Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics


In making provision for Sharí'ah personal law in the administration of justice in north Nigeria, the new British colonial authorities agreed to a policy of "open borders" of power sharing with the Muslim leaders. It prevented the secular monopoly of power and produced a hybrid legal tradition combining African customary law, English common law, and Sharí'ah law to set up a vibrant civil society that welcomed new ideas and influences. It resulted in a reduced, modified role for the state in Muslim religious and social life.

Following national independence in 1960, this colonial concordat came under increasing scrutiny, with mounting demands by fundamentalists for Sharí'ah criminal law as part of the federal constitution. A Sharí'ah state would provide immunity for the divine law and stem the onrush of the West's secular fundamentalism. Twelve of the thirty six states in the predominantly Muslim north eventually adopted Sharí'ah. Moderate Muslim opponents, however, protested the move, arguing that, far from granting immunity to God's truth, and against its Western foe, a Sharí'ah state amounts to double jeopardy in the sense of secular breach (or takeover) of sacred truth and a diminished role for civil society. Both secularism and theocracy show the flip-flop role of the state, now as friend and now as Page  204foe of religion, leaving the moderate position of pragmatic, unmeddlesome secularism as a plausible third way of dialogue and encounter. That, in brief, is the central thrust of this chapter.