»This Sharia crisis is just a question of […]

who owns the country.«[1]



The transition to democracy, in early 1999, had unexpected consequences. In some states ofNorthern Nigeria, dominated by Islamic ethnic groups, especially the Hausa-Fulani, the newly-elected parliaments introduced an Islamic penal code and other Sharia laws. Supporters of Sharia, apparently a large majority among Muslims, argued that they were only asserting their right to self-determination. They simply wanted to organize their lives according to the tenets of their faith, without forcing their beliefs on others. This is why Christians and so-called Traditionalists were expressly exempted from the harsh penalties for theft and adultery. When non-Muslims are involved in a legal dispute, whether civil or criminal, they have the right to be heard before a secular court.

Nonetheless, the Muslims’ call for autonomy flies in the face of Nigeria’s secular tradition. The constitution does not allow elevating any religion to a state religion. Yet this principle is violated when governors in the North use state authority to Islamize public life. In Zamfara, the first state to introduce a strict form of Sharia, the government claimed that its religious reform was bringing about major changes: »all spheres of public life are being transformed into Islamic oriented institutions.«[2] This state-sponsored Islamization affected non-Muslims as well, as they were subjected to some Sharia proscriptions like the ban on alcohol and the gender separation in hotels and restaurants, in buses and taxis. In Zamfara’s state schools, boys and girls were separated without regard to their faith. In addition, all girls and young women were forced to conform to the Islamic dress code.

Critics of Sharia accused the new legislation of violating basic human rights: Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women are not treated equally, even though Nigeria’s Western-oriented constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of religion or gender. Moreover, punishments such as flogging, stoning and amputation are to be regarded as torture or at least as »inhuman or degrading treatment«, which is prohibited by the constitution.[3] Representatives of Christian churches and human rights organizations have thus called for Sharia to be banned. Yet in the South of Nigeria, where Christians are in the majority, human dignity is not always respected, either. In most states, the authorities have supported ethnic militias or vigilantes that hunt down criminals. Anyone suspected of having committed a violent crime must reckon with a quick trial. The militiamen drag the condemned to some street corner and execute them with machetes, gasoline and car tires. Given this widespread use of summary justice, one cannot accuse the Sharia courts of being particularly cruel.[4] In any event, the harsh hudud punishments have only been applied very hesitantly. In the first three years of Sharia, the courts sentenced more than 60 thieves to amputation, but only three cases became known in which the sentence was actually carried out.[5] A more dangerous aspect of Sharia, in my opinion, is that it contributes to the decline of the state:

–   By declaring the Will of God the highest authority, Sharia politicians have given believers permission to disregard all man-made laws and agreements that are at variance with Islam. This undermined the legitimacy of the Christian President, and it also threatens the authority of the emirs and other representatives of the Islamic establishment.

–   The call to shape state and society by the rules of Islam has increased antagonism between Muslims and members of other faiths. Christians and Traditionalists are worried that Islamic law may spread to other parts ofNigeriaand that it may pervade more spheres of social life. Where Sharia becomes dominant, non-Muslims are excluded, to a large extent, from political participation, and their social environment is determined by the laws of an alien religion.

Naturally, Sharia advocates have a different assessment of the consequences of their religious commitment. Their aim was to purge the corrupt state of all immoral practices and, in so doing, to imbue it with new legitimacy: »Shari’a is […] bringing absolute sanity over the decadent land.«[6] Moreover, Sharia activists denied that their reform policy endangered the peaceful coexistence between the religious communities. They justified the return to their own separate laws by invoking, vis-à-vis non-Muslims, the model of multi-culturalism: »the stability of this country is going to be derived from […] recognising our cultural diversity.«[7] Christians and Traditionalists should recognize that Nigeria is a pluralist society, in which every religious community has the right to live according to its own rules. As a means of »cultural self-determination«, Sharia helps to preserve Northern Nigeria’s »authentic« culture.[8] In addition, it contributes to legal pluralism, providing an alternative to Western, secular ideas of law, which had been forced on Africans by the colonial power: »Shariacracy [is] a defense against unwanted cultural globalization […] an alternative to the Western constitutional and legal inheritance.«[9] However, Muslim citizens who are now subject to the deaconian Islamic punishments for theft and adultery have not won additional options for self-determination. In case of legal disputes, they cannot choose whether they will stand before a religious or a secular judge. At the behest of the authorities, they are subject to the laws of God in all legal matters. Muslim self-determination does not strengthen the rights of the individual, but empowers the Islamic community, or more accurately, its leaders, who decide in the name of Islam how their brothers in faith have to live: »Muslims have been able to take their destiny in their own hands. […] They are content to submit totally to the Will of Allah.«[10]

Sharia politicians who try to enforce an orthodox way of life are not sincerely interested in cultural diversity. The Sharia Penal Code, which was adopted in Zamfara and other states, envisages the death penalty for Muslims who participate in ›pagan‹ rites.[11] It is most unlikely that Islamic judges will resort to such drastic punishments, but there are clear tendencies to restrict non-Islamic forms of worship. Non-Muslims have reason to fear that they will become »second-class citizens«[12]. So they observed with trepidation how the Sharia campaign took hold of more and more states. Right at the beginning, in September 1999, when the parliament of Zamfara had passed a Sharia law, it had met with little protest, because more than 90 percent of the local population in the far North, on the edge of the Sahel, are Muslims. But then eleven more states followed suit, some of which are home to large Christian minorities. When the governor of Kaduna announced the introduction of Sharia, although non-Muslims form almost half of the population, violence erupted, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.[13] Following these first ›Sharia clashes‹, Nigeria’s president, a Christian Yoruba from the Southwest, invited the governors of the North to the capital city, Abuja, and tried to persuade them to suspend their Sharia plans. Yet they would not be moved, and so new conflicts broke out in Kaduna, Kano and Jos, claiming the lives of about 5,000 citizens.[14] Since then, non-Muslims have resigned themselves to the fact that Sharia remains in force, at least officially. To rebel against it would only endanger the position of the Christian minority: »the more non-Muslims react negatively to the Sharia, the worse the situation is likely to get.«[15] Christians and Muslims are far from reaching an amicable solution. They may negotiate arrangements on a local level, but as the local balance of power is constantly shifting, the rival parties cannot reach a stable compromise. The constant striving for dominance generates tensions and anxieties which often erupt in violence. In most cases, religious antagonisms are interwoven with ethnic conflicts, with disputes over scarce land resources, and with rivalries in local markets. On the Jos Plateau, where the ›indigenous‹ Christian population sees its numerical dominance threatened by Muslim migrants from the North, both sides have tried to expel each other from their territory. After an estimated 35,000 people had died, the central government declared a state of emergency in May 2004 which placed the entire state under the administration of a retired army general for half a year.[16]

Observers in Europe and North Americapaid little attention to the political implications of Sharia. They were mainly concerned with the severe punishments, the ›unfair‹ trials and the discrimination against women.[17] Given these grievances, Western critics demanded that Islamic authorities comply with ›international‹ standards of human rights, but they showed little interest in other controversial issues, such as what Sharia means for the cohesion of a multi-religious state. Some commentators thought it completely legitimate that Muslims govern their community according to their own religious laws: In a federation like Nigeria, the 36 states should be allowed to go their separate ways, even when it comes to criminal legislation. Muslim attempts to realize, as much as possible, their own ideas of law and morality are part of a healthy democratic competition and therefore »entirely politically correct.«[18] One can even argue that the politicization of religion brings advantages, because it enriches public debates with new ideas on how to organize society. By defending their right to be different, Muslims challenge the »monological« view of human rights organizations and suggest alternatives to it.[19] Therefore it would be disastrous to outlaw Islam’s different understanding of law and try to impose the Western separation of state and religion.

