Imagine being sentenced to death by hanging for something you posted on WhatsApp.
That’s the situation 22-year-old Nigerian musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu finds himself in. He apparently composed a song so incendiary, the recording of his performance sparked almost immediate protests when he first released it in March of 2020.
The protesters — mostly young men, led by Baba Idris Ibrahim — complained that the Kano State Hisbah Corps (a state religious police force) had failed to level appropriate consequences for the alleged blasphemy. They also attacked Sharif-Aminu’s home.
Eyewitness reports described the protests as violent and destructive:
We were sitting outside on Sunday. We suddenly saw a group of hundreds of youths coming towards the residence of Yahaya. When they reached there they descended on the house, smashing glasses, and attempted removing the gate of the house. They were shouting, saying they have come to take Yahaya and if he refuses they will burn down the house. If not because of police’s prompt intervention, they would have set the house ablaze.
The same witness reported that Sharif-Aminu’s family had gone into hiding to avoid further attacks.
Facing a Sharia court in the northern state of Kano, Sharif-Aminu did not deny the charges leveled against him. Judge Khadi Aliyu Muhammad Kani sentenced him to death but noted that Sharif-Aminu has the opportunity to appeal.
It’s easy to imagine the song in question as an atheistic screed against Islam, but Sharif-Aminu was in fact the Islamic equivalent of a gospel singer, writing and performing religious music. According to the BBC, his critics objected to the song because it praised an imam from Sharif-Aminu’s own sub-category of Islam “to the extent it elevated him above the Prophet Muhammad.”
Sharif-Aminu adheres to a specific order of Sufi Islam called Tijaniyyah, which dates back to the 18th century. Dubai-based media platform MuslimInc describes this particular form of Islam as “censured and condemned” through its history because of its leaders’ willingness to collaborate with colonists.
It might, then, be significant that the only other known instance in which a Nigerian Sharia court has ever sentenced somebody to death for blaspheming against Muhammad involved a Tijaniyyah preacher called Abdul Inyass, who said a well-known Tijaniyyah founder was “bigger than Prophet Muhammad.”
But it’s not clear if the men’s adherence to an unpopular sect inspired trumped-up charges of blasphemy, or if the group’s beliefs reflect ideas and values that were already considered blasphemous.
Either way, Inyass has not yet been put to death for his crime, and it’s possible Sharif-Aminu won’t either. In fact, only one death sentence imposed by Nigeria’s Sharia courts has been carried out during their 20 years of existence. That happened in 2002, and it wasn’t a case of blasphemy; it was a triple murder involving two child victims. Plus, the law requires Kano’s state governor to sign off before an execution can take place, further protecting Sharif-Aminu.
But until the charge is dropped or reversed, it continues to encourage ideologues like Idris Ibrahim, who argue that the sentence serves as a deterrent to anyone who would “insult our religion or prophet.”
Apparently a song about someone you like more than Muhammad is all that it takes.
(Thanks to Som for the link)