Shariʿah On Trial: Northern Nigeria's Islamic Revolution. By Sarah Eltantawi, Oakland: University of California Press, 2017.

Date01 September 2018
Published date01 September 2018
not operate as “either or” binaries but are rather in continuous
dialectic in all regimes. To the extent constitutional theory
attempts to deny this, or to ignore the dialectical forces that are in
play in constitutional politics, constitutional theory obfuscates
rather than illuminates constitutional practice. In the Age of
Trump and with the spread of radical nationalist parties in
Europe, no one should have any ethnocentric illusions of liberal
triumphalism. It is high time, therefore, that the systematic study
of constitutional politics in the Arab world be viewed as raising
questions central to constitutional theory and not just a curiosity
limited to a few specialists. This book makes a powerful case for
why that is so.
Shariʿah On Trial: Northern Nigeria’s Islamic Revolution. By Sarah
Eltantawi, Oakland: University of California Press, 2017.
Reviewed by Mark Fathi Massoud, Department of Politics and Legal
Studies Program, University of California, Santa Cruz
More than a decade before the Arab Spring, another revolution
was taking shape: an Islamic legal revolution in West Africa. It
began in 1999 with the introduction of shariʿah (roughly trans-
lated as Islamic law) by the governor of Nigeria’s northwestern
state of Zamfara.
By 2002, all 12 of northern Nigeria’s Muslim-
majority states implemented Islamic-based penal codes. A loosely
organized movement also began to coalesce around the interna-
tionally reported criminal trial of Amina Lawal, a woman facing a
stoning punishment for alleged sexual misconduct. An Islamic
appeals court eventually acquitted Lawal, and the Islamic revolu-
tion ultimately failed. These events would later give rise to Boko
Haram, an extremist paramilitary “of poor, uneducated boys”
(32), and to a milieu in which “no social reward” exists for critical
thinking (200). An ethnographically and historically informed
account of this remarkable social and legal history is found in
Sarah Eltantawi’s Shariʿah on Trial.
Authors writing in English transliterate the Arabic word, shariʿah, differently—
commonly shari’a, shari’ah, shariah, or sharia—with apostrophes or diacritical marks to
represent the Arabic ‘ayn. To remain consistent with Eltantawi’s book, this article uses
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