Islamic reservations about secularism are shared by some authors in Europe and theUSA:

»Although Islam has led in the opposition to secularism, Christians should stand shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers and sisters […]. It is better to make some concessions to accommodate Muslim convictions […] than to lose our religious soul to the godless forces of political correctness and secularism.«[20]

Breaking with secularism is not only the concern of conservative religious circles; postmodern theories can lead to similar consequences. They can deconstruct the secular order as a power relationship, which suppresses religion and expels it from public life. Politically ambitious religions are no longer seen as a major threat; rather they appear as »victims« that are reclaiming their rightful place in society after a long time in »exile«[21]. The present religious renaissance is greeted as a liberating force, because it challenges the intolerance and hegemony of secularism. Those who stick to the old secular dogmas, derived from the ideology of eighteenth century Enlightenment, only provoke unnecessary conflict, especially with Muslims, who are »humiliated« by a secular legal system.[22]

In Nigeria, the debate about secularism has taken a similar turn. A growing number of Christians sees the exclusion of religion from politics as a mistake: »The separation of the state from religion, part of the Western democratic tradition, is fast becoming old-fashioned […] a secularised view of the world devoid of ›true religion‹ can only produce misery, conflict and war.«[23] Although representatives of the major churches still defend the secular elements of the constitution, they do this less out of religious conviction than for pragmatic-political reasons: In a multi-religious country, state authorities should not interfere in religious matters, lest they become embroiled in destructive disputes.[24] However, secular principles that had been brought to the country by Christian missionaries and the colonial administration, have remained foreign to most Nigerians. In precolonial times, political power was always based on an alliance with spiritual forces. Every clan, every village and every town community gathered around a shrine to receive strength through the alliance with ancestors or local deities. When enemy groups waged war against each other, their spiritual allies fought with them. Thus the warring parties had no qualms about destroying their opponent’s places of worship or stealing their sacred objects. With the Africanization of Christianity, ideas of spiritual warfare have been revived, so that religious and worldly power appear inseparable.

Another factor in the growing rejection of secular principles could be the failure of the state. Bureaucratic institutions cannot stop the social and political disintegration, so the only means to control people’s behavior and restore some social order seems to be religion.[25] Ideas of right or wrong are increasingly formulated in light of religious principles, so people’s faith becomes more relevant for profane, ›extra-religious‹ affairs. In an intensely religious social environment, political systems may only gain stability when they are in accord with religious norms. Since trust in secular state authorities has broken down, a growing number of Christian intellectuals put their hope in religion: A decadent and disoriented society can only find a way out of its crisis, if it turns to a transcendent authority that is not contaminated by the general decline: »If Christians and Muslims in Nigeria live the life of their Bible and Koran, there will be harmony.«[26]

Religion and Democracy

Nigeria’s dispute over the political role of religion is part of a global debate that questions a basic consensus of liberal democracies. In this debate, the dividing lines do not simply run between the major world religions. Attempts to »unmodernize«[27] faith and liberate it from secular restrictions are also gaining influence within Christianity: »experiments with secularized religion have generally failed; religious movements with beliefs and practices dripping with reactio­nary supernaturalism […] have widely succeeded.«[28] A large proportion of American citizens describe themselves as ›fundamentalists‹.[29] This does not mean that they would reject their country’s constitution. In contrast to Islamic ›fundamentalists‹, evangelical or charismatic Protestants adhere to secular principles. However, the term ›secular‹ does not mean much more than state neutrality.[30] The state is not permitted to favor any of the numerous churches or to discriminate against them, yet public life should be shaped by Christian values, and the state should promote the social activities of faith based organizations: »Christianity is not to be separated from the world […]. [It] affects the totality of our being and must be practised twenty-four hours a day, even when we are in public.«[31] State authorities, from the president to the courts, have followed this trend of reversing the separation between church and state: »over the last fifteen years the US Supreme Court has abandoned much of its earlier separationism. […] public religion must be as free as private religion.«[32]

The claim to follow one’s religious convictions in the private as in the public sphere is usually justified in the name of religious freedom. Recent interpretations tend to define this basic right in a very broad sense. It includes not only the right »to profess a faith or to engage in cultic-religious activities«, but also the right »to live out one’s faith in all areas of life.«[33] In keeping with this generous interpretation of religious freedom, the parliament of Ontario, Canada, discussed plans to allow a limited form of Sharia, so that Muslim citizens can choose at least in family and inheritance disputes, whether they want to be subject to secular or religious authorities. In Europe, a growing number of legal experts and politicians is pleading to recognize group rights, especially the rights religious minorities, because »religion could […] be important in strengthening the cultural resources and bonds of migrant communities.«[34] Yet if religious authorities are empowered to administer their own laws and control people’s behavior, important achievements of modernity, such as equality before the law, will be lost. The rights of citizens will be determined according to their faith, and the observation of these rights becomes an internal matter from which ›unbelievers‹ are excluded. Through this exclusivity, religious communities have the opportunity to build up internal power structures and to confer on their leaders an authority that evades public control. Members with dissenting opinions are put under pressure, and particularly women and children face oppression, because their constitutional rights, which the state should guarantee, are protected partially at best.[35]

There is a growing tendency in multi-religious societies to allow parts of public life to be regulated by religious norms. Yet there is also considerable opposition to it. Influential political thinkers argue that the emergence of religiously diverse Christian-Muslim societies in Europeand other parts of the world makes it all the more necessary to preserve the secular order and shield the political system from religious competition. With the increasing variety of religious persuasions, citizens no longer share basic assumptions about law and morality, so the danger of deep divisions and irreconcilable conflicts rises. Compromises are hard to find, because political demands motivated by religious convictions often pose absolute and hence non-negotiable claims for validity.[36] As ideas about justice and human dignity diverge greatly, it becomes difficult to formulate and realize ideas of the public good. What binds Christians, Muslims and irreligious people together is not much more than the common interest in ensuring that everybody can realize his or her own ideas of a good life: »citizens […] agree to disagree about many fundamental matters.«[37] If the society cannot reach a consensus on how a just and humane social order should look, then the state should refrain from transforming society according to such ideals. It would be unreasonable to use the public’s political power to enforce a religious vision »about which citizens […] are bound to differ uncompromisingly.«[38] Instead, government should »be neutral on the question of good life, […] respecting persons as free and independent selves, unencumbered by moral ties antecedent to choice.«[39] Following this maxim, democracy would develop into a procedural republic, with greatly reduced social function. Its main aim would be to guarantee the conditions under which Christians and Muslims, believers and non-believers can live side by side, without disturbing each other.

When citizens pursue increasingly different ways of life, it becomes all the more important that they feel bound to a minimum of constitutional rules. In a liberal state that rejects despotism, citizens have to accept the laws of the state voluntarily and acknowledge them as their own: »Democratic legitimacy requires that the laws we live under in some sense result from our collective decisions.«[40] Despite their diversity, people have to see themselves as a political unit that deliberates on common issues and decides them on behalf of all its members. However, in religiously divided societies, the idea of an overarching democratic community fades, and its decisions lose legitimacy. How can the state ensure that Muslims, Christians and agnostics feel bound to majority decisions? An open debate and common decisions are only possible if political institutions are not framed by principles which derive from one of the rival religions, to the exclusion of others:

»secularism in some form is a necessity for the democratic life of religiously diverse societies. Both the sense of mutual bonding and the crucial reference points of the political debate that flow from it have to be accessible to citizens of different confessional allegiances, or of none. If the people in this sense were to be confessionally defined, then in fact, non-members would be excluded from full participation in self-rule.«[41]

When Muslims inNorthern Nigeriadecide to shape their penal code in accordance with their own religious tradition, they exclude non-Muslims from an important aspect of public legislation. As the introduction of Sharia demonstrates, the transition to democracy is not a protection against religious conflicts; it only strengthens the politics of exclusion. The right of self-determination appeals to people who feel united by common values and traditions; it is claimed for one’s own religious or ethnic group, not for the Nigerian people as a whole.

