More than 2,000 Nigerians died last year in violent outbreaks between Christians and Muslims. The flash point has been the adoption and implementation of Shari'ah (Islamic law) in northern Nigeria, where Muslims predominate in 11 states.

The September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States further inflamed tensions in Africa's most populous nation, according to local Christian leaders.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, accused Muslim leaders of politicizing religion. "Unnecessary emphasis is being placed on religion and Shari'ah," Obasanjo said in an Internet chat room. "They bring religion to the arena of politics."

Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, president of the Supreme Council on Shari'ah in Nigeria, disagreed. He said existing national policies are part of a "grand design to frustrate the legitimate desire of Muslims in Nigeria to demo-cratically expand the scope of the application of the Shari'ah."

Nigerians have taken the dispute to the streets. In Kaduna state, 1,200 people died in rioting last February and May. In Jos, situated in the mostly Christian Plateau state, at least 500 died in September fighting. The violence erupted on September 7 when a Christian woman attempted to cross a street barricaded during a time of Muslim prayer. Eleven more people died on November 2 in Kaduna state after authorities adopted Shari'ah in Muslim-majority areas.

Chuka Ekemam, a bishop of the 2.3 million-member African Methodist Episcopal Church, is among Christian leaders who say they have not given up hope. "Our faith notwithstanding, the church believes that God did not make a mistake by putting Muslims and Christians together in Nigeria," Ekemam says. "We all can coexist. We can tolerate each other. We can respect each ...

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