Islamic Law Declared Unconstitutional in Nigeria

Muslims Angered but Christians Happy

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LAGOS, Nigeria, MARCH 21, 2002 ( The Nigerian government declared the application of strict Islamic law in 12 northern states to be unconstitutional, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Islamic law introduced in 12 of 36 states in the past two years violated Section 42 of the constitution which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion and sex, Justice Minister Kanu Agabi said in a letter dated March 18 but made public today.

The decision angered Muslim scholars but delighted Christian leaders. A prominent Islamic scholar in the northern city of Kano said the declaration was itself an act of discrimination against Muslims, who in the main support the system, known as the Shariah.

Ahmad Murtala told AFP that the case of Safiya Husaini, a 35-year-old woman who was sentenced to death by stoning last October for adultery, had skewed the government´s position.

«We believe Safiya´s case is what is behind this statement and it is not representative of the Shariah,» he said, adding: «We warn the government that peace and cohesion in Nigeria depend on Muslims being allowed to practice their religion as ordained by God.»

However, Christian leaders, long critical of the adoption of the Shariah in the north, lauded the government´s statement. «This is what we told them to do two years ago; they did not listen then,» said Archbishop John Onaiyekan, president of the Catholic bishops´ conference.

In Lagos, state governor Bola Tinubu, a Muslim, urged caution and said the matter should be taken to the supreme court for a decision. «We really have to be careful in the way we handle the issue because religion should be handled with caution,» he told AFP.

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