In a case that will test the authority of Islamic religious law in Africa’s most populous nation, a Nigerian court on Thursday deferred ruling on a challenge to sharia law in the predominantly Muslim northern state of Kano.
The Nigerian constitution is religiously neutral. The nation is divided between a predominantly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north. Kano is among the leading states that implement sharia law, including the death sentence for blasphemy.
Yahaya Aminu Sharif, a 22-year-old musician, was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2020, while a 17-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in prison. International outrage resulted in the secular arm of the state’s highest court releasing the youngster but ordering Sharif’s retrial.
Sharif’s attorney Kola Alapinni requested the court to declare the sharia criminal code unconstitutional and release the singer during a brief session.
Sharif was absent from the court session. Alapinni stated that he is being held in a prison outside of Kano for his protection after protestors demolished his home and forced his family to escape last year.
Police cordoned off the courthouse and kept a significant presence along the main route leading to the court.
State prosecutors from Kano asked the court to reject the appeal and uphold the High Court’s order to retry the defendant. They argued that “nothing in the implementation of the sharia penal law violates the spirit of the constitution.”
Three judges heard the matter and stated that a decision would be rendered by October.
In a country of over 200 million people, religious tensions are rampant and frequently turn violent as some resort to mob rule.