Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, M. Christian Green, and John Witte, Jr., principal investigators of an SSRC-funded project “Shari’a, Family, and Democracy in Nigeria and Beyond,” have unveiled a new blog that will address the central issues that animate their research:

This blog is part of a larger project that examines how Western democracies with Muslim minorities can have a productive conversation with Muslim countries that implemented Shari’a, particularly on issues of marriage and family law. 

The core question of the project is whether there can be a responsible jurisdictional pluralism of religious and legal norms in domestic relations that respects both the religious freedom concerns of religious communities and rule of law concerns of the state.

With its nearly even division between Muslims and Christians and the implementation of Shari’a in the Northern States beginning in 1999, Nigeria has become a focal point for these debates.  The implementation of Shari’a in Nigeria has raised important questions concerning plural legal and religious norms of marriage and family, the religious identity and inter-communal relations of Muslims and Christians, and the possibility of a moderate form of Shari’a existing in a pluralistic, democratic state.  These questions arise in a context of forthcoming presidential elections in 2011, a decade of inter-communal violence, and particularly concerns about the implications of Shari’a for the rights of women and children.

At the same time, there a sense that what happens in Nigeria may have implications far beyond.  Nations in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas are all engaged in discussions of their own about the permissibility and coexistence of plural norms and forms of marriage and family.  The 2010 constitutional referendum in Kenya featured considerable discussion about the role of Shari’a courts. South Africa and other African nations continue to debate the extent and effects of customary law that applies different standards to tribal groups based on ethnicity and religion.  A number of European nations continue to struggle with how to recognize the religious identities and family patterns of their Muslim immigrant populations.  While some fear the arrival of Sharia on their shores, others, most notably the Anglican Archibishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in 2008 have suggested that accommodation of “juridical pluralism” in family law may be inevitable.

In this project, a diverse group of scholars in law, religion, and the social sciences from around the world will examine the possibilities for a peaceful reconciliation to the ongoing contestation over Shari’a in Nigeria in the area of family law law–and the lessons that Shari’a in Nigeria may hold for other nations and legal systems.  Follow and join our discussion as events unfold in and around Nigeria’s current election cycle and in global debates over juridical pluralism and the family.

The blog already features a three-part article by Professor An-Na’im on Shari’a and state law and provides links to a variety of outside resources on family law and Nigeria. Read more here.