The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Yaqoub Zakzaky was born on 15th Sha’aban 1372 (which corresponds to May, 1953) in Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria.
His parents were Qur’anic scholars, who engaged in its exegesis. At the same time, they employed farming as a means of livelihood. Therefore, Sheikh Zakzaky started learning (and memorizing) the Quran at very early age from his father.
While still learning the Quran under his father, he also attended another Quranic school at his neighborhood making it a bidirectional learning hence. However, he also accompany his father alongside his brothers to the farm to give a helping hand.
It is a laid down principle in Sheikh Zakzaky’s family that a child should first memorize the Quran by heart before being allowed to learn other Islamic books from other learned scholars. The Sheikh memorized the holy Quran at 14 and soon after that he began to learn other Islamic books from his father, his mother and other well learned scholars in his hometown, Zaria.
At his teen age, Sheikh Zakzaky mastered various aspects of Arabic grammar, Elocution, Jurisprudence, Quranic exegesis and etcetera. He was barely 20 when he already master the books commonly in use in the then Hausa community like Ajuruma, Murha, Saja’i, Alfiyan Danmaliki and others related to Arabic literature like Ishriniya, Witiriya, Ashariya and even Makamatul Hariri and Shu’ara’ul Jahiliyya. In addition, In terms of the jurisprudence of Maliki school of thought, the Sheikh has already mastered Muktasar at that early age.
In 1969 (when he was 16 years of age), the Sheikh having mastered the Quran and at the same time engaged in learning various books from different scholars, he was enrolled into Zaria Provincial School where he started to learn Arabic literature. He successfully completed the program in 1971, two years later, after which he then moved to School For Arabic Studies (SAS) in Kano, from 1971 to 1975.
The students at SAS were then trained to become teachers, who were to teach Arabic and other Islamic courses at a better standard in high institutions. But there was a separate and optional program “The Advance Level” so called, in which the trainees where taught extra lessons in the evening; and through which when successfully passed a person can apply for undergraduate studies in University.
The Sheikh enrolled himself into the program at will, where he studied English literature, Economics, Government, Hausa, Arabic and Islamic Studies.
After he graduated, the Sheikh sat for ‘Grade II Certificate’ examination while at a similar time also sat for the other special courses he undertook (those of advance level) during his stay at SAS. He therefore wrote two different examinations almost at the same time, the results of which came out shortly after and the Sheikh passed both with flying colors.
The result of the ‘Advance Level’ examination was released in 1976 which gave the Sheikh a well deserved chance for a direct entry into Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. He started studying Economics, Government and Sociology. He however- due to the fact that the Sheikh was more exceptional in Economics- later, pursued his 4 years undergraduate career in Economics which he completed in 1979.
All these said, the Sheikh conclusively therefore obtained western education- from the beginning till undergraduate study- within the timeframe of just nine years.
- The Beginning of Islamic Movement In University:
In the late 70s, the Sheikh -owing to his devotion to Islam and religious zeal- found himself as a member of one religious association which was then called Muslim Students Society (MSS). He was- due to his trustworthiness- in a short period of time, made Secretary General of the association in ABU chapter. Later, he was elected the national Vice Chairman of the association, who is in charge of overseeing international affairs.
At that time, there was a conflict of opinion on which ideological system should the country best empoy to enjoy social justice? There was a hot debate over the issue- with people having different viewpoints- especially in Universities where the people were categorized into three groups; each one holding onto its ideology:
1- The Communists: Majority of the students and lecturers who were then considered civilized and sophisticated, were of the opinion that communism is the answer. They were also critics of religion which according to them was simply meant to rule over people.
They condemn Islam by citing example with the numerous acts of terrorism that colors the leadership of Banu Umayyah and Banul Abbas Clans as well as other emirs and kingdoms that ruled in history. They also cited examples with the many atrocities of other Hausa traditional Emirs. The communist, using propaganda as a tool, tried their best to show that all what the Emirs, kingdoms and Clans committed is the teaching of Islam. They therefore hold that Islam will never bring justice to the society. They even went on to assert that Islam was only dominant because at the time (of the holy prophet) people were not civilized.
