LAGOS, 22 May 2000 (Newsroom) -- Nigeriaâ€™s Federal High Court will hear arguments next month on the legality of Sharia law, which has sparked violent conflicts between Christians and Muslims in northern states where it has been introduced.
Chief Justice Muhammad Belgore was prepared to hear arguments Friday on the suit brought by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), but adjourned the matter until June 27 when CAN attorneys failed to appear.
CAN filed suit to stop the implementation of Sharia in the state of Zamfara, the first of eight northern states to introduce Islamic penal law. Nigeriaâ€™s secular constitution permits Sharia only in the case of domestic matters such as marriage, inheritance, and adoption.
"Zamfara state has become very difficult for Christians to live, work, and practice their religion," CAN Secretary General Charles Obasola Williams said in an affidavit supporting the suit.
Three individuals and Human Rights Law Service, a leading human rights organization, have filed separate suits in the Zamfara High Court in Gusau challenging the legality of the law adopted by the state in October. Those cases are yet to be heard.
Many other northern states already have initiated the process of incorporating Sharia into the penal code. Islamic penal law prescribes amputation, public flogging, and beheading for certain crimes. The hand of a convicted thief was amputated in Zamfara in March.
The introduction of Sharia in Kaduna state in February sparked a religious clash resulting in the deaths of more than 400 people and the destruction of churches, mosques, businesses, and homes. More fighting between Christians and Muslims was reported there on Monday, with at least one known death. Troops have been deployed to keep peace.
CAN sued Zamfara state officials, including Governor Ahmed Sanni, as well as Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo. The organization contends that Sharia is unconstitutional. Zamfara officials disagree and challenged Christians to file suit.
In an affidavit supporting the suit, CAN Secretary General Charles Obasola Williams said that Christian husbands and wives living in Zamfara now must travel in separate taxi cabs because Sharia prevents men and women from riding in the same vehicles of public transportation.
Williams also argued that Sharia law violates the right of Christians to freely practice their religion, citing the riots in Kaduna "which resulted in the death of over 300 Christians and burning and vandalization of over 40 churches."
"It is in the interest of peaceful co-existence in Zamfara state that the Sharia court law be nullified," the CAN official wrote.
Christians who previously owned video clubs, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, barber shops, hair salons, and cosmetics enterprises in Zamfara have seen their businesses closed under Sharia, he said.
"That Christians who operate motor bicycle services in Zamfara state are not allowed to convey women on these bikes, and this inflicts hardship on both (female) Christians and the loss of business for the motorcycle operators and denial of livelihood," Williams argued.
In addition, he observed, "the punishment for any Muslim who changes his religion to Christianity is death, in which case it is a Christian that will be killed."
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Used with permission.