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IN THE NEWS - September 14, 2002: Sharia Law in Nigeria - 2002-09-13

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program In The News.

There is a dispute about a major women’s beauty competition to be held in Nigeria. The Miss World competition is to take place November thirtieth in Abuja, the capital. Women representing countries around the world compete in the beauty contest. They wear bathing suits for part of the competition.

Conservative Muslim Nigerians have severely criticized the competition as immoral. They say the contest will incite immoral sexual activity and lead to the spread of diseases like AIDS. They are especially angered that the Miss World contest is to take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The contest will be held in Nigeria this year because a Nigerian woman won the contest last year. Agbani Darego became the first black African woman to be named Miss World. The event is broadcast to more than one-hundred-forty countries.

Some militant Muslim groups in Nigeria have threatened to interfere with the event. They say Miss World and similar competitions are offensive to the Muslim religion. They also say such competitions violate Islamic law called Sharia.

A number of competitors in the Miss World contest have threatened to boycott the competition for another reason. These women say they are angered by the severe form of Islamic law that has been established in parts of Nigeria.

They are protesting a Sharia court’s recent decision that sentenced a woman to death in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina. Amina Lawal was found guilty of having sex when she was not married. The court ordered that she be stoned to death. The execution is to be carried out after she finishes breastfeeding her nine-month-old baby. The court says this must happen by early two-thousand-four.

Earlier this week, the European Parliament’s committee on women’s rights approved a motion calling for a boycott of the Miss World contest to protest the death sentence.

A large majority of the population in northern Nigeria is Muslim. The twelve states in the area have used Sharia in cases of civil law. However, those states began pushing for complete rule by Sharia in nineteen-ninety-nine after a civilian government was established in Nigeria. The non-religious federal government of Nigeria has said it opposes the use of Shariah in criminal cases in northern Nigeria. However, it says it has no power to act against the states that use it.

Sentences of death by stoning are not believed to be common. However, several other countries also use very restrictive Islamic law.

Several human rights organizations and women’s rights groups have expressed concern about the Sharia law in effect in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International has protested stonings and other severe punishments. The human rights group also says the law treats people unfairly based on their sex.

This VOA Special English program In The News was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.