Five Anglicans—two priests and three laymen—will appear in court in northern Nigeria this month charged with abducting two teenage sisters who were going to be forced into arranged Muslim marriages in an area of the country which applies strict Islamic law.

The two priests, Canon Musa Harunat and Isiya Idi, and three laymen, who have been detained for various periods in police cells in connection with the charges, claim that the girls are practicing Christians who sought shelter in their church.

Abduction carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison under Nigerian civilian law.

Bishop Zakka Nyam of Kano said that the court case was proof that Shari'ah (Muslim) law—officially separate from civil law in northern Nigeria—was filtering into the legislature as a result of pressure from Muslim extremists. "Shari'ah is spreading everywhere," Bishop Nyam said. "Life here is increasingly like living under a jihad [a holy war by Muslims against unbelievers]."

Kano is one of nine northern Nigerian states that, since the advent of civilian rule in Nigeria in 1999, have invoked their constitutional right to put into practice the strict sacred law of Islam embracing all aspects of a Muslim's life. Prostitution, gambling and alcohol have been banned, and thieves can be taken before an Islamic court and sentenced to amputation.

In Shari'ah states, Muslim vigilante groups known as hisba operate alongside the national police force.

Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim. But populous states such as Kano—whose capital, also called Kano, is the third-biggest city in the country—have significant Christian communities. The city has about 20,000 Anglican residents who claim that Shari'ah is encroaching more and more on their lives.

Idi said that the two teenagers, Rekya and Dije Garba Chiroma, who are now 16 and 17 years old, were practicing Christians in the town of Tudun Wada, northwest of Kano. Four years ago, their father, who had been an animist all his life, converted to Islam and insisted that the girls, then 12 and 13, do the same so that Muslim husbands could be found for them. When they refused, their uncle took them to the district headman and imam. They were allegedly kept at the headman's house for six days and told they were possessed by spirits.

They escaped and were taken by one of the laymen now facing charges to a parish church in Tudun Wada. Soon afterwards, according to Idi and Canon Haruna, the two sisters were sent to the house of one of their aunts.

On February 27, the day before the Anglicans first appeared in the magistrate's court, Rekya went to the police. But they handed her over to her father. Dije left her aunt's house, but her whereabouts are unknown.

The five Anglicans will come before the Gyade-Gyade Magistrate's Court on May 17.

Bishop Nyam told ENI: "Islamic law is becoming a real test to us, and Christians in the area are becoming frightened. I have tried to see the state governor, without success. My only hope now is to write to the Emir of Kano, Al Hadj Doctor Ado Bayero."

Related Elsewhere

Recent Christianity Today articles on Nigeria include:
'Come and Receive Your Miracle' | German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke's mass healings and evangelistic crusades are setting records, but career missionaries say the quality of disciples, not the quantity of the crowd, is the key to reaching Nigerians. (Feb. 2, 2001)

The Shari'ah Threat | Muslim Fundamentalist law troubles Christians and some Muslims. (Feb. 2, 2001)

Facing the Smiles | Visiting Nigeria taught me as much about the despair in my own soul as it did the soul of this country. (Feb. 2, 2001)

'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's Churches Considering Legal Challenge to Islamic Laws | Third state moving toward implementing Koranic laws (Dec. 17, 1999)

Nigeria On the Brink of Religious War | Northern states adopt Islamic law, increasing Christian-Muslim tensions. (Dec. 16, 1999)

Can Christianity and Islam Coexist and Prosper? | Is peace with Islam possible? (Oct. 25, 1999)