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Shari'ah on Trial

Northern Nigeria's Islamic Revolution

Sarah Eltantawi (Author)


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In November of 1999, Nigerians took to the streets demanding the re-implementation of shari'ah law in their country. Two years later, many Nigerians supported the death sentence by stoning of a peasant woman for alleged sexual misconduct. Public outcry in the West was met with assurances to the Western public: stoning is not a part of Islam; stoning happens "only in Africa"; reports of stoning are exaggerated by Western sensationalism. However, none of these statements are true.  Shari'ah on Trial goes beyond journalistic headlines and liberal pieties to give a powerful account of how Northern Nigerians reached a point of such desperation that they demanded the return of the strictest possible shari'ah law. Sarah Eltantawi analyzes changing conceptions of Islamic theology and practice as well as Muslim and British interactions dating back to the colonial period to explain the resurgence of shari'ah, with implications for Muslim-majority countries around the world. 
Note on Transliteration
Map of Northern Nigeria


1. A Revolution for Shari?ah
2. Hausaland’s Islamic Modernity
3. Origins of the Stoning Punishment
4. Colonialism: Then and Now
5. The Trial of Amina Lawal
6. Gender and the Western Reaction to the Case

Sarah Eltantawi is Assistant Professor of Comparative Religion at Evergreen State College and an analyst of the Muslim-majority world on major media outlets.
"Shari‘ah on Trial: Northern Nigeria’s Islamic Revolution is an excellent study of Northern Nigeria Sharia politics. It provides a rich analysis not just of the Amina Lawal case but also of the Islamic discursive tradition in Muslim West Africa."—Ousmane Kane, Harvard Divinity Law School American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences
“In this important and timely contribution, Eltantawi carefully attends to the historical context of the Amina Lawal case and impressively presents a set of original contributions to our understanding of contemporary African and Muslim societies and the significance of discursive and practical changes in approaches to Islamic law in this part of the world. This book is a well written, compelling, and insightful monograph with much promise.”—Omid Safi, Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University, and author of The Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam and Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters

Shari'ah on Trial is a notable, memorable, and promising addition to literature in the field of contemporary Islamic studies. It serves to fill a significant geographical gap and excels at linking the historical, legal, and political dimensions of shari'ah law in Nigeria. Eltantawi demonstrates her skills by simultaneously weaving a coherent narrative and putting it in conversation with secondary literature and relevant theories. Even better, she tells a story, thus engaging the reader and opening up possibilities for discussion, which only the best of books will do.”—Juliane Hammer, Associate Professor and Kenan Rifai Scholar of Islamic Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism and Palestinians Born in Exile

"I am impressed with how well the author has nuanced the interpretation of shari'ah in the Nigerian and global contexts in ways that take into consideration the historical, social, and cultural contexts of the institution and its practice. This interpretation displays Eltantawi’s uncommon skill as a deep thinker and her ability to produce a work that is rigorous and original. The work is provocative, creative, and compelling, confronting old orthodoxies with fresh and convincing insights. Eltantawi’s work displays a keen knowledge of the materials and a propensity for building new paradigms in her scholarly field. The book is also significant on several accounts. Firstly, it fills a gap in our knowledge of the centrality of the shari'ah in northern Nigeria’s sociopolitical order. Secondly, it examines the intersection of law, history, and religion in modern Nigeria, and thirdly, its comparative focus enables us to understand the global importance of what may at first look like a local and national phenomenon."—Jacob Olupona, Professor of African Religious Traditions, Harvard Divinity School, and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

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