|Conviction in Nigeria
September 25, 2003
The Muslim Women's
League and Muslim Public Affairs Council hail the decision of an Islamic
court in Nigeria to overturn the conviction of Amina
Lawal who was sentenced to be stoned to death for allegedly engaging in
sex outside of marriage. The panel of five judges cited procedural
irregularities that contravened Islamic as well as secular legal
principles. While this case does not resolve the existing
controversy about whether Shariah and more specifically Hudud punishments
(amputation, flogging, stoning) should be institutionalized in Nigeria, it
does highlight the fact that an Islamic legal system is capable of
ensuring justice for the accused.
In its substance and in the name of the
court issuing it, the opinion was based on Islamic legal rules. This is
crucially important for both Muslims and non-Muslims to keep in mind.
Muslims need to be aware that this
overruling does not represent some sort of secular dismissal of Islamic
law and values. Rather, it is an internal Muslim legal review of the
accuracy and propriety of punishments carried out in the name of Islam.
Those inclined to protest the decision as "un-Islamic" must
consider whether they oppose the result or oppose the reasoning leading to
the result. Both issues upon which the acquittal were based are core
issues of Islamic criminal justice, namely, the willingness of the
confession and the possibilities of gestational period known in Islamic
law as the "sleeping fetus doctrine").
For non-Muslims this case challenges
presumptions that Islamic criminal law inherently and always violates
western human rights norms. As illustrated by the Lawal ruling and earlier
adultery cases in Nigeria, there are numerous safeguards within Islamic
jurisprudence to empower the law to serve the greatest public good.
Indeed, in Hudud cases, the overriding principle has always
been to avoid punishment if there is any indication of doubt -- a
principle successfully upheld in this most recent case. All those
concerned about the oppressive impact
Islamic law may have in Muslim countries should praise this ruling, and be
happy that it issued from a court
sworn to uphold Islamic law.
When global human rights activists oppose
the idea of Islamic law altogether, this only serves to create extremist
opposition to what is perceived as a new colonialism. This is why, in the
midst of international human rights appeals for action to help Amina Lawal,
her own lawyers pleaded with the world to stop the international secular
pressure, as it only made their appeals to the Islamic courts more
ifficult. Rather than blanketly opposing Islamic law as a whole, we look
forward to the day when well-meaning activists learn to be more specific
in their concerns, identifying the exact impact of Islamic law which
concerns them, and work with Muslims utilising Islamic
jurisprudential tools to correct the injustice. Maybe, when that day
comes, they will also see those aspects of Islamic law which actually
empower women and men.
The real challenge for any government
wanting to impose Shariah is that the details of the law (both the spirit
and the letter) must be adhered to so that, as Shariah mandates, the
rights of all citizens, regardless of their religion, are upheld and
respected at all times.