Nigeria. Boko Haram should go back to school

Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, believes it sufficient to declare himself a Muslim to know the religion and the law, while it is clear that he should go back to school as quickly as possible. Risen to headline notoriety for the kidnapping and abduction of 223 Christian girls from a college and then forcing them to convert to Islam under threat of selling them as slaves, Shekau violated by his conduct a series of fundamental principles of Islam.

Shekau ignores the Sharia
The first, and most important principle, is expressed in the Qur’an, Sura II, verse 256: ‘la ikrah fi din’, or: there is no compulsion in faith; the divine intolerance for conversions to Islam obtained by means of threat or the use of force is to be noted. This principle is also reflected in Sura X, 99 where it is written: ‘could you force people to be believers in spite of themselves?’. Not content with having violated a clear divine order, Shekau also proves that he does not know the Sharia when he says he acted for the best, by preventing the girls from receiving a corrupt education and, alternatively, stating that the desire of the girls to study legitimises him selling them as slaves to the market.

The pursuit of knowledge is a duty for believers, referred to in at least two hadith: ‘whoever does not seek to know or does not want to impart knowledge will be punished’ and ‘the pursuit of knowledge is an obligation for all Muslims, male and female’. With what greater reason then can those who are not Muslim (like the abducted schoolgirls), seek knowledge where they see fit, and also frequent  schools and educational institutions not characterized by Islamic religious instruction. From where Shekau draws the belief that he can deny a non-Muslim the right to an education is unknown, since the sources in general, and in particular Maliki jurisprudence, do not mention it.

Slavery in Islamic Law
Worst still is the illogical conclusion that Shekau draws from the research on education, that is, the possibility of reducing a human being who is born free to slavery. Aside from the fact that the entire text of the Qur’an is oriented in favor of the recognition of the status libertatis to all individuals – so much so that the liberation of a slave falls among the recommended acts that a Muslim may perform to atone for his own sin in God’s eyes – Shekau is evidently unaware that slavery, not being a mandatory institution, was repealed in the mid-nineteenth century, even with fatwas certifying the legality of the prohibition of the reduction to slavery. However, even assuming that slavery has not been abolished throughout the entire Islamic world for over a century and a half, and that therefore it is still in force as a legal institution governed by Sharia law, it is clear that Shekau has not studied the conditions under which a a free man or woman could be reduced to slavery: to an unbeliever (in this case, the Christian girls), the only hypothesis accepted is slavery as a result of capture as spoils of war.

Boko Haram Jihad
One may then ask whether Boko Haram is at war and against whom. Shekau claims to be at war with the corrupt Nigerian authorities who do not allow the application of the Sharia. Apart from the fact that this is not true – since in the state of Borno, where the Boko Haram group is active and has kidnapped the girls, the Sharia is applied both in personal statute and in criminal law – we have to consider that the term jihad, used with impunity by Shekau to justify his actions, refers to a very precise notion already developed by the doctors of law in the first centuries of Islam.
The jihad is an obligation that rests on the community collectively, unless it is facing an armed attack by the enemy, in which case the obligation also becomes individual. Given that to order the jihad of aggression, the Sharia requires that one must fulfill the role of leader (caliph or imam) of the Community, since the war imposes human and economic costs that require the clear identification of a person invested with the enormous responsibility of responding to the loss of others’ lives, it is clear that Shekau completely lacks the legal standing to act, and that therefore the enslavement of the girls is unlawful.
The question remains: why ever do those in the Islamic world who would have the moral and legal authority to challenge the legality of the actions of Shekau remain silent or adopt an overly cautious attitude? I can not answer the question, but it is certain that in this way they serve the cause of a common criminal, betraying the highest values of Islam and the Sharia.

Deborah Scholart
A researcher at the Department of Muslim Law and Islamic countries, University of Rome (Italy).


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