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Conference report

Conference on the Sharia Debate and the Shaping of Muslim and Christian Identities in Northern Nigeria
11th – 12th of July, 2003
University of Bayreuth, Germany
Conference report

The conference was part of an interdisciplinary research project funded by Volkswagen Foundation. It brought together some 40 scholars and experts from Africa, Europe and the USA to examine the recent religious, legal, social and political developments in Northern Nigeria. The primary aim of the conference was to offer Nigerian researchers the opportunity to present first results of the ongoing research project. The 18 papers presented focussed on several different subtopics: The Sharia debate itself, its complexity and historical roots; the question of identity shaping; the latest developments of the Islamic law in Nigeria and the creation of new religious cum political institutions; the compatibility of Sharia and human rights; the consequences of the re-implementation of the Islamic law upon specific social groups like Christians or women; and women’s rights under Sharia.

Besides young researchers and scholars from Nigerian Universities (Umar Danfulani, Dauda Abubakar, Sati Fwatshak, Khadija Umar, Gwamna Je’adayibe, Musa Gaiya, Jamila Nasir, and Philip Ostien from the University of Jos and Ibrahim Sada from Ahmadu Bello University), some representatives of influential NGOs (Saudatu Mahdi, Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) and Yusufu Turaki, International Bible Society) offered their points of view concerning the re-implementation of some aspects of the Islamic law in most of the Northern states of Nigeria.  Another Nigerian contributor was Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, an independent scholar (employed by the United Bank for Africa, Lagos) who plays a prominent role in the discussions among Nigeria’s Muslims about Sharia.

Frieder Ludwig (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, USA) opened the conference with his introductory remarks on the Sharia question and the shaping of identities. Musa Gaiya’s contribution reflected the complexity of the current debate on Islamic law in Nigeria. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi communicated some of his critical reflections on the construction of Muslim identities in Northern Nigeria. By her paper on the so-called sleeping pregnancy Anke Bossaller (University of Bayreuth) offered highly interesting insights in the praxis of Islamic law. Saudatu Mahdi, Jamila Nasir, Khadija Umar and Umar Danfulani discussed different aspects of the situation of Muslim women in Northern Nigeria. Gwamna Je’adayibe offered in his paper some of the Christian reactions to the Sharia re-implementation, whereas Dauda Abubakar examined a selection of Muslim responses to this development. Johannes Harnischfeger’s (University of Frankfurt) point of view on land conflicts, ethnic hegemony and Sharia in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, met sharp criticism from parts of the audience. Yusufu Turaki’s approach was centred upon theological questions and the impact of the Sharia debate on the Nigerian democratisation process. Benjamin Soares’ (African Studies Centre, Leiden) contribution, the only paper on a different country, examined the current public debates about law and morality in Mali. An intensively discussed topic among Muslim intellectuals is the question of the compatibility of divine law – the Sharia – and man-made law – particularly Human Rights law. In his presentation Ruud Peters (University of Amsterdam) put this discussion in the Nigerian context. Sati Fwatshak elaborated the development of the so-called hisba-groups – a kind of police force entrusted with the moral supervision of Muslims – in some Northern states of Nigeria. Ibrahim Sada and Philip Ostien discussed the historical development of the Sharia in Nigerian’s Constitution and laws. Ostien’s opinion that Christians’ influence on the national Constitution is at least partially responsible for the current radicalisation of parts of the Muslim population in Nigeria, was not accepted by some conference participants. In general a number of interesting insights emerged from the lively, informative and sometimes provocative debates that followed each presentation. One of the results of the conference is that there are no clear blocks of opinion along confessional lines. The situation is more complex. There are rifts between conservative and liberal Muslims, female and male Muslims etc. The same situation is found amongst the Christians. There is no clearly defined Christian opinion on the Sharia topic in Nigeria. However, the most important result of the conference is the urgent need of further research on this topic on a comparative transnational level. A second conference as part of the ongoing research project will be held next January (14th – 17th) at the University of Jos, Nigeria. It is envisaged that the proceedings of the conference will be published.

The interdisciplinary conference “The Sharia Debate and the Shaping of Muslim and Christian Identities in Northern Nigeria” was organised by Franz Kogelmann. For further details, please contact Franz Kogelmann ( or Philip Ostien (


By Franz Kogelmann

First published in NAB Newsletter of African Studies at Bayreuth University, Vol. II/2 2003, p. 5-6,


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