Nigeria: Student Eight Months in Hiding after Escape from Stoning

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

(Compass Direct News) -- Eight months after she escaped from a judgment by officials at a school of nursing she attended in Sokoto to stone her to death for “blasphemy,” Ladi Muhammed is still in hiding.

The 22-year-old Christian woman told Compass from her place of refuge how Muslim students and teachers at the School of Nursing and Midwifery in the northern Nigeria city, capital of Sokoto state, accused her of blaspheming the prophet of Islam after a dispute with a Muslim friend. The accusation led to the students, faculty and administrators condemning her to death by stoning.

The ordeal began when Muhammed’s aunt, Hajiya Mary, phoned her on February 2 at the school. While she was still on the phone, a Muslim friend, Aisha Tambulwal, asked her who had phoned her, and Muhammed excitedly told her that the caller was her aunt.

“While responding to the phone call from my aunt, I addressed her as Hajiya, the name we know her by,” Muhammed said. “My friend became curious and wanted to know what ‘Hajiya’ was to me. I told her she was my mother, because, being an elder sister to my mother, Hajiya was a mother to me. Furthermore, I grew up under her care. And so my Muslim friend asked why was it that I was a Christian while my parents were Muslims.”

Muhammed told her that, though her dad (now living in the United Kingdom) was Muslim, she had come to believe that Jesus Christ was God and the Savior of mankind. Tambulwal became angry and began to insult her.

“You are an infidel – if not, how can your parents be Muslims and you a Christian?” Tambulwal told her. Furious, she asked Muhammed, “How can your parents who are Muslims allow you become an infidel?”

As her parents divorced when she was young, Muhammed grew up with her mother, a Christian still living in Kebbi state, where Muhammed was born in Zuru town. After Muhammed told Tambulwal to stop calling her an infidel, her friend responded with insults and name-calling.

Tambulwal refused to heed her appeals to end the discussion. She insisted that she had to persuade Muhammed to renounce Christ and become a Muslim or else God would hold her accountable for failing to do so.

“She warned me to become a Muslim since my parents were Muslims, and in the same vein, said Christians who are followers of Jesus Christ will all go to hell because they are serving a mere man,” Muhammed said. “At this point, I sought to correct her by explaining to her that the Bible says it is only those who do not believe in Christ that will go to hell.”

Tambulwal began to shout in a rage, and Muhammed walked away from her, she said. Muhammed thought the matter was over. A week later, however, Tambulwal and two other female students – Hadiza Usman and Sadiya Abdullahi Daweh – came to her class and accused her of blasphemy against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

“I was surprised, because throughout my discussion with Tambulwal, I never mentioned the name of the prophet,” Muhammed said. “Yet they claimed that I said the prophet was in hell. I assume that because I tried to let her know that it is those who do not believe Jesus Christ that will go to hell that they are using this to accuse me of blasphemy.”

She walked away, but the girls – whom she described as militant Muslims – followed her out of the classroom, and soon much of the student population went into a rampaging frenzy. “Muslim students all over the school were shouting, ‘Allahu Akbar [God is great],” she said. “The girls surrounded me and began to drag me here and there.”

Leaders of the school’s Muslim Students Society (MSS) came and took over the interrogation from the girls, she said. Rejecting her explanations, they dragged her to the office of the principal, Abdulrahaman Muhammed Isa. He was away at that moment, but the administration officer, Usman Ilo, listened to the charges of blasphemy and ruled that the case was beyond his authority. But the principal, Isa, returned and took over the case.

According to Muhammed, who by then felt that she had been taken captive, the principal, faculty members and students then determined that she was guilty of blasphemy of the prophet of Islam and sentenced her to death by stoning. The students wanted the death sentence executed then at the school, but the principal and teachers argued to have it endorsed by an Islamic (sharia) court.

Muhammed said that some teachers, after a lengthy argument, convinced the students that she should be taken to a sharia court for confirmation of the death sentence. The administration officer, Ilo, was taking her to Muslim authorities in town who would arrange for her to be arraigned before an Islamic court. En route, she escaped and hid in the house of a Christian friend in Sokoto.

The following morning, her friend went to the school to assess the situation: Muslim students learning of her escape had gone on a rampage, burning down the house of the administration officer for allowing her to escape, and Christians living near the school were also attacked. The school was closed down.

That same day, Muhammed learned from her friend, posters with her picture were printed and pasted throughout Sokoto. Muslim militants were posted in strategic spots in the byways and exits of the city. The Islamists declared that she was “wanted.”

“When the situation became unsafe for me, Christians harboring me in Sokoto dressed me like a Muslim woman, covered completely with clothing and hijab (a head covering), and then smuggled me out of the city,” Muhammed said.

Christians took her to her hometown of Zuru, but by then news had reached the town, and Muslims there were also looking for her. She was whisked out of Zuru to Kaduna, where –surprisingly, she said – Muslims were looking for her there too. She had to be moved to her present refuge.

School officials Isa and Ilo were unavailable for comment.

Muhammed said life in seclusion has been devastating. “I have now been here for eight months. I cannot go out anywhere. I feel very lonely. I cannot even go back to my hometown again. It’s terrible.”

She said she last saw her father, Muhammed Lawal, six years ago.

Discrimination at School

Muhammed’s case ignited in an atmosphere of habitual discrimination at the school of nursing.

“We are not allowed to hold Christian programs in the school, and we have been banned from holding worship services or even praying,” she said. “Yet, in this school, Muslim students have all they need to worship Allah. Whether it be mosques or Islamic books, they have all they need.”

Muhammed said that female Christian students are admitted into the school with the intent of encouraging them to marry Muslims. Of the 43 Christian students at the school, only three are male.

“Muslim male students and teachers are always disturbing us,” she said. “They want to marry us, and when we turn down such marriage proposals, they harass and intimidate us. They believe that they are carrying out jihad once they are able to marry us and win us to Islam.”

Copyright © 2006 Compass Direct