A sharia court in northern Nigeria has sentenced Muslim cleric Abdul Nyass to death for insulting Mohammed last May.
Nyass, who belongs to a Sufi order of Islam, gave a sermon in which he allegedly declared that a 20th Century cleric of his order, Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, was greater than Mohammed. The sermon coincided with a birthday commemoration for Niasse, who died in 1975.
The response was the usual outraged mob, which rampaged through the district of Kano and burned down Abdul Nyass’ home. Zee News of India reports that when nine of his followers were arrested and put on trial, another outrage mob materialized and set the sharia courtroom on fire. Subsequent “legal proceedings” were held in secrecy for security reasons.
“The Sharia court found Abdul Nyass guilty of blasphemy against the Prophet, which is punishable with death in accordance with the provisions of the Sharia legal system Kano state operates,” declared prosecutor Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki.
Zee News notes that Nyass’ lawyer “declined to comment and concealed his identity for fear of reprisals.” Other leaders of his religious order have been taking steps to distance themselves from his controversial remarks.
The justice commissioner of Kano vowed to “ensure the sentence is carried out,” although reportedly none of the many death sentences handed out by Nigerian sharia courts over the last decade for offenses such as blasphemy, adultery, and homosexuality have actually resulted in an execution.
According to the BBC, if Nyass’ sentence is carried out, he would be hanged. Four of his followers were acquitted, while five others were sentenced to death.
The BBC explains that the Tijaniya sect is now the largest in Sufi Islam, with a following across North and West Africa. It was founded in the 18th century, faded over time, and was revived by Sheikh Niasse, the Senegalese cleric Nyass is said to have described as bigger than Mohammed.