The Nigerian woman who was acquitted of adultery and escaped death by stoning on Thursday has been cynically exploited by those who oppose Islamic law, and those who would exploit it. 

 

Christian groups and human rights organisations have used the Lawal case to peddle their anti-Islamic, or Sharia law agenda. 

 

And ambitious Nigerian Muslim politicians have vigorously defended the death verdict in order to bolster their own standing.

 

Worse still, the case’s notoriety has succeeded in demonising Islam in the eyes of the world.

 

Meanwhile, Amina Lawal has been forced to bring up her tiny baby with a death sentence hanging over her head.

 

Burning controversy

Lawal's death sentence was handed down amid burning controversy over the implementation of Sharia law in 12 northern Nigerian states.

Following the moves, thousands of people have been killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.

First introduced in Zamfara state three years ago, Sharia is now practised, to a greater or a lesser degree, across Nigeria's north, and has exacerbated differences between the predominately Christian south.

The world's media has put the spotlight on Sharia punishments such as amputations and death by stoning for transgressions, such as adultery.

But under Sharia law, Kano has also banned prostitution, gambling and the consumption of alcohol.

And in Zamfara, single-sex schools and taxis have been introduced.

Stoning

In March 2002, Lawal was sentenced to death by stoning by a court in Katsina State.

She had allegedly confessed to having had a child while divorced.

The man named as the father of Lawal's baby girl reportedly denied having sex with her and the charges against him were discontinued.

Sharia law has been introduced
in 12 northern Nigerian states 

However, Lawal later filed an appeal against her sentence and withdrew her confession.

When the verdict was announced, human rights groups reacted with outrage, attacking not only the sentence, but the concept of Islamic law itself.

The groups denounced Sharia as archaic and unjust, and said it was creating an atmosphere of intimidation against Christians.

Condemnation

The Nigerian pressure group, the Community Development and Welfare Agenda, said Sharia court decisions were a "fundamental assault on the sovereignty and legality of the Nigerian state".

And human rights group Amnesty International said it "unreservedly condemned the use of corporal punishment, torture and the use of the death penalty, which clearly violates international human rights standards”.

And Masood Shadjareh, of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, welcomed Lawal's acquittal.

“To have handed down a death sentence when Amina Lawal was not married is totally incompatible with the spirit and letter of Islamic law," he said.

"We are against this pick-and-choose version of Sharia law. When it is applied in this way it becomes oppressive when it is supposed to be creative and equitable.

"There is so much corruption in Nigeria and I think Sharia is just being used as a stick to beat the poor while the rich still lead a life of luxury."

He added: "But the implementation of Sharia in an Islamic environment and when the conditions are right is a different thing. The real implementation of Sharia is not barbaric - it leads to a just society.”

“To have handed down a death sentence when Amina Lawal was not married was totally incompatible with the spirit and letter of Sharia law. We are against this pick-and-choose version of Sharia law. When it is applied in this way it becomes oppressive when it is supposed to be creative and equitable"

Masood Shadjareh,
Islamic Human Rights Commission

“There is a group of people in northern Nigeria called the Kaduna mafia," he said.

"These are northern, secular elites who have exploited the popularity of Sharia to advance their positions. They have become the flag bearers of Islam rather than the Islamic scholars who should be.

“They are the ones who are directing the clamour for Sharia. All over Nigeria there are calls for harsh punishments and these politicians are giving vent to that. But this is not Islam, it is mob rule.”

Shadjareh added the whole situation was creating a sort of ‘Shariaphobia’.

“Islamic law is extremely misunderstood by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. 

"The punishments are only a small element of Islamic law and they are being given undue prominence. I think it is all just an excuse to oppress the poor in the name of Islam while the rich consolidate their status in society.”

Cynical manipulation

There is no doubt the Amina Lawal case is worthy of considerable attention by rights groups and the international media.

But many Muslims in Nigeria believe these groups are simply playing to the gallery in condemning Islamic law, when the real culprits are cynical politicians.

The result is that innocent people are dying in the streets of northern Nigeria, and a whole religion has been demonised.

Moreover, for two years Amina Lawal had to suffer the prospect of having to abandon her daughter.