In the past few years several key cases, including the 2003 case of a
Nigerian woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning,
sparked interest in and criticism of Sharia, or Islamic law. In this
lesson, your high school students will examine Sharia in the context of
cultural and religious beliefs in Muslim societies and worldwide.
Provide your students with some background information on Nigeria and
Sharia, as well as the 2003 case of Amina Lawal. You may also wish to
have your students read Oil and Politics in Nigeria: Sharia Law. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/africa/nigeria/sharia.html
is Africa's most populous nation - one-fifth of all Africans are
Nigerian - and a leading African nation. Nigeria is also the world's
sixth largest oil producer, although the majority of Nigerians remain
poor. This disparity has been the cause of recent deadly clashes.
most of the 40 years since Nigeria gained independence from Britain,
the country has been ruled by its military. In the summer of 1998
military leaders agreed to an election. In 1999, General Olusegun
Obasanjo won the presidential election. In 2003, he was reelected in
the first civilian-run election in Nigeria in over 20 years. In 2007,
Obasanjo reached his constitutional term limit and will pass the
presidency on to the next elected leader.
account for one-fifth of the world's population. Half of all Nigerians
are Muslims and thus Nigeria has the largest concentration of Muslims
in Africa. Sharia, the Muslim code for living, was practiced in Nigeria
for centuries until the arrival of the British in the early 1900s. In
2000, Muslim-Christian violence was sparked by the reintroduction of
Sharia in several Northern states. Although Nigerian Christians (40
percent of the total population) are not subject to Sharia, clashes
between Christians and Muslims in recent years have left thousands
Sharia varies widely in how it is
implemented in Muslim societies. As criminal law, it is in practice in
only a few predominantly Muslim countries such as Iran, Pakistan, and
Saudi Arabia. In Nigeria, its use in criminal cases is considered by
some to be a violation of the constitution.
Lawal, a 31 year old divorced Nigerian woman, was sentenced in March
2002 by a Sharia court to death by stoning for committing adultery. The
case became a high profile one and a test of the reintroduction of
Sharia in 12 predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria. She
appealed and on September 25 the court ruled to overturn her conviction.
significant examples of Sharia law's implementation are the Abdul
Rahman case in Afghanistan and the Mirza Tahir Hussain case in Pakistan.
Abdul Rahman was arrested in February 2006 for converting to
Christianity. Formerly a Muslim, Rahman was charged with rejecting
Islam but his case was dismissed in March of 2006, after human rights
groups and international organizations protested, supposedly because of
problems with the prosecutors' evidence. He could have faced the death
penalty if convicted.
Mirza Tahir Hussain, a
citizen of Great Britain, was convicted in 1989 of murdering a taxi
driver in Pakistan, but was cleared in 1996 by a secular court. He was
then retried and found guilty in an Islamic one, the Federal Sharia
Court, and was sentenced to death. He spent a total of 18 years on
death row and was released on November 17, 2006 after international
outcry and a plea for clemency by Prince Charles.
2. Article Analysis
Have your students read and discuss the following NewsHour Extra story on Lawal's case [Nigerian Court Frees Woman Sentenced Under Sharia Law
]. Use the following questions to spark discussion.
- What surprised you about this case and its outcome?
- What do you think about the charges against Amina Lawal and the outcome of her case?
- Why might people in the predominantly Muslim northern states of Nigeria wish to be governed by Sharia?
3. Key Terms
Provide your students with the following EXCERPTS
from Frontline interviews with Akbar Muhammad and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the HANDOUT
(a TEACHER KEY
is also provided) of key terms. Ask them to identify the terms by
reading the interviews. Students may also use their NewsHour Extra
articles and the case of Amina Lawal and "Sharia in Nigeria"
backgrounder as well as any other sources on Islam you have available.
When students have finished, discuss the terms and their importance.
Next, ask students to consider the harsh punishments that can be given
out according to Sharia (such as cutting off the hand of a thief) and
ask them to respond analytically to the following quotes from the
- "You cannot judge a whole body of law by one instance of criminal law."
Have your students select one of the following issues to consider and
write about for homework. Students then meet in small groups of
students who selected the same topics to discuss and share their
responses. Students may then add final reflections on their papers and
turn them in to you.
You may extend this assignment by asking your students to do additional
research prior to writing their responses or after meeting in small
groups for discussion. What other examples from legal systems worldwide
can they find to bolster their arguments? For example, you may wish to
have your students look more closely at variations in the
interpretation and implementation of U.S. law and Sharia as well as
other systems of law that value communal order over individual freedoms
(e.g. Hong Kong).
Legal systems or codes, such as the U.S. Constitution and Sharia law,
often vary widely in how they are interpreted and implemented. This
makes it difficult to draw conclusions about legal systems from just
the written codes themselves or from how they are implemented in one
place. One must know more about how the systems are used and
- Legal Interpretation
can you conclude about Sharia and how it compares to the system of law
you may be most familiar with, the American system, in terms of
flexibility, interpretation, and implementation? How should moral and
legal codes be interpreted?
b. Severe Penalties
Many legal systems allow for severe penalties such as death, bodily
injury, or life in prison. Sharia contains the penalties of amputation
for theft, flogging for crimes such as alcohol consumption and sex
before marriage, and death by stoning for adultery. Officials in
Northern Nigeria support the use of harsh Sharia punishments, even
while President Obasanjo has called the punishments discriminatory and
therefore unconstitutional. Compare and contrast what you know about
the most severe penalties allowable under Sharia and the most severe
penalty allowed under U.S. Law, the death penalty. Consider:
- In the United States, 38 states allow the death penalty for crimes such as murder and treason.
- Approximately two-thirds of Americans support use of the death penalty.
can you conclude? What do you think should be allowable forms of
punishment for the most severe crimes? Why? Are harsh punishments, such
as amputations and death ever justified? Explain. Who should determine
what the most serious crimes are and how frequently the most severe
punishments should be used?
c. Security vs. Freedom
Experts on Nigeria and Islamic law claim that Nigerian Muslims have
supported the reintroduction of Sharia out of a desire for order,
safety, and security. Compare this to what many Americans felt after
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the swift passage of the USA
Patriot Act to combat terrorism. Consider:
What can you conclude about the circumstances under which people favor
security and safety over freedom? When should individual freedoms
(including freedom from harsh punishments as well as intrusions into
one's privacy) be protected, regardless of the costs to society?
NCSS Thematic Strands:
- Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
- Power, Authority, and Governance
- Global Connections
- Civic Ideals and Practices