2- FCS (Federation Of Christian Students): The Christian Students were the second category. They were of the opinion that there should be no change in the system governing the country at that moment. A secular system of government is indeed what a country like Nigeria needs. And according to them, there is a difference between life and religion. While religion is between man and his God, life is between man and himself. They therefore support secularism as the best system through which justice will be ensured in the society.
They also shared a similar view with the communists that the many atrocities the traditional emirs, kingdoms and clans committed is the teaching of Islam.
3- MSS (Muslim Students Society): Sheikh Zakzaky however hold a different viewpoint that the allegation by the communists and FCS against Islam is false. He therefore organized numerous lecture sessions devonking the many lies of the communists and Christians. He educated people that religion is a divine message from God and that people’s action may sometimes be at per with Islamic teaching. The crimes committed by those Emirs and various kingdoms is far from Islamic teaching, the Sheikh highlighted. It is therefore not Islam.
Sheikh Zakzaky on his part cited example with the holy prophet (S) and his just leadership. He also stressed- to the university students- that Islam is the only system that will ensure justice in the society. From there onward, he started calling people to Islam, and the need to establish it as a system that will govern over the affairs of the people.
Sheikh Zakzaky devoted his time explaining to the students and lecturers that Islam is a complete life code for mankind. It is a religion and at the same time an ideology. And it is based on justice, sound proof and knowledge. Sheikh Zakzaky therefore hold that Islam is the answer to the debated issue. The best system of justice for the country. There will be no justice without Islam.
Sheikh Zakzaky did his assignment through organizing lectures, admonishment during IVC (Islamic vacation course) sessions, writing articles and etc.
Soon the University’s authority has its eyes on the Sheikh and all those who are with him on his cause. Before this, the authority used to have eyes on the communists, who they considered a threat to the country’s system of government. They were therefore demoted, put on probation or their results withheld, to make sure they don’t make it out. As such, their opinions and idea dies right there in the University with them.
But as soon as those in authority heard about Sheikh Zakzaky, who is not only challenging the communists and FSC but also calling people to Islam, he alongside his collagen were considered the newer prime targets. The school authority therefore failed them deliberately in examinations, and even expel others from the school. When all these failed, security operatives started jailing whoever believes in Sheikh Zakzaky’s idea.
At a similar time, Sheikh Zakzaky was writing his final examination in the University. He was arrested for his prime role in the religious struggle they were engaged in doing those days. He wrote only one paper out of the five he was supposed to write, and was put behind cell till the examination was completed. After they were released several days later, the other papers were brought to him. The school authority were perhaps thinking that the Sheikh could not be able to attempt it, but to their surprise he passed all with flying colors. They therefore withhold the result. To this very date, forty years after, ABU has not issued Sheikh Zakzaky his degree certificate.
- After Graduating From The University:
Sheikh Zakzaky continued his struggle for the establishment of an Islamic system. Since 1979, there have been a well established and accepted idea of returning to Islam deeply rooted in the minds of students in Universities, which is not yet known to the rest of the people.
It was amidst all these that the world shockingly witnessed the Islamic Revolution of Iran on February, 1979. That a particular Islamic scholar called people to Islam, struggled for several years, destroy a system of anarchy and imperialism and establish an Islamic system of government, was unbelievable at that moment. Until when Ayatollah Khomeini (QS) proved the world wrong. This therefore gladdens the Sheikh’s heart and that of his followers and gave them a new confidence that what they have started is all but possible, if they continue to struggle.
The Islamic Revolution of Iran at that moment gave a clear answer to those who were of the opinion that Islam will never rise again to govern the affairs of mankind.
- After the Islamic Revolution of Iran:
Sheikh Zakzaky visited Iran in 1980, a year after the Islamic revolution. He was opportuned to met with Imam Khomeini (QS) in his sickbed. Imam (Q) delivered a short lecture to them which Sheikh Zakzaky recorded. This also strucked in the Sheikh another confidence that the establishment of an Islamic system of government is feasible.
