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DECLARATION OF SHARI'AH IN NORTHERN NIGERIA STATES: HUMAN RIGHTS IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIGENOUS NON MUSLIMS
This research project assesses the recent extension of application of Islamic law in most part for northern Nigeria purportedly to regulate the public law. The project simultaneously assesses the effect of such extensions on human rights (especially of non-Muslims) in such a plural society. The research project seeks to explore ways of mediating the inevitable conflicts and contradictions stemming from uncritical or non-analytical application of classical Islamic law in a multi-religious society of Nigeria.
Ali Ahmad - Interview

What is/was the most intellectually challenging aspect of your research?
The most challenging aspect is the effort to address the conflict generated by pragmatism of the Nigerian Muslims’ declaration that public law aspects of Shari'ah do not apply to non-Muslims. The authoritative Shari'ah position is that it does. This position opens two possibilities: either to pursue a reform of the authoritative Shari'ah so it is more tolerant of non-Muslims or to adopt the unprincipled position of the Nigerian states of subjecting the Shari'ah to conveniences of the time.

What do you think might be the biggest challenge that you’ll face during your field research?
Meeting with government officials who are very reticent in providing information on current programs, and the clergy who believe the best service they can offer is to defend everything done by followers.

What are your future plans for the project or for work in the field of Human Rights?
I plan to continue work on finding convenient modalities that restricts interpretative maneuvers of Islamic law by Muslim governments to guarantee human rights in Muslim countries.

How might your conceptual model and field research be implemented and communicated in various communities and contexts, and in your homeland?
In addition to electronic publishing, I plan to publish the research in a book format because most people do not have access to the internet or even computers, and electricity is still epileptic even in major cities in Nigeria. The book will be discussed at various levels of government and in academic circles. I am involved with teaching Islamic law in a university and involved with the bar association and human rights organizations.

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Ali Ahmad - Description of Research

Twelve northern states in Nigeria took various steps in 1999 to extend implementation of Shari'ah. These steps could have been the most significant and controversial changes in Nigeria’s laws in many years. Although the Muslim population is in the majority in all of these states, there are non-Muslim populations, notably Christians, as well. The objective of this study is to examine the effect of the new Shari'ah implementation on pluralism in general, and on constitutionally guaranteed rights of non-Muslims in particular.

Nigeria is a federation of thirty-six states with a federal constitution that guarantees fundamental human rights for all irrespective of religion or belief. There is an apparent tension between human rights provisions of the constitution and a system of law that tends to create differences based on religion. To address this tension, all the enacted Shari'ah laws and procedures declare that they only apply to Muslims. In practice however, the law somehow impacts non-Muslims legally, politically, and economically. As a result of the controversy generated, conflicts between the two camps have continued to erupt into violence, arson, and assassination.

A distinctive feature of this study is its focus on non-Muslims who are native to each of these states. For now no one is complaining about open and reciprocal discrimination meted out to Nigerians who leave their original states to earn a living in another. In order to be productive, this study focuses only on non-Muslims who are not migrants but indigenous to a particular state. The research will carry out in-depth study of three states: Zamfara, which is the pacesetter in the new implementation; Kano, which is the heart of Muslims socially, commercially, and politically; and Kaduna where, unlike the previous two, the Muslim Christian ratio is much closer.

Methodologically, the study will carry out extensive personal interviews of all stakeholders in the chosen states, and will hold an inter-religious workshop. It will review judicial decisions involving Muslims and Christians on issues of human rights as well as in-depth analysis of fiqh or historical Islamic law. The outlook of the research is to suggest an intervention mode that is both constitutional and Islamically legitimate on issues raised for policymakers and stakeholders. I intend to write a report on the result of the study and subsequently rewrite it in a book format for easy access by Nigerians most whom do not have access to electronic media. The book would also be useful for groups working in the areas of human rights and Islamic law.

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Ali Ahmad - Research-in-Progress Documents

1. Presentation - Living with Conflict: Shari’ah and One Nigeria ( Address at Sawyer-Mellon Seminar on Sharia and Conflict in Nigeria, Emory University Nov. 7, 2002)
Download in MS Word format.


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Images from Presentation - Reconciling Public Laws and Shari'a with the Rights of Non-Muslim Minorities in Nigeria, Nov. 18, 2003

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Images credit: Islam and Human Rights Fellowship Program


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Ali Ahmad - Development/Training/Networking

The Islam and Human Rights Fellowship Program at Emory helped me especially in raising practical issues that are pertinent to the realization of the objectives of my research project.

I found the law library and especially the main library useful. The office facilities and convenience of residential accommodation contributed in making me concentrate on the research issues. I also participated in the Sawyer-Mellon Faculty Seminar on Conflict organized by the African Studies of Emory University. I presented a discussion paper titled "Living with conflict: Sharia and one Nigeria". I met with most of the professors of the Religion and Human Rights Program.

I also attended a human rights session organized by an aid organization in Atlanta that is active in developing countries and it was helpful.

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