Muslim Youths Destroy 10 Nigerian Churches

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Rioters demand stoning of Christian woman accused of ‘blaspheming’ Muhammad.
by Obed Minchakpu

DUTSE, Nigeria, September 25 (Compass Direct News) -- A mob of Muslim youths injured six Christians -- one critically -- and set fire to 10 churches last week in Dutse, capital of Jigawa state in northern Nigeria.

The attacks on September 19 and 20 were sparked by allegations that a Christian woman had blasphemed the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Angered Muslims demanded that the woman, identified only as a tailor named Jummai, be stoned to death for her comments.

“Muslims believed that the Christian woman would not be stoned to death, and that is why they decided to vent their anger on Christians and their churches,” Malam Isa Hussani told Compass.

Rumors spread rapidly, and after a few skirmishes on the evening of the dispute, a rampage broke out the following morning against the churches, homes and businesses of local Christians.

Hundreds of Muslims assembled on September 20 at 10 a.m. at Dutse’s Central Mosque, with another group congregating at the district Muslim leader’s residence. Christian leaders said the mobs were addressed by the Emir (Muslim leader) of Dutse, Dr. Nuhu Muhammadu Sanusi, his defense minister, and Jiwaga State Governor Ibrahim Saminu Turaki.

According to the South Korean online “OhmyNews” website, all three officials as well as State Police Commissioner Abubakar Sardauna were trying to “keep the protest from getting out of hand,” but failed when police fired teargas into the crowd, enraging the protestors and sending them on a rampage. Sardauna declined to speak to Compass about the incident.

The Rev. Joseph Hayab, secretary of the North-Western Nigerian chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, confirmed that 10 churches were torched in the attack, although a police spokesman told Reuters that a total of 11 churches had been burned.

Pope’s statements fuel dispute

Hussani, one of the Dutse Muslims protesting against the woman, said that Jummai’s argument with an unidentified Muslim man on September 19 had started over controversial statements about Islam attributed to Pope Benedict XVI the previous week.

But persons who witnessed the verbal dispute stated that Jummai was reacting to a blasphemous remark against Jesus Christ made by the Muslim man.

“Such a minor incident between a Muslim man and a Christian woman should not have led to the destruction of churches,” Hayab told Compass. “This is a heinous crime in the name of religion.”

According to sources in the Anglican congregation, which lost St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral in the attack, the Anglican bishop’s residence was also partially destroyed, forcing BishopYusufu Lumu to seek shelter with his wife and children at a local police station.

In addition, an Assemblies of God church, the Living Faith Church and three Evangelical Church of West Africa churches were confirmed among those demolished.

At least 20 Christian homes were also looted and destroyed during the rampage, along with 40 shops belonging to Christian traders. More than 1,000 local Christians who were displaced during the attack fled to the police barracks and schools to escape from the mob.

The Jigawa state government imposed an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew after the violent attacks.

On September 22, the federal government sent armored tanks and truckloads of armed soldiers and anti-riot police into Dutse to patrol the town during Friday Muslim prayers.

Police reported that six Christians injured in the attacks received treatment at Dutse General Hospital. One victim is in critical condition, with local doctors saying they lack adequate facilities to treat his injuries.

Another Christian identified only as Mr. Friday, a security officer for the governor, was slashed across his face with a machete before being rescued from the mob by police.

Accused Christian detained

Police authorities in Dutse have detained Jummai for questioning on the incident. There was no confirmation whether the Muslim who had argued with her was also in custody, although police spokesman Nwakalor Ejike confirmed on September 22 that more than 20 people had been arrested over the incident.

Ejike, a police public relations officer, attributed the riots to “a little misunderstanding,” which he said the police were working to contain.

An estimated 80 percent of Dutse’s population are Muslim. In a previous outbreak of violence in the town nearly two years ago, heavily armed Muslim militants attacked Christian evangelists during an open-air preaching event.

Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, the Sultan of Sokoto and spiritual head of Nigeria’s Muslims, declared after last week’s attacks that religion should not be used as a tool of violence. “No religion will support violence, harassment, victimization and all vices, let alone murdering of innocent people,” Maccido told Nigeria’s The Guardian.

Jigawa state is one of 12 northern Nigerian states that have imposed Islamic law in the past six years. Repeated outbreaks of religious violence have erupted ever since, claiming thousands of lives. In a similar incident in Jigawa state’s Kazaure town in November 2003, Muslim militants burned 10 churches and destroyed 100 Christian properties.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News