Friday, August 29, 2003


On August 27, Amina Lawal, a 32-year-old Nigerian single mother, sat in an Islamic sharia court in Katsina state in northern Nigeria and nursed her two-year-old daughter, Wasila. Wasila had been born over nine months after Amina was divorced and, in Nigeria's Islamic courts, this is taken to be prima facie evidence that Amina committed adultery.

If her appeal of this conviction is denied, she will be buried up to her chest, and the surrounding throng will throw stones at her until she is dead. The stones used must not be so small that they will inflict no damage, nor so large that they will kill her too quickly. She must die slowly and painfully in front of the crowd.

Of course, in any adultery case, there must also be a man involved, and Amina testified that she had not willingly committed adultery but had been raped. However, to convict a man of rape, Nigeria's sharia courts usually require that there be four male Muslim witnesses.

Though the courts are not yet clear on this, it may be (following precedent in other Islamist jurisdictions such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan) that up to eight male non-Muslim witnesses, or 16 female non-Muslim witnesses, would also suffice for the conviction of a male Muslim.

However, since Nigerian adulterers and rapists — like those in other parts of the world — do not usually perform in front of crowds, the man has been acquitted, and Amina and her daughter stand alone...

(T)errible as is Amina's plight, her situation is but a symptom of a larger problem afflicting Nigeria and other African nations. Nigeria — along with Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa — is subject to major campaigns by radical Islamists to spread their ideology.

When radical Islam gains a foothold, stonings, amputations, and religious executions follow. But the effects are even wider than these barbarities. In such regimes, questioning the government is effectively equated with questioning God. Since extremists maintain that their laws and rulers are authorized directly by God without any human mediation, any political opposition is, by definition, blasphemy, and thus punishable by death.

Thus the victory of radical Islam, even when it is won peacefully, necessarily leads to the defeat of democracy, of any republican virtues, and of any human rights.

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