Islamic Movement in Nigeria: When Groups, Orders, Sects Meet

Islamic Movement in Nigeria: When Groups, Orders, Sects Meet

Plurality in Islamic work trends and organizations is the most important feature of the Islamic scene in Nigeria. Under this plurality, Islamic movements cross with Sufi Orders sometimes in agreement, other times in dispute. Sectarianism exists powerfully in Africa’s biggest Muslim country as a result of the Iran sponsored Shiite expansion there.
To know more about this plurality, we met with the Islamic preacher Mr. Dawoud Omran Malasa (Abu Seif) head of the “Muslim Cooeperation” group and head of the Nigerian Committee in Defense of Palestine and Al-Aqsa, as a representative of the outcome of the Islamic awakening in Nigeria, and one of the most active proponents of raising the world’s awareness of Muslims challenges and concerns in Nigeria.

Muslim Cooperation is a well-known group in Nigeria. It is basically formed of young Muslim men and women, and includes students of Arabic and English schools, both local and public, and some university graduates. The main ideas of the group revolve around preaching for God insightfully, rectifying the confusion in faith and the destructive doctrines prevalent in this Islamic society, and also leading those who went astray back to the fold of Islam. The group aims at achieving this through kind advice. Members of the group cooperate in defending Islam, and hence the name “Muslim Cooperation”.

Mr. Dawoud is a fluent speaker of Arabic due to his great love of the language and because of the attention given by the group to learning the language of the Quran.

* Mr. Dawoud, Would you draw a map of the Islamic movements in Nigeria?

–  There are many groups interested in the Islamic work. On top of them: Muslim Cooperation group, Muslim Solidarity group, the Islamic Council, Islamic Renovation group, Ummah group, Muslim Students group, Islamic Unity group, Bida’ah Elimination and Sunnah Application group, Supreme Council  of Applying Islamic Sharia, Islam Support group, Sunnite Council, and Shiite Islamic Fraternity. The most prominent in northern Nigeria are Islam Support group and Bida’ah Elimination and Sunnah Application group, while Muslim Cooperation and Muslim Students in the south.

* What are the major intellectual references of these movements?

– Some movements belong to the Salafi School such as Muslim Cooperation, Muslim Solidarity, the Islamic Council, Islamic Renovation, Muslim Students, Muslim Unity and Sunnis Council. Some of them belong organizationally to the Muslim Brotherhood School. Islamic Fraternity is a Shiite group.

* Where are these movements concentrated?

– In Muslim regions in the north and the south, but with varying effect. For instance Islam Support group has weak presence in the south but it is strong in the north. Same for Muslim Cooperation group, for it is strong in the south, but has a few branches in the north.

* How do you estimate your group’s actual presence size?

– It is one of the largest groups in the south with branches in the north, with about forty thousand members all of them students and employees.

* Are the Muslim Brothers in Nigeria affiliated with the so-called international organization of Muslim Brotherhood?

– No, it is just an ideological association.

* What about the jihadist movements in Nigeria?

–  There is no existence of jihadist groups in Nigeria. However Shiite Islamic Fraternity sometimes uses violence against the state or some individuals, and sometimes against Sunnis.

* What kind of relation does the Shiite Islamic Fraternity have with the other Sunni movements?

– There is no relation between Sunnis and Shia, just heated disputes that could develop sometimes to fighting especially in Sokoto and Zaria in the north. There is no significant number of Shia in the south.


* What about the Sufi presence?

– They have a big presence in the north and south and are the most widespread among Muslims. They are larger than the other Islamic movements, but their educational activities are very weak, therefore they barely have any political presence. They are divided into two categories: extremists and moderates. Some of the extremists abandon prayer completely and consider their daily or weekly portion of Sufi prayers a substitute to basic prayers, and some of them believe that reading “Al-Fateh Prayer” is better than reading the Quran. However, moderates are closer to the Sunnah doctrine and refuse these delusions; they also appreciate knowledge and scholars.

* Would you compare the size and presence of these groups on sectarian grounds?

– Nigerian Sunni groups are intermediate in size and power since they are not supported by any party, unlike the Shiite groups who are sponsored by Iran. Many western countries and parties support Missionary groups with millions of dollars. However, Sunni groups only got support for a project of digging an ordinary well, as well as the annual feast sacrifices which are not enough. We in Muslim Cooperation call upon the Muslim world to offer appropriate support for the Islamic activities in Nigeria, as we need to establish schools, hospitals and media centers.

