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A Call For Compassion In Sharia Law - 2003-06-03

In Nigeria, the Sharia court appeal of Amina Lawal has been postponed until late August because one of the judges is ill. Ms. Lawal had been sentenced to death by stoning because she had a child out of wedlock. The man she says is the father of her child has not been charged in the case because the court says there was a lack of witnesses. The case has drawn international attention, especially from human rights groups.

One of those closely following the story is Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani -- not from a professional point of view, but a personal one. While on assignment in Pakistan, Ms. Nomani, an Indian-born Muslim, fell in love with a Muslim man. However, she says he refused to marry her when she became pregnant. She says the Sharia penalty for pre-marital sex in Pakistan is 100 lashes. Rather than face that punishment, Ms. Nomani returned to the United States, to what she calls the loving support of her family.

Ms. Nomani wrote of her experience in the Washington Post newspaper. She spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about finding herself in a similar position as Amina Lawal.

She says, “I always had a confrontation with oppressive elements of our culture and society when I’ve traveled. And I’ve had to struggle with them.” She says she is lucky because she has parents “who have always been free thinkers, while embracing Islam.” She says she grew up believing in the “humanity of Islam but none of the restraints that often times are stifling.” However, she says she never thought it would become “so intimate.”

When she learned she could face 100 lashes she says it made her “so deeply sad.” She says, “I was carrying a baby. And I think any mother knows the power of that experience. You have this life that is depending on your breath and I couldn’t believe that any aspect of my religion would punish me for not only creating the life but keeping the life.” Ms. Nomani says, “I do believe in the mystical world. And I do believe so deeply the Divine and that the baby chose me and he chose me for a purpose. And so, I had to respect his wishes.”

In speaking about the laws of her religion, the Wall Street Journal reporter says, “I would like to see humanity and compassion be the ultimate judge and the ultimate law of existence for Muslims and the world, in fact.” She adds, “We just have to stop this dogmatism that makes us judge so harshly others in their most intimate actions and realize what a tough, tough life this is and that we ultimately have to try to support each other.”