Zina (Adultery) Under Islamic Law in igeria:
The Gender Issues in Amina Lawal’s Case
Aminu Adamu Bello∗
Several Women non-governmental organizations were involved in the defence of Amina Lawal in her Zina (adultery) trial. After her acquittal, it appeared that there was unanimity in the conclusion that women and women organizations have acquired significant knowledge of Islam and, supposedly, Islamic law, to marshal appreciable arsenal in the defence of women living under Shari’a or Islamic law. This is interesting, not just for the fact that there is a supposition that hitherto knowledge of Shari’a or Islamic law was the privileged domain of men alone, but that there existed the perception that aspects of Shari’a or Islamic law were biased and prejudiced against women. It would seem several women organizations believe that Shari’s is anti women because the laws were made by men.
The amount of literature now available advancing this position is staggering, with most of them coming from established local and international NGOs. As civil society organizations, the NGOs have added their weight to the discussion on the perceived Shari’a gender-bias against women and are championing a crusade to ensure that women are given adequate protection under the new Shari’a criminal justice system. The involvement of the NGOs in highlighting the gender sensitive elements in the Shari’a (subsequently, Islamic law)1 in Nigeria only serve to confirm their role as a part of society that has a life of its own, which is distinct from the state and fairly autonomous from it,2 thus enabling them to influence and affect public attitudes towards an issue. It is because of this that any observation emanating from civil society organizations is being taken seriously. On the issue of the adultery cases decided by Shari’a courts in Nigeria, civil society organizations have acquired front seats and are generating critical material, including advocating strongly that the legislature should hasten the process of repealing all laws, including religiouslyinspired laws that discriminate against women.
Faculty of Law, University of Abuja
In this paper, the term Islamic law will be used to refer to the Katsina State Shari’a Penal Code in spite of what it calls itself. This is because this writer believes that the contents of the Code do not represent the totality of Shari’a principles but aspects of the Maliki jurisprudence especially since ‘the outcome of the enactment and enforcement of [sharia] principles by state institutions is always a matter of secular law and not of Shari’a as the religious normative system of Islam.’ See generally Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, ‘Shari’a in the Secular State: A Paradox of Separation and Conflation’ in Peri Bearman, Wolfhart Heinrichs and Bernard G. Weiss eds., The Law Applied: Contextualizing the Islamic Shari’a, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., London, 2008, p.322 2
Ibrahim, Jibrin, ‘Democracy and Minority Rights in Nigeria: Religion, Shari’a and the 1999 Constitution’, Paper for the Conference on “Globalisation, State Capacity and Self-Determination in Muslim Context’, organized by the Centre for Global International and Regional Studies, University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, 7th to 10th March 2002
Hauwa Ibrahim, a counsel in the defence team of Amina Lawal is one such source of material. It is not only from her defence pleadings (?) that it is apparent that one could conclude that she considered her work as a gender specific assignment,3 her published reflections after Amina’s acquittal also show how much pressure she said she was under while challenging what she has come to see as gender bias in the adjudication of sexual offences under Islamic law.4
In line probably with the thinking within some Non-Governmental Organisations, (NGO), Hauwa had come to see her presence in the Amina Lawal case as championing a course other than that of a counsel defending a client. In the...
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