Upon his return from Iran, the Sheikh organized lectures in various Universities where he told the gathering about his visit to Iran and what surprised him with the people of Iran- their willpower to stage the Islamic Revolution. He started from University of Lagos, he then went to University of Ibadan, Ilorin, Jos, Maiduguri, Kano, Sokoto and other universities across Nigeria. He also delivered a similar lecture in ABU where thousands of people attended from afar, just to listen to the Sheikh.
- Funtua Declaration:
During the nascent years of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the followers of the Sheikh in Universities- although the Sheikh has already graduated then- used to organize among themselves such gatherings like IVCs, seminars and etc. it is during one of such gatherings, on 5th of May 1980, the Sheikh declared his call to the public in Funtua, Katsina State.
It was right there that the Sheikh declared his total condemnation to the system of imperialism that governs Nigeria, and reassures his allegiance to Almighty (T), His prophet (S) and the holy Quran. He declared his call for the people to return to the path of Almighty, with Quran as a legal code. The lecture was henceforth termed “The Funtua Declaration”.
- The First Procession:
The first procession that was observed in the history of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria was on April 1980. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, America hatched a vicious plan to rescue its consulates being held captive inside the American Embassy in Iran. The plan was to destroy Iran in the process. But Almighty granted victory to the Iranians at the end and the plan went astray.
Sheikh Zakzaky and his followers therefore staged a peaceful procession in Zaria showing their happiness and gratitude to Almighty for foiling America’s plan. This is the first ever procession in the history of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.
It was after this procession that in early May 1980 Sheikh Zakzaky made his declaration in Funtua. After which another procession with the slogan- and populaly known as- “ISLAM ONLY” was staged. It is therefore the second in history but the most well known.
The “ISLAM ONLY” procession was also staged on May 1980 in Zaria with a handful of brothers in attendance, holding placards with the inscription of the aim of the procession. That is, the need for the establishment of an Islamic system in Nigeria. The words “ISLAM ONLY” was also written on walls, which stayed for several years after before it fades away.
So many people were amazed by the procession. They considered the aim of the procession as something that can never be realized. That, the establishment of an Islamic system is not possible in Nigeria. They therefore considered the Sheikh and his followers as those dissociated from the reality. But yes, the procession does showed that some set of people are now determined to establish an Islamic system in the country.
Procession is one of the many ways the movement has been employing in propagating its message to the people. Today, the Islamic Movement observes Quds, Ashura and Maulud processions as well established and standard phenomena. It also joins the world in marking various other processions that may arise- in support of or condemnation- in Islamic community.
- The Coming to Understand Ahlul Bayt (as) School of Thought:
Albeit there is no clear record of exactly when did the Sheikh started following the Ahlul bayt (as) school of thought, but Shiism was prominently noticed among the members of the Islamic Movement around 1995. This said, however in 1994, some of the followers of the Sheikh shunned the struggle on the account that they can not become Shiites.
What is more important is that, Sheikh Zakzaky has never call for sectarianism or certain idealism, but rather Sheikh Zakzaky is calling people to Islam and the need for it to govern over the affairs of mankind, the need for the people to rise against oppressors who are looters of public treasury and servants of western imperialism.
Although a majority of the Sheikh’s disciples are followers of Ahlul bayt (as) school of thought, but this does not deter other people from different school of laws like Sufism and other Sunni orders to become his followers as well. Not only that, among the followers of Sheikh Zakzaky today there are Christians who are ready to fight against tyranny and injustice.
- The War Against The Islamic Movement:
A year after the “ISLAM ONLY” procession, on May 1981 Sheikh Zakzaky attended a program in Sokoto where he delivered lecture on Islam and the need for people to return to it. Immediately after the program, the Sheikh was arrested alongside other few brothers. They were arraigned before court and sentenced to 3 years in jail without been granted the right to speak to their lawyers. This was during the time of the then President of Nigeria, Shehu Shagari. As such the Sheikh and those arrested were innocently jailed for 3 years from May 1981 to May 1994.
