US embassy cable - 89LAGOS6503

NIGERIA: MUSLIMS PERSPECTIVES ON SHARIA

Identifier: 89LAGOS6503
Wikileaks: View 89LAGOS6503 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Lagos
Created: 1989-04-27 11:08:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV KISL PINR NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 271108Z APR 89
FM AMEMBASSY LAGOS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0111
INFO AMCONSUL KADUNA PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY BUJUMBURA
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LAGOS 06503 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, KISL, PINR, NI 
SUBJECT:  NIGERIA:  MUSLIMS PERSPECTIVES ON SHARIA 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  DURING POLOFF'S TRIP TO THE NORTH 
APRIL 3-14, MUSLIM SPOKESMEN PROTESTED THAT WESTERN 
PORTRAYALS GIVE A DISTORTED PICTURE OF THE SHARIA COURT 
SYSTEM.  CONTRARY TO ITS BRUTAL IMAGE IN THE WEST, THEY 
ASSERT, SHARIA PROVIDES A HUMANE AND EFFECTIVE DETERRENT 
TO WRONGDOING THAT IS COMPATIBLE BOTH WITH MUSLIM ETHICS 
AND THE HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE OF ISLAM.  MOREOVER, 
CHARGES THAT IT IS A VESTIGE OF "BACKWARDNESS" THAT WILL 
BECOME EXTINCT BEFORE THE ADVANCE OF "MODERNITY" HAVE 
NOT, THEY STATE, BEEN BORNE OUT IN ACTUALITY.  THE 
EXAMPLES OF SHARIA CASES PROVIDED, WHILE INSUFFICIENT 
EITHER TO VALIDATE OR REFUTE THEIR CONTENTIONS, SHOW HOW 
DEEPLY ENMESHED SHARIA IS IN MUSLIM SOCIETY IN THE NORTH 
AND HOW INTRACTIBLE IT IS LIKELY TO BE AS A POLITICAL 
ISSUE. 
 
3.  IN COMPILING THIS REPORT, POLOFF SPOKE WITH THE 
FOLLOWING PERSONS:  JUSTICE MU'AZU ALIYU, GRAND KHADI OF 
KADUNA; SHEIK ABUBAKAR MAHMOUD GUMI, LEADER OF THE IZALA 
SECT OF ISLAM; PROFESSOR AUWULU HAMISU YADUDU, HEAD OF 
THE LAW FACULTY, BAYERO UNIVERSITY IN KANO; AND 
PROFESSOR MUHAMMED SANI ZAHRADEEN, HEAD OF THE ISLAMIC 
ARTS AND STUDIES DEPARTMENT, BAYERO UNIVERSITY IN KANO. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
HISTORICAL GENESIS OF SHARIA 
---------------------------- 
 
4.  ACCORDING TO ZAHRADEEN, THE SHARIA COURTS ARE A 
PRODUCT OF AN HISTORICAL EVOLUTION THAT IS DIFFERENT 
FROM, BUT NO LESS VALID THAN, THAT WHICH OCCURRED IN THE 
WEST.  THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE--WHICH, HE 
ASSERTS, IS THE INTELLECTUAL PREMISE UPON WHICH 
OPPOSITION TO SHARIA IS BASED--IS, HE DECLARED, A 
CONCEPT WHICH ARISES FROM, AND IS SPECIFIC TO, THE 
HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE OF WESTERN EUROPE.  THOUGH NOW 
DEEPLY ENGRAINED IN THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF THE WEST 
AND OF WESTERNIZED NIGERIANS, IT ONLY BECAME THE NORM, 
HE SAID, AS A RESULT OF CENTURIES-LONG STRUGGLES BETWEEN 
POPES AND KINGS OF CHRISTENDOM WHICH HAVE LITTLE 
RELEVANCE TO OTHER PEOPLES. 
 
