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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Kano: Nigeria's ancient city-state
Mud wall gate in Kano
Kano is one of northern Nigeria's ancient city-states
Kano, now the scene of anti-Christian riots, was once one of northern Nigeria's most powerful city-states.

It was converted to Islam in the 15th century but 400 years later, its Hausa leaders were accused of having lapsed and it was conquered by ethnic Fulanis in a jihad, or Holy War.

The Emir of Kano is one of the most highly respected Muslim leaders in Nigeria, whose 130 million people are roughly equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

But in Kano, Christians are now a tiny minority - around 1% of the population - and have mostly travelled there from other parts of Nigeria.

Before the riots, they mostly lived in Sabon Gari (foreigners' town) and so made an easy target for Muslim youths seeking revenge for the massacre of hundreds of Muslims in Plateau State last week.

As an Islamic centre, Kano was among the northern states to introduce strict Islamic Sharia law.

That decision also led to religious clashes, in which 100 people were killed in October 2001.

Extending Sharia

In last year's elections, Ibrahim Shekarau was elected governor after promising to extend Sharia into the Christian areas, where pubs and taverns had been allowed to remain open.

"We cannot have one law in one part of the state and another elsewhere," one of his aides said at the time.

Emir of Kano (c)
The Emir of Kano (c) is one of Nigeria's senior Muslim leaders
"If the pubs are not closed, the people still have access to alcohol and that is a problem."

Since civilian rule returned to Nigeria in 1999, some 10,000 people have been killed in ethnic and religious clashes.

These were often stirred up by politicians keen to be seen as the champion of one group or another.

But this time, Mr Shekarau has been quick to appeal for calm.

"Parents should talk to their kids to stop this destruction of property and killing of innocent people," he said in a message broadcast repeatedly on state radio.

And the Emir of Kano has also urged Muslims not to seek revenge for the Plateau State massacres.

"It is wrong to attack somebody or kill somebody over a crime he or she did not commit," he said.

Rising tensions

Relations between Kano's Christians and Muslims have already been in the spotlight twice in recent months.

Last December, Kano's authorities refused to take part in a World Health Organisation campaign to vaccinate children against polio.

Kano's religious leaders said that the vaccine had been contaminated with drugs as part of a western plot to make Africa women, and Muslims in particular, infertile.

The WHO rejected these claims.

And in March, tension again rose after Saudi-funded British based charity al-Muntada al-Islami was accused of promoting a conservative Wahabi brand of Islam in the city.

Critics said this could provoke religious clashes.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Anna Borzello
"Thousands of people have run away from the fighting"



SEE ALSO:
Muslims riot in northern Nigeria
11 May 04  |  Africa
Country profile: Nigeria
17 Dec 03  |  Country profiles


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