Background on Islam and Nigeria
Islam came to northern Nigeria over 700 years ago. Sharia penal codes were
enforced until 1960, when punishments such as amputations and floggings were
Then, two years ago, following the defeat of Nigeria's military dictatorship, a
resurgent Islamic movement backed the re-implementation of Sharia criminal law
across 12 states in the predominantly Muslim north. Sharia criminal law is
practiced in only a handful of Muslim countries, including Iran, Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia. Muslim leaders who arrived in the city
of Kano to announce the implementation of the new penal code were met by a
crowd of tens of thousands of supporters.
According to local attorney Muzzammil Sani Hanga, corruption and crime had
reached such high levels that the implementation of a Sharia penal code -- with
its harsh punishments -- was an urgent necessity. "Armed robbery was always
increasing in this country, the disparity between the rich and poor is always
there," he says. "I believe the clamor for the implementation of Sharia is like
an open show of defiance against the government, which is perceived by the
Muslims as the sole agent of corruption in this country."
The Islamization of Northern Nigeria has increased tensions between the Muslim
majority and Christian minority communities that were already divided along
tribal lines. Christians are not subject to Sharia law, but there have been
deadly riots where Christian restaurants and bars serving alcohol have been
destroyed. And in October 2001, the city of Kano witnessed religious clashes
that were triggered when Muslims protesting U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan
went rampaging into a Christian neighborhood. No one knows exactly how many
were killed in these clashes: estimates place the death toll at around 200.
Although no reliable statistics have been compiled, Dr. Datti Ahmad, the president of
the Supreme Council that oversees the implementation of Sharia law, claims that
Sharia is working because the crime rate has plummeted.
Attorney Hanga says he believes Westerners find Sharia law troubling because of
the values Westerners place on individual freedoms. "The overall emphasis in
Islamic law is on communal harmony," he explains, "the freedom of a community
to live, without one rough element destroying life for them, just because he
wants to live happily."
Hanga also says that he believes the West is using the events of Sept. 11 to
set up a contrast between "the free, civilized, forward-looking Western worlds
and the backward, uncivilized, Islamic world." He declares, "I believe that the
West always wanted to show that this notion of barbarism with Islamic law is
However, Hanga believes that such a reaction will only strengthen the faith and
resolve of Nigerian Muslims. "People have to be allowed to believe what they
want to believe."