4 things you should know about Sharia law in Nigeria

The implementation of the Sharia in secular Nigeria has often been controversial.

The contention over the existence of Sharia Law in Kaduna unfortunately led to a lot of deaths based on religious conflict. [Punch Newspaper]

Sharia law is an Islamic system of jurisprudence.

It is a religious law based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna).

Sharia prescribes both religious and secular duties and sometimes spells out retributive penalties for lawbreaking.

The manner in which Sharia should be applied in modern, secular states has been the subject of dispute globally between Muslim traditionalists or fundamentalists and reformists.

Some argue that as practiced in the north of the country, the Sharia violates the constitution of Nigeria.

The Sharia Court of Appeals is recognized as a federal court of appeals by the federal government of Nigeria.

The Sharia Court of Appeals is the most controversial of the judicial system and exists within the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria as part of the Unified Courts System.

The Sharia Court of Appeals reviews cases involving Sharia law, particularly in the north and northeast regions of the country.

This is the subject of controversy because while the Sharia Court of Appeals interprets and reviews cases relating to Islamic law, they must also interpret the common and customary laws of the other regions of Nigeria.

Sharia used to be categorized as a customary law in Nigeria. However, this has changed with the judicial pronouncement in the case of Alkamawa V Bello(1998).

Sharia is now seen as a distinct and universal legal system in Nigeria.

There have been numerous riots over the implementation of Sharia in northern Nigeria, primarily involving non-Muslim minorities in the states implementing the system.

One such riot led to the death of over 100 people in October 2001 in Kano State.

There have also been riots in Kaduna because of Sharia.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between a predominantly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north.

12 States in northern Nigeria operate the Sharia system of justice.

The Sharia system in these states takes care of both civil and criminal matters involving Muslims.

Only Muslims can be tried in Sharia courts in these states.

The 12 northern states where Sharia is practiced in Nigeria are:

  • Zamfara
  • Kano
  • Sokoto
  • Katsina
  • Bauchi
  • Borno
  • Jigawa
  • Kebbi
  • Yobe
  • Kaduna
  • Niger
  • Gombe

Sharia judges are known as Alkalis and the Islamic police who arrest Sharia offenders are called Hisbah.

Alkalis are learned in both Islamic and secular laws.

Sentences handed down by Alkalis in Sharia courts include floggings, amputations and the death penalty.

You could be amputated for stealing a goat by a Sharia court, for instance, or for stealing groceries in the marketplace.

You could also be executed for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Many people convicted of theft under Sharia law have had their limbs amputated.

The last time a Nigerian Sharia court passed a death sentence was in 2016 when Abdulazeez Inyass was sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam.

He is yet to be killed though, because the state governor is yet to sign-off on the sentence.

Only one of the death sentences passed by Nigeria's Sharia courts has been carried out since the Islamic law was reintroduced in 1999, thanks to then-Zamfara State Governor Ahmad Sani Yerima.

In 2002, a man accused of killing a woman and her two children, was hanged to death.

No known politician in the 12 northern states, who has been caught stealing public money, has been tried and sentenced by a Sharia court.

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