Tag Archives: Nigeria

Inside a Sharia Court

I’ve just watched an episode of This World on BBC2 entitled ‘Inside a Sharia Court‘. The programme starts from the premise that a number of British Muslims would like to see Sharia Law implemented in the UK, and that since most westerners understanding of the practice is in terms of the stoning and amputations the programme set out to look at a place where Sharia Law already exists alongside British law, in certain parts of Nigeria.

In Nigeria, Sharia Law applies only to Muslims, indeed even Muslims can appeal their case back into the regular legal system. According to the programme the only two amputations there have been for theft were people who refused their right to appeal and opted to take the Sharia Law sentence. On the ground it seems very popular, but when part way through the programme you see a Christian man who is fighting a case against a Muslim through the regular courts you can understand why. In the regular courts business is conducted in English, a language the man doesn’t understand, and more than that the case is bogged down in legal technicalities. Compare that with the Sharia court where at one point the judge gets through four cases in half and hour, and lawyers are generally not involved and you can see the difference. For the normal person on the ground, the legal system is expensive and inaccessible, whereas the Sharia courts give them swift justice.

Having said that, is it necessarily fair? One case that is shown is a man accused of theft. The prosecutor has no witnesses to the crime, indeed offers no evidence at all. The man confessed, but in his testimony said that he confessed after being beaten and tortured by the Police. The judge offers him a choice of ten lashes or a prison sentence for his crime – he opts for the lashes. The programme also discusses how accusations of rape are handled – the judge states that a woman must report it immediately, and be able to produce four witnesses otherwise her crime is regarded as adultery.

By the end of the programme, the presenter seems at least in part convinced by the merits of Sharia Law and thinking that it might work for British Muslims in the UK.

For my part I think that you need to separate the particular laws from the process. Even in the UK the issues of the mainstream legal system in Nigera are present – what the Sharia system is providing is justice for simple matters at a much lower level, without the formality of a full court case. As an example, a friend is currently having a boundary dispute over his property – and has been quoted a pretty well unaffordable rate for the solicitors he needs to sort it out. In Nigeria, these kinds of disputes are handled by the Sharia court. I doubt that a system that dishes out public floggings and amputations as punishment would ever be acceptable to most British people, but certainly a system that allows the average person to quickly and simply sort out legal disputes would be very welcome.

Finally Some Division Interrupts the Sunbathing at the Primates Conference

Until last night, for members of the press, the Primates Meeting in Tanzania has been a somewhat boring affair. Firstly, the meeting itself has been kept carefully separate, so effectively the media have just had to sit around by the pool and gossip. Such is the flakiness of the internet connection, that in fact Ruth Gledhill who has stayed in London is able to produce just as complete reports as Stephen Bates. Largely it seems that those over there have been left with nothing much to do but sit by the pool sunbathing.

The reason the press has been so bored, is that up until now, events have not gone according to the script. First off, thanks it seems to a bit of strong leadership from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu (invited by Rowan Williams to represent the Church of England allowing him to focus on chairing the meeting) were allowed to stay, and other primates didn’t leave. Yet again it seems that it is an example of how in this whole sorry affair, people are happy to try and boot another group out, but won’t leave themselves.

Following that, the report that was widely expected to back the conservative line that the Episcopal Church was ‘in breach’ of the Windsor report, actually came out and said that they were pretty much in line – more than that it criticised the anti-Windsor actions of people like Archbishop Akinola who have been setting up Churches in the US, as reported by Stephen Bates. Having said that this did produce some reaction – but again this was on the web, not from the conference centre.

There was a bit of excitement yesterday, when Archbishop Akinola, returning from a meeting outside the primates part of the conference centre got spotted and cornered by the press – although he was less than talkative…

However, the press got a little bit of division last night, when seven of the primates failed to attend the communion service – although it should be noted that this was half as many as failed to attend at the previous meeting two years ago. This does seem to be the first bit of real division that has occurred amongst the primates. Giles Fraser predicted the tactic:

Especially keep in mind the first principle of effective warfare: take their strength, and turn it into a weakness. Make them feel they are fighting for the truth of the gospel. Make them feel that everything hangs on it; that it’s all down to them. That way, they will be able to justify any behaviour — cruelty, bullying, division — and eventually the whole thing will collapse in bitterness and recrimination. Allow them to do our work for us. The fact that they won’t take communion together is a cracking start.

Alongside this, last Sunday Ruth Gledhill compared this sort of behaviour to what happens to her five year old son.

Putting it in to context, in the Guardian today, Giles Fraser also highlights quite how much this high level Church politics and globe trotting really matters:

For the communion allows bishops of crisis-stricken dioceses to get on a plane and reinvent themselves as players on the world stage. Many parishes see less and less of their bishops as they clock up the air miles.

In the traditional Church of England, the parish is the unit that matters to most worshippers. And at the level of the parish, the crisis in global Anglicanism is irrelevant. While bishops and archbishops squabble and plot, the local church gets on with saying its prayers and caring for the needy. These faithful are now being badly let down by their leadership.

So what will be the outcome? I really don’t know, but I’m half expecting a compromise to be reached. Look at what’s happened. In terms of the conference, aside from the publicity stunt last night, there have been none of the predicted walk-outs, and as Giles Fraser has pointed out, how relevant will whatever happens be to the people on the ground anyway? Thankfully Dave Walker (sadly another person who couldn’t find a news organisation or Church expense account to fund a week in the sun) is on hand to put it all into context.

Archbishop Akinola avoids the press and The White Sands originally uploaded by scottgunn.