»The exclusion is a by-product […] of the need, in self-governing societies, of a high degree of cohesion. […] Democracy obliges much more solidarity and much more commitment to one another in the joint political project than was demanded by the hierarchical and authori­tarian societies of yesteryear. […] To form a state, in the democratic era, a society is forced to undertake the difficult and never-to-be-completed task of defining its collective identity.«[42]

By defining self-determination in religious terms, the Muslim majority in Northern Nigeriais marginalizing the Christian minority and forcing them to accept the conditions imposed by a rival religious community. According to this exclusive understanding of democracy, citizens have to acknowledge that Zamfara, Kanoand Sokoto are »Muslim states that wish to see their state apparatus organized in conformity with their faith.«[43] In such states, non-believers cannot expect to stand at the head of government; they are relegated to the position of a permanent minority. Thus one of the conditions for a functioning democracy ceases to exist: the possibility of changing majorities.

However, Sharia is not to blame for the failure of Nigeria’s FourthRepublic. Democracy has never worked in Nigeria. When the Northern People’s Congress, a Hausa-Fulani dominated party, took over Nigeria’s first independent government in 1960, its leaders asserted their hegemony by whatever means. They rigged elections, falsified census figures, and crushed opposition with military force. Those who lost out could not rely on the protection of democratic institutions. This has not changed with the present FourthRepublic, which was proclaimed in May 1999, after fifteen years of military rule. Its first president, Olusegun Obasanjo, did not come to office through fair elections, but through the machinations of some power brokers in the North. Under his rule, the state introduced some economic reforms, and it improved on its abysmal human rights record. The press is now largely free, the regions enjoy much autonomy, and there is intense political competition. However, core institutions of a democratic state, like the parliament and the judiciary, are not working, and the elections have not become freer and more transparent. When Obasanjo was voted into office in early 1999, rigging was rampant and not more than 20 percent of the electorate had cast ballot.[44] Nevertheless, international election monitors gave the winner a clean bill, because they did not want to jeopardize the transition from a military to a civilian government. The exit of the generals went smoothly, but the ›democratization‹ process did not consolidate democracy. In the 2003 elections, Obasanjo and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) tightened their grip on power. They could increase their number of senators from 67 to 73 (out of a total of 109), and their number of congressmen from 212 to 221 (out of 360). Of the 36 states, they could win 28 (up from 21), though in some states elections had virtually not taken place.[45] Before the elections in April 2007, observers speculated that the ruling party »will probably have to steal a lot more votes than in 2003« in order to stay in power.[46] Yet the PDP succeeded again. President Obasanjo, who had to give up power after two terms in office, had picked a successor and rigged the elections in his favor, relying on the help of the police, the State Security Service and the Independent National Electoral Commission whose chairman he had appointed.

Since voters have little influence on the outcome of elections, one could call Nigeria’s FourthRepublica ›defect‹ or ›hybrid‹ democracy. Popular participation is a central requirement of democracy, when it is not secured, it might even be more appropriate to say that there is no democracy at all.[47] Democracy requires a high degree of trust. Ruling elites will only accept electoral defeat and leave office, if they can trust that their rivals, once in government, will give them a fair chance to regain power. In Nigeria, where military and civilian regimes were afraid of giving up power, they have weakened or destroyed all democratic institutions which could have mediated between rival elite factions. Without rules that regulate the exercise of power, politicians had to resort to informal bargaining. However, informal agreements between elites that do not trust each other are unreliable; they have to be backed up by the threat of force. In order to put pressure on their rivals, politicians have mobilized their ethnic and religious followers, with devastating results: »It is estimated that at least 50,000 people have been killed in various incidents of ethnic, religious and communal violence since the return to civilian rule.«[48] Violence, as we shall see, is not just manipulated by elites. It is also fueled by popular movements which are highly critical of the political establishment. Nigeria’s ›civil society‹, which ought to act as a counter-weight to corrupt state authorities, is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines. And its organizations have developed little democratic structures internally. Nonetheless, some Nigerian intellectuals contend that ethnic militias and other self-determination groups form a genuine part of civil society, as they fight with »other progressive social forces« for the liberation of all oppressed peoples: »ethnic militancy is a contribution to democracy and diversity.«[49] Others argue that the prospects for democracy are gloomy, because the rise of ethnic and religious self-determination groups aggravates the uncivil character of Nigerian society: »the phrase ›civil society‹ […] mistakenly assumes that there is a section of society that is predominantly civil.«[50]

As in other African countries, Nigeria’s transition to democracy upset the balance of power and aggravated ethnic-religious tensions.[51] Nevertheless, the Obasanjo regime has also contributed to stabilizing the country. The conflict in the Niger Delta, over ownership of the oil resources, is still out of control, but elsewhere conflicts have simmered down. Politicians in Yoruba-, Igbo- and Hausaland have lost interest in ethnic and religious mobilization. Thanks to the high prices of crude oil, they are profiting fromNigeria’s oil rents like never before. The opportunity to embezzle billions of dollars each year has generated a strong interest in stabilizing the federation. Under military rule, large sections of the elites felt excluded from the wealth of the nation, whereas today no major region or ethnic elite is left out. President Obasanjo made sure to distribute state resources more or less evenly throughout the country. Thus he balanced out ethno-religious interests. However, there are no democratic mechanisms which could ensure that political power and access to oil money are shared fairly. Under a president who strongly favors a certain section of society at the expense of others, there could be a resurgence of ethnic and religious agitation. Obasanjo did his best, when leaving office, to assuage religious antagonisms. Though a Christian from the South, he picked as his successor a Muslim from the North. Umaru Yar’Adua was the governor of one of the Sharia states, but not a religious hardliner.

Democratic forms of power sharing could only be institutionalized, if all parties acceded to common rules which they can agree are just and fair. Yet the chance to reach a consensus decreases, when some of the actors bind themselves to their separate religious laws: »the development of a strong Islamist movement in the north […] is destroying the basis on which any generally accepted and democratic state could be constructed.«[52] Sharia activists who declare that God’s law is supreme are not obliged to follow any secular rules. They may sign treaties with non-Muslims, but legal and constitutional concessions to infidels will not bind them, so agreements with them cannot be trusted. Instead of a consensus, Muslims and Christians can reach at best a modus vivendi, i.e., a compromise between people who have fundamentally different opinions.[53] Muslims may accept restrictions on their religious self-determination, as long as they do not have the power to enforce their ideas of divine justice. But there are no inner convictions that would stop them from reneging, if the balance of forces were shifting in their favor and they did not have to fear reprisals from breaking their promise.

