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Nigeria's violence political, not religious, says Muslim leader

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Nigeria's violence political, not religious, says Muslim leader


June 14, 2011|From Christian Purefoy, CNN

With some 70 million followers, Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar is the spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslim population.

As heir to the 200-year-old throne of West Africa's 19th-century Caliphate Empire, Abubakar is one of the most influential traditional rulers in the region.

Four years after he was appointed Sultan of Sokoto, he reigns at a time of deepening religious division in Nigeria, a nation almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.

Africa's most populous nation, with 150 million people, has been struggling with a rise in Islamic fundamentalism and continued violence between the Muslim north and Christian south of the country.

Thousands of people have been killed in religious-related violence since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.

But Abubakar, who had a long career in the army before becoming sultan, says the fighting that's rocked Nigeria goes beyond religion.

"There could be some few cases of religious crisis in some places but most of the crises we have in this country are not religious -- they are politically motivated," he says.

While Abubakar acknowledges that there is a small minority of extremists, he says that they don't represent the majority of peaceful Muslims.

"We're in the majority but the very few people who don't believe in this maybe are into taking up arms against innocent lives, taking innocent lives," he says. "They are few and that's our concern and we are looking into how we can put a check to those atrocities that these people commit in the name of religion."

In July 2009, a radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram attacked government buildings across the north of Nigeria. After a week of intense fighting an estimated 700 people were killed and the uprising was eventually put down.

But attacks and killings continue as Boko Haram pursues its aim of enforcing Sharia law more ruthlessly across the North. The group is also thought to be behind a series of recent bombings in the wake of the re-election of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south.

Abubakar says he is very concerned about politicians using religion for their own motives.

"It's the politicians who are the ones who arm them," he says. "The politicians arm these people, they give them money but as I said, they are in the minority -- the majority of us are peace-loving, are really out for a stable Nigeria."

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