Muslims in Pakistan and Turkey hold protests for Nigeria’s Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaki (Photos)

Muslims in Turkey and Pakistan on Wednesday gathered to express their support for the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaki and demanded his immediate release.

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Who is the Shia cleric Ibrahim Zakzaki?

Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky (also known as Ibraheem Zakzaky or Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky) was born on 5 May, 1953. He is an outspoken Shi’a Muslim cleric who also holds position as head of Nigeria’s Islamic Movement (IMN).

Zakzaky founded the Islamic Movement in the late 1970s, when he was a student at Ahmadu Bello University. He began propagating Shia Islam around 1979, at the time of the Iranian revolution—which saw Iran’s monarchy overthrown and replaced with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini, one good reason he is considered “an international figure.”

The 46-year-old is said to have belief that the establishment of a republic along similar religious lines in Nigeria would be feasible, and on this backdrop, he has been detained several times due to accusations of civil disobedience or recalcitrance under military regimes in Nigeria during the 1980s and 1990s.

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Zakzaki is still viewed with suspicion or as a threat by Nigerian authorities.

In December 2015, the Nigerian Army raided his residence in Zaria, seriously injured him, and killed hundreds of his followers. Since then, he has remained under state detention in the nation’s capital pending his release, which was ordered in late 2016.

Why are Muslims in the Arab world showing interest?

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Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are known for defending Shiite causes worldwide but not only that, Iran has responded firmly to the conflict between the Shiite group and Nigerian soldiers.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani reportedly called his Nigerian counterpart President Muhammadu Buhari to urge that a fact-finding mission be set up to investigate the recent violence since 2015.

Iran also reportedly summoned the head of the Nigerian diplomatic mission in Tehran to protest against the clashes and ask that Shiite Muslims be protected. Zakzaky has previously denied that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) receives funding from Iran, but it appears that the movement has a powerful ally in any future disputes, Newsweek adds.

One person was killed while several others sustained gunshot wounds during a protest for Zakzaky’s release in Abuja, Press TV reported on Monday.