Nigeria: Abu law teacher faults Sharia sentence on Safiya

The Nigerian Guardian
The case has been adjourned until 18 March 2002.
An article in Nigeria's Guardian highlights various jurisprudential arguments being used to condemn the sentencing of Safiya. WLUML is sharing these as a matter of interest but wishes to point out that it by no means endorses these arguments, particularly as they appear to claim that there is only one 'true' interpretation of the Qur'an. As much of WLUML's work over the years has shown, Muslim jurisprudence is a human process and therefore multiple interpretations of the Qur'an are possible.

Of particular concern is the source's reliance on Mududi (also known as Maududi), an extremely conservative thinker and a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan. Although the source is attempting to establish grounds for Safiya's release, WLUML is well aware that Mududi's analysis has been detrimental to women's full human rights and autonomy in many ways.
Nigeria's Guardian newspaper reports that a law lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has picked gaping holes in the sentence passed on the pregnant girl.

Article date: 8 January 2002

As the hour glass takes Safiya Hussaini nearer her death by stoning under the Sharia law, a law lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has picked gaping holes in the sentence passed on the pregnant girl.

And in two related cases, a pregnant teenager is to receive 100 strokes of the canes for fornication, while an ex-convict accused of murdering a woman and two children is to be convicted on the strengths of 50 swears each to Allah by, at least, two members of the victims' family.

Buttressing his verdict with several Quranic references, Dr. Mohammed Tawfiq Landan, senior lecturer in law, described the sentence on Safiya as a gross misapplication of the Sharia law on three grounds viz:

- misapplication as to proof of adultery;
- misapplication as to type of punishment;
- misapplication as to or in ignorance of conditions for imposing death sentence by stoning.

Speaking on Women's Rights Under Sharia in Northern Nigeria: A case Study of Safiya, at a conference organised by Women Advocates Research And Documentation Centre, at the International Press Centre, Ogba, Ladan said the first error of proof arose from failure to rely on the Quran itself. According to him, "proof of adultery under Sharia requires no fewer than four witnesses. Quoting the Quran, he said: "Why did they not bring four witnesses of it? So, as they have not brought witnesses, they are liars in the sight of Allah."

As to the form of punishment, Ladan who is also Head, Department of Public Law, again cited a Quranic verse: "And for those of your women who are guilty of adultery, call to witness against them four witnesses from among you, so if they bear witnesses, confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah makes a way for them (Quran 4:15).

Ladan then expatiated: "Thus, we see that house confinement for life (or life imprisonment) was the prescribed punishment for adultery given to a woman under this verse. But the verse itself says that some other provision may be made in this respect in future. He quoted another provision: "The adulteress and the adulterer, flog each of them with a hundred stripes... (Quran 24:2).

Now it is abundantly clear, said Ladan, from what has been said, that, according to the Quran, the punishment for adultery for both man and woman is a hundred stripes inflicted in public in the presence of a party of Moslems. He wondered: "What then is the authority for sentencing Safiya to death by stoning under the Sharia in Sokoto State?"

On the third point, misapplication as to the conditions for imposing stoning, the lecturer argued that these have been clearly stated by a contemporary Moslem jurist, expert and thinker, Sayid A.A Mududi thus: - Islam prescribes a hundred stripes for the unmarried and stoning to death for the married partners in the crime. This however, applies to a society wherein in every trace of suggestiveness has been destroyed, where mixed gatherings of men and women have been prohibited, where public appearances of painted and pampered women is completely non-existent, where marriage has been made easy.

Thus there are certain conditions which must have been met by the state before it carries out punishment, Ladan submitted. For instance, he added, you don't amputate the hand of a man in a society where the parent or the man is poor. "In view of the three grounds of argument advanced for the misapplication of Sharia, the inescapable conclusion is that the sentence is violative of Safiya's right to life and security of person," Ladan concluded.

A legal practitioner, Segun Sango also speaking on the occasion, said Sharia has only brought acrimony into the body polity. He canvassed the promotion of secularity to ensure peace for the nation.

In Katsina, a pregnant teenager, Rabiatu, will receive 100 strokes of the cane for fornication next January when she would have been delivered of her baby in Funtua district. The Alkali of Sharia court II in Funtua, Alhaji Dahiru Dan-Ayya, had ordered the caning after hearing that 24-year-old Balarabe Tela impregnated Rabiatu on the pretext that he was going to marry her. The pregnancy is about seven months. The judge also ordered that Tela be caned and imprisoned for one year.

Also in Katsina, the trial of the suspected killer of the wife of the Katsina State Drector of Security, Hajiya Zainab Hamza, and his two children took a new turn with the Sharia court asking the plaintiffs to swear to Allah 50 times to enable it to convict the offender. In his submission, the judge, Alhaji Mustapha Darma, who quoted relevant sections of the Hadith and the Risala averred that, at least, two members of the victim's family must take the oath to convince the court of the guilt of the suspect, Sani Yakubu Rodi. According to the judge, all the evidence tendered before the court during the trial was "circumstantial", and therefore, not enough to enable it to make a decision.