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Nigeria - Islam

The combination of sectarian, economic, and ideological rivalry generates constant turmoil and creativity throughout Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. Saudi Arabian officials are more worried about trouble-making pilgrims from Nigeria than from any other country. The Saudi government regularly accuses Nigerian hajjis of carrying infectious diseases, overstaying their visas, and belonging to international criminal gangs. In contrast to Indonesia where the pilgrimage boom has helped to increase diplomatic clout, Nigeria's rocky relations with Saudi Arabian hajj authorities have undermined Abuja's efforts to play a stronger pan-African and pan-Islamic role.

Islam is a traditional religion in West Africa. It came to northern Nigeria as early as the eleventh century and was well established in the state capitals of the region by the sixteenth century, spreading into the countryside and toward the middle belt uplands. There, Islam's advance was stopped by the resistance of local peoples to incorporation into the emirate states. The Fulani-led jihad in the nineteenth century pushed Islam into Nupe and across the Niger River into northern Yoruba- speaking areas.

The colonial conquest established a rule that active Christian proselytizing could not occur in the northern Muslim region, although the two religions continued to compete for converts in the middle belt, where ethnic groups and even families had adherents of each persuasion.

Two of the oldest Islamist movements in northern Nigeria receive outside support. The Jamaatul Izalatul Bidah WaIkhamatul Sunnah (Izala), a Sunni organization founded by the anti-colonial critic Sheikh Abubakar Gummi, received financial aid from Sunni organizations in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, the Shia organization, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), founded by Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, received support from Iran. These Nigerian organizations utilize this external funding as a means to recruit people to their cause and undermine the authority of the government by highlighting the governments failure to maintain public social services.

Izala is a Wahabbi-influenced movement founded in 1978 by the late Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi. It has a large presence in major northern population centers. The Izala use modern teaching methods to impart traditional, essentially conservative, religious precepts. Izala has become more activist; its members were key players in the successful drive to establish Sharia-based criminal codes in a dozen northern states.

The origins of Islam date to Muhammad (the Prophet), a prosperous merchant of the town of Mecca in Arabia. He began in AD 610 to preach the first of a series of revelations granted him by God (Allah) through the agency of the archangel Gabriel. The divine messages, received during solitary visits into the desert, continued during the remainder of his life.

Sufi brotherhoods, (possibly from suf, or wool; the wearing of a woolen robe indicated devotion to a mystic life), a form of religious order based on more personal or mystical relations to the supernatural, were widespread, especially in the major cities. There the two predominant ones, Qadiriyah and Tijaniyah, had separate mosques and, in a number of instances, a parochial school system receiving grants from the state. The brotherhoods played a major role in the spread of Islam in the northern area and the middle belt.

Two features of Islam are essential to understanding its place in Nigerian society. They are the degree to which Islam permeates other institutions in the society, and its contribution to Nigerian pluralism. As an institution in emirate society, Islam includes daily and annual ritual obligations; the pilgrimage to Mecca; sharia, or religious law; and an establishment view of politics, family life, communal order, and appropriate modes of personal conduct in most situations.

Thus, Islam pervaded daily life. Public meetings began and ended with Muslim prayer, and everyone knew at least the minimum Arabic prayers and the five pillars of the religion required for full participation. Public adjudication (by local leaders with the help of religious experts, or Alkali courts) provided widespread knowledge of the basic tenets of sharia law-- the Sunni school of law according to Malik ibn Anas, the jurist from Medina, was that primarily followed. Sunni (from sunna), or orthodox Islam, is the dominant sect in Nigeria and most of the Muslim world. The other sect is Shia Islam, which holds that the caliphs or successors to the Prophet should have been his relatives rather than elected individuals.

Every settlement had at least one place set aside for communal prayers. In the larger settlements, mosques were well attended, especially on Fridays when the local administrative and chiefly elites led the way, and the populace prayed with its leaders in a demonstration of communal and religious solidarity. Gaining increased knowledge of the religion, one or more pilgrimages to Mecca for oneself or one's wife, and a reputation as a devout and honorable Muslim all provided prestige. Those able to suffuse their everyday lives with the beliefs and practices of Islam were deeply respected.

Air transport had made the hajj more widely available, and the red cap wound with a white cloth, signifying its wearer's pilgrimage, was much more common in 1990 than twenty years previously. Upper-income groups went several times and sent or took their wives as well. The ancient custom of spending years walking across Africa to reach Mecca was still practiced, however, and groups of such pilgrims could be seen receiving charity at Friday prayers outside major mosques in the north.

Kano sits astride a wide belt of Hausa settlement and trade stretching across the African savanna from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Pilgrims of the Tijani and Qadiri mystical orders come to Kano from many countries, sometimes taking a long circular route via Egypt, Morocco, and Senegal before proceeding to Mecca and Medina. Kano enjoys a brisk traffic of illegal ?ajjis from neighboring countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso who use Kano as their gateway because they can buy foreign exchange and import contraband more easily in Nigeria than in their homelands. Kano boasts the most pluralistic collection of Islamic organizations, business interests, and political parties in northern Nigeria.

