LAGOS, Nigeria – The deputy governor of a largely Islamic state in northern Nigeria called on Muslims to kill the Nigerian woman who wrote a newspaper article about the Miss World beauty pageant that sparked deadly religious riots.
"Just like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed," Zamfara Deputy Governor Mahamoud Shinkafi told a gathering of Muslim groups in the state capital, Gusau, on Monday.
Rushdie, an Indian-born Briton, went into hiding after Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa -- or religious edict -- against him for allegedly insulting Islam in his best-selling novel The Satanic Verses. In 1998, the Iranian government declared it would not support the fatwa, but said it could not rescind the edict since, under Islamic law, that could be done only by the person who issued it. Khomeini died in 1989.
While state officials in Nigeria cannot issue fatwas, the deputy governor, "like all Muslims," considers the death sentence against Daniel as "a reality based on the teachings of the Quran," Zamfara state Information Commissioner Tukur Umar Dangaladima said Tuesday.
Islam's holy book "states that whoever accuses or insults any prophet of Allah ... should be killed," Dangaladima told The Associated Press. Anyone who killed Daniel would be "a martyr who will go to heaven," he said.
"If she is Muslim, she has no option except to die. But if she is a non-Muslim, the only way out for her is to convert to Islam," he said.
Daniel, a Lagos-based fashion writer with ThisDay, reportedly went into hiding after being interrogated by police last week in connection with the article, which suggested Islam's founding prophet Muhammed would have approved of Miss World and might have wanted to marry one of the contestants. Her religion is unknown.
The newspaper has issued repeated apologies for the article, saying the offending portions were published by mistake after earlier being deleted by a supervising editor.
President Olusegun Obasanjo did not immediately respond to the deputy governor's call. But an Information Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obasanjo's government would not permit any Islamic group or individual to carry out the death order.
Obasanjo's 3-year-old administration has repeatedly stated it will overrule inhumane punishments imposed by Islamic courts, such as recent death-by-stoning sentences against women convicted of having sex outside of wedlock. But the federal government has so far refused to intervene directly in the Shariah legal system, in effect in most of the country's predominantly Muslim northern states.
ThisDay officials were not available for comment Tuesday. But one of the paper's columnists, Amanze Obi, suggested Daniel "may have been a victim of excitement."
"I imagine that she may have written that line without knowing it," Obi wrote in Tuesday's edition. "The line was innocuous."
Dangaladima said other ThisDay employees had been spared from the fatwa, which "applies only to the offending pen."
Zamfara was the first of 12 states to adopt Islamic law, or Shariah, after Nigerian military rule gave way to elected government in 1999. Religious clashes since then have killed thousands across the country.
The latest rioting began last Wednesday when Muslims burned down a ThisDay office in the northern city of Kaduna. More than 200 people were killed in the city and rioting also briefly spread to the capital, Abuja.
The violence caused Miss World organizers to abandon plans to hold the pageant in Nigeria and evacuate more than 80 participants to London, where the show will go ahead Dec. 7.
In the British capital, organizer Julia Morley said Tuesday that a venue had been found for the pageant: the Alexandra Palace exhibition hall in north London.
The South Korean contestant, Jang Yu-kyong, said she had withdrawn from the contest. "I could not participate with a smiling face after witnessing a crisis that left hundreds dead," Jang, 19, told reporters.
Canada's Lynsey Bennett, who pulled out of the contest following the rioting, announced Tuesday she had decided to re-enter now that the show had been moved out of Nigeria.