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Wednesday, 21 June, 2000, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Analysis: Sharia takes hold
Muslim schoolgirls
Single-sex schools are the rule in Sharia states
By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

Muslims and Christians alike will be affected by the decision to introduce Islamic law in the Nigerian state of Kano.

But the state - which has a substantial Christian minority - appears to be taking a phased approach to the implementation of Sharia, perhaps to try to minimise the reaction from opponents of the plan.

Kano has already banned prostitution, gambling and the consumption of alcohol, ahead of the formal adoption of Sharia.

The state has not made public its plans for putting other aspects of Sharia into practice - but could follow the lead set by Zamfara - the first Nigerian state to adopt Sharia - in approving laws to force the public to comply with what the state government regards as suitable Islamic behaviour.

Single-sex schools are now compulsory in Zamfara, and the desire to keep men and women apart in public places has also prompted the introduction of women-only taxis.

Women's football has also been outlawed - Nigeria's women's soccer team may be among the world's best, but an activity which involves women wearing shorts and running around a field does not conform with a strict Islamic view of suitable female behaviour.

Punishments

Where Sharia is likely to make a major difference is in the adoption of the Islamic penal code which allows for amputation as a punishment for theft, and flogging as a penalty for adultery or extra-marital sex.


Burnt-out mosque
Mosques were targetted as Christians protested against Sharia in other states
In one widely-reported case, Zamfara courts ordered a man's hand to be cut off as punishment for cattle theft. State officials said the man was given the opportunity to defend his case, but declined to do so.

Zamfara has offered incentives as well as punishments to achieve its goal of enforcing strict Islamic morality. Prostitutes in the state have been offered money to stop plying their trade, and officials have spoken of subsidies for women who want to get married but cannot afford the expense.

In Zamfara, the fact that the population is overwhelmingly Muslim meant there was no violent backlash against Sharia.

But while Muslims are in the majority in all the northern Nigerian states, some states also have a substantial Christian population.

One such state is Kaduna - where serious fighting broke out as soon as the authorities mentioned the possible introduction of Sharia. Kaduna has since backtracked on its plans.

Risky

Kano also has a large Christian minority - and Kano city is also the main commercial centre for northern Nigeria, with numerous businesses run by Christians as well as Muslims.

In the past year the city has seen serious clashes between the Hausa and Yoruba communities, two ethnic groups which are associated with Islam and Christianity respectively.

This makes the state's adoption of Sharia law particularly controversial - and potentially dangerous.

Supporters of Sharia argue that aspects of Islamic law have long been practised among Muslim communities in northern Nigeria, and that the official adoption of Sharia ought not to worry Christians.

Kano Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso has suggested that the predominantly non-Muslim area of Sabon-Gare on the eastern edge of Kano city could be exempt from Sharia - but has made no promises.

Either way, a system of law which enforces the moral code of one particular religious group can only add to the tensions in a country where religion is second only to ethnicity as a cause of conflict.

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See also:

27 Jan 00 | Africa
The many faces of Sharia
20 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Islamic law raises tension in Nigeria
17 Feb 00 | Africa
Nigerian flogged for having sex
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