27 October 2004
Sharia law refers to a body of Islamic religious laws and deals with aspects of everyday life, such as politics, banking, family, sexuality and hygiene. Since 1999, 12 states across the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria have begun reintroducing Sharia principles into their penal codes. This includes punishments such as flogging, amputation and stoning for crimes like adultery. One of the first instances when Sharia law in Nigeria was challenged internationally was by 31 year-old Amina Lawal. She was raped by a family friend, and having had a child as a result, was accused of adultery. In 2003, an Islamic court of law sentenced her to death by stoning. The following year, in the Bauchi state of Nigeria, 18 year-old Hajara Ibrahim was sentenced to a public flogging and death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery. Seven months pregnant, she appeared in court on 27 October 2004 to appeal her conviction. Ibrahim was acquitted the following month on the grounds that her marriage was not consummated, and therefore she could not be accused of adultery. The father of her child, despite having admitted to having unlawful sex with her, was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Reports state that since the enforcement of Sharia law in northern Nigeria, no legal death by stoning incidences have taken place, since all have been overturned on appeals. Sharia law continues to be a topic of debate amongst human rights groups, women's rights activists and Islamic scholars, with the former arguing that abuse towards women is justified by the enforcement of these laws. In South Africa, the Muslim Marriages Bill was recently introduced, which enables the state to enforce the provision of Sharia law under which many Muslim women in South Africa were married. This bill ensures greater legal protection for married women and provides them with a recourse should they encounter abuse from their spouses. The introduction of this bill has however, not been without dispute. It is clear that greater debate and research on the implications of introducing Sharia-compliant laws in South Africa is needed as it has significant consequences for those it affects the most.