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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08ABUJA971 2008-05-30 14:51:00 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Abuja
Cable title:  

(C/NF) NIGERIA: IRANIAN ATTEMPTS TO COUNTER

Tags:   PGOV PINR KISL SOCI NI IR 
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VZCZCXRO7282
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHPA RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHUJA #0971/01 1511451
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 301451Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ABUJA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2952
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE
RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0515
RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 0909
RUEHNM/AMEMBASSY NIAMEY 0136
RUEHOS/AMCONSUL LAGOS 9304
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
					  S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000971 

SIPDIS
NOFORN

DEPT FOR INR/AA, INR/I
NIAMEY FOR DKORAN
LONDON FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/29/2033
TAGS: PGOV PINR KISL SOCI NI IR
SUBJECT: (C/NF) NIGERIA: IRANIAN ATTEMPTS TO COUNTER
WAHHABIST INFLUENCE

REF: A. ABUJA 970

B. ABUJA 701

Classified By: A/Pol/C Heather Merritt, reasons 1.4 (b, c & d).



1. (S//NF) SUMMARY: Reports that Nigerians may be studying
Shi'ism at the Imam Hussein Foundation in Ghana may open up
opportunities for the growth of Shi'ism in this
traditionally-Sunni region. Iranian attempts at promoting
Shi'ism in Nigeria (which began in the 1980s when Iran
trained and funded Shi'ite leader Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, see Ref
A) are meant to counter an established connection to the
Sunni Islamic world, particularly with Saudi Arabia and Saudi
Wahhabist influence. Given Iran's deep-rooted Sufi
tradition, and the entrenchment of Sufism across West Africa,
Nigerian (and West African) Muslims who historically have
been (for the most part) adherents of Sufism may find a
degree of commonality with Shi'ism as opposed to Saudi
Wahhabism, which is inimical to Sufism. Although only a
handful of Nigerians may be studying at the Imam Hussein
Foundation at present, this trend appears significant, in
light of its potential to contribute to intra-religious
discord among Muslims in Nigeria, and merits further
monitoring including across the West African region. END
SUMMARY.



2. (S//NF) Kaduna-based Shaykh Sanusi Khaliel (strictly
protect), who oversees the training of Sunni imams aged 22-35
throughout northern Nigeria, intimated to PolOff May 19 that
several of his students from Kaduna and Kano are currently
studying at a private Iranian Shi'a seminary in Ghana, the
Imam Hussain Foundation. The institution, which was
established in Accra in 1984, sponsors West African students
to study Shi'ism and Arabic, modeling itself after prominent
Shi'a seminaries in Najaf and Qum. Khaliel remarked that
given Nigeria's dilapidated and limited Islamic educational
institutions, Nigerians have had to travel to foreign
countries (specifically, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, and
Sudan) to obtain religious instruction. However, since
Nigerian Islam is predominantly Sunni, Khaliel averred, it
appears unusual, even "troubling" that some of his students
have decided to study Shi'ism rather than further their
studies of Sunni Islam, either in Nigeria or elsewhere in the
Middle East. Khaliel attributed the interest in studying
Shi'ism, at least for some of his students, to a desire to
learn more about the wider Islamic world and its various
philosophical and religious currents. Since Shi'ism is not
taught in Nigeria, Khaliel posited, there is a natural
attraction for individuals to learn about something that is
different or more exotic than what is available in their
immediate intellectual milieu.



3. (S//NF) Khaliel questioned how these young Nigerians
learned about the Imam Hussain Foundation in Ghana since, to
his knowledge, the organization does not maintain an office
in Nigeria. While PolOff attended a seminar last year in
Abuja convened under the auspices of the "Imam Hussain
Foundation" on the architect of the Iranian Revolution,
Ayatollah Khomeini, PolOff could not determine whether this
event was connected to the Foundation in Ghana. Shi'ism
remains widely unpopular among Nigerian Muslims, especially
in light of Nigeria's strong tradition of Sunni Islam and
connection to the Sunni Islamic world. However, since Sufism
is practiced widely across Nigeria, Nigerian (and West
African) Muslims may recognize synergies with Iranian
Shi'ism's own tradition of Sufism. While this does not
necessarily connote an acceptance to Shi'ism for Sunni
Muslims, it certainly may help to attenuate prevailing,
primarily Saudi, Wahhabist dominance in Nigeria. Although
only a small number of Nigerians may be studying at the Imam
Hussain Foundation at present, this trend appears significant

ABUJA 00000971 002 OF 002


and merits further monitoring and analysis, including across
the West African region.



4. (C//NF) Although historically Sunni, Nigeria was first
introduced to Shi'ism in the 11th century by itinerant
Islamic scholars from Egypt's al-Azhar seminary, which, at
the time, was dominated by the Shi'a Fatimid Empire (Ref B).
In the pre-modern Islamic world, legal schools of Islamic
thought, whether Sunni or Shi'a, reflected a caliph's
prestige, influence, and diplomatic relations. An empire's
capacity to spread its interpretation of Islamic orthodoxy
through trade or preaching was a mechanism through which it
extended its commercial and political prowess. While Shi'ism
ultimately had greater success in East Africa, contemporary
motivations for Iran to establish greater ties with West
Africa have as much to do with the global economy as with
religion.



5. (S//NF) COMMENT: The use of Arabic as the principal medium
of instruction for students at the Imam Hussain Foundation is
a break from Iranian tradition since Shi'a scholarship in
Iran is primarily taught in the Persian language. However,
since Arabic remains an authoritative and legitimizing medium
for imams and Islamic leaders in Nigeria, an emphasis on
Arabic in any Islamic educational curriculum is not only
authenticating, but also fundamental to the sustainability
and expansion of Islam in the region. The efforts of the
Imam Hussain Foundation may allow Shi'ism to neutralize
prevailing Wahhabist dominance in West Africa by training its
students to return to their societies in West Africa capable
of competing with other Arabic-speaking (though Sunni)
preachers and Islamic scholars.



6. (S//NF) COMMENT CONT'D: Yet, the growth of Shi'ism in
Nigeria is not inherently problematic, even for a country
with a strong tradition of Sunni Islam. For the pursuit of
Islamic religious instruction remains prosaic and laudable
for northern Nigerians and Shi'ism is recognized at least by
Nigerian Islamic scholars as a legitimate Islamic sect,
despite their aversion to it. Intra-religious violence among
Muslims in Nigeria heretofore has reflected competition for
followers and prominence, not disagreements in doctrine or
theology. Should Nigerian Islam's landscape tilt, however,
and competing claims of authenticity between Sunni and Shi'a
Muslims focus on contentious issues of doctrine, without also
allowing rhetorical and political space for those
disagreements to be articulated and negotiated, discord and
hostility may likely follow. END COMMENT.
SANDERS