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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 12    Issue 7   16 - 31 August 2017


Zannah Mustafa, a Nigerian lawyer, has rescued over 100 Chibok girls who were abducted by Boko Haram militants three years ago

Since 2002 the northern part of Nigeria has been in the grip of reckless violence perpetrated by a militant movement called Boko Haram. In the Hausa language, Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden." The basic goal of Boko Haram is to overthrow the Nigerian government and to establish an Islamic caliphate governed by Shariah. It considers any kind of association with the West, including modern education, Western culture and democracy, forbidden and unlawful. The violence perpetrated by Boko Haram has been directed against government buildings, police stations, infrastructure and public services, politicians, churches, schools and Muslims who disapprove of its ideology. In 2009 it carried out a spate of violent attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri, in which hundreds were killed and thousands of civilians fled the city.

More than a million people in the northeastern part of Nigeria have been displaced as a result of attacks by Boko Haram. Boko Haram militants killed some 70 teachers and more than 100 students in northern Nigeria in 2013. More than 100 schools in the region were either forcibly closed down or burned. In February 2014 Boko Haram militants shot and burned to death 59 boys at a boarding school in Damatury in Yobe State. On November 10, 2014, Boko Haram fighters bombed a high school in Potiskum, killing 48 children. More than 100 people were killed during Friday prayers in Kano's central mosque on November 28, 2014 by suspected Boko Haram militants. More than 30,000 people, including women and children, have been killed in the violent attacks launched by Boko Haram and thousands have been forced to flee from their homes. In 2016 Boko Haram joined the so-called Islamic State and called itself the Islamic State's "West African province."

In 2016 Nigeria marshalled huge battalions of soldiers, supported by hunters and civilian vigilante groups, to capture or kill Boko Haram militants, but many of them have retreated to remote forest hideouts in the region that borders Cameroon. Government forces have now retaken most of the territory captured by Boko Haram militants. There was a split in the leadership of Boko Haram in August 2016.

On April 14, 2014, 276 Nigerian girls comprising Christians and Muslims were kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters in Chibok, Borno state. Many of these girls were Christian, who were forced to convert to Islam and marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity. In April 2014, the Government Girls' Secondary School in Chibok was raided by the authorities. More than 50 of the abducted girls quickly escaped during the raid. Boko Haram militants freed a group of 21 girls in October 2016, after negotiations with the Red Cross.

The reckless violence and destruction carried out by Boko Haram fighters has created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity across the country and has widened the gulf between Muslims and Christians. Many Muslims have stopped sending their daughters to schools due to fears that they may be targeted by Boko Haram. Prominent Muslim scholars and Muslim organizations, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, have unequivocally condemned the violence unleashed by Boko Haram. Nigeria's Muslim scholars have questioned Boko Haram leader Abu Bakar Shekau's understanding and interpretation of Islam. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa'adu Abubakar, a widely respected spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims, has described Boko Haram an un-Islamic outfit and an embarrassment to Islam. Emir Muhammad Sanusi, a highly respected and influential Muslim leader of Kenya, called on people to arm themselves against Boko Haram.

Zannah Mustafa

Zannah Mustafa, a lawyer from Borno state in north-east Nigeria, has been engaged in educational and humanitarian work for over a decade. In 2007 he founded the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School for the purpose of providing Islamic-based education to orphans and poor children. When the Boko Haram insurgency erupted in 2009, the school offered admission to the children of soldiers and government officers killed by Boko Haram militants. Mr Mustafa established a network with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The committee agreed to provide free meals to pupils at the school.

In 2012 Mr Mustafa's humanitarian work was spotted by the Swiss ambassador to Nigeria, who arranged for his travel to Zurich and Geneva where Mr Mustafa received training as a mediator. For the past two years Mr Mustafa has been negotiating with Boko Haram militants for the release of Chibok girls. As a result of his successful negotiations with the militants, 21 Chibok girls were released in October 2016. After their release the girls were asked whether they were raped by the militants, to which they replied in the negative. In May 2016, 82 more girls were released.

Mr Mustafa has received wide appreciation for his humanitarian work and for his rescue mission. He was nominated for the 2016 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award. He was also given the a Aurora Prize Modern Day Hero Award in 2017.

Mr Mustafa described the handing over of the 82 Chibok girls to the Nigerian government as "the highest point in my life." "I feel that I have dome something that is worth saying to the world that I have done this," he says.

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