Shari’ah: A mistake that should never have been allowed

When former Executive Secretary of Nigeria’s Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf revealed while speaking on Arise News’ The Morning Show that his Somali friends who are currently resident in the United States (US) have been calling him worried. “We are worried about Nigeria, this is how Somalia started,”  they said, he was referring to the alarming rate of banditry across Northern Nigeria. 

As noted in this earlier piece about that speech which concluded with him advising the training and arming of Northern youth to fight insecurity, there is a deeper ideological problem that continues to stoke these crises. The tacit approval that terrorists receive from the belief that they share with all Muslims in the supremacy of their faith above all faiths. That a majority of Muslims may never take up arms to assert this belief they hold is immaterial to fanatics.

It isn’t only a sense of Muslim brotherhood however, that feeds this unfurling menace. The rest of the federation had bought a stake in it when an entire criminal law sub-system built on Islamic faith was allowed to operate in over 10 core North States – the Shariah.

Since 2000, twelve states in Northern Nigeria have added criminal law to the jurisdiction of Sharia (Islamic Law) courts. To help enforce these, many core North States like Kano and Zamfara maintain – with state funds, a small local force called the Hisbah (Islamic Police.)  The illegality of that has been widely explored over the years.

Shari’a is seen by many Muslims as an entire system of guidelines and rules which encompass criminal law, personal status law, and many other aspects of religious, cultural, and social life.There are several different schools of thought and within each of these, different interpretations of the provisions of Shari’a. In the same vein, no one Hisbah unit operates by the same rules as another, but at their core is a dangerous ideology that seeks to cleanse society of what their brand of Islam considers ‘sinful.’

Nigeria is a secular state that on paper guarantees the protection of every – to practice their religion or be free from religion, the reality on ground even at cursory glance reveals a dangerous foray into what pundits have noted resembles the decline of war-ridden Islamic states like Iraq.

It takes a kind of religious fascism for a people to be hellbent on enforcing their particular brand of religious ideologies in a diverse country like Nigeria. And that is exactly what Kano is doing when Mubarak Bala, a renowned atheist was arrested and remains detained almost a year later over charges of blasphemy.

When a Christian police inspector, known as OC Gulder, was detained by Hisbah for allegedly supplying beer to a vendor, who is also Christian. When hairstylist, Elijah Odeh, was arrested and detained for providing his services in a way the Hisbah police deemed contrary to Islamic faith. And every single instance of human rights violation that has been widely recorded committed by an emerging state sanctioned taliban operating an entire set of rules that will otherwise attract the ire of Nigerian authorities were they to happen anywhere else in the country but these handful of states.

It is more than skin deep …

Shari’ah law was not newly brought into the North in 1999. Prior to that, it made up the customary law operating in the region to settle civil matters, but a new wave of Islamist revival that swept the region in the 1990s birthed a movement that will see the implementation of ‘full’ Sharia in 12 Northern States by the end of 2001.

An overwhelming majority of the people loved it, and the political leaders of Northern Nigeria rode on that love to solidify their standing in a new demoratic dispensation. It is an old rule of the fascist playbook that works like magic.

Stock up loyalty for a cause – in this case the purification of a religion the population is already devoted to, and rally people around to annex the fatherland for you and yours while excluding the dreaded ‘other.’ This ‘other’ in the case of northern Nigeria is anyone who is not a ‘good’ Muslim.

The terrorism Nigeria continues to face is the chicken that came home to roost barely a decade since the Sharia movement started in 1999. 

A small fraction of fanatical Muslims – who many admired for their unwavering devotion even if they wouldn’t let go of their comforts to join them, became dissatisfied with the implementation of Shariah even in the most dedicated states like Zamfara State.

The Hisbah wasn’t arresting businesses that contravened Islam fast enough, they werent moving to Islamise institutions of education, healthcare, banking and the like quickly enough. They decided to extricate themselves from the rotten civilisation Nigeria seemed to be inching closer to year after year. With pageants and other debauchery still allowed barely 3 hours drive away from Kano in Kaduna and the capital territory. This distaste too is a shared ideology among a majority of Muslims. One isn’t pious enough unless they truly dislike anything Allah is said to dislike in the holy Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad – Hadeeth.

Where we stand …

Northern Nigeria is increasingly inching towards excessive radicalism and the rhetoric remains that if only the economic wellbeing of people will be met, all will be well with the world. Research has shown that this is likely to help, but not very much if the ideology driving it continues to thrive unchecked.

It won’t be enough – and our current reality has shown that this rather than help, spurs radicals on. To say Northern Muslims can operate their states on Islamic principles so long as that doesn’t affect non-Muslims.

The fact that Islam itself is not a monolith should have been a major red flag that prevented the fools errand that allowing Shariah was. The case of Kano Singer, Yahya Aminu-Sharif, charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death – a sentence he contested in a higher court, is a good example of how even Muslims can be victims of a Shariah skewed to favour one Islamic sect. Per his own Islamic sect’s understanding and practice of the faith, he did no wrong.

What we are seeing with an increasing number of human rights violations of people who have no affiliation with the Islamic faith and are in no way willing participants in this social contract is a result of continued overreaching that went unchecked by he Nigerian state. The confiscation of alcoholic beverages by Hisbah for years is a key example.

Until we address this error, more Elijah Odes, Mubarak Balas, and OC Gulders will continue to fall victims of the thoughtless decision of a Nigeran ruling class that is willing to sacrifice anything on the altar of hanging on to power.

Sharia is a mistake we should never have allowed, and now we have decades to undo it and run the risk of being engulfed in a taliban-level decay while we work to undo said mistake.

We may as well tighten our belts because it won’t be a cakewalk.

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