5.  INDEED, ZAHRADEEN DECLARED, NEITHER THE ISLAMIC NOR 
ANY OTHER NON-EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION EVOLVED SUCH A 
CONCEPT, AND MUSLIM BELIEF SIMPLY DOES NOT INCLUDE THE 
NOTION OF "RENDERING UNTO CAESAR THE THINGS THAT ARE 
CAESAR'S AND TO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD'S."  IN 
FACT, HE ASSERTED, ISLAM EXPLICITLY DEFINES MAN'S 
POSITION NOT ONLY IN RELATION TO HIS FELLOW MAN AND TO 
HIS GOD, BUT TO HIS GOVERNMENT AS WELL.  MUHAMMED, HE 
POINTED OUT, WAS THE ONLY MAJOR RELIGIOUS FIGURE TO 
GOVERN A TEMPORAL STATE, AND FROM THIS EVOLVED STRONG 
NOTIONS OF THE INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RELIGIOUS 
ETHICS AND GOVERNMENT.  TO IMPOSE CONCEPTS SUCH AS 
CHURCH-STATE SEPARATION ON THE FOLLOWERS OF ISLAM IS, HE 
OPINED, THE HEIGHT OF WESTERN ETHNOCENTRISM--AN ATTEMPT, 
AS HE PUT IT, TO SUBJUGATE ONE LEGITIMATE SYSTEM OF 
VALUES TO THE BELIEFS OF ANOTHER. 
 
SHARIA AND "MODERNITY" 
--------------------- 
 
6.  ECHOING THE ETHNOCENTRISM THEME, YADUDU IN A 
SEPARATE CONVERSATION, STATED THAT WESTERNERS HAVE 
DEVELOPED A NOTION OF AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING 
"MODERNITY"--TO WHICH THEY ASSUME ALL HUMANS INVARIABLY 
ASPIRE--THAT TRANSCENDS CULTURE.  THE CORROLLARY TO THAT 
ASSUMPTION, HE SAID, IS THAT ANYTHING THAT IS NOT 
"MODERN" IS "BACKWARD," AND THUS DOOMED TO EXTINCTION BY 
THE "MARCH OF PROGRESS."  ALL THESE CONCEPTS, IN 
YADUDU'S OPINION, ARE IN FACT CULTURE-BOUND, AND IN 
RECENT TIMES HAVE BEEN UNDERGOING REEVALUATION BY 
NON-WESTERN PEOPLES.  WHERE THE WEST WAS ONCE CONSIDERED 
TO BE THE MODEL FOR SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, ITS 
EXPERIENCES HAVE, IN HIS OPINION, NOT PROVED TO BE 
UNIVERSALLY APPLICABLE AND NON-WESTERN SOCIETIES ARE NOW 
LOOKING FOR WAYS TO DEVELOP THAT ARE IN KEEPING WITH 
THEIR OWN CULTURAL AND ETHICAL PRECEPTS. 
 
7.  TO ILLUSTRATE HIS POINT, YADUDU PROVIDED POLOFF WITH 
THE SYNOPSIS OF HIS DOCTORAL DISSERTATION.  (FYI: 
YADUDU RECEIVED HIS PH.D. IN ISLAMIC LAW FROM HARVARD IN 
1985.  END FYI.)  IN IT, HE TAKES ISSUE WITH WESTERN 
SCHOLARS WHO ASSERT THAT SHARIA WILL FADE FROM THE SCENE 
AS ISLAMIC SOCIETIES ARE DRAWN INCREASINGLY INTO THE 
MATRIX OF INTERNATIONAL LEGAL SYSTEMS.  ON THE CONTRARY, 
YADUDU POSITS THAT SHARIA HAS NOW BECOME MORE WIDELY 
ESTABLISHED IN ISLAMIC SOCIETIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND 
AFRICA THAN AT ANYTIME SINCE THE END OF THE COLONIAL 
ERA.  HE ATTRIBUTES THIS TO THREE FACTORS:  ITS 
ADAPTIBLITY AND RESILIENCE TO THE PRESSURES OF 
"MODERNITY"; ITS APPROPRIATENESS TO THE WAY MUSLIMS 
LIVE; AND ITS ABILITY TO BRING INTO BALANCE MUSLIM 
ETHICAL AND LEGAL PRINCIPLES. 
 
