In Defense of Sharia

This week, an Islamic court at Funtua, in Katsina State, in northern Nigeria rejected the appeal of a woman convicted of having sex out of wedlock. Her lawyers will likely appeal her conviction to a higher Sharia court, and if necessary, to Nigeria's Supreme Court, but if the judgment of the Funtua court stands, Amin Lawal will be stoned to death the moment her daughter is weaned.

Muslim-Christian relations are tense all over the world, but nowhere are they more inflamed than in Nigeria, the most populous country where Christians and Muslims exist in roughly equal numbers. The flash point for Muslim-Christian tensions is Sharia, or Muslim religious law.

The spread of Islamic law in Nigeria--since late 1999 ten of the country's 36 states have adopted Sharia as their public law--has provoked a sharp outcry against the severe punishments it levies, including amputation for thieves and death by stoning for woman convicted of adultery.

As a Muslim lawyer who practices in a Sharia court in Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city, the demonization of Islamic law by Christians and human rights activists in Europe and North America angers me. Sharia law is systematically distorted and misunderstood. But as someone trained in American law who has taught at an American law school, I also am aware of the shortcomings in how Sharia is applied, especially in its treatment of women.