Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Christians flee spread of Islamic law in Nigeria

Christians flee spread of Islamic law in Nigeria

Publication: The Telegraph, UK
Date: June 22, 2000

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims gathered in the city of Kano yesterday for the proclamation of Islamic sharia law in northern Nigeria's most populous state - prompting fears of a fresh wave of religious violence.

As a vast crowd chanted "God is Great!" in a prayer ground in the city, Kano state officials said implementation would begin later this year. Rabiu Kwankwaso, the state governor, said: "This is a momentous day in the history of Kano state." The declaration sets the north of Nigeria more firmly than ever on a collision course with the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo who has appealed repeatedly for the Islamic code not to be enforced.

Moves earlier this year to adopt sharia in the neighbouring state of Kaduna triggered Muslim-Christian clashes in which hundreds of people died. Mr Obasanjo called that crisis the most serious since the Sixties' civil war over breakaway Biafra. Police struggled to control the chanting crowd at yesterday's proclamation ceremony. Two people were crushed to death and at least 11 people collapsed from exhaustion. The state government had declared the day a holiday to reduce tensions.

Shops and major business, mostly operated by non-Muslims, were shut as Governor Kwankwaso appealed for calm in the coming days. Local banks have reported a run on deposits because of withdrawals by non-Mulims heading south. Observers say the flight of Christians could hurt the northern economy.

Northern Muslims see sharia - with penalties such as amputation of hands for theft and death for adultery - as a response to Nigeria's endemic problems of crime and corruption. But the mainly Christian and animist southerners see it as a renewed imposition by northerners who dominated past military regimes, and resent the fact that even non-Muslim women in Zamfara state - another to adopt sharia - have been made to wear veils.

Mr Kwankwaso was forced to abandon his plans to address yesterday's gathering because of fears over crowd safety. He said later that Islam was a religion of peace and tolerance, and that any attacks on those of other religions would be unIslamic acts. He said: "Islam urges people to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet, and show patience, honesty and trustworthiness and preserve the rights of women, children and neighbours."

Abubakar Mika'il, an Islamic lawyer, said he believed that religious law would help solve many of the country's ills, adding: "We Muslims have been yearning to see the sharia code implemented for many years. It is our right." The promulgation of Islamic law has been one of the main disputes driving a wave of religious and ethnic violence since the end of military rule last year. Fears have even been expressed that Africa's most populous country might fragment.

Muslims form about 90 per cent of the population of Kano, on the edge of the Sahara desert, which is the fourth and largest state to declare some form of sharia. President Obasanjo is under pressure from non-Muslims to seek a supreme court ruling on the constitutionality of sharia in secular Nigeria. He took office last year after 15 years of army rule, but faces a dilemma over sharia's popularity in the north.

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