SHARIA'S APPEAL IN NIGERIA 
-------------------------- 
 
8.  IN A SEPARATE CONVERSATION, GRAND KHADI ALIYU ALSO 
SPOKE OF THE APPROPRIATENESS OF SHARIA TO THE MUSLIM WAY 
OF LIFE IN NORTHERN NIGERIA.  CONTRARY TO WESTERN 
PORTRAYALS WHICH, HE SAID, EMPHASIZE SUCH SEVERE 
FEATURES OF THE CODE AS PUNISHMENT BY AMPUTATION, MOST 
MUSLIMS CONSIDER SHARIA TO BE A HUMANE AND EFFECTIVE WAY 
OF RIGHTING WRONGS.  IN PARTICULAR, HE SINGLED OUT THE 
ELEMENT OF PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT WHICH COMES FROM AN 
INDIVIDUAL'S ABILITY TO PRESENT HIS OWN CASE TO THE 
JUDGE.  THOUGH ONE HAS THE CHOICE OF HIRING A LAWYER, 
THIS ABILITY TO "SAY ONE'S OWN PIECE," SAID ALIYU, GIVES 
THE ORDINARY MUSLIM A GREATER SENSE OF RECEIVING A FAIR 
HEARING THAN IN A WESTERN COURT IN WHICH HIGHLY 
TECHNICAL--AND OFTEN INCOMPREHENSIBLE--BRIEFS ARE 
DEBATED BY ATTORNEYS. 
 
9.  SHEIK GUMI, WHO AT ONE TIME WAS APPOINTED GRAND 
KHADI, DECLARED THAT SHARIA ALSO HAS THE ADVANTAGE OF 
EFFICIENCY:  SAVE FOR LAND DISPUTES, WHICH, HE SAID, CAN 
DRAG ON FOR YEARS, MOST CASES CAN BE RESOLVED IN A 
FRACTION OF THE TIME REQUIRED BY WESTERN COURTS.  IN 
ADDITION, HE SAID, SHARIA GIVES GREATER SCOPE FOR MUTUAL 
ACCOMMODATION BETWEEN THE CONTENDING PARTIES:  IN A 
MURDER CASE, FOR EXAMPLE, THE VICTIM'S FAMILY HAS THE 
OPTION OF DEMANDING COMPENSATION INSTEAD OF THE DEATH 
PENALTY.  AS FOR AMPUTATION, HE SAID, THE PUNISHMENT HAS 
A DEMONSTRATED EFFECT IN CURBING CRIME:  DISPLAYING THE 
SEVERED HAND OF A THIEF IN THE MARKET PLACE, HE CLAIMED, 
IS A SURE WAY OF DETERRING OTHERS FROM THEFT. 
 
SHARIA IN ACTION 
---------------- 
 
10.  NORTHERNERS PROVIDED VARIOUS EXAMPLES OF THE 
OPERATION OF THE SHARIA COURT SYSTEM WHICH, THEY 
CLAIMED, EXEMPLIFIED BOTH ITS POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES AS A 
LEGAL SYSTEM AND THE REGARD WHICH THE PEOPLE HAVE FOR 
IT.  ONE TOLD OF A LAND CASE--ACCORDING TO GRAND KHADI 
ALIYU, BY FAR THE MOST NUMEROUS AND COMPLICATED CASES ON 
HIS DOCKET--IN WHICH A FAMILY PATRIARCH GRANTED USE OF A 
PIECE OF LAND TO A DISPLACED FRIEND FROM ANOTHER 
VILLAGE, SAYING THAT THE MAN WAS "LIKE MY OWN BROTHER." 
WHEN THE PATRIARCH'S SONS SOUGHT TO REPOSSESS THE LAND 
AFTER THEIR FATHER'S DEATH, THE FRIEND'S HEIRS CLAIMED 
THAT THE ALLUSION TO "BROTHER" INDICATED INTENT TO CEDE 
THE LAND PERMANENTLY.  THE JUDGE RULED, HOWEVER, THAT 
THE LAND HAD BEEN GRANTED FOR USE IN TIME OF NEED, WHICH 
WAS NO LONGER THE FAMILY'S CASE, AND SO MUST BE RETURNED 
TO THE DESCENDENTS OF THE ORIGINAL OWNER.  MOREOVER, THE 
JUDGE REQUIRED THAT COMPENSATION ALSO BE PAIB, NOT 
BECAUSE OF THE PROLONGED USE OF THE LAND, BUT BECAUSE 
THEIR ACTIONS CONTRADICTED THE SPIRIT OF FRATERNAL 
AFFECTION WHICH THE PATRIARCH HAD ALWAYS SHOWN THEIR 
KINFOLK.  IN SUCH INSTANCES, OUR INTERLOCUTORS INSISTED, 
A SHARIA COURT COULD REACH A DECISION, WITHIN THE 
ETHICAL CONTEXT UNDERSTOOD BY ALL PARTIES INVOLVED, THAT 
WAS BOTH EQUITABLE AND FAIR. 
 
