Christians Fear Expansion of Shari’a

19th August 2003

(Barnabas Fund) -- Christians have reacted with concern to calls for the
adoption of elements of shari’a which threaten Senegal’s traditional 
religious toleration and secular constitution.

A group called the Islamic Committee for Family Law Reform have published a plan 
entitled “Personal Statute Code for Muslims”, which has been entirely inspired 
by shari’a (Islamic law). They wish to see parliament adopt this as the family 
code for Muslims, but leaving Christians under the existing jurisdiction.

While this seems to be a fairly harmless request, it is likely to be followed by 
further requests for change until full shari’a has been adopted in Senegal. In 
March 2000 a French diplomat posted in Dakar commented “Whereas the official 
Islam under the control of the brotherhoods has always been loyal to the state, 
a more aggressive Islam generously funded by Libyan and Saudi groups can be seen 
growing up alongside, which refuses to respect Senegalese secularity… in ten or 
fifteen years Senegal will become the first Islamic Republic in Black Africa”. 
In the same year, during his inauguration speech, President Abdoulaye Wade 
vowed to make Senegal 100% Muslim within three years.

Christians in Senegal worry that they may be witnessing the first indications of 
the creeping growth of shari’a, whose gradual expansion in countries like 
Pakistan and Nigeria has brought much suffering for religious minorities whose 
rights and freedoms have been reduced.

Pakistan was created, in the words of founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, with “no 
discrimination between one caste or creed or another”. After Jinnah’s death 
Islamisation of the country began. Within six months an “Objectives Resolution” 
was passed which assured “principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance 
and social justice, as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed”. Later in 
1979 shari’a benches in the superior courts were created and in 1980 a Federal 
Shari’a Court was established. That same year saw Hudood Ordinances being put 
into effect, i.e. shari’a punishments for theft (amputation) and adultery 
(stoning) were enforced.  In June 2003 full shari’a was finally adopted in the 
North-West Frontier Province, and it seems as if Baluchistan may follow suit. 
Having established itself firmly at provincial level, Majlis-i-Amal, the party 
that has been pushing for full shari’a, now has significant influence at 
national level.

In Nigeria shari’a has now been adopted by the twelve most northerly 
predominantly Muslim states. However with this clear Islamisation of the North, 
some Muslim leaders are now calling for shari’a to be applied (supposedly only 
to Muslims, though the practice is always different) in other states across the 
whole nation, even in the predominantly Christian South. Prior to these demands 
Christians in the South were at least able to reassure themselves that it was an 
exclusively northern issue. Anti-Western and anti-Christian violence has become 
increasingly widespread in Nigeria as a result of the tensions provoked by the 
calls for the adoption of shari’a.

It is noteworthy that recent years have seen several attacks upon Christians and 
churches in Senegal, a hitherto religiously stable country. A particularly 
serious attack occurred on 26 May of last year. A Muslim mob led by a local 
politician stormed a church, drove out the Christians with knives and stones, 
and then refused to leave the building.

Pray that politicians will be wise as they consider the prospect of a separate 
family-law code for Muslims. 

Pray that Muslims and Christians will continue to live peacefully alongside each 
other with mutual respect for the others’ rights.

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