Sharia court ruling on blasphemy stokes controversy among Islamic scholars

THE furore generated by the death sentence passed on Islamic singer, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu by a Kano State-based Sharia court may not abate anytime soon, as mixed reactions continue to trail the controversial judgement.

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, a Kano based Islamic singer was sentenced to death by hanging on August 10, by an upper Sharia court sitting in Hausawa Filin Hockey area of Kano State over a song he composed which has been described by critics as “blasphemous”.

The song which was circulated in March via WhatsApp is believed to have eulogised an imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood and elevated him higher than Prophet Muhammad.

Until the “blasphemous” song was released, Yahaya was relatively unknown and his songs were not popular outside his Tjjanniya sect.

He went into hiding after the song was released as protesters burnt down his family home and started mass demonstrations at the headquarters of the Islamic police, Hisbah in Kano State, calling for his arrest, prompting his arrest and subsequent arraignment before a Sharia court.

However, at the ruling of the Sharia court, Yahaya did not deny the charges as the presiding judge, Khadi Aliyu Muhammad Kani also said he could appeal against the verdict in one month.

His conviction is the second death sentence to be passed for blasphemy Sharia law was adopted by 12 States into the Nigerian legal system to run parallel to the state and federal justice system. 

Sections 275–279 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution give States the power to establish their own Sharia courts of appeal which handles both civil and criminal matters involving Muslims but its judgements can also be challenged in Nigeria’s secular Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Twelve States namely Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Kebbi, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Kaduna and Gombe continue to operate the Sharia system of justice.

If a case involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim can choose where his case can be tried but the Sharia court can hear a case of a non-Muslim if there is written consent.

However, controversy still trails the decision of the Sharia court while human rights group have criticised the ruling of the court, as Abdullahi Ganduje, Governor of Kano State leads the charge to sign the death warrant if Yahaya Sharif fails to appeal the court verdict before September 10.

Are Islamic blasphemy offences worthy of a death sentence?

Since the adoption of the Sharia law into law by 12 States in the country since 2001, various sentences handed down by the Sharia courts have included floggings, amputations and the death penalty.

Abdul Inyass, a Sufi Muslim cleric, was among the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy by a Kano Sharia court in 2015.  

Also a member of the Tijjaniyya Sufi order was alleged to have made derogatory remarks against the Prophet before a gathering of disciples as they marked the birthday of a former leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, Ibrahim Inyass.  

Speaking to The ICIR, Saheed Olurotimi Timehin, an Ahmadi sect scholar and the National Preaching Coordinator of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at, affirmed that there is no single verse of the Qur’an or Hadith of the prophet Muhammad (SAW) that prescribes any punishment for blasphemy. 

“Some have equated it with treason and say the only punishment is death in the case of Kano State. They have given the ruling that the young man should be hung or should die by hanging.

“Beloved Brethren, it is necessary to assert that there is no single verse of the Quran that supports death sentence on somebody who vilifies the personality of the Prophet SAW or who abuses him,” he said.

The Ahmadiyyah sect believes that Islam is the final dispensation for humanity as revealed to Muhammad and the necessity of restoring it to its true intent and pristine form.

Olurotimi argues that “the interpretive reasoning of some Scholars or a global Council of Scholars cannot legalize something that the prophets (SAW) did not legalise.

The Imam of White House central mosque also shares a similar view on the non-existence of any evidence in the Qur’an and Hadith over any punishment for whoever blasphemes Allah or Prophet Muhammad. 

“After putting together the verses, the history and others. My view is that we can not find any verse or Hadith of the Holy prophet that actually criminalises blasphemy the mistake is that we are confusing the sin and the crime, there is difference between both,” he said. 

Abdul Razaq added that “blasphemy is just like an insult, I mean when you insult a sacred being, or a sacrilegious assertion concerning sacred things, human beings or places. 

“We need to read through the judgement, apart from the report (which may be biased sometimes),  we need to raise some issues concerning that judgement…There is no judgement in the Qur’an and the hadith for a blasphemer.

“So the judgment has been ruled according to the law, we then need to look at the law and call for its amendment,” he said.

Dr. Adeoye also shares a similar view with the Ahmadiyya scholar on the non-existence of any evidence in the Qur’an and Hadith over any punishment for whoever blasphemes Allah or Prophet Muhammad. 

“After putting together the verses, the history and others, my view is that we can not find any verse or Hadith of the Holy prophet that actually criminalises the blasphemy only that the mistake is that we are confusing the sin and the crime, you see there is difference between both”. 

Quoting from Qur’an Suratul Al Nisa verse 140, AbdulRazaq explained that “Allah says it has been revealed to you in the book that whenever you hear people; they are disbelieving with our verses or making jest of it, don’t sit with them until they start another conversation. So if you sit with them you have become part of them. And Allah will surely put the Munafiqun (Hypocrites) and the Kafirun (disbelievers) in the hellfire.

Abdul Razak defended his position again from Surah Al-Tauba verse 65 and 66 where he explained that during the life of Prophet Muhammad, “ these people, of which the head of them is Abdullahi Ubay bn Salul, they gathered together to make jest of the prophet saying he’s a liar”. 

“Allah now told the prophet that if you ask them, they will tell you that they are not serious about it that they are just making conversation and we are playing, Allah now say tell them, is it with Allah and his signs, verses and prophets you are just insulting and making jest of them? Don’t give any excuse, you have disbelieved after you have believed. If we now pardon some of you, Allah now says, we will definitely punish some of you because they are criminals”. 

