National Edition

Nigerian lawyer defends human rights of women in West Africa

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

I told them I was a silly lawyer and came to visit with them because they had a knowledge I did not have. We had a long conversation about Sharia and about Islam, about obedience, about morality. ... After we finished they said my (copy) of the Quran was too small, so they gave me a bigger Quran. But most importantly they said to me, "We, publicly, will not support what you are doing, also, publicly, we will not be against you." That was a huge security statement. They toned down their rhetoric and that really helped us. (Our client) was discharged and acquitted.

DN: Most religious traditions have some sort of internal legal system to enforce their moral codes of conduct. But why are some of the punishments in Sharia so extreme — even death?

HI: The strict punishments come from interpretations or translations of the Quran. Maliki is the only school of thought that mentions these harsh punishments. He got his ideas from where he was from ... Mecca and Medina. He never left that area. For example, in Egypt, they have Sharia but they don’t have stoning. The largest Islamic country in the world is Indonesia and they don’t have Sharia. The countries that have stoning are those that have decided to interpret their own systems and cultures and Islam together.

DN: Can an Islamic community in the United States effectively implement Sharia?

HI: They cannot, especially the criminal aspects. The civil aspects they should have the opportunity to practice if it has no conflict with national, civil laws. That would be marriage and custody issues. ... I think people should be allowed to settle those disputes in ways that enhance society and families. But in criminal matters there are certain prohibitions that are in conflict with accepted standards of human rights and dignity.

DN: How do you respond to people who want to ban Sharia in state or federal statutes?

HI: It is redundant. Your constitution has already laid out issues of crime and for that reason the foreign law doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. And the members of a (state) House and Senate have already sworn to uphold their constitutions.

DN: How can you be an advocate for women’s rights and also uphold Islam and Sharia law, which seem at odds with women’s rights?

HI: Because Islam is peace and the bedrock of Islam is justice and fairness. That is why I stand with that aspect of the Quran, for Sharia and for women. Standing up for women is just what Sharia is all about — it’s about justice and fairness.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: deseretbrown

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