Religious doctrines that hinder a peaceful coexistence between the faiths could, of course, be reinterpreted to make them more compatible with democracy. In a modernized, more liberal form, Islamic law could adopt a catalogue of human rights. Some liberal Muslims even claim that rediscovering Sharia in its pristine form is the best way of arriving at a modern understanding of human rights. Objectionable features of Islamic societies, like the subordination of women, are not derived from Islamic principles but from pre-Islamic patriarchal traditions: »It is a settled fact that shari’ah provides women full human, social, and economic rights […]. However, local customs, laws, and negative value systems continue to encroach upon the implementation of the pure principles of shari’ah[54] Such attempts to present one’s liberal ideas as authentically Islamic are not convincing. The most prominent modernizer among Nigeria’s Muslims, S. L. Sanusi, warns that this strategy is counterproductive. Feminists and other progressive Muslims who claim to revive an original form of Islam are only making themselves untrustworthy: »progressive Muslims make untenable claims of unsubstantiated authenticity for their ontology of equality.« »the concept of justice and equality that is held by progressive Muslims originates in a tradition of Western scholarship since the Enlightenment.«[55] According to Sanusi, many Muslims »do not accept the egalitarian conceptions of Western society«, and their understanding of a divinely ordained hierarchy between men and women, believers and infidels is supported by their religious heritage: »In this, the Muslim tradition is no different from most other pre-modern systems of thought. […] As for the inferiority of the non-Muslim to the Muslim, this was, a fortiori, taken for granted.«[56] Therefore, a liberal reinterpretation of Sharia would have to move away from its roots.

A similar view is taken by Gerrie ter Haar, who reminds us that the Koran and other sacred texts, which distinguish believers from non-believers, stem from a time when a »humane world view«, as it is understood in the West, did not exist: »In those days the use of violence was commonly accepted and even encouraged in certain circumstances, while peace and tolerance were usually limited to a particular circle of people. […] All this makes the reinterpretation of sacred traditions in their present context an absolute necessity.«[57] In order to defuse religiously-motivated conflicts and protect the rights of citizens, religious leaders should pick out those elements from holy scripts that allow people to live together peacefully and as equals. »shari’a law could be made compatible with international views of human rights.«[58] The question is, however, how far modernizers can go without compromising their religious identity. The best option for democracy: a secular order is apparently not feasible. Even resolute modernizers like Sanusi emphasize that a reformation of Islam must not result in a »capitulation« to Western values: »any call on Muslims to abandon religious law in the name of secularism, will fail.«[59] Where Muslims want to preserve at least parts of their religious inheritance, secular principles are »untenable«: »advocates of secularism will appear to be calling on their own societies to abandon their Islamic cultural and religious foundations.«[60] Adherents of Sharia are motivated by very different interests and aspirations, however, ideas of tolerance and human rights are not prominent among them. Many Muslims would see human rights as an obstacle in their fight against crime. And they have little interest in equality between men and women, or between believers and infidels. What makes Sharia attractive is, in many cases, its ability to polarize and mobilize the faithful effectively against a common enemy. This is one of the reasons why Sharia conflicts often overlap with ethnic rivalries.

Religious and Political Motives

In this study I would like to reconstruct some of the reasons that led to the Sharia campaign. As a social scientist, I am interested, above all, in how religious demands are linked with political interests. It is important, however, to bear in mind that religious commitment is not just a means of furthering political ambitions. Many Sharia activists are inspired by genuine religious motives. After decades of economic and moral decline, it has become more important for both Muslims and Christians to reconsider their religious values and to follow the teachings of their faith. Few Nigerians still believe that democracy, human rights and a free market economy are a way out of the present crisis. Given the failure of Western modernization strategies, it is reasonable for Nigeria’s Muslims to reevaluate their traditions. Believers, who turn to the teachings of the Koran, are not looking for instructions on how to transform their society according to liberal, enlightened principles. The renewed interest in Sharia has grown out of the experience that Western concepts of development have led to a dead end. To get out of it, Nigerians have to find a new sense of direction. Their endeavor to re-model state and society can only be successful, if they are united by a common purpose. They have to agree on ethical standards which nobody can change to suit personal or political interest. Sharia, which is seen by most believers as the immutable law of God, seems best suited for this purpose. God will lead His creatures out of their misery, if only they follow Him and His commandments. This pious understanding of Sharia, is at odds with the attempts by liberal Muslims to submit the legacy of Islam to a historical-critical debate. Liberal authors like Abdullahi An-Na’im point out that »certain aspects of shari’ah are simply inconsistent with basic constitutional government altogether.«[61] If modern Muslims want to free themselves of these outdated restrictions, they will have to break with Islamic jurisprudence as it has hitherto been practiced.[62] This would include abolishing some of the divine commandments, even though they are explicitly stated in the Koran. Thus the modernizers are suggesting that Muslims rise above the Holy Scriptures and decide – based on political, not religious criteria – which elements of Sharia are worth keeping. Of course, so much human autonomy is unacceptable to orthodox scholars, who remind their opponents that the Koran does not allow revisions: »It is not for any believer, man or woman, when God and His Messenger have decreed a matter, to have the choice in the affair. Whosoever disobeys God and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error.«[63]

As it is not possible to organize a complex, functionally differentiated society according to a »medieval religious law«[64], pragmatic solutions will prevail. Most Islamic politicians are not interested in submitting to the rigor of Sharia, but it is unlikely that they will abolish the new legislation. A governor who renounced the divine law would be denounced by most religious authorities as an apostate. Nigeria’s Islamic elite will continue to live with a high degree of hypocrisy and double standards. Despite calls for a total application of Sharia, divine justice has not materialized, so the mass of the faithful feel betrayed. Most of them had greeted the proclamation of Sharia with enthusiasm; today they defy many of its laws. The official gender separation is ignored in most places, alcoholic drinks are readily available, and the usual vices are back, though relegated to some hidden corners. Sharia monitors can still be seen in the streets, but they often serve as traffic wardens.[65] Muslims in the North have regained much of their freedom by silently ignoring the instructions of the authorities. This does not mean, however, that their basic rights are institutionally guaranteed. Sharia has created legal insecurity; its criminal laws, dress codes and dietary taboos cover a wide area of social activities, but they are enforced only sporadically and arbitrarily.

A British journal described the halfhearted application of Islamic laws as »Sharia lite.«[66] Spectacular punishments are no longer carried out, and the Governor of Zamfara has lamented that »the atmosphere conducive for amputations is not there.«[67] The laws, however, remain in place, and Sharia courts are still applying them so that a large number of convicts are languishing in jail, waiting for the authorities to decide their fate. In Bauchi State, the Sharia Commission urged the newly elected governor in June 2007 to ratify 43 amputations and death penalties (for adultery, sodomy and the like), which had been passed by the state’s Sharia courts since 2003.[68] As long as Nigeria’s Supreme Court has not decided on the constitutionality of Sharia, governors are reluctant to approve the controversial punishments, but they may tighten other aspects of Sharia. Whether disputes over Sharia will rise again, depends on changing political constellations: on the policy of the federal government which controls Nigeria’s police and army, and on local conflicts and intrigues. In Kano, the largest state in the North, the government had hesitated to enforce its religious laws, but in 2004 and 2005, a wave of Sharia activism swept the state, after a new governor had been elected on a pro-Sharia ticket. Insecurity has grown, above all, for the Christian minority. The state governments, elected by the Muslim majority, appear more hostile or partisan than before 1999. They have asserted the Islamic identity of schools, radio stations and other public institutions, so non-Muslims see themselves more than ever as outsiders. Since religious divisions have hardened, there is not much reason to expect that in the long run Sharia »will strengthen rather than weaken democracy.«[69]

