Islamic Law Enforcers Victimize Christian Women in Nigeria

Monday, January 26, 2004

Charges of prostitution lead to heavy fines and reported lashings.

by Obed Minchakpu

KADUNA, Nigeria, January 26 (Compass) -- Christian leaders in northern Nigeria report that enforcement of the Islamic legal code known as sharia is continuing despite protests and drastically impinges on the religious liberty of Christians and other non-Muslims in that part of the country.

According to reports from the states of Zamfara, Bauchi, and Borno, 23 Christian women have been arraigned in Islamic courts over charges ranging from non-compliance with the Muslim dress code to prostitution for refusing to marry early.

On December 30, 2003, fifteen Christian women in the Sabon Gari area of Gussau town were arrested by the Islamic law enforcement unit of the Zamfara state government and stand accused of prostitution, Compass has learned.

Leaders of the Zamfara state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said that the accusations of prostitution were false, explaining that under the Islamic law code, every woman is expected to be married by the age of 13. Any woman found not to have complied with this requirement is considered a prostitute.

“A woman not married, irrespective of her religious background, is seen by Muslim enforcers of the sharia as a prostitute,” said Rev. Linus Awuhe, CAN chairman in Zamfara state. “This is why most single Christian women -- whether working or not -- are seen as prostitutes and are being harassed by those enforcing Islamic law here.”

The report quoted Alhaji Bello Kuceri, an official of the Zamfara State Islamic Unit, as saying, “We shall continue the raids in the Christian quarters because we are being paid to do so, and anybody caught will face the wrath of the law.”

Eight Christian women in Missau town, Bauchi state, were reportedly tried and convicted in an Islamic court for being unmarried. The women each had to pay a $300 fine and received ten lashes as punishment. Officials then warned them to either get married immediately or risk going to prison.

“Alhaji Mohammed Kabir, the Islamic court judge who convicted the Christian women, ordered four of them to pick husbands out of the Muslims that were in the court,” the report stated.

“The trial and conviction of these women is the continuation of the subjugation of minority Christians in northern Nigeria to Islam,” Rev. Iliyasu Ciroma, chairman of the Bauchi state chapter CAN, told Compass. “These women did not commit the offense they are being accused of. It is just that the government is trying to find reasons to justify its implementation of the Islamic legal system.”

In another incident, the administration of the University of Maiduguri in Borno state ordered Christian female students to adopt the Islamic dress code or be barred from sitting for their college examinations.

Professor Jibrila Dahiru Amin, vice chancellor of the university, reportedly announced that all female students must adopt the Islamic dress code beginning this month and that failure to comply would lead to expulsion.

Last November, Muslim fundamentalists attacked Christians at Maiduguri University, killing at least three Christians and destroying homes and businesses in the city. (See report Campus Violence Leaves Three Christian Students Dead in Nigeria in Compass Direct, December 12, 2003.) Christian leaders say the imposition of the Islamic dress code indicates that university authorities are preparing to implement sharia law in the institution.

Eleven female Christian nurses lost their jobs two years ago at the Federal Medical Center in Azare, Bauchi state, for refusing to change their nurses’ uniforms for Islamic dress when hospital management introduced the Islamic dress code. Their effort to be reinstated has attracted the attention of international human rights groups. (See report British and Nigerian Christians Launch Religious Rights Initiative in Compass Direct, December 12, 2003.)

Dr. Peter Jatau, archbishop of Nigeria’s Roman Catholic Church and chairman of the northern Nigeria chapter of CAN, told Compass that continuing strict enforcement of sharia law in Nigeria could lead to “the incarceration of innocent Christian victims whose sin is that they are Christians.”

If that happens, Jatau warned, “There would be increased tension, which would no doubt result in the occurrence of more religious conflicts in the country unless the Nigerian government acts fast to arrest the ugly trend.”