Muslim Group Adopts Sharia in Southern State

A Muslim group in Nigeria's southern state of Oyo has said it was adopting the Islamic legal code of Sharia after the state government ignored their demands to implement the legal system.

Ishaq Sanni, who heads the National Council of Muslim Youths, told reporters on Wednesday in the Oyo capital, Ibadan, he was the chairman of the committee launching the religious code. He said the Sharia code adopted by his group will only be limited to civil law and matters including marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance, contract and land disputes.

"The state government has continued to deny us our rights to practice our religion, and the need to obey the laws of Allah informed this decision," Sanni said. But he acknowledged that without state government backing, the legal code would lack the force of law.

The move by the Muslim group follows the adoption by several states of the strict Islamic legal code. Sharia prescribes, among other things, amputation of limbs for stealing, stoning to death for adultery and flogging for drinking of alcohol. In the past two years, at least a dozen northern states have extended the application of Sharia from civil to criminal matters over the period.

This has heightened tension between the two main religious groups in Africa's most populous country, leading to frequent outbreaks of ethno-religious violence in which thousands of people have died. Oyo State, like most states in the ethnic Yoruba southwest has large populations of Christians and Muslims that have historically co-existed peacefully. The state governor, Lam Adeshina, is a Muslim.

Sanni said it would be voluntary for Muslims to bring cases before a panel of Islamic scholars that would be adjudicating cases and abide by their rulings. Those who refuse to abide by the rulings will face a range of sanctions, including ostracism and "other extra-legal punishments" to be determined by the council of Imams in the state, he said.