11.  ASKED FOR AN EXAMPLE OF PROBLEMS COMMON TO SHARIA 
COURTS, ONE INTERLOCUTOR SMILED AND RELATED A STORY 
WHICH HE SAID ILLUSTRATED THE SYSTEM'S "HUMAN 
IMPERFECTIONS."  AGAINST HER FAMILY'S ADVICE, HE SAID, A 
WOMAN MARRIED A MAN WHO HAD A DIFFICULT PERSONALITY. 
INITIALLY THINGS WENT WELL AND THE MAN INSTALLED HER IN 
A NEWLY-BUILT HOUSE.  WHEN RELATIONS DETERIORATED, 
HOWEVER, HE TRIED TO REPOSSESS THE HOUSE, BUT WAS TAKEN 
TO COURT BY THE WOMAN WHO CLAIMED THAT HE HAD PREVIOUSLY 
RELINQUISHED OWNERSHIP TO HER.  UNABLE TO RESOLVE THE 
CASE IN ONE DAY, THE JUDGE ORDERED THE WOMAN TO RETURN 
THE NEXT DAY TO SWEAR TO THE TRUTH OF HER STORY ON THE 
QURAN.  THAT EVENING, WISHING TO FIND A WAY TO SETTLE 
MATTERS AMICABLY, HER FAMILY APPROACHED THE JUDGE AND 
FOR A "CONSIDERATION" OF ONE HUNDRED NAIRA OBTAINED HIS 
CONSENT TO PLACE NEWSPAPERS IN THE BINDINGS IN WHICH THE 
QURAN IS CUSTOMARILY WRAPPED.  THE NEXT DAY, THE WOMAN 
DULY--AND UNWITTINGLY--SWORE ON THE WRAPPED NEWSPAPERS, 
WITH THE RESULT THAT EVERYONE WAS SATIFIED:  THE WOMAN 
BECAUSE SHE COULD KEEP THE HOUSE; THE MAN BECAUSE HE WAS 
CONVINCED THAT HER PERJURY ON THE HOLY BOOK WOULD BRING 
DIVINE RETRIBUTION UPON HER; THE FAMILY BECAUSE THEY 
GUARANTEED THAT THE WOMAN HAD NOT FORESWORN HERSELF; AND 
THE JUDGE BECAUSE HE WAS ONE HUNDRED NAIRA RICHER. 
 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
12.  STORIES LIKE THE ONE ABOVE--WHICH IN FACT SOUND 
RATHER LIKE FABLES--ARE UNLIKELY TO PERSUADE THE 
UNCONVINCED OF THE EFFICACY OF THE SHARIA COURTS. 
NEVERTHELESS, THEY ARE SYMPTOMATIC OF THE DEPTH OF 
COMMITMENT WHICH THE SYSTEM IS CAPABLE OF EVOKING IN THE 
NORTH.  IMPLICIT IN THEIR ANALYSES AND ANECDOTES IS THE 
BELIEF THAT SHARIA IS INTRINSIC TO ISLAMIC LIFE IN 
NORTHERN NIGERIA--A PATTERN OF LIFE WHICH THEY HOLD TO 
BE AS LEGITIMATE AS ANY OTHER AND WHICH THEY WISH TO SEE 
EVOLVE ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN PRECEPTS, NOT THOSE OF 
OUTSIDERS. 
 
