Stoning in the Islamic Tradition: The Case of Northern Nigeria

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Stoning in the Islamic Tradition: The Case of Northern Nigeria

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Title: Stoning in the Islamic Tradition: The Case of Northern Nigeria
Author: Eltantawi, Sarah
Citation: Eltantawi, Sarah. 2012. Stoning in the Islamic Tradition: The Case of Northern Nigeria. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation asks how it came to be that Amina Lawal, a peasant woman from Northern Nigeria, was sentenced to death by stoning in 2002 for committing the crime of zinā, or illegal sexual activity, three years after full Islamic sharīah penal law began to be implemented there by way of massive grassroots demand. Each chapter examines a factor I deem necessary to explore this question. Drawing on ethnographic evidence gathered during fieldwork in Northern Nigeria, I first examine "sharīah as social text," concluding that sharīah is thought to offer the radical societal ordering and historical and cultural legitimacy necessary to combat the corruption and poverty associated with the Federal State structure. However, the integration of the stoning punishment into the formative period of Islamic law (1st-3rd AH/ 7th-10 CE centuries), taken up in Chapter two, reveals stoning to have presented theological problems, challenging its reception in contemporary Nigeria as a symbol of stability. Chapter three traces the slow integration of Hausaland into a legalistic milieu identified with an eastward Arab-Islamic epistemic tradition by the eighteenth century, culminating in the Sokoto Caliphate's (r. 1809 - 1903) identification with the Mālikī school of Islamic law. The British arrival in the late nineteenth century ended the Caliphate, changed Islamic penal law, and promulgated the "Native Courts Proclamation," which outlawed the stoning punishment despite its absence during the Sokoto Caliphate. This history is often recalled in contemporary Northern Nigeria, but only recently, as the State weakens and the Muslim north loses political power. Chapter four analyzes Lawal's trial as the stage where the boundaries and mandates of post-1999 sharī'ah are delineated. I call several features of legal argumentation endemic of "post-modern Islamic law": legal reductionism, reliance mainly on primary texts, combining Islamic and constitutional arguments, and eschewing the jurisprudential tradition. These factors combine to make it easier (relative to Islamic history) to mete out stoning. Finally, I examine gender and the Western reaction to the case, arguing that these discourses collude to ironically elide the voice of Amina Lawal, Nigerian women more generally, and the stoning punishment per se.
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