National Security

Despite Security Alert By Nigeria’s Secret Police, Shi’ites Brace For A Deadly Islamic Festival

By Akanimo Sampson

Despite a worrisome security alert by the Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria’s secret police on Monday that some undisclosed elements were bent on destabilising the troubled country, the defiant members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), the Shi’ites, said they will be embarking on a peaceful protest across some major cities to mark the Ashura Islamic rites.

But, because of their historical rivalry, it is common among the Shi’a and the Sunni Muslims to have deadly attacks on each other communities as they celebrate the Ashura.

Though the DSS Spokesman, Peter Afunnanya, in a statement said some groups and individuals were among the subversive forces that have been working to allegedly set the country on fire, he however  expressed the secret police’s deep concern over the use of social media to deliberately misinform Nigerians and incite them towards igniting civil unrest.

Afunanya, who warned that the DSS will never allow subversive elements to achieve their ends, urged Nigerians to come forward and volunteer information about such activities, added ‘’the DSS is committed in its pursuit of national stability in line with its statutory mandate of protecting the country against crimes and threats to its internal security.’’

Their statement: ‘’The DSS wishes to reiterate its earlier alert to the nation of plans by subversive groups and individuals to undermine national security, peace and unity in the country. These elements are determined to exploit political differences and other occurrences, within and outside the country, to destabilise the nation; they also initiate narratives to deepen their subversive objectives so as to achieve preferred illegal outcomes.

‘’The aim is to set the country on fire as well as inflame passions across ethnic and religious divides with expected violent consequences. Also, the Service expresses dismay over the increasing use of fake news and unsubstantiated information spread across social media platforms to deceive and incite sections of the populace to civil unrest.

‘’While condemning the unpatriotic and misguided activities of these anti-social elements, the Service equally warns them to desist forthwith from their unholy acts as the full weight of the law will be brought against them. In the same vein, citizens are enjoined to remain law abiding, peaceful and report any suspicions likely to inhibit public safety to appropriate authorities.’’

But the Shi’ites in a seeming counter statement by the President of their Media Forum, Ibrahim Musa, raised an alarm on alleged plots by security agents to attack them and unsuspecting Nigerians during the Ashura processions in a bid to smear their public image.

The Shi’ites are therefore, urging Nigerians and the international community to be on the alert and hold government responsible should violence breakout as they observe their streets procession.

‘’We want the world to note that our event on Tuesday is a peaceful solemn mourning procession that would not harm anybody and it is a religious duty to us. In all the years since the Ashura procession started in Nigeria, participants have never once resorted to violence even in the face of a bloody history of attacks against them by the brutal might of the state.

‘’So, the Islamic Movement wishes to alert the general public and the security agents that government plans to kill innocent security personnel, journalists and some members of the public so as to later put the blame on our members.

‘’We, therefore, call on security personnel, journalists and members of the public to be particularly extra vigilant’’, the Shi’ites said.

Ashura is however, a religious observance for Muslims all over the world. It literally means tenth, and it is celebrated on the 10th day of Muharram, first month on the Islamic calendar. It is celebrated by both Sunnis and Shi’a Muslims, for different reasons.

Islamic historians say the three days of the Ashura festival started long ago when the prophet Muhammad with his followers found the Medina community of Jews fasting for the Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. When Muhammad asked the Jews why they were fasting, they answered that they were fasting to remember the day when Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.

And so thought Muhammad that they, as Muslims should also do the same, as Moses is a prophet for the Islamic faith. So it was declared that they should fast in the tenth day of the month of Muharram. As the Islamic faith grew, Muslims and Jews did not get along, and Muhammad decided to make Ramadan the fasting month for Muslims. Ashura was left as fasting voluntary observance. Still, Muslims followed the fasting on this day. After the death of Muhammad, a big schism happened in the Muslim community to whom should succeed Muhammad, and it originated the split between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.

For the Shi’a Muslims this day of Ashura earned a new meaning after the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad and the third Shia Imam. Ashura for Shi’a Muslims is the mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali in the battle of Karbala in 680. they believe that the battle of Karbala was a battle between good and evil, and that the stand of Husayn ibn Ali, even if he died, allowed the Islamic faith to continue living. This also originates two differences in the celebration of Ashura, for Sunnis it is a time for joy since it celebrates the victory of Allah through Moses against the Egyptians, but for Shi’a Muslims it is a day of sorrow.

For Shi’a Muslims the Ashura is a day to make pilgrimages, for those who can, to a shrine in Karbala, the Mashhad al-Husayn, where the tomb of Husayn ibn Ali is. Shi’a Muslims wear mourning clothes and there is no sign of joy, no music, no dance and no earthly enjoyment. It is prohibited to plan any wedding or parties for this day, or near it. There is crying as poems are read out loud recalling the battle in Karbala and the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali.

The only sound heard is the sound of the voice who reads the marsiya, noha, latmiya and soaz in memory of Husayn ibn Ali and a drum. These events are held in Imambargah and Hussainia, which are congregation halls for Shi’a ritual ceremonies, and it is not the same as a mosque and it is mostly only used on this day of Ashura.

There are processions when people beat their chests in signal of grief and sorrow. And there are cities where they organise the reenactment of the battle of Karbala, with actors portraying the events of that day. Even though many of the Shi’a spiritual authorities have prohibited and discouraged the practice of self flagellation, there are many believers that still follow the practices of zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam, zani and matam are chains. It is common for people to donate food for all those who attend the rituals, these meals are called niazz.

For Sunni Muslims the Ashura is a day of joy and celebration with family and friends of the victories of Allah through His prophets like Moses. It is a day of joy that contrasts in great with the Shi’a Ashura.

Because of this, and their historical rivalry, it is common that on this day, and especially in countries with strong communities of both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims to have deadly attacks on each other communities as they celebrate the Ashura.