13.  THEIR VIEWS ARE ALL THE MORE STRONGLY HELD BECAUSE 
NORTHERN MUSLIMS SEE THEIR WAY OF LIFE AS UNDER THREAT. 
IN CONTRAST TO THE ALLEGATIONS OF SOUTHERNERS THAT THE 
NORTH IS INTENT ON THE "ISLAMICIZATION" OF NIGERIA, 
NORTHERN MUSLIMS FEEL THAT IT IS THEY AND THEIR BELIEFS 
THAT ARE UNDER ATTACK, NOT SIMPLY FROM CHRISTIANS, BUT 
FROM THE PRESSURE OF A MODERN, WESTERN MATERIALISM WHOSE 
VALUES ARE INIMICAL TO THEIR OWN.  WHILE THEY SEEM 
UNSURE AS TO HOW TO ACCOMMODATE CHANGE WITHIN THAT VALUE 
SYSTEM, THEY CLEARLY-INTEND TO DEFEND THOSE VALUES WITH 
ALL MEANS AT THEIR DISPOSAL. 
 
14.  THE DILEMMA WHICH THE COUNTRY AS A WHOLE THUS FACES 
IS HOW TO RECONCILE SUCH FERVENT CONVICTIONS WITH THOSE 
HELD WITH EQUAL ARDOR BY CHRISTIANS--WHO, AS ZAHRADEEN 
RIGHTLY STATES, SUPPORT SUCH CONCEPTS AS CHURCH-STATE 
SEPARATION AS STRONGLY AS MUSLIMS ABJURE IT.  ASKED HOW 
HE WOULD RESOLVE SUCH OPPOSED VIEWPOINTS, ZAHRADEEN 
PROPOSED A COMPROMISE, BASED ON ESTABLISHING TWO 
PARALLEL COURT SYSTEMS:  IN THIS WAY, HE CLAIMED, EVERY 
NIGERIAN CITIZEN COULD CHOOSE THE SYSTEM HE PREFERRED. 
CHRISTIANS, HOWEVER, ARE LIKELY TO SEE THIS LESS AS A 
COMPROMISE THAN AS AN ATTEMPT TO EXTEND SHARIA'S 
JURISDICTION, SO AS TO ENCOMPASS CHRISTIAN POPULATIONS 
UNDER ITS AUTHORITY.  (FYI:  PRESENTED WITH THIS 
INTERPRETATION, ZAHRADEEN CONCEDED THAT SOME CHRISTIANS 
MIGHT INDEED SEE HIS PROPOSAL SO; POLOFF HAD THE 
IMPRESSION THAT HE ESPOUSED IT LESS FROM CONVICTION THAN 
AS A BARGAINING CHIP WITH SOUTHERNERS.  END FYI.) 
 
15.  SHARIA THUS SEEMS TO HAVE ENTERED AN EMOTIONAL AND 
SYMBOLIC DIMENSION THAT TRANSCENDS THE LEGAL 
IMPLICATIONS, AND EVEN THE.POLITICAL PARAMETERS, OF THE 
DEBATE ITSELF.  THOUGH INDIVIDUALS ON EACH SIDE APPEAR 
TO TAKE A HARDLINE IN AN EFFORT TO SECURE A BETTER 
BARGAINING POSITION, NEITHER CAMP REALLY FEELS THAT IT 
CAN CONCEDE ON THE ISSUE WITHOUT DOING INJURY TO ITS 
FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS OR SUFFERING A MAJOR LOSS OF 
FACE.  EACH SIDE CAN SEE REASON IN ITS OWN CASE, BUT 
ONLY MALEVOLENCE IN THAT OF THE OPPOSITION.  GIVEN THE 
PRESENT EMOTIONAL IMPASSE, IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN WHETHER 
THE MILITARY AUTHORITIES CAN REACH A DECISION ON 
INCLUDING--OR NOT INCLUDING--SHARIA IN THE CONSTITUTION 
OF THE THIRD REPUBLIC WHICH CAN LOWER THE PASSIONS WHICH 
THIS ISSUE HAS AROUSED.  END COMMENT. 
 
 
LYMAN 

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