On Thursday, a young woman named Deborah Yakubu was lynched and murdered in Sokoto, Nigeria. She was burnt to death because she allegedly spoke disparagingly about the Islamic prophet. Muslims in northern Nigeria frequently lynch people over allegations of blasphemy
This has reignited a conversation in Nigeria about rule of law, which law is supreme and the cause of this recurring behaviour.
The issues of rule of law and which law is supreme are linked and clear. Nigeria is a secular country which allows customary law in certain matters. Since Islam is the culture of the Muslim north, Sharia is the customary law that is allowed, mostly in personal matters. Also, where the secular law conflicts with Shariah, the secular law prevails. This is the theory. In practice, because we have a weak government, the government often does nothing when the secular law is ignored. I hope in the case of Deborah, it will not do nothing. The police have already arrested some of the perpetrators and I hope they get punished.
There are many explanations for what the cause of the continuing violence is. However, some Christians have fingered Islam as violent (unlike Christianity). They even say that all Muslims are at their core, violent haters of Christians waiting for an opportunity to kill Christians. Tangentially, these people question why religion or God, or his prophet should require defense from blasphemy. I have usually been irritated at the allegation that Islam is violent while Christianity is not, because history says otherwise. However, thinking about it after reading accounts of violence suffered, I cannot really blame Christians and southerners if they think so because their experience is their reality. They do not care about history even if they know it (and most of them do not, including people who supposedly have PhDs). The statement about God/religion not needing defense is also ignorant of 2 things - the 1st being circumstances and the 2nd being logic. The ignorance about circumstance is that Islam gained political power quickly, meaning it had force at its disposal. Any group that has hard power will use it and that will infuse its culture. Christianity did not get power until 300 years after its founding. Given that it had to tread carefully for that long means that its earliest culture had to be peaceful and conciliatory. It would have been stupid to be otherwise with the Romans. Those guys did not fuck around. So, that the earliest Christian texts are all about peace and love is just pragmatism and not evidence of a peaceful God. In the same way, the earliest Qur’anic verses were all peaceful because they were allegedly revealed when the prophet was weak and powerless in Makkah. When he got power in Madinah, the more belligerent verses started coming. The same way that Christians terrorized everyone around them after they got Constantine's backing. The ignorance about logic is that if God does not need human defense, what is the impetus for proselytization? If God can defend his religion, then he can also spread it without needing evangelists.
In relation to the peaceful message of the New Testament and the aggressive one of the Quran, the criticism from Christians is why is Islam not like Christianity? And the response is "why should it be?" Christianity is not the archetype for all religions. Muslims believe their religion is true, so conforming with Christian expectations is not (or ought not to be) even on their radar. And so, I get irritated when I see Muslims going on about how Islam is peaceful, or it does not allow violence in its name. Granted, there can be opinions and interpretations, but given what the Quran says and what the prophet did, anyone who says Islam is all about peace is clearly delusional. I am not advocating for Muslim violence here, I am just pursuing religious logic, which is particularly stringent in Islam. If I believe that God has approved something, there is no reason why I will want to soften it to align with current sensibilities. Or rather, the only reason why I would soften it is because the damage to me (probably from an effective secular or non-Muslim government) will be severe. And this is a point I have been trying to make some Christians understand. The violence in Islam is because our governments are weak. In Muslim majority places (all over the world), secular governments are not even seen as particularly legitimate. This is a view I understand. Secularity is a product of the Christian environment. Its laws were initially based on either Christian law, Roman law or some other western law. Why then, should Islam subject itself to non-Islamic based laws? And while I lean towards the secular, I have not figured out a good rebuttal to this objection. In any case, those Muslims going on about how Islam is really about peace live in western societies where they risk deportation if they said otherwise. It is the same way that Buddhism is seen as peaceful yet it is currently terrorizing Muslims in Myanmar and it was a terror in Tibet until China took over.
An argument that Muslims often make is that since it is known that slurs against the prophet will be met with violence, why can’t people desist? The response is “freedom of speech.” The only thing I can say to this is that if pursuit of that principle is worth one’s life, then go ahead. And face the consequences. I support freedom of speech, but I do not support stupidity. I am not a free speech absolutist. There is also the view that the needs of the many (in this case communal peace) outweigh the wants of the few (free speech absolutists). I know this is not a particularly good argument. But it is a pragmatic one.
Nigeria’s ethno-religious divide is a huge problem. If the country is to remain united, it has to be tackled by force. The government must crush Muslim stubbornness. It must also be sensitive to Muslim concerns. If there can be laws in Europe against denying the Holocaust, effectively restricting speech, then there is precedent for accommodating Muslim concerns.