Lagos, Nigeria (CNSNews.com) - Life is about to get tougher for non-Muslims, especially Christians, in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara, as new measures are rolled out to enforce Islamic (shari'a) law, first adopted two years ago.
The wearing of turbans and veils by male and female students in post-primary institutions will now be compulsory, the state's education commissioner, Umar Ango Bakura, told reporters in the state capital, Gusau.
He stressed that there would be no exceptions. More than 34,000 turbans had already been purchased for distribution, while veils (hijabs) would soon be delivered.
Meanwhile, 14 church buildings have been slated for demolition by the state government.
Lands and housing commissioner, Hassan Nasihu, told state radio there were too many churches in Zamfara and there was need to drastically reduce the number, as well as prevent the opening of new ones.
Two Christian community leaders, Rev. Linus Awuhe and Rev. David Ishaya, have opposed the moves.
Awuhe, chairman of the Zamfara chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), urged the federal government to call the state government to order, to avert a possible breakdown of law and order.
While the Christian community fully supports decency in dressing, he said, it would not be fooled into following a pre-arranged agenda of Islamization.
Awuhe argued that throughout Nigeria, Muslims are at liberty to build mosques wherever they live, without harassment. But the reverse was the case for Christians in Zamfara.
Ishaya, who heads a body called the Christian Complaints Committee (CCC), said life in Zamfara was traumatic for Christians.
He said the drive to close down the churches was not restricted to the state capital. Government agents had sealed off an Anglican and an evangelical church elsewhere in the state.
Ishaya said Christian leaders had been making representations to Zamfara Gov. Ahmed Sani, urging him to allow Christians to live as free citizens and practice their faith as provided for in the country's constitution.
But it looks unlikely that the state governor will reverse the decisions. During the opening ceremony of a Quranic recitation competition, Sani declared he was ready to sacrifice his life and property to sustain the shari'a legal system in Zamfara.
And last February, he personally led a raid on a Roman Catholic Church, ordering that it be converted into a mosque and an Islamic school.
Zamfara was the first of Nigeria's 36 states to introduce shari'a law, in January 2000. One-third of the country's states have followed suit. Christians in these states claim the move aims to wipe out Christianity.
In these 12 northern states, Christian programs are not allowed on state radio and Christian religious studies are banned. Application for permission to build churches has become difficult.
Shari'a also provides for punishments such as amputation for theft, stoning for adultery and flogging for the drinking of alcohol.
In one state, Kaduna, more than 2,000 people were killed in Christian-Muslim riots linked to plans to introduce Islamic law there.
Three Christians from Zamfara have gone to court to challenge the legality of the Islamic code.
Their suit, initially struck out by a High Court in Gusau, is currently before a Court of Appeal that will decide whether the implementation of shari'a is a breach of Nigeria's 1999 constitution.
Many Christians fear that the last military ruler, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubaka, a Muslim, sneaked provision into the constitution to facilitate the implementation of shari'a.
About half of Nigeria's total population of around 123 million is Muslim.
Spread of Islamic Law in Nigeria Prompts Fears of Bloodshed (Aug. 10. 2000)
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