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Page last updated at 13:20 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Sharia police block women's rally

Hisbah policemen
The Hisbah are charged with policing the morals of Kano's Muslims

Islamic authorities in the northern Nigerian city of Kano have told organisers of a planned protest by divorced women to cancel the event.

The head of the Sharia police, or Hisbah, said the planned protest was an "embarrassment", and is "un-Islamic".

The organisers have agreed to postpone their protest scheduled for 29 January.

Women's rights activists say divorced women are often thrown out of their homes, lose custody of their children, and many end up destitute.

The Director General of the Hisbah, Saidu Dukawa, said there were also security concerns over the protest.

"We fear what could happen in the streets if there is a large gathering of people, it could get out of control," he told the BBC's Hausa Service.

Large gatherings of people can be volatile in Nigeria, which has been rocked by violence between Muslims and Christians over the last 10 years.

Quarrelling spouses

He also said the idea of street protests was "un-Islamic" and "morally wrong".

"Never in the history of Islam have women taken to the street to press for their demands," he said.

The Hisbah were reported by local media to have said they feared the demonstration would "ridicule Kano in the eyes of the world".

Kano is one of 12 northern Muslim-majority states governed by Sharia law.

The Hisbah are in charge of policing the morals of Muslims to make sure they are "Sharia-compliant".

They do not have the authority to ban the protest from going ahead, but told organisers they would report the demonstration to the police if they continued with it.

One of their duties is to reconcile quarrelling spouses and prevent divorce.

But divorce in polygamous northern Nigeria is very common.

The Association of Divorcees Widows and Orphans has could not immediately be reached for a comment.

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