The northern Nigerian state of Gombe has set up an inter-religious council following clashes last week between Christians and Muslims that left at least ten people dead and caused millions of dollars of damage to property.The state governor, Abubakar Habu Hashidu, set up the committee on September 8 after consulting Muslim and Christian leaders in the state. He said that the council would be formally inaugurated on September 16.The clashes between Christians and Muslims, which broke out on September 7 in the town of Kaltunga, and spread to the towns of Billiri and Bambam within two days, follow the decision in July by Gombe's state government to introduce shari'a, the Islamic legal code. Christian leaders in Gombe state had previously warned the state government that they would refuse to accept the Islamic legal system. More than 75 percent of the state's population of 2.7 million are Christian.Christians maintain that the introduction of shari'a will make it impossible for them to practice their religion. They claim the law would:
- Prevent the teaching of Christianity in public schools.
- Prevent Christians from building new churches and enable Muslims to force existing churches in towns in Gombe to be relocated.
- Discriminate against Christians in public service, as shari'a forbids non-Muslims from having authority over Muslims.
- Mean that single mothers are considered as prostitutes.
- Prevent women from travelling in the same vehicles as their husbands, even to attend church.
- Introduce draconian penalties, such as the cutting off of a hand for those guilty of theft, and death by stoning for those who commit adultery. Christians believe that such penalties are not in keeping with the biblical requirements of compassion and forgiveness.