Part I of a four-part discourse, we shall take an introductory look on Shi’sm from a historical perspectives, tracing it’s origin from the death of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) in 632 A.D. Apart from taking a brief history of the advent of Shi’a Islam in Nigeria through the dogged efforts of a renowned servant of Allah (S.W.T), Sheikh Ibrahim Yaqoub El-Zalzaky, th e subsequent parts of this discourse shall take a pathetic look on the tests, trials and tribulations of the Nigeria Shi’a Muslim community, and the resilience and victories of an uncommon Islamic Religious community who has held its peace in spite of the unceasing, malicious and senseless killings of its members by the Nigerian constituted authorities.

The discourse will end with the suggestions of possible options for the attainment of a lasting peace within the folds of the Nigerian Shi’a and Sunni Islamic religious sects with the greater chances to serve the purpose forn which the religion of Islam was founded by Prophet Mohammad (S.W.A). It will also  recommend how peace among the Muslim community in Nigeria may be achieved through the isolation of its fold from the 1400 year-old effort initiated by the first Sunni Caliph and encouraged and sustained by subsequent generations of grand Caliphs to pulverize the Shi’a sect through the channels of the appointed local Caliphs.

Shi’a Islam, also known as Shi’ite Islam or Shi’ism, is the second largest branch of Islamic sect after Sunni Islamic sect. Shi’a adheres to the teachings of Mohammad and the religious guidance of his family (who are referred to as the Ahl Al-Bayt) or his descendants known as Shi’a Imams. Prophet Mohammads (S.W.A) had five biological children by his wife Khadeejah, and two other children outside marriage. He also had an adopted son, Zayd Ibn Harithah. The children by Khadeejah are Al-Qaasim (son), Zaynab (daughter), Ruquyyah (daughter), Umm Kulthoom (daughter) and Fatima (daughter). The other two children are Abd-Allaah (son), and Ibraheem (son). Six of his biological children died in his lifetime, remaining Fatima whose husband Ali, is accepted by the Shi’a Islamic religious sect as their progenitor and patriarch.

Mohammed’s bloodline continues only through his daughter Fatima as his sons were already dead. Fatima with her husband Ali alongside with the Prophet’s grandsons by Fatima, comprise the Ahl-al-Bayt.

For this reason, Shi’a considers Mohammed’s (S.W.A) descendants as the true source of guidance. Shi’a Islam, like Sunni Islam, has at times been divided into many branches. However, only three of these divisions currently have a significant number of followers and each of them has separate trajectory. These smaller sects which may not be mentioned here are all working in concert with the originating sects from where they sprouted, to work against the opposite group it regards as an usurper of the authority of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W).

From a political point of view, the history of the Shi’as was in several stages. The first part was the emergence of the Shi’a which starts after Prophet Mohammads (S.A.W) death in 632 AD. and tarries until the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. This part coincides with the Imams of Ali, Hassan Ibn Ali and Hussain. The second part is the differentiation and distinction of the Shi’a as a separate sect within the Muslim community, and the period starts after the Battle of Karbala and last until the formation of the Shi’a states about 900 A.D. During this section of its history, Shi’ism divided into several branches.

The third section is the period of Shi’a state. The first Shi’a state was the Idrisid Dynasty (780-974 A.D) in Maghreb. Next was the Alavid Dynasty (864-928 A.D) established in Mazandaran (Tabaristan), north of Iran. These Dynasties were local, but they were followed by two great and powerful Dynasties. The Fatimid Dynasty was formed in Ifriqiya in 909 A.D, and it ruled over varying areas of the Maghred, Egypt and Levant, until 1171 AD. The Buyid Dynasty emerged in Daylaman, north of Iran about 930 A.D and then ruled over central and western parts of Iran and Iraq until 1048 A.D. As a result, the period from the mid tenth to the mid eleventh century A.D is often known as the “Shi’a century” of Islam. In Yemen, Imams of various Dynasties usually of Zaidi sect established a theocratic political structure that survived from 1897A.D until 1962. Iran, formerly of Sunni majority religion, underwent a process of forced conversion to Shi’a Islam under the Saffavis Dynasty between the 16th and 18th century. This process also ensured the dominance of the Twelver sect within Shi’ism over the Zaidiyyah and the sect of Isma’ilism of the modern day.


Shi’ism began as a practical struggle to put the record straight and take up the spiritual mantle dropped by the holy prophet, but having failed in that attempt, became a distinct Islamic religious movement like the Church of England started with the struggle between the Pope and the King before the King influenced the British parliament to enact the religious acts carving out the church of England from the church of Rome, and establish it as an autonomous religious entity.

One thing that surprises me is that Muslim clerics and Islamic religious scholars who should bury the hatchet and forge ahead in unity in pursuit of the virtues prescribed in the Glorious Qur-an are themselves neck-deep, and at the forefront of the battle to undo one another across the two divides of the Shi’a and Sunni sects. My opinion here is that Prophet Mohammadu (S.A.W) will not be happy in Jannatul Firdausi knowing that the religious faith which he founded and waged many deadly wars to propagate has unceasingly been waging an internecine war against itself shortly after his death, and now for 1400years.


Though the two major sects within Islam, Sunni and Shi’a agree on most of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam, the bitter split among the religion as a result of succession issues some 1400 years ago, cannot allow the two sects to work together in unity.  One of the differences that exist as separate doctrines in the two sects are selection of religious leaders.

Shi’as believe that only Allah (S.W.T) can select religious leaders and therefore all successors of Prophet Mohammad (S.W.A) must be direct descendants of Mohammad’s family whom they believe would be selections of Allah (S.W.T). The Shi’a Muslims maintain that Ali, Prophet Mohammad’s cousin and son in-law was the rightful heir to the leadership of the religion of Islam after Prophet Mohammad’s death.

The second difference is in the Hadith relating to prayer and marriage. This is discussed under the next sub-heading of this work.


Shi’ism and Sunnism split in the aftermath of the succession struggle following after the death of Prophet Mahammad (S.W.A) in 632 A.D. This struggle was a result of the politics of the early Caliphs. Due to the Shi’a belief system that Ali should have been the first Caliph, the three Caliphs that proceeded Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman before the actual separation were considered illegitimate usurpers. Because of this, any Hadith that were narrated by these three Caliphs were not accepted by Shi’a Hadith collectors. As a result of this, the number of Hadith accepted by Shi’a Islam is far less than the Hadith accepted by the Sunnis with many non-accepted Hadiths being ones that had to deal with the integral aspect of Islam, such as prayer and marriage. It is also suspected that the interpretations of those Caliphs had been influenced by some pegan practices of the Quraysh tribes and Arabian practices which the holy Prophet (S.A.W) fought to stop among the conquered people in his lifetime.

Somehow, this conquered people with some of the practices condemned by the holy Prophet (S.A.W) have become the modern day visible crusaders for the religion with head quarters stationed in Saudi Arabia, one of the conquered territories.

In the absence of a clear Hadith such as in situations involving marriage and prayers, the Shi’a Muslims prefer the words and actions of the Imams (members of the prophet’s family) on the similar level as the Hadith of the prophet himself over other ways. But a school of Islamic thought believes that this flexible application of the Hadith in these circumstances has led to the theological elevation of the Imams as being infallible.




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REMARK: Read Similar Posts by ABUCHI OBIORA as archives in: The Kaleidoscope

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