Written by Victoria Lewis
In 2002, a young Nigerian woman found herself sentenced to death by stoning due to having a child out of wedlock. Her name is Amina Lawal, and she was a 30-year-old divorcee who lived in Katsina, a Northern state in Nigeria at the time. The charges against the father of the child were dropped after he denied having sexual relations with her. With the help of human rights and women’s organisations, Amina appealed her death sentence and the charges were eventually revoked.
Stoning was her punishment under Sharia law, which is the traditional law outlining how Muslims should live their lives according to fundamental interpretations of Islam. Despite its violence, this punishment is not uncommon, as stoning and amputation are normal sentences for Sharia law violators. Amina’s story brought Sharia law to the forefront of international news, leading to human rights activists protesting the legal system on the platform that it fails to protect men, women, Muslims, and non-Muslims equally.
Created on the basis of teachings from the Koran, the Islamic holy book, and the prophet Mohammad, the law includes stipulations such as modest dress for both men and women, prohibition of the consumption of alcohol, and required prayer five times daily. However, the strictness of the implementation of Sharia Law varies between Muslim societies.
In September of 1999, several states in Nigeria began to adopt a strict interpretation of Sharia law. This new implementation promoted segregation of sexes and traditional violent punishments. Critics of the law say it favors men.
Under Sharia restriction, women have been banned from working outside the home, and from sharing taxis or buses with men. Fornication outside of marriage is also punishable by stoning.
According to a Human Rights Watch report in 2002, a woman’s testimony in a Sharia court is worth half that of a man’s in Saudi Arabia. If a woman is raped, it is highly likely that she’ll be charged with the Zina (fornication) in Pakistan. Her chances of being charged with Zina are especially high if she becomes pregnant. To prove a rape, the woman must provide four witnesses, which is usually nearly impossible to do.
Societies that follow strict Sharia law present an immediate danger to women’s rights, and Amina is not the only one who has been affected by its implementation. Human rights and women’s organisations around the world have advocated for Sharia law to be interpreted in a way that upholds human rights standards. Fair treatment of women has not been fully achieved across the world, and Sharia law is just one example of this. Through stories such as Amina’s, it is learned how far women’s rights have come in many countries across the world, yet how far it still needs to go.
Read about the Amina Lawal case in an article published in The Guardian.