Sept. 26--This is the tragedy facing Amina Lawal: the stronger her baby becomes, the closer she is to death. In March, the 30-year-old Nigerian divorcee was sentenced to death by stoning by a Syariah court in Bakori, in Katsina State (northern Nigeria) after she confessed to having a child out of wedlock.

The punishment for this crime will only be meted out in January 2004 after she has weaned her daughter. The child is now eight months old.

Stoning for Muslims found guilty of adultery has become part and parcel of Islamic law in some Muslim countries. Although not stated in the Quran, some scholars offer as justification a quotation from Prophet Muhammad stating that ``the married man and the married woman, when they commit adultery, they stone without doubt as a punishment from God.''

Still, there is a strong counter-argument that although stoning occurred during the Prophet's time, there were only one or two recorded instances and even then, only at the insistence of the guilty party. There are further disputes among scholars. Some say that the fact that stoning is not mentioned in the Quran--although it was practised during the time of revelation--can be understood as a sign of God's disapproval.

Yet today, death by stoning is still prescribed as punishment for adultery. As the world watches, Muslim countries in particular will anxiously await the outcome and ask: is this a glimpse of the future?

Lawal's case is especially crucial for Malaysians given hudud in Kelantan and Terengganu. Barring constitutional amendments, stoning may become a reality in Malaysia one day.

Her case, now being appealed, has provoked international outcry.Government and human rights groups around the world have urged Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to intercede. The president has said he doesn't believe the sentence will be carried out-but will weep for Lawal if it is. She is the second Nigerian woman to be sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. The first was Saffiya Husseini, who was acquitted earlier this year.

Lawal's ordeal began after two unhappy marriages, which left her with three children. She began a relationship with Yahaya Mohammed two years ago, claiming that Mohamed had promised to marry her if she consented to a physical relationship. In November last year, her daughter Wasila was born.

Soon after, Lawal was arrested by villagers and brought before a Syariah area court, where she was charged with the crime of adultery. Under the Syariah criminal law in Katsina, having a baby, while divorced, amounts to a confession to the crime of adultery. She was offered no defence counsel, nor told what the punishment would be if she pleaded guilty.

Mohamed said that although he had courted Lawal for over 11 months, he had never had any sexual relationship with her. He pleaded not guilty to the charge and was duly discharged as there was no witness to the crime.

Under Islamic law, a male Muslim can only be convicted of adultery if there are four male Muslims of religious background as witnesses. If there are no witnesses, only his confession will be admitted as proof. A woman's guilt, however, can be proven by the child she gives birth to.

Lawal's lawyers, who were appointed by Nigerian human and women's rights groups, are hoping to convince the Appeals Court that she was not guilty on technical grounds-that the baby was conceived before Syariah went into effect in Katsina.

If all efforts fail, Lawal will be the first person to be stoned to death for committing adultery since the 12 Muslim states in northern Nigeria adopted Syariah in 2000. In the meantime, she is in hiding with her daughter for fear that someone might carry out the execution before her appeal is heard.

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