Nigerian Islam was not highly organized. Reflecting the aristocratic nature of the traditional ruling groups, there were families of clerics whose male heirs trained locally and abroad in theology and jurisprudence and filled major positions in the mosques and the judiciary. These ulama, or learned scholars, had for centuries been the religious and legal advisers of emirs, the titled nobility, and the wealthy trading families in the major cities. Ordinary people could consult the myriads of would-be and practicing clerics in various stages of training, who studied with local experts, functioned at rites of passage, or simply used their religious education to gain increased "blessedness" for their efforts.

Islam both united and divided. It provided a rallying force in the north and into the middle belt, where it was spreading. The wide scope of Islamic beliefs and practices created a leveling force that caused Muslims in the north to feel that they were part of a common set of cultural traditions affecting family life, dress, food, manners, and personal qualities linking them to one another and a wider Islamic world. At the constitutional conference of 1978, Muslim delegates walked out as a unit over the issue of a separate Islamic supreme court, a demand they lost but which in 1990 remained a Muslim goal.

To adapt fully to northern life, non-Muslims had to remain in an enclave, living quasi-segregated lives in their churches, their social clubs, and even their work. In contrast, becoming a convert to Islam was the doorway to full participation in the society. Middle belt people, especially those with ambitions in politics and business, generally adopted Islam. The main exception to this rule was Plateau State, where the capital, Jos, was as much a Christian as a Muslim community, and a greater accommodation between the two sets of beliefs and their adherents had occurred.

Divisions within the Muslim community existed, however. The nineteenth-century jihad that founded the Sokoto Caliphate was a regenerative and proselytizing movement within the community of the faithful. In major centers in the late 20th Century, the Sufi brotherhoods supported their own candidates for both religious and traditional emirate offices. These differences were generally not disruptive. Islamic activist preachers and student leaders who spread ideas about a return to extreme orthodoxy also existed.

In addition, a fringe Islamic cult, known as the Maitatsine, started in the late 1970s and operated throughout the 1980s, springing up in Kano around a mystical leader (since deceased) from Cameroon who claimed to have had divine revelations superseding those of the Prophet. The cult had its own mosques and preached a doctrine antagonistic to established Islamic and societal leadership. Its main appeal was to marginal and poverty-stricken urban in-migrants, whose rejection by the more established urban groups fostered this religious opposition. These disaffected adherents ultimately lashed out at the more traditional mosques and congregations, resulting in violent outbreaks in several cities of the north.

The constitution provides that states may establish courts based on the common law or customary law systems. Twelve northern states Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Borno, Zamfara, and Gombe maintained Sharia courts, which adjudicated both criminal and civil matters, along with common law and customary law courts. Many Christians alleged that widespread use of Sharia courts amounted to the adoption of Islam as a state religion. In addition the Civil Liberties Organization, a prominent nongovernmental organization (NGO), contended that Zamfara State promoted Islam as a state religion through its establishment of a Commission for Religious Affairs.

While the constitution specifically recognizes Sharia courts for civil matters, it does not address the application of Sharia to criminal matters. Aggrieved parties can appeal judgments of Sharia courts in three levels of Sharia appellate courts. Cases that reach the Sharia Court of Appeal (the highest level of the Sharia courts) can theoretically be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. To date no case involving the Sharia criminal code has reached the Federal Court of Appeal.

The constitution does not permit non-Muslims to consent to Sharia legal jurisdiction, but in practice non-Muslims occasionally choose to have cases heard in Sharia courts, citing their speed and low expense.

In Zamfara State a Sharia court must hear all criminal cases involving Muslims. Other states that use the Sharia legal system, including Niger and Kano, permitted Muslims to choose common law courts for criminal cases. Civil society groups alleged that some Qadis (Sharia court judges) applied harsher penalties in adultery and fornication cases against women than against men and required stronger evidence to convict men than to convict women.

The initial furor over the introduction of sharia to many of the northern states in 2000 led to hundreds of deaths from clashes between Christians and Muslims. The application of the law has proved to be neither as terrible or as much of a panacea as the two sides has predicted. The introduction of sharia had originally been very popular among the majority Muslims largely because of the high public dissatisfaction with the failures of the existing legal system. In addition, sharias emphasis on welfare and social justice helped to kindle hope that its introduction would help alleviate the plight of Nigerias dismal poor. Northern Nigeria has been particularly hard hit by the lack of growth outside the petroleum sector; Kano alone has lost over 80 percent of its manufacturing base since 1990. In any event, the heated discussions over sharia subsided to a more productive debate over the broader role of rule of law in society.

Hisbah (vigilante Sharia enforcement groups funded by state governments in Bauchi, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna, and Kano) enforced some Sharia statutes. In Kano Hisbah leaders cited enforcing prohibitions on alcohol and prostitution as the group's primary focus; however, they continue to serve primarily as traffic wardens and marketplace regulators. Such vigilantism had emerged from the general outrage about crime and the dismal state of security. The establishment of the Hizbah in the north was largely an attempt to incorporate and rationalize vigilante activity and give them formal training. The Hizbah were ostensibly set up to promote compliance with sharia, but their excesses, especially in Kano, echoed the lawlessness that has come to be associated with the activities of the southern-based ethnic vigilante groups.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2019 18:40:31 ZULU