With the rejection of Western constitutional principles, Muslims and Christians no longer have a set of common rules which can regulate their coexistence. This does not preclude them from finding some other common ground for political cooperation. However, possible areas of agreement do not lie where Western observers wish they did. From a Muslim perspective, followers of both religions could converge on the basis of Sharia principles, in particular on the tough punishments for criminals. Some Muslims argue that Christians have nothing to fear from the new penal code, because Islamic justice is guided by laws which are shared by both Abrahamic religions. The Mosaic law of the Old Testament prescribes the most severe punishments for theft and adultery: »the Bible is in total agreement with what the Shari’ah stipulates. […] Christians who oppose Shari’ah are opposing the Bible for all the laws of the Shari’ah which they oppose are clearly stated in the Bible.«[70] Many Christians grant that they are not all too different from Muslims when it comes to fighting sexual permissiveness. Nor do they want to speak out against the Sharia ban on alcohol. In their struggle against moral decline, even Catholic clergymen do not rule out a partial cooperation: »Muslims and Christians face the same real enemies namely a secular view of life, worship of wealth, corruption and oppression.« Dialogue »can combat the evil of secularism and materialism.«[71] Attitudes towards Muslims are fluid. Whether Catholics discover theological similarities or whether they emphasize what separates them, does not only depend on religious considerations. Political interests play a major role, yet one cannot discuss them in isolation. They are shaped by questions of faith and religious identity, so that social scientists cannot leave theological aspects of the Sharia controversy out of consideration.[72]

There are further reasons that make it difficult to reconstruct the reasons for the Sharia conflict. Muslims do not debate the issue openly. Those politicians who initiated the religious campaign and who stuck to it despite violent conflicts with Christians, have not named the reasons for their commitment. They simply insisted that their faith obliged them to live according to God’s instructions. But why did this pious view only start to spread after a Christian Yoruba was elected to the presidency? For almost 40 years, the Islamic elite of Northern Nigeriahad dominated the political scene, without a government making efforts to introduce an Islamic penal code. The former president Shehu Shagari, for example, who suddenly emerged as a champion of Sharia, had never tried to pass new criminal laws while he was in office. Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator, took a similar stance. With the dawn of democracy, he joined the Sharia activists and assured his coreligionists: »I can die for the cause of Islam.«[73] Non-Muslims were unimpressed by this godly pathos: »Why was Sharia criminal law not so desirable when they were both in power? […] Have they ›suddenly seen the light‹ and become ›born-again‹ Muslims?«[74] During the election campaign in early 1999, Sharia had barely played a role. Only Ahmed Sani, who was running for the governorship in Zamfara, had promised voters that he would Islamize the law. But even Sani, who was later celebrated as the »apostle of Sharia«[75], had not been known for his piety. He had been an Abacha Boy, a follower of the military leader Abacha who died in 1998. Thanks to his loyalty to the generals, he had obtained a leading position in the central bank, which, as he later acknowledged, gave him the opportunity to embezzle large sums of money.[76] However, since the beginning of democracy he has been a changed man. He has grown a full beard and only wears Islamic robes.

Nobody expected Ahmed Sani and his allies to talk candidly about their motives. The religious discourse which they use does not permit the sober weighing up of the advantages and disadvantages of Sharia. Whoever acts in the Name of God, must not give the impression that he manipulates sacred law for mundane political purposes. Of course, behind the scenes there was bitter controversy over the benefit of the religious project; but non-Muslims were excluded from this debate. Church representatives and Christian politicians assured me that they did not know the aims of the other side. They argued that they could only speculate why Muslim politicians had initiated the campaign, and therefore could not predict how far their adversaries would take their confrontation strategy: Was Ahmed Sani serious when he announced that he wanted to introduce Sharia throughout the country? »Zamfara is ready to contribute whatever it will cost to spread Sharia in the Southern part of Nigeria.«[77] Of course, Nigerian politicians of all religious persuasions are accustomed to discussing with each other, but what really moves them is negotiated in small, exclusive circles. This segregation did not come about because of the Sharia campaign. Among Nigeria’s fragmented elite, trust has always been missing. Processes of self-reflection only take place within one’s religious or ethnic group, since members of other groups are seen as potential enemies and traitors.[78]

While Sharia politicians protested that they were led only by religious motives, their critics presumed the opposite. President Obasanjo alleged that Sharia served as a political »instrument.«[79] Yet it was a matter of dispute what the purpose of this instrument was. A Catholic observer speculated that Sharia was meant »to cause anarchy and then send their military guys.«[80] Yet this is unlikely, as Islamic politicians lost control of the army, after Obasanjo assumed power. So they might not have profited from an overthrow of democracy. Other critics of Sharia like Anthony Okogie, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, supposed that Muslims wanted to replace the Christian president with another civilian politician. However, the assumption that Sharia was a »weapon« to »pull down«[81] Obasanjo, is not convincing either. Whatever the aims, I do not believe, unlike many Christian observers, that the Sharia campaign was thoroughly planned. In summer 1999, when Governor Sani presented his Sharia plans, he presumably had not consulted the ruling circles ofNorthern Nigeria. It was only when Sharia found great approval among ordinary Muslims, that leading politicians recognized the advantages of the religious campaign.

Another important factor was the conflict with President Obasanjo, who broken with his patrons in the North and built a power base of his own. There is much evidence that Sharia was used, above all, to exert pressure on the president and other politicians from the South: »Sharia was dusted up to challenge him, intimidate him, to force him to back down and play things their way.«[82]

Since Sharia politicians and their Christian opponents manipulated ethnic-religious tensions for their own interests, it appeared as if the mass of believers were only a willing pawns in a cynical power play: »the dominant classes among Muslims and Christians appropriate large numbers of the deprived as cannon-fodder in their competition for political and economic space.«[83] Yet at times, the masses played a very active role. When Islamic politicians hesitated to jump on the Sharia bandwagon, they were pressured by demonstrators, sometimes intimidated and even assaulted. For the solemn proclamation of the new legislation, more than a million faithful gathered in Kano,[84] and many of them expressed ideas about Islamic justice that sounded like threats to the emirs and politicians. While the ruling circles used Sharia as a means of political intrigue, the mass of believers tried to use the divine law to set limits on the reckless behavior of the rich and mighty.

We cannot determine precisely what people expected from the introduction of Sharia. Talking to Muslims was the best way for me to learn about their motives for supporting or rejecting the religious reform project, yet what I found could not be verified in empirical studies. I do not know of surveys which provide reliable data about attitudes to Sharia among various parts of the population.[85] It is not even possible to get a clear idea of how popular Sharia was and is. A political scientist at the Bayero University in Kano told me in March 2001 that the majority of Muslims do not want Sharia, neither in Kano, the biggest city of the North, nor elsewhere. Yet most observers had the impression that the Sharia campaign enjoyed widespread support. Murray Last wrote in early 2000: »Parmi tous les musulmans, un consensus se fait autour de l’idée, que la charia est juste.«[86] Four years later Human Rights Watch reported that most Muslims were disillusioned. Yet their disappointment was not directed at Sharia itself, but rather at the way in which politicians had implemented it: »People want Shari’a but are not satisfied with what they’re getting.«[87] A cow thief and two other petty criminals had their right hand amputated, but the politicians continued to embezzle billions of dollars.

