A Shia Muslim reached out to me privately a few days ago and said things to me that I frankly couldn’t relate to. When he realized that I was genuinely ignorant of what he said, he said he’d thought I was a Shia Muslim, to which I responded that I had mentioned several times in the past, including in my columns, that although I respect the right of people to be Shia—or anything that their consciences tell them to be so long as they don’t infringe on other people’s right—I am not one.
He said he had read that but that he thought I was practicing protective mimicry to avoid social exclusion. Apparently, because Shias have been historically persecuted in most parts of the Sunni-dominated Muslim world, publicly denying being Shia or intentionally being silent about—or omitting to mention—being Shia is a well-practiced art among them. Denying being Shia to escape persecution is called taqiyya and deliberately being silent about—or omitting to admit— being Shia for fear of social isolation is called kitman.
My interlocutor thought my criticisms of Buhari’s regime were inspired by the government’s mass murders and continued persecution of Shias, which I have condemned in the strongest terms in my social media updates and columns. I told him—and showed him evidence—that I’d been critical of the Buhari regime even before its mass slaughters of Shia Muslims. Interestingly, many Shia Muslims from the north here on social media had attacked me for criticizing Buhari “rather too early” before he supervised their mass massacres.
The man said he had developed a “renewed respect” for me to know that I’m a Sunni Muslim who defends Shias (whom many Sunnis don’t even recognize as Muslims) with such passion. (I don’t know where people get the idea that a northern Muslim can’t be critical of Buhari unless he’s a Shiite). But here’s the thing: I’d be a flaming hypocrite to be a religious or sectarian bigot. Although my father was a Sunni Islamic scholar and teacher, his own father (and some of his siblings) converted to Christianity in the 1940s in an otherwise over 90 percent Muslim society.
I was born in an American Baptist Christian missionary hospital in my hometown, attended Baptist Christian missionary schools for my primary and secondary education, and my dad taught Arabic and Islamic Studies in a Christian Baptist missionary school for more than three decades. Plus, I live in America, a predominantly Christian country, that accepts me for who I am and allows me to thrive and live my dreams. My best friend here in America, Moses Ochonu, is a Christian.
If I’m at peace with Christians, and Christians are at peace with me, both at home and abroad, why would I resent fellow Muslims on the basis of trifling doctrinal differences to the point of looking the other way—or, worse, cheering—when they are murderously persecuted because of their beliefs? That’s not how I was raised.