Tumbling into a swirl of religious violence
Rationalist International has sent an emissary to Nigeria to study the situation in the northern states and identify possibilities to pave way for a ban of Islamic law.
Nigeria is a country on the edge. The young democracy is tumbling into a swirl of religious violence. The 12 predominantly Muslim states in the North have implemented Islamic law (Sharia), violating the Constitution of the country as well as international Human Rights agreements and legal instruments, signed and ratified by Nigeria. They have established a parallel legal system and forced the Muslim population under the jurisdiction of religious penal courts, which are handing down brutal and unhuman punishments. They even try to force Sharia upon the Christian population. Sometimes state courts, which function under the Federal Justice Ministry, insisted in vain to have jurisdiction over a case and could not achive its transfer from a religious court.
The weak and opportunistic government does not dare to challenge the fundamentalist forces, but tries to win their benevolence to stay in power. President Olusegun Obasajo, a Christian, hopes for the support of the Islamic hardliners in the northern states for the coming elections and does not want to see that his weight will soon be too light to control the growing monster of fundamentalism. During the past three years, communal clashes between Muslims and Christians have cost more than 3000 lives. The street fights recently triggered by the International Miss World Pageant are the latest chapter of the countries bloody history.
Lest the turbulent events of the past weeks make us forget: Amina Lawal Kurami, unwed mother of a baby girl in Katsina state, still faces death by stoning.
Please see our detailed report in Bulletin # 102
Despite worldwide protest against the barbarian judgment, issued under Islamic law, up to now there is no date set for a hearing of the appeal. The Nigerian government has declared that it will intervene to save Amina's life, if necessary. But it has so far not taken any initiative to bring the Islamic administration of justice in the northern states into line with the constitution of the country and with international human rights standards. Sharia courts continue to issue and implement inhuman and gruesome punishments like flogging and amputation of limbs. Meanwhile it is heard that also another death-by-stoning sentence has been handed down to a young unmarried couple with a child.
Muslim extremists were highly agitated about the prospect of public display of naked female skin, that too in the fasting month of Ramadan. They accused the pageant of promoting "indecency" and "promiscuity" and threatened to disturb the show. Tension mounted with the arrival of the international beauty queens in Abuja. A "blasphemous" statement in an article in the daily ThisDay, suggesting that Prophet Mohammad would have appreciated the pageant and probably married one of the contesters, was used by fanatic religious leaders to spark violence. After attacking and completely destroying the office of ThisDay, they vented their anger on their traditional enemy, the Christian minority. In Kaduna, the largest Muslim city with a comparatively strong Christian population, they were paid back in their own coin. A bloody street war erupted between Muslim and Christian mobs, in which hundreds were killed and severely injured. Churches were burning and so were mosques. Rioters rampaged through the streets, beating, stabbing and bludgeoning bystanders, smashing windows and destroying cars. Thousands sought shelter in police stations and military facilities. The violence spread from Kaduna to the neighboring areas. Even in the capital Abuja, Muslims rioted after the Friday prayer and attacked people in front of the big hotels, whom they believed to be Christians. There were reports that the rioters planned to attack the luxury hotel with the Miss World contestants. The pageant hastily escaped to London.
After the appearance of the article, Simon Kolawole, editor of the daily, was arrested by secret police and has not been seen since. The state government of Zamfara, once the first among the northern states to adopt Sharia, decreed a Fatwa on Isioma Daniel, the 21-year-old author of the article, calling upon all Muslims to kill the journalist. Daniel could flee the country in the nick of time. The Fatwa triggered a dispute among Islamic leaders. Many of them considered it illegitimate, as Fatwas can only be issued by religious authorities, not by state governments. Moreover, the journalist is not a Muslim, and the daily apologized instantly on the front page. Finally the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Nigeria's highest Muslim institution, accepted the apology and denounced the Fatwa.
Balance sheet of the riots in Kaduna: about 250 people have been killed and more than 500 seriously injured. 12,000 people lost their homes, 21 churches and 8 mosques were burnt. Enormous economic damage was caused by the cancellation of the pageant after expensive preparations had already been made. The international image of the country and therewith the climate for much needed foreign investment have suffered a severe blow.
It is unbelievable and unfortunate that there was nobody to warn the organizers when the decision was taken to hold the event in Nigeria. The idea to hold public bikini shows in a country, which may not be able to protect a young woman from being stoned to death for having born a child out of wedlock, is absurd and irresponsible. Nobody would have proposed or accepted to hold beauty contests in Taliban Afghanistan. As long as the Nigerian government is not capable or willing to guarantee for life and dignity of its citizens and to wrest the rule of law from the hand of religious fanaticism, blood stains will taint its image. Cosmetic make-overs and glittering celebration of pseudo-freedom don't deceive anybody, but hold the danger of deepening social conflicts and unleashing violence.
Rationalist International has repeatedly appealed to the Government of Nigeria to save the country from Talibanisation, to ban Islamic Law and Sharia courts in the northern states and to put an immediate stop to the execution of death sentences and inhuman punishments such as flogging and amputations.
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