Although Christians in southern Nigeria have welcomed German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke with open arms, Muslim militants in the north have threatened to murder him. It is no idle threat. Ten years ago, the northern chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) invited Bonnke to preach in Kano, a northern state. Before he could step off his plane, however, Muslim crowds began to riot. Hundreds of people died, and Bonnke could not return to the nation until Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, became president in 1999.

Coming with a rise of Muslim fundamentalism is the introduction of Shari'ah, or Islamic law, which is stoking new tensions in the volatile region. Used in varying degrees in Muslim-majority countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran, Shari'ah has been adopted by 12 states in northern Nigeria during the last two years. Under the code, apostates may be beheaded and thieves may have their hands chopped off. Women must cover their heads, and no one may sell alcoholic beverages.

Many Nigerian Muslims support Shari'ah, believing it will bring order to their corrupt society. "Armed robbery, gambling, and prostitution would stop if Shari'ah came to Lagos," said Mohammed Babangida, a moneychanger in this southern city.

Others, however, disagree. Musibaw Aremu is a Christian convert from Islam who also lives in Lagos. "[Speaking] as a Christian, we don't want it," he said of Shari'ah. "[Even] educated Muslims say they don't want it, because one's arm could get chopped off."

Non-Muslims doubt state government assurances that Shari'ah will only be imposed on Muslims. One is John Onaiyekan, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. "Our problem is not with Shari'ah law but with Shari'ah law as a state legislation," Onaiyekan told CT. "When it becomes the law of the land and is administered by public funds, it's impossible to limit its application to Muslims alone."

The mere proposal to implement Shari'ah has sparked violence in some areas. Last year, for example, a Southern Baptist seminary in northern Kaduna state burned to the ground during riots between Christians and Muslims. Eleven people were killed when a mob overran the campus in February. About 800 people died and 900 churches were destroyed in Shari'ah-related violence in Kaduna last year.

Scott Ennis, an Assemblies of God missionary in Jos, says that seven of the denomination's churches burned and that 11 church members died in the fires. Despite the violence, Ennis says, 300 adults were converted last summer when a church opened in Kano.

While Ennis believes Shari'ah will continue to cause problems, he perseveres. "I think it's going to be a divisive factor, but we're going to keep planting churches," Ennis said. "We have no intentions of stopping, but I can't tell the future."

Related Elsewhere

Today's related stories on Nigeria include "'Come and Receive Your Miracle'" and "Facing the Smiles." covered Bonnke's decision to defy militant Muslims' threats and return to Nigeria. Snipers, reportedly planning to assassinate Bonnke, were arrested at his May 2000 crusade in Khartoum, Sudan.

Nigeria's president—a Christian—has tried repeatedly to unite Muslims and Christians to bring moral order to their country.

Previous Christianity Today coverage of religious tensions in Nigeria includes:

'Focused, Determined, Deliberate' Destruction | Ecumenical leader calls on Nigeria to deal with religious violence between Muslims and Christians. (Oct. 30, 2000)
Is Nigeria Moving Toward War? | Deadly riots lead to suspension of Islamic law. (March 31, 2000)
Nigeria On the Brink of Religious War | Northern states adopt Islamic law, increasing Christian-Muslim tensions. (Dec. 16, 1999)
Nigeria's Churches Considering Legal Challenge to Islamic Laws | Third state moving toward implementing Koranic laws (Dec. 17, 1999)
Can Christianity and Islam Coexist and Prosper? | Is peace with Islam possible? (Oct. 25, 1999)

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.