* Is there any kind of collaboration among the Sunni movements?
– Most of the Sunni movements are incorporated into an organization known as “Sunnite Council”; they all have good relations despite some minor controversies.

* How many Sunni groups are incorporated in Sunnite Council? Are there any movements who refuse this incorporation?
– About 35 groups. No one refuses this league; in fact we are working on integrating the rest of groups.

* What is the position of the state and security system on Islamic movements? Is there any hostility between them, or does the state show understanding for the nonviolent movements’ presence?

– There is no hostility between the state and the Islamic movements, just an ideological difference. The state is secular and Islamic groups call for applying Islamic sharia, but they do so without resorting to violence.

* Does this discord remain within the legal framework or does it go beyond that to the extent of pursuit?

– It remains within the legal framework and pursuits are unknown. Nevertheless, there is pressure on charity work. In the year 2005, the Nigeria branch of the charity foundation Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation was banned; it was completely banned later in Saudi Arabia. Moreover groups and foreign institutions are kept under police surveillance.

* In light of the so-called “war on terrorism”, how far is the Islamic work affected by the strong relations between the Nigerian government and the United States?

–  The impact is not great, despite the fact that Nigeria is targeted by the USA as well as Britain and Israel. Each country of them is seeking to employ agents in order to gain full economic, political and security control over Nigeria, but there is no deterrent for such efforts except Islam, sharia and the Islamic groups in the north and the south.

* Are there any elements of Al Qaeda in Nigeria?

– No, there are not. All the hype about Al Qaeda existence in Nigeria is an act of deception to establish an American military base in the country. They failed to do so during the rule of the former Christian president Obasanjo, and failed again recently in the new Muslim President Musa Yar”Adua rule, thanks to the Nigerian parliament rejection of any American military base existence anywhere in the country.

* Are any of the Nigerian groups related to foreign groups?

 – A few groups have external relations, but most groups do not.

* Would you give us an idea of the most distinct Islamic activities in the country?

 –  The most prominent activities are done through mosques and schools. A few Islamists have political and media activities, but they are not strong.

* Don’t you see that Islamists in Nigeria get their ideas, especially those related to organization, from Arab Islamists?

 – That is true. A few have their own organizational point of view.

 * What are the major problems confronting Islamic work in Nigeria?

– Nigeria lies in a dark hole. The country is rich in oil and minerals, but these products are stolen by the west using the help of those ruling the country. Muslims in the south suffer from the activities of missionary and westernizing groups, they are isolated from the Muslim and Arab world. More than 75% of Nigerian Muslims are illiterate. There is no Islamic media in contrast to tens of missionary and secular media channels. There is no political or informative presence for all Islamic movements.

Even the small monetary aids that a few Muslims used to get from Saudi Arabia has stopped, especially after the ban of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, and the constant pressure and weakening of similar organizations.

About hundred foreign missionary organizations fund the freely acting missionary and westernizing activities. Muslims are not granted such support and freedom.

Since revoking the application of Islamic sharia and Arabic is deteriorating under the aegis of British colonials and missionaries. All Arabic schools in Nigeria are not accredited, neither primary, preparatory or university stages. Furthermore, all Arabic schools degree holders are considered insignificant and not allowed to state jobs.

All information centers are in the hands of Christians; hence Muslims voice is not heard. Not a single printing press for Muslims, or an information center or a magazine exists. On the other hand, Christians have hundreds; they employ these facilities in spreading Christianity, defaming Islam and Muslims.

It’s a pity that Arab and Islamic countries and organizations do not care for the Muslims in the south as if they do not exist, which adds to our suffering and to the  impotence of preaching activities in the country.

* What are the efforts exerted to convey such alarming facts to your brethren in Islamic countries?

– We hope our efforts get accepted and supported all over the world. Muslim Cooperation founded an information center in December 2005 named “Al-Quds Islamic Information Center” which is the first Islamic center in Nigeria. We are working on establishing an Islamic radio station which would be the first, but finances are still a hindrance.

*The interview was conducted by Islamonline Arabic Website, and was translated into English by Ikhwanweb.