To capture the mood among Muslims, the Human Rights Watch report quotes representatives of human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations that identify the Islamic jurisdiction with the corrupt authorities: »Most Shari’a trials are stage-managed […] to terrorize people and to manipulate gullible subjects.«[88] It is difficult to say how many Muslims inNigeria would agree with this view. A reliable survey of public opinion is not possible, because people are afraid to express their opinions openly:

»Human Rights Watch researchers observed a form of self-censorship among critics – including academics, human rights activists, members of women’s organizations, lawyers and others – who were willing to express strong reservations about Shari’a in private conversations, but not in public. They claimed it was not possible, or too dangerous, to express such views in public. Very few Muslims in northern Nigeria– however strong their criticisms of Shari’a – are willing to take the risk.«[89]

Even in academic circles there is no open debate. When Professor An-Na’im, a Sudanese living in the USA, gave a lecture at a Sharia conference at the Universityof Jos, in January 2004, between 200 and 300 Muslim attendees left the hall.[90]

The lack of statistical data also means that we cannot evaluate how strictly Sharia laws have been applied in the twelve states. It is almost impossible to access court files, and the authorities do not provide reliable information. In Kano, the archivist of the Sharia Court of Appeal stated that no one in his state had been sentenced to an amputation. Yet representatives of Human Rights Watch investigated ten such cases in Kano.[91] While we can barely assess the activities of the Sharia courts, the religious conflicts that accompanied the introduction of the Sharia are better documented. Nigeria’s newspapers and magazines reported in much detail and very controversially on the events.[92] While journalists in the South generally argued against Sharia law, their colleagues in the North defended it. Given the passionate antagonisms, reports by Muslims and Christians differed widely. Each party blamed the other for the conflict, and exaggerated the number of their own victims. Even official information was not reliable. When a wave of clashes swept Jos and its surroundings in September 2001, the accounts of the security forces contradicted each other. The police, who had hesitated to advance on the armed demonstrators, talked of 500 dead, while military officers, whose troops eventually suppressed the unrest, declared that 5,000 people had been killed.

Despite the shaky information base, I have provided figures to indicate how many people died or were expelled in local clashes. My intention was only to give a rough idea about the magnitude of individual conflicts. In trying to estimate which press information is more accurate, I could rely on personal experiences, since I visited many of the places where religious clashes had occurred.[93] My understanding of the events has been shaped, above all, by conversations with informants. However, for readers of this study I have tried to illustrate the political and religious convictions of the main players by quoting from newspapers, weekly magazines, religious tracts and academic articles. These references to current sources also provide a chronology of the major events. However, readers should bear in mind that a part of the data, for example, on the ethnic and religious composition of the population, cannot be exact. I suppose that about half of the people in Nigeria are Muslims, yet this is disputed. Both Muslims and Christians maintain that they outnumber their rivals.[94] Opinions of foreign experts are likewise divergent. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, Christians form the largest religious community, while reports by the Economist and the CIA place the Muslims in front, with 50 percent of Nigeria’s population against 40 percent Christians.[95] The remaining ten percent are followers of African religions. They are generally called ›traditionalists‹, though the old religions have greatly changed under the influence of Islam and Christianity.

The difficulties of gathering important data extend to other areas as well. It would improve our understanding of the Sharia conflict, if we had more inside information about Muslim organizations. Inner-Islamic rivalries certainly contributed to the rise of the Sharia campaign. There are indications that some religious leaders used the common fight for Sharia as a means to settle the bitter divisions within the Islamic camp. Violent clashes, mostly between conservative and progressive Muslims or between rival brotherhoods, date back to the late colonial period. Around 1980, the conflicts escalated when many university students and intellectuals began to push for radical reforms. The reformers were divided from the very beginning, inspired by Wahabi theories from Saudi-Arabia or by the Shiite Revolution in Iran. And they were both in conflict with the old-established brotherhoods. The best way to push these intractable disputes into the background was to focus on the »core of Islam«[96], that corpus of Sharia laws that is not much disputed between the different schools of Islamic law, not even between Shiites and Sunnis. However, I will not go into great detail, when referring to these controversies. My own insights are very limited here, and I could not present much more than the results of some English-language studies, most of which were written before the Sharia crisis.[97]

Finally, there is another important aspect of the Sharia conflict which falls outside the scope of this book. What looks like a national conflict that splits the 140 million Nigerians into two camps, appears, on closer inspection, as a series of local conflicts, in which very different actors are involved. In Kanoand other cities of the far North, Christian migrants from the South, mostly Igbo and Yoruba, have clashed with Muslim Hausa-Fulani, who use the Islamization campaign to assert their ancestral rights over the economically successful ›settlers‹. Further south in the Middle Belt, a vast stretch of savannah between the tropical south and the semi-arid north of Nigeria, the power structure is very different. Here, the Hausa-Fulani are often migrants who left the dry, over-populated Sahelzone to an area where they encountered small ethnic groups, the so-called minorities which are predominantly Christian. The ›settlers‹ from the North, who compete with the ›indigenous‹ population for the few remaining land resources, have not only taken land and set up their own separate villages; they have also demanded political control in their new homeland. The call for Sharia was popular among them, as it provided them with a divine mission. The migrants had to assume supremacy over the local non-Muslim population in order to remodel public institutions according to the will of God.[98] Yet my aim in this study is not to talk about local conflicts with their diverse origins. Rather, I limit myself to the question of how Sharia is related toNigeria’s democratization, or to be more precise, to the failure of democratization. Within this framework, I cannot discuss all the causes of the Sharia campaign. The main topics that will come up in this book appear in the synopsis below, which summarizes the following five chapters:

1. The revival of pre-colonial legal traditions evokes the idea of a new golden age, of an Islamic empire like the Caliphate of Sokoto, which was founded in the early nineteenth century and which extended into much of today’s Northern Nigeria. Sharia advocates argue that only the unifying force of religion can transcend ethnic antagonisms and bring peace to a deeply divided country, with hundreds of ethnic groups that have little in common: »all Muslims, irrespective of race, language or nationality, must constitute a single brotherhood, one Umma. […] the Umma, from one end of the world to the other, is but one single nation, its diverse peoples sharing but one faith, one law, one culture and one destiny.«[99] However, the Jihad that established the Sokoto Caliphate, went hand in hand with ethnic hegemony right from the start. While spreading the rule of Islam, it established the dominance of a Fulani aristocracy and their Hausa allies. When the British occupied the area around 1900, they concluded an alliance with the Fulani rulers and supported their religious authority, including their law courts. As Sharia remained in force in the emirate territories, English Common Law never gained dominance, as it did in the rest of the country. The juxtaposition of several legal systems is one of the reasons why Nigerians, despite a series of constitutional experiments, could never agree on a legal order that would be acceptable to both Christians and Muslims. The dispute over the proper role of Sharia is linked to political competition between elites in the North and the South. Therefore, the majority of Christians in addition to many Muslims in Southern Nigeria interpreted the attempt to entrench Sharia as an »ethnic plot by the Hausa-Fulani.«[100] The mistrust between politicians in the North and the South dated to colonial times, yet it was exacerbated by a traumatic event in 1993, which put an abrupt end to the transition toNigeria’sThirdRepublic. The country was set on a course of disintegration, when General Babangida, a ruler from the North, annulled the presidential election ofJune 12, 1993, which a Southerner had won.

2. Under the military, which ran a centralist regime, no state could proclaim its own legal system. It was only with the transition to democracy and federalism, that Muslims gained the opportunity to assert their religious autonomy. For many of them, Sharia was their »democracy dividend«[101], the most important achievement of their re-won freedom. Self-determination is not practiced by Nigerian people, but by a religious community which uses its legislative power to distinguish its members from the adherents of other religions. Like an ethnic group or nation, it demands control over a territory where its laws shall be enforced. The claim to rule ›Muslim states‹ by religious principles relegates non-Muslims to the position of outsiders, so the Sharia campaign provoked bitter resentment. In states like Zamfara, where the Christian minority is numerically insignificant, they had to accept a considerable Islamization of public life. In other states, where the position of Christians was more entrenched, the application of the Sharia was severely limited from the beginning. The way Muslims and Christians arrange their coexistence is determined by local compromises which reflect shifting balances of power. Such pacts or informal agreements are fragile; they do not bring lasting peace, because they are not based on and guarded by common legal or moral principles. Neither the law of God nor the constitution is in force.

