1.1 Background to the Study
The question of the compatibility, or otherwise, of Islam with human rights has been in recent years the focus of attention of numerous scholars who have produced varying responses and advanced conflicting and competing views. Ezzat (2005:n.p) holds that “sharia law is not only compatible with human rights but also the most effective way to achieve human rights”. However, according to Fadl (2010:114), “of all the moral challenges confronting Islam in modern age, the problem of human rights is the most formidable”. Lupp (2004:n.p) also observes that “Islamic fundamentalism in its various modern forms poses a challenge to international human rights norms”. However, this is not to hold that Islam alone is the only religion that harbours the seed capable of causing or inducing behaviour that disregards or violates the rights of human beings. Surely, instances abound of where some Christian practices, for instance, are in conflict with some human rights concerns, discussion of which is nevertheless beyond the scope of this research.
Be that as it may, although Ezzat (2005:n.p) argues that “human rights violations in Muslim countries are not due to sharia law but are mainly exercised by the state and dates back to the post-colonial era”, relatively recent happenings around the world to which Islam is connected seem to fuel the hotly debated issue of whether or not Islam is amenable to human rights idea. Fadl (2010:114) adumbrates some of these happenings. The death sentence issued against Salman Rushdie for the publication of the Satanic Verses; the stoning and imprisoning of rape victims in Pakistan; the public flogging, stoning and decapitation of criminal offenders in Sudan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia; the degradation of women by the Taliban; and the destruction of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan are some of the recent Islamic practices that have struck the world as offensive and even shocking. Other similar events include the sexual violation of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia; the excommunication of writers in Egypt; the killing of civilians in suicide attacks; the shooting in 1987 of over four hundred pilgrims in Mecca by Saudi Police; the senseless taking of hostages in Iran and Lebanon; the burning to death in 2002 of tens of school girls in Mecca because they were not allowed to escape their burning school while not properly veiled; the demeaning treatment that women receive in many an Islamic enclave, and above all the tragedy of “9/11” among many other events. Added to this is the recent bomb-killing of fifty-eight Christians by Muslims in Iraq (Cable Network News, 2010, 3/11/10). One cannot also afford to skip the spiral upheavals and revolts spreading around the Muslim Arab world today as a result of sundry human rights violations and anti-democratic policies of especially sit-tight and repressive regimes. This situation certainly plays out in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Djibouti, and so on. Hence, it does not seem that Islam-motivated forms of terrorism are on the wane in spite of the demise of the al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden. All these seem to constitute a long Muslim saga of ugliness in the modern world’s sensibility on human rights, which idea and discourses have not only been globalized but also have become a significant issue for international relations (Fadl, 2010:116).
In Nigeria, the eve and the dawn of the new millennium have witnessed an unprecedented resurgence of Islam especially in the application of Sharia. Several states in the North have enacted an adapted version of the Sharia Criminal Code, which is a set of legal provisions based on the principles and morals of Islamic religion. The Sharia Penal Code, as adopted and applied in Nigeria is the subject of recent controversy among scholars and diverse groups who, among other opinions see the implementation as antithetical to the respect for some fundamental human rights. Although Sharia criminal law provisions safeguard some internationally and nationally protected rights in certain circumstances, such as Muslims’ freedom of religion, Zarifis (2002:n.p) still observes that “the implementation of sharia law violates other fundamental rights such as the right of minorities to practise the religion of their choices, the right to life, and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which attitudes in turn, violate Nigeria’s international human rights obligations”. The victims especially the minorities have sometimes reacted to infringement on their right to religious freedom with violence, which incident had occasioned inter-religious conflicts that have claimed thousands of lives and property worth huge amount of money since the adoption of sharia in 1999. Besides, the recent post-election violence in Northern Nigeria, which claimed the lives and property of many, among other human rights assaults, are not unconnected with religious sensibilities. This state of affairs is in concert with the recent and constant incidents of bombings taking place almost always in the northern parts of the country, with the resulting destruction of lives and property. Recently too, Nigeria was branded one of the fourteen terrorist countries alongside Somalia, Afghanistan and so on, when in December 2009 the Nigerian born teenager, Umar Farook Abdulmuttalab, was picked by al-Qaeda to blow the American Airline en route to Detroit though he was stopped aboard the Airline in Holland. It had to take a lot of pleas, lobbies, supplications and diplomatic strategies by the Yar’Adua-Jonathan government for the American deed to be undone only recently. All these have always been connected to Islamic attitude to Human rights.
The adoption by Zamfara State and later by some other eleven northern states (Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Bauchi, Bornu, Yobe, and Gombe) expectedly elicited many reactions. Human rights scholars, lawyers, jurists, political analysts, moral theologians, right-based non-governmental organizations and also religious scientists demonstrate intense interest on the implications of the adoption for the nation’s constitutional democracy and its tenets. Certainly, some national and international dust has been raised.
MAP OF NIGERIA SHOWING SHARIA STATES