Published online by Guardian Newspaper (June 12, 2015)
On February 7 2008, Dr. Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of
Canterbury gave a lecture to the Temple Foundation at the Royal Courts
of Justice (in United Kingdom) on the subject of “Civil and Religious
Law in England: a religious perspective”.
He raised the question of conflicting loyalties which communities
might have; cultural, religious and civic. He also argued that theology
has a place in debates about the very nature of law as “supplementary
jurisdictions” to that of the civil law noting that “the issues that
arise around what level of public or legal recognition, if any, might be
allowed to the legal provisions of a religious group, are not peculiar
to Islam: while the law of the Church of England is the law of the land,
its daily operation is in the hands of authorities to whom considerable
independence is granted.”
Dr. Williams looks at some misconceptions about the nature and claims
of Shari’ah, including the fact that even in predominantly Muslim
states there is some recognition of the Muslim’s “dual identity, as
citizen, and as believer within the community of the faithful”. “Shari’ah is not intrinsically to do with any demand for Muslim
dominance over non-Muslims. Many Muslim jurists recognize a degree of
political plurality as consistent with Muslim integrity.
There is a recognition that our social identities are not constituted
by one exclusive set of relations or mode of belonging” – either purely
secular or purely religious. The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the
religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the ummah
or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that
participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of
betrayal. It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of
defining public and political identity.” The archbishop’s remarks were
critically interpreted as proposing a parallel jurisdiction to the civil
law for Muslims’ Shari’ah and were the subject of demands for his
In response, Williams stated in a BBC interview that “certain
provision(s) of Shari’ah are already recognized in our society and under
our law….”Williams’s position received more support from the legal
community, following a speech given on 4th July 2008 by Lord Phillips,
the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
He supported the idea that Shari’ah could be reasonably employed as a
basis for “mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution”.
He went further to defend the position Williams had taken earlier in
the year, explaining that “It was not very radical to advocate embracing
Shari’ah law in the context of family disputes, for example, and our
system already goes a long way towards accommodating the archbishop’s
suggestion.”; and that “It is possible in this country for those who are
entering into a contractual agreement to agree that the agreement shall
be governed by a law other than English law.”
The import of this article is not about the personality of Rowan
Williams as a notable clergyman or about the position of Lord Phillips
as an eminent jurist; it is about the institution which both of them
represents – member of former British Empire.
Both remarks expressed sharp paradigm shift in history within the
last one century about the role the British colonialists played in
abolishing Shari’ah practice in Yorubaland through indirect rule in 1914
and the subsequent adoption of aspect of Shari’ah in 2014 under
guidelines for solicitors by The Law Society.
The spread of Islam to Yorubaland was accompanied by the institution
of Shari’ah(the Islamic law), and Muslims in the area applied it,
alongside the Customary Law during the pre-colonial period before its
abolition by the colonial government.
British colonialists, during the colonial era, used their authority
to replace Shari’ah with Common Law through Indirect Rule. It identified
that Shari’ah issue is contentious because of general misunderstanding
and misconceptions of its origin, tenets and practices. Shari’ahen
compasses all spheres of human life. It is not confined to legal
It is the conglomeration of politics, economy, administration,
education, socialization, religion, etc. In fact, it is all embracing.
The practice of the Shari’ah therefore means the practice of Islam and
vice-verse. The two may, therefore, be regarded as synonymous in this context.
The Shari’ah could be seen from the perspective of general and legal
matters. Certain precepts of the Shari’ah carry the force of law while
others do not.
Those precepts which carry the force of law are regarded as legal
matters or precepts while others are general matters of the Shari’ah.
Islam came to Oyo Empire during the reign of Mansa Musa in Mali and the
subsequent proselytization of Yorubas to Muslims.
According to eminent historian, Prof. Akinjogbin in -The Expansion of
Oyo and the Rise of Dahomey 1600-1800- Islam had come to the ancient
Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo by the 14th century through trans-Saharan trade.
Prof. Ogunbiyi asserted in – The Search For A Yoruba Orthography Since
The 1840s: Obstacles To The Choice Of The Arabic Script- that the origin
of the word ‘Yoruba’ has been traced to Arabic writers such as Ahmad
Baba (1627 in his “mi’raj al-su’ud”) and Muhammed Bello (1837 in his
“infaq al-maysur”) both of whom were reported among the earliest to name
the people in Oyo as ‘yariba’, ‘yaruba’, ‘yarba’ at a time when they
were still referring to themselves by their diverse ethnic identities.
The first mosque was built in Oyo-Ile in 1550. Islam was established
in Iwo in 1655, spread to Iseyin in 1760, Saki in 1790, and Oshogbo in
1889 while Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, Ikirun and Ede knew about Islam
before Fulani Jihad. Islam came to Lagos in 18th century while the first
mosque was built in 1774 as widely discussed in – The Growth of Islam
among the Yoruba, 1841 – 1908. London: Longman Group Ltd., 1978by
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK Engr. Dauda Ayanda (MNSE), wrote from Ibadan.