Brief History of The Life of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky

Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky after his release from prison in 1999.

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. Abridged from the work of: The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Shaikh Zakzaky’s Work.


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 a very early age from his father.

While still learning the Quran under his father, he also attended another Quranic school in his neighborhood. He also accompanied 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.

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, 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 Sheikh enrolled himself into the program, 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 took two different examinations at almost the same time, the results of which came out shortly after and the Sheikh passed both with flying colours.

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. However, due to the fact that the Sheikh was more exceptional in Economics, he later, pursued his 4 years undergraduate career in Economics which he completed in 1979. 

– The Beginning of the Islamic Movement in University:

In the late 70s, the Sheikh found himself as a member of one of the religious associations 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 the 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 employ 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: Communists, Federation of Christian Students (FCS) and the Muslim Students Society (MSS). 

Sheikh Zakzaky began his thinking and teaching regarding Islam as a political force and system.

The University’s authority had its eyes on the Sheikh and all those who were with him on his cause, in the same manner that they profiled communists.  To this end they would demote profiled students, put on probation or their results withheld.

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 colleagues were considered the newer prime targets. The school authority therefore failed them deliberately in examinations, and even expelled others from the school. When all these failed, security operatives started jailing whoever believes in Sheikh Zakzaky’s ideas.

The Sheikh was also jailed, and missed four of his five examinations. After he and the others were released several days later, the other papers were brought to him which he passed with flying colours. They therefore withheld the result. To this very date, forty years after, ABU has not issued Sheikh Zakzaky his degree certificate.

– After Graduating From 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 was not yet known to the rest of the people.

It was amidst all these that the world witnessed the Islamic Revolution of Iran in February, 1979. That a particular Islamic scholar called people to Islam, struggled for several years, calling for the end of a system of anarchy and imperialism and establish an Islamic system of government, was unbelievable at that moment. Until Ayatollah Khomeini proved the world wrong. This gladdened the Sheikh’s heart and that of his followers and gave them a new confidence that what they have started is 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.

– Funtua Declaration:

During the nascent years of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the followers of the Sheikh in Universities- used to organize among themselves such gatherings like IVCs, seminars and etc. it is during one of such gatherings, on 5th 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 the Almighty (T), his prophet (S) and the Holy Quran. He declared his call for the people to return to the path of  the Almighty, with Quran as a legal code. The lecture was henceforth termed “The Funtua Declaration”.

– 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  schools of thought 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 a 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 months 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 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 this two year 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 in 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 supported the Sheikh in their multitudes 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 an international conference in London. The Sheikh was however released some five days after the arrest.

From 1991 the Sheikh was not arrested until 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 THE 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 reportedly even assassinate Sheikh Zakzaky, the 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.

– Conclusion:

It is almost four decades since the Sheikh started this call, and he now has over 20 million followers in Nigeria and other neighbouring 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 were 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.

Abridged from the work of:

The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Shaikh Zakzaky’s Work.

July, 2019