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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Nigeria's bishops confront Sharia
cars burnt in Kaduna's Sharia clashes
Kaduna was left in ruins following religious clashes over Sharia
By BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Lagos

About 40 Nigerian Catholic bishops are gathering in the northern city of Kaduna for their bi-annual conference, which is set to be dominated by the controversy over Islamic law or Sharia.

Kaduna was the scene of bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in February and May this year.


Over the past year, Muslim politicians have sought to extend the jurisdiction of Sharia in a way that many Christians find threatening

The clashes led to more than 1,000 deaths.

About half the states in the north have now adopted a Sharia legal code - others are poised to do so.

Spread of Sharia

Sharia has been part of the way of life for the Muslim majority in northern Nigeria for hundreds of years.

But over the past year, Muslim politicians have sought to extend the jurisdiction of Sharia in a way that many Christians find threatening.

Generally, the spread of Sharia has been a peaceful process, with the notable exception of Kaduna where many hundreds of people have been killed.

The city is still deeply traumatised.

Thousands of people have fled and the economy has been damaged.

Constitution

The Archbishop of Kaduna, Peter Jatau, told the BBC that he believed the extension of Sharia into aspects of criminal law has been in violation of the Nigerian constitution, which he described as secular.

The bishop is disappointed that the Nigerian Government has deliberately shied away from taking a definitive stance on this controversy.

Although the bishops are bound to spend much of their time discussing Sharia, some of them may prove sympathetic to the government's belief that a confrontational stance would not be helpful.

They would prefer a behind-the-scenes dialogue with Muslims as the best way of avoiding further violence.

Background to Nigeria's young democracy

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10 Aug 00 | Africa
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