Swing Low, Sweet Sharia

Politest Person of the Year, so far, may well be Sofiya Hussaini, the Nigerian mother of five whose sentence of death by stoning for giving birth outside wedlock has recently been overturned by an Islamic court in the state of Sokoto. According to the Times, when Mrs. Hussaini was informed of the decision that she would not, after all, be buried in sand and pelted to death with rocks for the crime of having a child after divorcing her husband (or rather, once this verdict had been translated from the Arabic for her), 'she smiled broadly, saying, "Thank you, thank you."' This is a well-mannered woman, I think.

Not so fortunate is another Nigerian woman, Mrs. Amina Lawal, who as I write is still under sentence of death by stoning for the same crime of having a child while divorced, classified as adultery under the sharia law of the state of Katsina. However, Mrs. Lawal may have got off lightly - while Sofiya Hussaini was originally sentenced to be buried up to her neck in sand before being stoned, Lawal had either a good lawyer or a lenient judge and will only be buried up to her waist. (Being forced to impersonate Billie Whitelaw in a late Beckett play is an integral part of the punishment, by the way, although more liberal courts may only require the condemned to perform Ionesco before execution.)

Lawal may have a get-out, moreover - the death sentence is to be delayed until she has finished breastfeeding her child. One trusts she will draw this out as long as possible:

'The baby? No, look, he isn't quite weaned yet. Come back in a few months.'
'This is undignified, Mother, I am 35 years old.'
'Shut up and keep sucking.'

Well, stranger things have happened. Interestingly, the Guardian reports that if Sofiya Hussaini had lost her appeal (which was only upheld on the technicality that sharia law had not come into force at the time of conception), she intended to plead that her illegitimate daughter was, in fact, the child of the husband she had divorced two years before - 'a claim based on a Koranic teaching that pregnancy can last up to seven years.'

As a man I find this the most alarming aspect of the whole thing. The concept of a seven year pregnancy is liable to abuse by unscrupulous wives. A woman bent on denying her husband his conjugal rights and slacking off on the household chores could well be tempted to pull a spurious marathon gestation:

  'In the name of the Prophet, Fatimah, is there any sign of activity down there? It's been seven years now!'
   'Patience, my lord, your seed must have time to ripen. This will be a very special child.'
   'You're not kidding it's going to be special. It's going to be born aged seven. It's going to pop out and ask for a skateboard.'
   'Why the big hurry?'
   'Hurry? Hurry? This is the twenty-seventh trimester! And we haven't had sex since the first! Can't you... speed up the process somehow? What are you gestating in there, an elephant? ... Seven years of cold showers! Seven years of running out in the middle of the night to satisfy your craving for pepperoni pizzas topped with butterscotch ice-cream! I'm a laughing stock with the neighbours! Who has a seven year pregnancy? There have been Lloyd Webber musicals that didn't run seven years...Come one, come all, The Phantom of the Uterus, now in it's seventh sensational year...this one will run forever...'
   'Do you doubt the word of the Koran, my lord?'
   'I..er...nooo, but... are you sure? You're sure you've been pregnant for seven years?'
   'A woman knows, my lord.'
   'You wouldn't lie to me, would you?'
   'The idea! Can you not see my lump? The lump of your ever-so-slowly-growing child, you ungrateful man!'
   'Lump nothing, that's fat! You've been lying on your arse for seven years eating pizzas and butterscotch ice-cream! Of course you have a lump! Of course you no longer resemble the gazelle-like houri I married in a rash moment and haven't screwed for seven years. I don't even remember what sex is like.'
   'You do not remember filling me with your grace, my lord?'
   'Only vaguely. I think it was the night the Berlin Wall came down. The only thing I've filled you with recently is pizza and butterscotch ice cream...To think I paid your no-good father two goats for you... I wish I had them now... goats are starting to look inviting now...'
   'Brute! I'm pregnant... pamper me... give me a foot-massage...'
   'Piss off! The novelty of pampering you wore off somewhere during the fifth year of the saga. I've missed two World Cups staying home to take care of you. Funny how you always think your waters are about to break when the World Cup's on. Look - there'd better be something in there this time, that's all I'm saying. If this turns out to be trapped wind like the last one, I'm having you flogged.'

Copyright © Michael Kelly