Sheikh Zakzaky was still in jail when Buhari staged a coup against Shagari, hence becoming the new president. The Sheikh was therefore released during Buhari’s military dictatorship and was rearrested six month later when Buhari was power drunken and arresting whoever he feels threatened by his activities or influence among the people.
Buhari arrested Sheikh Zakzaky in December 1984, when the Sheikh was newly married. The Sheikh’s first child, Muhammad, was therefore born when Sheikh Zakzaky was still in Buhari’s jail. He (Buhari) however failed to provide reason for the arrest, save for a so called security reasons (just as Buhari is now holding the Sheikh under the pretext of the same absurd reason). The Sheikh was released in August 1985, after spending almost 9 months in illegal detention, when Buhari was ousted from power.
Sheikh Zakzaky spent the next two years without being arrested, while continuing with the struggle, until when General Babangida came into power and detained him for two years under the pretext of a conflict that occurred in Kafanhan. He sent for the Sheikh to be arrested and arraigned before a High Court in Abuja which ordered the detention. The Sheikh has been jailed in numerous prisons within the two years timeframe which lasted from May 1987 to 1989.
All those unwarranted arrests and detentions from the authority was a ploy to suppress the Islamic Movement and exterminate its leader Sheikh Zakzaky. He however, was never cowed to the least, the struggles continued when he is released; and whenever in detention, his followers continue with all their programs as usual. To the dismay of those in authority, people support the Sheikh in multitude whenever he came out of their illegal detention.
In 1991, Babangida again arrested the Sheikh in Aminu Kano International Airport when he was on his way to attend one international conference in London. The Sheikh was however released not five days after the arrest.
From 1991 the Sheikh was not arrested until in 1996 when General Sani Abacha was in power. He detained the Sheikh for 2 years and 3 months from 1996 to 1999. The Sheikh’s crime was that he said; “THERE IS NO AUTHORITY EXCEPT THAT OF ALMIGHTY”. After the death of Sani Abacha, the Sheikh was released when Abdussalam Abubakar was the acting President.
The Sheikh’s followership skyrocketed from thousands to millions after Abacha’s arrest. Although successive administrations like that of Umaru Musa Yar Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, have each tried their best to clamp down on the Islamic Movement and assasinate Sheikh Zakzaky which Almighty, the exalted, always foiled their plans.
But in July 2014 the Nigerian army opened fire on peaceful pro Palestinians procession in Zaria, where they killed 34 followers of the Sheikh including his 3 biological children, Ahmad, Hameed and Mahmud.
In December 2015, Buhari’s civilian administration attacked the Sheikh in his residence after killing 3 more of his children (Hammad, Haidar and Humaid) and over a thousand of his followers. He was severely shot and whisked alongside his wife Zeenah into an illegal detention for almost four years. Over hundred of his followers have been killed in various protests calling for his release.
Sheikh Zakzaky has been jailed in various prisons across the country. During the military dictatorship of Olusegun Obasanjo, he was detained behind cells for weeks in Zaria. Shehu Shagari detained the Sheikh in Enugu. Buhari detained the Sheikh in Kirikiri prison in Lagos during his military dictatorship. Babangida in Port Harcourt prison, Abacha in Port Harcourt and Kaduna, and now civilian Buhari in Abuja and Kaduna.
It is almost four decades since the Sheikh started this call, and he now has over 20 million followers in Nigeria and other neighboring countries. He is currently a global phenomenon whose reputation traverses every nook and cranny of the world especially after the 2015 Massacre in Zaria.
Sheikh Zakzaky is married to Zeenah Ibraheem, his only wife. They are blessed with nine children altogether, Muhammad, Nusaibah, Ahmad, Hamid, Suhailah, Mahmud, Hammad, Haidar Ali and Humaid, among of which six were martyred. The two ladies and Muhammad, who is already married and blessed with a son Nadirul Husain, are still alive.
The Sheikh is being called “Sayyid” because he is a Sharif, a grandson of the holy prophet Muhammad (S) through the lineage of Imam Hassan Al Mujtaba (AS).
Long live Sheikh Zakzaky and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.
The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Shaikh Zakzaky’s Work.