One can see from this story how hopeless it is to try to reconcile worries about injustice, torture, inequity, barbaric punishments, misogyny, and just outright cruelty and brutality and bloody awful ugliness, with worries about being tolerant and broad-minded and not colonialist or cultural imperialist or Eurocentric.

Prosecutors argued Ms Lawal’s child was living proof she committed a crime under Sharia. However, defence lawyers countered that under some interpretations of Sharia, babies can remain in gestation in a mother’s womb for five years, raising the possibility that her ex-husband could have fathered the child.

That’s interesting. What if there were no such interpretations of Sharia? What if every possible interpetation of Sharia that anyone could find anywhere held that a woman who had a baby that was not her divorced husband’s should be buried up to her neck and stoned to death? What then? How would defence lawyers counter the prosecutors in that case?

To put it another way, what would we all think if the court had not overturned the execution? What would we think if it had gone ahead? Would we think Sharia was a disgusting nightmare that should be stamped out as fast as possible? Or would we think it’s none of our business.

This is the same question I always wonder about when people earnestly discuss the Koran and earnestly assure us that Sharia and the Taliban are aberrations, that fundamentalist Muslims misunderstand the Koran, that really in many ways it’s very egalitarian about women. Okay, I think, but what if it weren’t? Would everyone still go on finding excuses for Islam? Or would people summon up the nerve to just go ahead and reject that whole method of deciding on morality wholesale. It seems so obvious. 1500-year-old or 3000-year-old books dictated by a deity are not the best source for guidance on how to treat people in the real world. They’re just not.

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