While he is indifferent with the judgement, he grudged on the provision of the law that pronounced death for a blaspheme. 

“We need to read through the judgement, apart from the report (which may be biased sometimes),  we need to raise some issues concerning that judgement. We also need to appreciate the northern state for upholding shariah in Nigeria. 

“Even the non-muslims are not saying anything against that judgement. If it is Sharia, they are in Support, Personally, iI didn’t have any issue with the judgement but I have an issue with the law because of no judgement without the law. With what I have said earlier that there is no judgement in the Qur’an and the hadith for a blasphemer. So the judgment has been ruled according to the law, we then need to look at the law and call for its amendment”.

Adam Raji, the Chief Imam of Al-Khaliq central mosque and a member of Quadiriya sect, Okota Lagos, also align in his opinion with other ulama’a who registered that no Quranic and Hadith injunctions pronounced killing for blasphemy. 

“The issue is a little bit controversial. In the south-west Zone, we have so many verses of Al-Qur’an which we believe should be the primary source for anything that has to do about Islam” Imam Raji had said in an interview with The ICIR

However, Sheikh Salaudeen Busari, the secretary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Oyo state, took an opposite view on blasphemy, saying that the judgement is fair and appropriate. 

“Many people are misconstruing the verdict. It is a murder, the only thing that can rescue the situation is when the case has never been passed. Though naturally there’s no appeal against Allah’s verdict but with human intervention if anything could be done at the Shariah court of appeal. But nobody  that blasphemed against the holiness

“Allah talks about it in Quran chapter 5 and at the same time Qur’an chapter 8. With that, it is a capital offence that attracts capital punishment unless prerogative of mercy from the entire community which can be done by the governor representing the authority”.

“Poet that satirised the prophet. He wrote another stanza to beg for leniency for forgiveness and the prophet was recorded to forgive”

“That is a historical fact. People talking that there’s no provision for it in the Qur’an or hadith, they know little about anything to that. 

Qur’an chapter 4 vs 115 and Quran Chapter 8 vs 13 those are places Allah talked about the leadership of Prophet Muhammad SAW which every Muslim should be very careful in committing because once you commit it, you are no more withing the face of Islam.

He added that if this one is allowed to go scot-free, it can always be detrimental to the sacredness of Islam and the Muslim community, people can also lay emphasis such that, by virtue of that, it is a deterrent for whoever is nurturing that kind of negative idea.

Sharia law in Nigeria

As Yahaya faces the hangman’s noose if he doesn’t appeal the court’s verdict, there are calls within the predominantly Muslims in Northern Nigeria for Yahaya’s head.

Bashir Ahmad, President Buhari’s Personal Assistant had in a 2015 tweet in the wake of the Sharif sentencing stated that he “ can’t pretend or keep silent. I support the death penalty,”

In a NewYork Times report, Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was reported to have made a blasphemous post on his Facebook page on April 25, 2020, where he called  Prophet Muhammad a terrorist. 

Three days later, he was arrested in Kano by the state police after being accused of violating anti-blasphemy laws, which can carry a death sentence. He has not been seen since then.

NYT also added that Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prize-winning writer wrote that Mr. Bala’s arrest was part of a “plague of religious extremism” that has in recent decades encroached on the harmonious Nigeria he grew up in.

The ICIR gathered that Bala is believed to be the first atheist arrested in Nigeria for blasphemy but he is yet to be officially charged with any crime. 

What sharia has been silent about

In a comment quoted by BBC made by the focal proponent of Sharia law in northern Nigeria, Ahmed Sani, the former governor of Zamfara state, in the year 2000, while responding to the wider of Sharia, he said: “There’ll be no stealing or corruption, and people’s mental and spiritual wellbeing is going to be encouraged.”

However, no dust was raised by the shariah ruling while a series of videos captured by Daily Nigerian where  Abdullahi Ganduje, the Kano State Governor,  collecting money- kickbacks- from a contractor.

The same governor has vowed to sign the death warrant for the execution of Yahaya Sharif if convicted of blasphemy.

Ganduje said he will only fail to do so if the man appeals up to the Supreme Court and wins.

“I will not waste time in signing the warrant for the execution of the man who blasphemed our holy prophet of Islam,” the governor said Thursday during a meeting with clerics in Kano.



    While Qur’an Chapter 5 verse 90 advised Muslim not to gamble and get intoxicated,  drug abuse, especially abuse of codeine and tramadol, is one of the challenges that threaten the future of northern Nigeria. 

    The Nigerian senate in October 2017 had raised the alarm that the 19 Northern states of the federation were under serious threat due to drug abuse and estimated that about 3 million bottles of codeine are consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa states alone.  

    The former Director-General of NDLEA stressed that about 7 out of 10 youths in Kano state are involved in drug abuse. Though debatable, these figures point to the widely accepted fact that there is an alarming rate of drug abuse, particularly of codeine and tramadol, in Northern Nigeria and Sharia rulings have been less reported on this case study.  

    According to an ICIR investigation published in 2016, drug abuse is destroying an entire generation of women in the region, but proponents of Sharia law has been silent about it. 

    Samad Uthman is a multimedia journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting. He tweets @sarmerdk2 and can be shot through [email protected]

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