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Muslim Law Causes Ritoing in Nigeria

by Leo Igwe


The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 16, Number 2.


Last October 1999, the volatile religious and mixture of Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, began to stir. Then in February, Christians and Muslims clashed in bloody fighting in the northern city of Kaduna that left at least 40 dead. In late March, thousands fled the northern town of Damboa after violence again broke out between Christians and Muslims, killing 20. Young Muslims incensed about the construction of a church in the predominantly Muslim town attacked the building, prompting retaliation by some Christians.

A leading cause of eruptions such as these, which are now blamed for the loss of thousands of lives, is a movement in some northern Nigerian states to implement Sharia, or Islamic law. Sharia supporters have assured non-Muslims they will not be tried under Islamic law, which prohibits such things as drinking alcohol and the intermingling of men and women in schools and public transportation. Nevertheless, Christians fear discrimination and marginalization under the legal regime.

Other opponents, including Nigerian humanists, point to another problem: the Sharia conflicts with several provisions of Nigeria's constitution. First of all, Sharia is the Islamic Legal code and its "full" implementation by any state implies the adoption of Islam as state religion. This violates the secular status of the constitution, which states, "The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion."

Furthermore, Sharia sanctions very crude and inhumane punitive methods such as decapitation, stoning to death, public flogging, hanging, and amputation of hands or limbs of criminals. Such punishments are inconsistent with Nigerian Supreme Law which affirms that every individual is entitled to respect of the dignity of the human person and that no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Humanists believe in democracy, not theocracy, as the best means of protecting the rights of individuals to form their own worldviews and live out their commitments in a mutually free and respectful way. Adopting the Sharia legal system in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, is a regressive and dangerous step which portends ill not only for the states in question, but for the nation as a whole.


Leo Igwe is the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement.


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