n Nigeria in 2002, a Muslim woman was sentenced to stoning to death for adultery, which led to a global uproar in that year. This woman was called Amina Lawal. Islamic courts handled her case. Her crime was giving birth out of wedlock and adultery. Lawal was a divorced woman who had a relationship with a man, leading to a baby.
This shouldn’t be called infidelity, because adultery is an extramarital affair, right? Or maybe the definition of the word is relative.
Lawal was judged in an Islamic Sharia court. Muslims believe sharia law to come straight from Allah, and hence unquestionably. It is a set of religious principles that help Muslims understand how to lead their daily lives as part of the Islamic tradition. It was established in 2002 in northern Nigeria’s primarily Muslim state Zamfara.
The law governed everything from marriage to sexual behavior to prayers and even their finances. It also contained the punishment for incidents like rape and robbery. Advocates of this law stated it made people responsible and reduced the crime rate.
Lawal appeared before the court on March 22, 2002. After admitting to having had a relationship with a man she identified as the father of her child, he was also brought to court. However, the man denied the charge and swore on the Quran affirming this claim.
An issue with evidence
This and the lack of evidence were enough grounds for him to be deemed innocent. Interestingly, no one considered the option of DNA tests. On the other hand, Lawal was sentenced to death by stoning (where she was to be buried to chest level and stoned to death). She appealed against her stoning sentence on August 19, 2002, to an Islamic court in the Katsina state of Nigeria.
The judges rejected her appeal and stated her execution would be carried out when she weaned her daughter from breastfeeding. How cruel it is to part a baby and a mother this way. Lawal was the second Nigerian woman condemned to death by stoning for engaging in sex before marriage. Her case became an international one that highlighted the plights of women in Nigeria’s northern Muslim states and the Sharia law.
A battle of religions
Her case further brought Nigeria under heavy criticism and caused a short slit between Muslims and Christians, leading to civil and religious tensions between the two religions. Several campaigns were launched worldwide to persuade the Nigerian government to overturn the sentence.
Several contestants of the Miss World Beauty contest pulled out of it to protest against Lawal’s treatment. Nigeria was the host country for the contest in 2002. The Oprah Winfrey Show also made a special report on Lawal’s and urged viewers to send protest emails to the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, and over 1.2 million emails were sent to him. A petition called ‘Save Amina’ also gathered a few thousand signatures.
Nigerian women’s rights
An NGO in Nigeria named Baobab for Women’s Human Rights took up Lawal’s case, which attracted lawyers trained in both secular and Sharia law, like Hauwa Ibrahim, a human rights lawyer known for her pro-Bono work for people condemned under Sharia law. Finally, on September 25, 2003, Lawal got her freedom when her sentence was overturned by a five-judge panel of Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal based on technicalities in applying the Islamic law.
The lower courts had been wrong not to allow Ms. Lawal to retract her earlier confession. Moreover, the court ruled the first confession was invalid because it was uttered only once, instead of four times, as required by Islamic law, and only one judge presided over the first try instead of the requisite three.
Justice in the end
The panel also cited more substantive grounds. The court said the police officers who arrested Ms. Lawal produced no witnesses to fornication. The court also gave the nod to what defense lawyers had called the “sleeping embryo” theory: “under some interpretations of Shariah, an embryo can be in gestation for up to five years, meaning that her former husband could have fathered Ms. Lawal’s baby,” according to an article by The New York Times.
Lawal’s freedom from this horrific execution saved Nigeria from what many described as the threat of religious mentalism to global peace.