Muslims Urged To Kill Nigerian Journalist

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - A Muslim state government in Nigeria has endorsed a death sentence for a journalist accused of insulting Islam, but the country's federal government says it won't allow the verdict to be carried out.

The government of the predominantly Muslim Zamfara state, after a meeting with Islamic religious organizations, voiced support for a fatwa (religious ruling) calling for Isioma Daniel to be killed.

Daniel, a fashion writer for the Lagos-based This Day newspaper, wrote an article on Nov. 16 questioning Muslims' opposition to Nigeria hosting the annual Miss World beauty pageant in early December.

Asking what Islam's prophet, Mohammed, would have thought of the controversy, Daniel wrote, "He would probably have chosen a wife from one of them." The remark apparently was intended to be funny.

The country's Supreme Islamic Council reacted by declaring that the article was a declaration of war on Islam, and called all Muslims to attack the paper.

This Day retracted the article and published several apologies, but violence erupted in Kaduna state and in the capital, Abuja, where the pageant was to have been held.

More than 200 people were killed by Muslim mobs and in retaliatory attacks by Christians, and thousands were wounded or displaced in the fighting.

Miss World organizers at the weekend decided to move the contest and flew to London together with the more than 80 participants.

Although the violence has since subsided, Zamfara state on Tuesday endorsed a fatwa by Muslim leaders calling for Daniel's death

"Any true Muslim would make sure that this woman's blood is spilled wherever she is," said the state's deputy governor, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi.

He compared Daniel to British author Salman Rushdie, who was sentenced to death by an 1989 Iranian fatwa for writing a novel Muslim leaders said blasphemed Islam. He has since lived under government protection or in hiding.

"It's a fact that Islam prescribes the death penalty on anybody, no matter his faith, who insults the prophet," said a Zamfara government spokesman, Umar Dangaladima.

"Therefore the state government has retained this verdict as it applies to Isioma. This is our position."

Nigeria's federal Information Minister, Jerry Gana, was quoted later as saying the federal government would not allow the fatwa to be carried out.

The Committee To Protect Journalists in New York issued a statement condemning the decree, while Reporters Without Frontiers in France urged the Nigerian government to take urgent steps to protect Daniel.

According to Nigerian media reports, the journalist has now fled the country for an unknown destination.

A former military governor of Kaduna, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, said at a press briefing in the state that Muslims had every right not to participate in any way in the Miss World contest.

"The rights of Muslims, however, stop where the rights of other Nigerians to participate begin," he said, adding that any attempt by people to force their religious views on others was a violation of Nigeria's secular constitution.

One local press report said some Islamic clerics in Kaduna had refused to bury slain Muslim youths, saying they had not given their blessing to the riots and the youths had not died "for the cause of Islam."

Kaduna and Zamfara are among 12 mostly Muslim states in northern and central Nigeria where Islamic ( shari'a ) law has been introduced in some measure.

See also:
Christian Group Questions Tendency To 'Tiptoe Around Islam' (Nov. 27, 2002)
Islamic Law A Factor In Nigeria Bloodshed, Churchman Says (Nov. 25, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow