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BBC Documentary – Inside A Sharia Court

With the teddy bear blasphemy trial underway in the Sudan, perhaps it is a good time to view this six part programme from those defenders of the faith at BBC NEWS:

Inside a Sharia Court

This World’s Ruhi Hamid gains a rare glimpse inside a Sharia court in the state of Zamfara in northern Nigeria…

Sharia law – which is an Islamic system of law based on the ancient verses of the Koran – was introduced to the mainly Muslim state of Zamfara by Governor Ahmed Sani, after the defeat of the military dictatorship in 1999.

It was the first state in Nigeria to introduce Sharia. Ferocious fighting broke out and previously integrated communities were split along religious lines, leaving many dead and thousands displaced…

The occasional prison van brings prisoners to court on criminal offences such as mobile phone theft, burglaries or violence. But 90% of cases the Sharia court deals with are land, matrimonial or inheritance disputes. They are often argued with great intensity.

In one case, Sa’adiyya Ibrahim claimed that since her separation from her husband, he had refused to perform his Islamic duty of providing for her. He insisted he had.

In the end, the judge decided in her favour because she swore it was true on a copy of the Koran. Judge Isah – which literally means Jesus – was convinced the plaintiff would not risk divine condemnation by making a false oath. He ordered the husband to pay up, which he did without protest…

Sharia is often perceived as oppressive and brutal by Westerners, because of punishments like stoning to death for adultery and amputations for theft.

One hot, dusty afternoon, I followed three young men being taken from the courtroom to the market square. They were convicted of alcoholism – strictly frowned upon in Muslim society – and received 80 lashes in front of a gathered crowd.

Judge Isah explained that public humiliation was part of the punishment. It also served to deter others who were tempted to indulge in vice.

“By stopping people from drinking alcohol, society will be in harmony and sanity,” he said. “More over the sentence of 80 lashes is in the Koran so no one can question it”. …

It is Sharia’s treatment of sexual offences that has caused the greatest international controversy. In Islamic law, both adultery and rape require four witnesses to be present at the “act”. A woman’s evidence is still only worth half of a man’s, and in adultery cases she cannot be a witness at all.

Soon after the introduction of Sharia to the northern states of Nigeria, two women were condemned to death by stoning for adultery. But, with the help of human rights activists their convictions were overturned on appeal to the federal Nigerian courts.

Most of the people that I met in Zamfara said they welcomed Sharia. It has cut down drinking and violence, and the court is no longer an intimidating place of wigs and gowns, doing business in a language that they do not understand.

After six weeks in Zamfara, I can see how Judge Isah’s court functions well as a small claims court for this rural Islamic society. But my reservations about Sharia remain the same. For me, the sticking points are still the floggings and the amputations, and the undeniably unfair treatment of women in rape and adultery cases.

It should also be noted that Ms. Ruhi Hamid is a practicing Muslim, and appears to bend over backwards to be non-critical.

Even so, it is an eye-opener.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, November 29th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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