3.Nigeria’s ›democratic‹ president Obasanjo came to office through an agreement between some military and civilian politicians. Such informal deals do not establish an enduring political order, because there is no neutral authority, beyond ethnic and religious disputes, which could compel the rival parties to keep their promises. The agreement before the 1999 elections had envisioned that presidential power would pass to a Southern candidate, but when Obasanjo assumed office, he did not uphold to his part of the bargain. He antagonized his patrons in the North, so they feared they would be marginalized, losing access to state resources, above all, toNigeria’s oil revenues. As they could not rely on the protection of democratic institutions, they had to protect their interests by other means, resorting to a dangerous weapon: the religious mobilization of the population. By threatening to fuel the Sharia crisis inKano,Kadunaand other urban centers of the North, they turned members of the Christian minority, many of whom were migrants from the South, into hostages who could become victims of religious clashes at any time. The threat was directed against Yoruba politicians and other Southerners who had profited from the power-shift under Obasanjo’s rule. In case they used their new positions too recklessly, they would have to watch their kin in the North become the victims of looting, killing, and ethnic-religious cleansing.

4. The Sharia crisis indicated thatNigeria’s fragmented elite could not settle their conflicts by democratic means. Yet Sharia was a symptom of the failure of democracy from another angle, too. Citizens have not succeeded in using democratic institutions to subject their elites to public control. As in the years of military rule, a small stratum of politicians, businesspeople and (retired) army officers are the ones to decide who gets what office. Since Western models of liberal democracy were incapable of checking the excesses of the ruling class, many Muslims set their hopes on Sharia. The immutable law of God should become the yardstick by which both rich and poor, were measured. The devout campaign, launched by members of the elite, could thus be turned against its instigators. As long as Sharia activists were able to mobilize the mass of the faithful, they could indeed, to some extent, intimidate the rich and powerful. However, the religious movement did not create institutions that could establish a permanent and effective control of political office-holders. The claim to conduct politics according to religious laws did not make the administration transparent, predictable, and responsive to the needs of the people; it rather contributed to the decline of state authorities. Because the call to obey God, not men, empowers any individual or group that knows God on their side to take the law into their own hands.

5. The final chapter does not focus on further causes of the Sharia campaign, but on the controversies which it generated between Muslims and Christians, and between religious and political authorities. Most politicians who pledged allegiance to divine justice, had no genuine interest in maintaining a strictly Islamic regime, yet they could not come out openly against Sharia. As soon as religion had taken center stage, Muslims found it difficult to argue on the basis of profane, pragmatic reasons. This also affected the relationship between the religious communities. When religious obligations gain importance, it becomes harder for Muslims to reach an understanding with infidels. Both sides speak the language of human rights, democracy and religious freedom, but these terms have very different meanings. Muslim politicians and intellectuals call for collective rights which can be used to impose conformity on members of the religious community. Their treatment of offenders is their own autonomous affair, from which infidels, with their deviant ideas about law and morality, are excluded: »Islam and shari’a are inseparable. No amount of blackmail […] will stop Muslims from the pursuit of their fundamental human rights to practice their religion in full, without dictation, as to which aspect of their faith should or should not be observed.”[102] Freedom of religion, which empowers the umma, the Muslim community, to follow its divine laws without restrictions, means that its members are forced to live under these laws.

  [1] Ex-Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, in Tell,27 March 2000, p. 17.

  [2] From a government press statement, in Hotline,4 June 2000, p. 24.

  [3] FederalRepublicof Nigeria, Constitution 1999, Section 34 (1).

  [4] Walles, Shari’a, p. 653; Human Rights Watch, Political Shari’a?, p. 6.

  [5] Human Rights Watch, Political Shari’a?, pp. 36–37.

  [6] Hotline,19 March 2000, p. 25.

  [7] Ahmed Sani, Governor of Zamfara State, in Tell, 8 September 2003, p. 39; see also Tabiu, Sharia, p. 2; Supreme Council for Sharia, Plot, p. 27.

  [8] Mazrui, Shariacracy, p. 2, 4, 8.

  [9] Ibid., p. 8.

[10]        Yadudu, Benefits of Shariah, p. 11.

[11]        ZamfaraStateof Nigeria, Shariah Penal Code, § 405, 406.

[12]        Ilesanmi, Constitutional Treatment, p. 547; An-Na’im, Future of Shari’ah, p. 329.

[13] Danfulani, Sharia Issue, pp. 15–22¸ Boer, Nigeria, pp. 62–79; The News, 13 March 2000, p. 15.

[14]        Danfulani/Fwatshak, Jos, p. 243; Tell,18 September 2000, p. 40.

[15]        Kukah, Human Rights, p. 27.

[16]        Human Rights Watch, Revenge in the Name of Religion, pp. 1–2, 40.

[17]        Kogelmann, Islamisches Recht, p. 1.

[18]        Ostien, Ten Good Things, p. 167.

[19]        Upendra Baxi, in Hackett, Role of Religion, p. 92.

[20]        McCain, Shari’ah Controversy, p. 15.

[21]        Hatzopoulos/Petito, Return from Exile, p. 1.

[22]        Keane, Limits of Secularism, pp. 36–7.

[23]        Gwamna, Commentary, p. 321, 325.

[24]        Nwabueze, Unconstitutionality of Sharia, p. 3.

[25]        Ellis/ter Haar, Worlds of Power, pp. 172, 191–2.

[26]        Nzeh, Dialogue of Religions, p. 381.

[27]        Hatzopoulos/Petito, Return from Exile, p. 14.

[28]        Berger, Desecularization, p. 4; see also Jenkins, Next Christendom, pp. 191–209 and Roy, Globalised Islam, p. 330.

[29]        Die Zeit,7 October 2004, p. 46.

[30]        Since many different phenomena are defined as ›secular‹, some writers have suggested a terminological distinction. The state’s benevolent neutrality towards religious communities is called secularity, while the attempt to push back religious influence and make it politically harmless is referred to as secularism. Nigeria’s Catholic bishops have recently expressed their support for secularity, but not for secularism. Hans Küng (Islam, p. 768) presents a similar argument: It was a »fundamental mistake of Modernity to assume that religion can be permanently suppressed, ignored or privatized.« As a result, a legitimate and »sensible secularization changed into a less sensible atheist-agnostic secularism with many negative consequences.«

[31]        McCain, Shari’ah Controversy, p. 14.

[32]        Hackett, Role of Religion, pp. 82–3.

[33]        Volkmann, Rechtsordnung, p. 8.

[34]        Nolte, Rückkehr der Religion, p. 10.

[35]        Habermas, Cultures, pp. 6, 18–20; Kepel, Revenge of God, p. 201.

[36]        Habermas, Cultures, p. 25.

[37]        Barnhart, Overlapping Consensus, p. 259.

[38] Rawls, Political Liberalism, p. 138.

[39]        Sandel, Religious Liberty, p. 73.

[40]        Taylor, Modes of Secularism, p. 45.

[41]        Ibid., p. 46; Habermas, Religion, 101–104.

[42]        Taylor, Democracy, pp. 181, 183–4; Taylor, Religion und Identitätskämpfe, pp. 362–4.

[43]        Tabiu, Sharia, p. 10.

[44] Greiter/Jockers/Rohde, Wahlbeobachtung 1999, pp. 344–348; Kew, Monitoring, p. 31.

[45] Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Profile Nigeria 2007, p. 10; Jockers/Peters/Rhode, Wahlen 2003, 91.

[46] Economist,23 December 2006, p. 69.

[47] Fawole, Voting without Choosing, p. 167; cf. Merkel/Croissant, Demokratien, p. 7, 10.

[48] Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Profile Nigeria 2005, p. 13.

[49] Douglas/Ola, Nourishing Democracy, p. 47, 42.

[50] Adekson, Civil Society, p. 137.

