ENGLAND: Archbishop of Canterbury gets praise from Nigerian Islamic leader

March 9, 2008

Mauled by the media for suggesting aspects of Sharia Law should be incorporated into the British legal system, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has become something of a hero -- even a Christian legend -- in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria.

Speaking at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London on March 6, the leader of the multi-million strong Qadiriyyah wing of the Islamic faith, Nigerian Sheikh Qaribullahi Nasiru Kabara, told academics and diplomats that he felt "very good" when he heard what Williams had to say at a February lecture.

"I felt very good," the sheikh said. "The people of northern Nigeria are very happy. It shows the recent upward rating of the British and the way they see Islam...That call from the Archbishop of Canterbury caused a serious round of celebrations because people feel, 'These people are now listening to us. Let us look at them and talk to them properly.'"

Giving his lecture in the Hausa language, spoken in Nigeria and Niger, the Islamic religious leader said that the Sharia legal system is not obligatory on everyone. "It is designed and meant for Muslims," said the sheikh.

The sheikh said that education is the key that will end corruption and unlock the door to Nigeria's future. He said he often met national leaders and told them that they must behave properly and not steal from the public purse.

Several experts on West Africa attended the gathering at Chatham House.

Michael Wolfers, a former Africa correspondent of The Times newspaper who worked in Nigeria at the time of the country's 1967-1970 civil war over the breakaway southern region of Biafra said there are signs of Islamic extremism in parts of Nigeria. "If that current took hold," he told Ecumenical News International, "you could have severe unrest. I'm not saying that there would be a recurrence of the 1960s and 1970s -- but it could be very damaging for the stability of Nigeria."

Nigeria is a substantial supplier of high quality oil to Britain. Religious harmony and political stability in that country are seen by businesspeople as essential for the maintenance of the well-being of the British economy.

Of Nigeria's 135 million people, 50 percent are believed to follow Islam and 40 percent Christianity.