Sunday, June 04, 2006

For the curious, some more on "sharia" -- Islamic law

Just in case you wanted to learn more about the most interesting practice of Islamic law in Nigeria – it’s call sharia, I’ve copied down a few paragraphs from a book about Nigeria that discusses sharia. Someone gave me a photocopy of the sidebar, so I’m not able to cite the actual source. I did a quick Internet search, but couldn’t identify the source. If the publisher or writer discovers this, let me know and I’ll add the proper citation.

Also, I’m not sure how up-to-date the information is about the woman sentenced to death by stoning. Again, I did a quick search and didn’t find an update right away. Since I’m awaiting a ride to the airport, I’m not going to do extensive research. (You've seen this Gusau woman and her child before -- I think she remembers you.)

Sharia law in the northern states

Islamic religious law – known as sharia, Arabic for “the way – is based on the Koran, the sayings of Muhammad, and the interpretations put on these over the centuries by Islamic jurists. Unlike Christian canonical law, it covers all aspects of life.

In the north, Muslims have long been able to settle family and civil disputes in sharia courts if they so wish, though criminal law was secular. In January 2000 however, the state of Zamfara (that’s where Gusau is located) made every Muslim who commits an offense against Islamic law within the state liable to punishment under sharia. Among other things, this involves amputation for theft, flogging and imprisonment for extramarital sex and stoning to death for adultery. Gambling and alcohol are banned, and possession of a juju charm is a capital offense, as is worship of any god but Allah. In theory, apostasy (renouncing Islam) is also punishable by death under sharia. The law was supported by most of Zamfara’s population, well over ninety percent of whom are Muslim.

Seeing its popularity, the other northern states were not far behind in implementing similar laws, and Zamfara was followed by Kano and then Kaduna, where demonstrations against the new law by members of the state’s large Christian minority led to sectarian riots in which over 300 people were killed. Since then, every state north of the Niger and Benue bar Plateau State and the F.C.T.(Abuja) – twelve states in all – have introduced sharia penal codes. The first amputation was carried out in Zamfara in July 200, and the following month two okada drivers were flogged for carrying female passengers – Zamfara has legislated for female-only transport, and women are not allowed to use anything else. As the state does not trust the federal police, vigilante groups have teen empowered to enforce sharia.

In October 2001, a woman in Sokoto was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Amid a hail of worldwide condemnation, the appeal court backed down and acquitted her on a technicality. But in March 2002, a Zamfara court sentenced the then 30-year-old Anima Lawal to death by stoning for bearing a child out of wedlock, a sentence due to be carried out as soon as the daughter she has is weaned. President Obasanjo has stated that the sentence will not be carried out, but the court has refused to back down, and further sentences of stoning for adultery have since been passed. What the federal government will do to stop these executions remains to be seen.

Critics of the laws claim they are being used selectively to oppress women and the poor. But as Zamfara’s state governor told the Lagos Guardian, “To be good Muslims, we have to have sharia to govern our lives,” and most of the north’s population apparently agrees with him.

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