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Is Kano State On The Verge Of Sectarian Violence?

Recent violent rhetoric between leaders of different sectarian Muslim groups in the northwestern state has been a source of concern and could lead to further strife.

Earlier this month, the Kano state government banned the controversial, prominent and fiery Islamic cleric Sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru Kabara from preaching, leading prayers and teaching religious literature.

The embattled cleric known for his anti-Salafi remarks has since been under a house arrest with the government citing security reasons for its action. The Commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, who addressed reporters in Kano, said the decision was part of the Executive Council’s resolutions at its weekly meeting.

The entrance gate to the cleric’s mosque and, by extension, his house have been sealed, and no visitor was allowed to see him.

In an interview with journalists, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje said the decision came after watching a short video of the cleric commanding his followers to put to death anybody who attempted to attack his mosque.

Briefing other clerics who complained about Sheikh Abduljabbar and sought the state’s intervention at the government house, Ganduje said banning the cleric was an initial step to stopping him as other actions would follow soon.

The video Ganduje was referring to was widely circulated on social media. The cleric was recorded threatening unknown attackers who destroyed his mosque’s lighting system overnight and promised to come back to do more damages.

In the video, Abduljabbar complained that the police were not responding after several reports as the criminals kept on attacking him. He added that he would not relent to take the law into his hands since he was not “considered worthy of protection.”

In a phone call with HumAngle, the cleric said he had already recanted his provocative words in a second video he made a week after. He accused his enemies of digging and recirculating the old video to paint him black.

“I withdrew my words in another video. It’s there online. I mentioned that we will hand over any criminal to the police,” he said.

Accusation Of Blasphemy

File: Sheikh Abduljabbar Kabara
File: Sheikh Abduljabbar Kabara

On their part, some clerics in Kano accused Sheikh Abduljabbar of blasphemy by falsifying and criticising the authenticity of some religious texts revered by Sunni Muslims, including hadith collections Sahihu Muslim and Sahihul Bukhari.

His followers see sheikh Abduljabbar as a religious reformer challenging the texts’ legitimacy, which he has accused of contaminating the teachings.

He pointed out that many sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad were undermining his image and promoting terrorism, misogyny and other social ills. Abduljabbar accused early Muslims who served under Umawy and Abbasid dynasties of falsely attributing the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings to justify their moral and political corruption.

According to him, cleansing Islam of those contents would be a step toward closing the gates that atheists and other non-Muslims use to tarnish the religion’s image.

Other clerics, especially those he engaged in arguments with, including his stepbrother Sheikh Qariballah Nasiru Kabara, accused him of misguiding Muslim youth by his teachings.

A merger of religious sects within Sunni Islam joined hands and called for the state government’s intervention to silence him lest he destroys their version of Islam.

In a Facebook live video, the dethroned emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II, who belongs to the Tijjaniyya Sufi order, described the state government’s action as justifiable.

He added that Kano was built on the Sunni edifice and would never entertain other views. He further accused the cleric of inclination to Shi’a Islam and misquoting Islamic texts.

According to him, the cleric’s interpretation insulted Islam’s image, not the texts he was quoting.

In response to the various allegations, Sheikh Abduljabbar requested the state government to organise a public debate between him and other clerics who accused him of blasphemy.

The government granted his wish, scheduled the event to be aired live in two weeks, and asked the other clerics to prepare.

Some of the clerics, such as Sheikh Aminu Daurawa, former Head of Shari’a Police (Hisbah), rejected the invitation.

Although there is no consensus of what entails blasphemy, the accusation of blasphemy itself has proven to be a simple way to incite mobs to attack someone belonging to another religious sect.

Shi’a Muslims, Sufi radicals (Yan Haqiqa) and other liberal Muslims (Yan Boko) have been faced with frequent life-threatening messages from other Muslim faithful in the state. Likewise, non-Sunni Nigerians have often accused the government at state and federal levels of sectarian loyalty.

Politicisation Of Religion And Sectarian Loyalty

File: Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje
File: Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje

The large following attracted by Sheikh Abduljabbar gave him an immense opportunity to mobilise significant political influence in the state. Seizing it, he has either openly supported or opposed political leaders in Kano and other northwestern states.

He contributed to the political failure of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, former governor of Kano State, whom he fought in 2011. He was also opposed to Ganduje’s gubernatorial bid in 2019.

According to him, the governor followed his enemies’ sentiments and decided to stop him from preaching because he wanted to pay old scores.

In an interview with BBC Hausa, Sheikh Abduljabbar called his followers to get permanent voter cards and prepare to vote against Ganduje in 2023.

Ganduje had, however, insisted that political grievances did not trigger his action.

Responding With Violence

File: Sheikh Abdulwahab Abdallah
File: Sheikh Abdulwahab Abdallah

Inter-sectarian incitement and the accusation of blasphemy is not new to the circle of clerics in Kano. Sectarian rhetoric and sentiments are full of calls for violence and blasphemy allegations, mostly targeting religious minorities.

In an audio recording circulated widely by the followers of Sheikh Abduljabbar, one of the Salafi clerics identified as Sheikh Abdulwahab Abdallah was heard saying he would kill him.

“We will kill him if we get a chance to do that,” he said in a phone call with someone who demanded that the clerics should organise a debate with the Sheikh Abduljabbar.

While accusing Sheikh Abduljabbar of blasphemy during a Friday sermon, Sheikh Abdallah Gadon Kaya said there would be no peace if people continue to watch him insult the image of the companions of the Prophet.

Mallam Abdulmudallib Gusau, another Salafi cleric, called for the government to kill Sheikh Abduljabbar during a religious lecture session recorded in a video.

The Muslim majority population in northern Nigeria, including Kano State, has been at the centre of sectarian clashes for a long time. The first significant religious violence in Kano took place between Dec. 18 and 29, 1980, triggered by members of the notorious Maitatsine sect.

Documented history shows that Muhammadu Marwa, the sect leader, emigrated to Kano in 1945 from Marwa in northern Cameroon and entered the city as an Islamic scholar. He caused the 1980 religious riot in Kano and many other parts of northern Nigeria between 1980 and 1987.

The official death toll said Maitatsine sectarian violence claimed 4,200 lives, including the outlawed sect leader.

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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