Nigerian State Government Issues Fatwa Against Journalist

News article, posted 03.24.2010, from Nigeria
bbc news
There is wide disagreement inside and outside Nigeria over the fatwa issued by a Nigerian state government against a journalist.

The fatwa, or religious edict, calls for the death of Isioma Daniel of the ThisDay newspaper for saying that the Prophet Mohammed may have approved of the Miss. World contest and may have even wished to marry one of the beauty queens. It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are, to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.

It was issued by the deputy governor of Zamfara state in northern Nigeria and calls on Muslims to consider it their religious duty to kill the journalist. But Islamic leaders and scholars within Nigeria and in other leading Muslim countries disagree over the validity of the fatwa.

Some say it is legitimate, others say it has no standing as the journalist is not a Muslim and has anyway apologised for the comments which caused offence. The Nigerian Government has said it will not allow a death sentence to be carried out on Isioma Daniel over the article, which sparked religious riots in northern Nigeria last week.

It has, however, denounced the article she wrote as irresponsible.

The decision on the decree followed discussions deputy governor Alhaji Mahmud Aliyu held with 21 Islamic youth organisations, according to Kaduna state radio in northern Nigeria.

Zamfara was the first of Nigeria's mainly-Muslim states to adopt Islamic law.

Addressing a rally in the state capital, Gusau, Alhaji Mahmud said the Koran supported the death penalty for those who blasphemed the Prophet Mohammed. He recalled that a similar fatwa had been passed on the writer Salman Rushdie by Iranian clerics in 1989 for blasphemy.

But other Islamic leaders in Nigeria take a different view.

Reuters news agency reported that the main Muslim organisation in Nigeria, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, had accepted an apology by the newspaper involved. The Council was reported by the Nigerian Vanguard newspaper to be examining the fatwa before making a final judgment on its validity.

The examination was looking particularly at the fact that the subject of it was not a Muslim and that the newspaper had apologised. A Kaduna-based Islamic scholar, Ali Alkali, told the agency that as an apology had been issued, "the fatwa has to be withdrawn".

Outside Nigeria, the reaction has been mixed.

An official of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Saad al-Saleh, said: "They have no right to kill if the person expresses regret and apologises, as it is considered repentance". But the Secretary-General of the Council of Imams and Preachers in Kenya, Sheikh Mohammed Dor Mohammed, said that the fatwa was legal.

He added that it was valid for a fatwa to be declared against a non-Muslim who insulted the Prophet. Nigerian Information Minister Jerry Gana said the judgment was "null and void" and promised it would not be enforced.

President Obasanjo's government is against the fatwa

"The federal government under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will not allow such an order in any part of the federal republic," Mr Gana told AFP news agency. Nigeria's Christian leaders have also criticised the fatwa and the implementation of Islamic Law.

Archbishop Makinde blamed the violence witnessed in Nigeria on the "mindless introduction of Sharia in some northern states".

The use of fatwas to punish those deemed guilty of blasphemy or causing offence has been controversial in recent years. The case of the Indian-born writer, Salman Rushdie, is perhaps the best known. He was the subject of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 for the publication of the book The Satanic Verses. The ayatollah died without revoking the order, but the Iranian Government said in 1998 that it would not do anything to have the decree carried out.

More recently, a Saudi cleric issued a fatwa against a Kuwaiti singer for putting the opening chapter of the Koran to music. The cleric said that the Kuwaiti religious authorities were the only ones who could carry it out.The main Kuwaiti Islamic groups declared the fatwa illegal.

In December 2000, the Bangladesh High Court ruled that fatwas were illegal and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called in 1998 for the banning of death fatwas. But the religious edicts remain part of Islamic law and still have considerable influence on Muslims.