[51] Ottaway, Ethnic Politics, pp. 310–316.

[52] Clapham, Decay, p. 11.

[53]        Rawls, Political Liberalism, pp. 147–8; Barry, Social Justice, p. 37; Habermas, Cultures, p. 26.

[54]        Mahdi, Women’s Rights, p. 4.

[55]        Sanusi, The West, p. 257.

[56]        Ibid., p. 260.

[57]        ter Haar, Religion, pp. 312–313.

[58]        Ellis/ter Haar, Worlds of Power, p. 191.

[59]        Sanusi, The West, pp. 261, 264, 270, 272.

[60]        An-Na’im, Political Islam, p. 119.

[61] An-Na’im, Future of Shari’ah, p. 330.

[62]        Ibid, pp. 353–354.

[63]        Koran 33: 36; cf. Oloyede, Commentary, p. 302.

[64]        Küng, Islam, pp. 681–682; Schluchter, Kampf der Kulturen?, pp. 27, 40–41.

[65] U.S. Department of State, Nigeria 2006, p. 11.

[66] Economist,3 February 2007, p. 42.

[67] Quoted in Human Rights Watch, Political Shari’a?, p. 39.

[68] Vanguard,15 June 2007.

[69]        Sakah Saidu Mahmud, Islamism, p. 92; cf. Fuller, Political Islam, pp. 51–59; David, Islam, pp. 8–10. – Statistical data from other African and Asian countries suggest that Islamic societies are »extremely resistant« to democratic reforms. Of 47 Islamic states, in 2000 only Mali could be termed a constitutional democracy (Merkel, Religion, pp. 102–104; Bruce, Politics and Religion, pp. 206–207).


[70]        Oloyede, Shari’ah, pp. 135–136.

[71]        Nzeh, Dialogue of Religions, p. 362.

[72]        Hasenclever/Rittberger, Religion, pp. 113–115; Thomas, Religious Pluralism, p. 32.

[73]        Tell,29 October 2001, p. 36.

[74]        Fani-Kayode, Sharia, p. 48.

[75]        Hotline,4 June 2000, p. 24.

[76]        Maier, This House, p. 186.

[77]        Gouverneur Sani, in Tell,6 March 2000, p. 23.

[78]        Cf. Rothchild, Ethnic Insecurity, p. 327; Berman, Ethnicity, pp. 47–50.

[79]        The News,10 April 2000, p. 15.

[80]        Odey, Sharia, p. 95.

[81]        Archbishop Okogie, in The News,10 April 2000, p. 21.

[82]        Kukah, Beyond Sharia, p. 3; Fayemi, Religion, p. 150; Hauwa Mustapha, Islamic Legal System, p. 114; Mazrui, Shariacracy, p. 2.

[83]        Sanusi, Shari’a Debate, p. 1.

[84]        Financial Times,13 June 2002.

[85]        Attitudes towards democracy are better explored. In an essay on »Islam, Democracy and Public Opinion in Africa« (pp. 494, 501), Michael Bratton reports on comparative surveys conducted in four African countries between 1999 and 2001. Nigeria’s Muslims showed the weakest support for democracy, but it was not much below the average figure of 71 percent. A follow-up study in September 2003 found that a majority of Nigerians, both Muslims and Christians, still preferred democracy to an autocratic regime, yet »confidence in the new democratic dispensation« had »rapidly declined«: »The 50-point collapse in mass satisfaction with democracy over four years in Nigeria was larger and more rapid than anywhere else in Africa.« (Bratton/Lewis, Durability, pp 9–10, 34). According to Bratton, Mattes and Gyimah-Boadi (Public Opinion, p. 85), »support for democracy may well be shallow. […] InAfrica, prodemocracy sentiments may be a veneer beneath which lasting democratic commitments, behaviours, and habits have yet to take root.« My impression is that among Nigerians democracy does not mean much more than majority rule.

[86]        Last, Charia, p. 143. – A poll, conducted by Afrobarometer in August 2001, found that Sharia was supported by 65 percent of Muslims in the North and 38 percent in the South (Lewis/Alemika/Bratton, Down to Earth, p. 47).

[87]        An »activist« in Kano, in Human Rights Watch, Political Shari’a?, p. 90.

[88]        An anonymous employee of a non-governmental organization in Kaduna, in Human Rights Watch, Political Shari’a?, p. 91.

[89]        Ibid., p. 88. – Given the risks, I have decided to protect the anonymity of informants who spoke with me about Sharia. In the course of my research inNorthern Nigeria I was arrested and questioned by the State Security Service four times.

[90]        Harneit-Sievers, Debate about Sharia, p. 5.

[91]        Human Rights Watch, Political Shari’a?, pp. 36–37, 2, 57–58.

[92]        Even under military rule, Nigeria’s journalists reported more openly and critically than I could observe in other African countries. The weekly magazine Newswatch won the Commonwealth Media Award in 1997, during the Abacha dictatorship, for its excellent coverage (Newswatch, 4 May 1998, p. 34).

[93]        From 1993 to 1996, while I was a lecturer at theUniversityofNigeriain Nsukka, inSoutheast Nigeria, my university was mostly closed by strikes. This gave me ample opportunity for research. After my work contract expired, I returned toNigeriafive times. My visits in 2001 and 2002, both times from January to April, were part of a research project by theUniversityofFrankfurt. The last visit was from November 2006 to January 2007. My research since 1993 brought me into a number of towns and villages, in which (ethno-)religious clashes had erupted since the early 1980s. Among the places I visited were Bambam, Barakin Ladi, Bauchi, Biliri, Gombe,Ilorin, Jalingo, Jimeta, Jos, Kachia,Kaduna, Kafanchan, Kaltungo,Kano, Langtang,Maiduguri, Mavo, Numen, Pankshin, Potiskum, Tafawa Balewa, Vom, Wase, Yola, Zangon Kataf,Zaria, Zonkwa.

[94]        Kenny, Sharia, p. 360.

[95]        Barrett/Kurian/Johnson, Encyclopedia, p. 549; Miles, Religious Pluralism, p. 221; Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Profile Nigeria 2005, p. 16; Freedom House, Talibanization, p. 64. – There are not even reliable figures about the total population of Nigeria. In its census of 1991, the National Population Commission discovered that earlier data on the population development had overestimated the number of inhabitants by more than 30 million people (Fricke/Malchau, Volkszählung, p. 163). The census of March 2006 set the total population at 140 million, but many Nigerians claimed that they had not been counted. (Newswatch, 22 January 2007, p. 21) The census forms did not include questions about the ethnic and religious affiliation. However, the ethnic composition has not changed much since colonial times, so one can refer to the census of 1952/53 which is considered the most reliable. (Its main results were reprinted in Diamond, Nigeria, p. 420)  According to these figures, the Yoruba comprised 17, Igbo 18, Hausa 18 and Fulani 10 per cent of the population. Ethnic identifications are, of course, fluid (cf. Harnischfeger, Islamisation and Ethnic Conversion in Nigeria).

[96]        Schacht, Islamic Law, p. 1; Tabiu, Sharia, p. 3; Crone, Islamic Political Thought, p. 8.

[97] The organization that spearheaded the Sharia campaign, the Yan Izala, is currently being studied by a scholar who has better access to Islamic circles, Ramzi Ben Amara of theUniversity ofBayreuth.

[98]        Harnischfeger, Control over Territory.

[99]        Ibraheem Sulaiman, Islam, p. 11.

[100]     Tell,27 March 2000, p. 20.

[101]     Yadudu, Benefits of Shariah, p. 11.

[102]     Southern Council for Islamic Affairs, in Ilesanmi, Constitutional Treatment, p. 544.