Sharia Law Threatens Nigeria's Stability

New York

As Nigeria proceeds to sentence a second woman to death by stoning under a northern states' controversial sharia law, Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom today released a major report documenting the brutal and destabilizing effects of the growth of extremist sharia, Islamic law, in Nigeria. The 101-page report, entitled The Talibanization of Nigeria: Sharia Law and Religious Freedom, finds profound violations of human rights and religious freedom, which undermine Nigeria's democratization process.

"The March 25 decision not to stone a woman to death for adultery was based only on a technicality and does nothing to reverse or moderate sharia," stated Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. The Talibanization of Nigeria is based on research in several countries and a fact-finding mission to Nigeria, led by Dr. Marshall who interviewed religious leaders, government officials, human rights activists, and victims of religious discrimination throughout Nigeria.

The report warns that if left unchecked, sharia's further spread could provoke widespread inter-religious conflict, and transform Nigeria, Africa's largest nation, into a center of radical Islamism, linked to foreign radical groups and governments. Currently, 12 of Nigeria's 36 states have adopted or intend to adopt sharia.

"The enforcement of extreme sharia violates all human rights, especially religious freedom, and destabilizes this already fragile country," said Dr. Marshall. The report proposes policy recommendations to the U.S. and Nigerian governments to prevent this pivotal African nation from sliding into lawlessness and terror, like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Many of Nigeria's Muslim and non-Muslim citizens face barbaric treatment from Hizbah (religious enforcers). Hizbah vigilantes mete out harsh, on-the-spot, extra-legal punishments for such "un-Islamic" activities as violating dress codes and questioning Islamic teachings. Women caught riding alone in taxis are subject to physical abuse by the Hizbah.

In May 2001, an Islamic court in Katsina State ordered the removal the left eye of Ahmed Tijjani, who was found guilty of partially blinding a friend during an argument. Two months later in Birnin-Kebbi, a sharia court ordered 15-year-old Abubakar Aliyu's hand amputated for stealing the equivalent of $300. But Dr. Marshall emphasizes that the effect on human rights is far more profound and far wider than the matter of inhuman treatment.

As the following examples show, Nigeria's new sharia undermines basic human rights:

  • Sharia is imposed on all Muslims even if they want to be tried in a constitutionally mandated court, thus subverting Nigeria's democratic order;
  • Sharia legitimizes the killing of Muslims who exercise their right to change their religion;
  • Sharia results in corporal punishment or death sentences for women for alleged sexual crimes, whereas men are invariably not punished;
  • Non-Muslims are barred from being judges, prosecutors, and lawyers in the sharia courts to which they can be subject, thus making them second-class citizens.

Though some form of sharia has long been part of Nigeria's civil law, some Nigerian states are expanding sharia jurisdiction to criminal law matters in ways that violate Nigeria's constitution and international human rights standards.

The report cites the deaths of as many as 6,000 Christians, Muslims and others, many hacked to death with knives and swords, in conflicts precipitated by the new laws. Restrictions on the construction of churches have increased and dozens of churches in the northern sharia states have been destroyed. Dr. Marshall said "The West should be aware that extreme sharia in Nigeria creates widespread persecution of the churches and violently polarizes the Christian and Muslim communities."

The report concludes that if left unchecked, the rapid spread of extreme sharia law could push Nigeria into civil war. Already torn by ethnic and religious conflict, and with a history of military dictatorship, Nigeria has only recently embarked on a democratic path, albeit tentatively.

The report indicates that while there is no evidence that terrorist groups allied with Al Qaeda are operating in Nigeria, the country is experiencing the rapid growth of the type of Islamic extremism from which Bin Laden has drawn support. There are indications that this growth is being supported by foreign radical Islamic regimes and organizations, such as Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and some foreign radicals have been involved in the violence. Since September 11, demonstrations in support of Osama Bin Laden have taken place in Nigeria, and hundreds of civilians have been killed in rioting between Bin Laden supporters and Christians.

The Freedom House report urges the U.S. government to revise its foreign assistance programs in Nigeria to assist the Nigerian government in overcoming Islamic extremism.

Dr. Marshall is the author of many books including the best-selling, award-winning book Their Blood Cries Out, a detailed study of persecuted Christians worldwide. He is the editor of Religious Freedom in the World: A Global Survey of Freedom and Persecution.

Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom works to stop religious repression by documenting and publicizing restrictions on religious and other human rights, and by mobilizing public support in defense of those who are imprisoned, tortured, exiled, or otherwise persecuted for religious reasons.

The report, priced at $8, is available from Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom; it is available without charge to the media and government offices. Selections from the report are available on the web at

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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