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Ramzi Ben Amara

Ramzi Ben Amara


The Development of the Izala Movement in Nigeria: Its Split, Relationship to Sufis and Perception of Sharia Implementation.

Ramzi Ben Amara

The Jama’t Izalat al Bid’a Wa Iqamat as Sunna (Society of Removal of Innovation and Re-establishment of the Sunna), abbreviated as JIBWIS and known simply as Izala, was founded in 1978 by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. The official registration of the association took place in 1985 during the military leadership of General Ibrahim B. Babangida.


Both in intention and reality, the JIBWIS is an anti-Sufi-movement that was established to fight against the so called bid’a, innovation, practiced by the Sufi brotherhoods, especially the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya. Practices like naming ceremonies, celebrating the Maulid (the birthday of the Prophet), visiting tombs of Saints, etc. are considered to be as non-Islamic by the Izala.


Although the launching of the Izala society took place at the end of the 1970s, the history of the movement started several years before. Sheikh Abubakar Gumi (1922-1992) was one of the main figures of Islam in Nigeria of the 20th century. He obtained a Diploma in Arabic Studies from the Sudan and was appointed as Pilgrim officer in Saudi Arabia. After he returned to Nigeria he was appointed as a Grand Qadi of the North. The critical attitude displayed by Gumi towards Sufism in Radio Kaduna, his writings (both in Hausa and Arabic) against the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya are crucial elements in the later establishment of the Izala-society. Sheikh Gumi preached against Bid’a and Sufism without having any institution behind him.


The founding father of the JIBWIS was Sheikh Ismaila Idris (1936-2000), an Imam in the Nigerian Army from Bauchi State, who spent several years inviting people to Islam on the basis of the Qur’an and the Sunna and fighting against any innovation. In Jos, he established the headquarters of the Society.


Today the Izala is one of the largest Islamic societies not only in Northern Nigeria, but also in the South and even in the neighbouring countries (Chad, Niger, and Cameroon). It is very active in Da‘wa and especially in education. The Izala has many institutions all over the country and is influential at the local, state, and even federal levels.


The research investigates the Izala since its establishment, to identify its main figures and institutions, analyse its relationship to Sufis in the past and at the present, and to explore its perception of the re-implemented Sharia-law from 1999 in twelve Northern states of Nigeria.


The most important questions which this study seeks empirical answers to are:

  • Why and how the Izala-organization split into factions in the mid 1980s?
  • How does the Izala perceive the re-implementation of Shari’a?
  • Did they encourage, support, or oppose the implementation?
  • Does the long-drawn out conflict with the Sufis influence their stand-point towards Shari’a?
  • Is the Shari’a-debate a means of ending the conflict with the Sufis    

In order to answer these questions two approaches are used: a historical-philological-method and an empirical one. One of the major interests is to (re)construct the history of the Izala through a text-critical survey of primary sources, notably documents written by the leaders of the movement themselves and their opponents. Also a study of published sources on the Izala and its leaders and also the analysis of unpublished BA., MA-dissertations and PhD-thesis are very useful in the study of the movement and understanding the reasons of its split.


To complement the above method, recent developments within the Izala, its actual relationship to Sufis and it perception of Sharia are examined through participant observation and particularly interviews. Discussions with Izala leaders, Sufis, and other experts are helpful to understand the actual situation.

Preliminary Results:

After 3-months (December 2006-March 2007) of fieldwork in Jos, Nigeria and a short visit to Kano, Zaria, Kaduna, and Lagos a network of informants has been cultivated. Access to the headquarters of the Society and several meetings with Izala, Sufis and other leaders combined with the analysis of the literature allowed a certain level of understanding and preliminary answers to our research questions. The success of the Izala can be understood as a result of the success of Sheikh Abubakar Gumi and after him Sheikh Ismaila Idris. Both of them struggled against bid’a and tried through their da’wa (invitation in religious sense) to link people to the “authentic” Islam based on the Qur’an and the Sunna.


On the one hand, the establishment of the Society, its concentration on founding schools and educating women, its self-sufficiency in matter of finances and organisation are factors leading to that success. On the other, the struggle for leadership, financial problems, education of many members abroad, and the intervention of the state are some of the reasons for the split of the Izala in the mid-1980s. Concerning the relationship to the Sufis dogmatic differences are still there and theological contrasts are unsolved. However the re-implementation of Shari’a law presented a common front and was an opportunity to bring all the different parties together. The Izala claims to be the “initiator” of the Shari’a-project. Both Izala and Sufis see the Shari’a issues as a challenge to the Nigerian Muslim society; some of them see a political Agenda behind the whole project.

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