Over 200 people were killed and 500 injured last week in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna after a newspaper article contended that the prophet Muhammad would have married one of the contestants in the Miss World beauty pageant to be held in Nigeria.
For months, some Muslims had protested that the Miss World contest was indecent and encouraged sexual promiscuity. They had urged the government to cancel the pageant.
In the Nov. 16 issue of ThisDay newspaper, Isioma Daniel wrote, “What would (the prophet) Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would have probably chosen a wife from among them (the contestants).”
Her article about the December beauty pageant angered Muslims, who thought it was blasphemy against Muhammad, according to BBC News.
BBC reported that mosques in Kaduna drew attention to Daniel’s article and called for demonstrations against ThisDay, a national newspaper.
Thousands of Muslim youths reacted with angry protests, shouting “Allahu Akhbar” or “God is great.” They also chanted, “Down with beauty” and “Miss World is sin,” according to Associated Press.
Some 22 churches were burned and eight mosques were destroyed, as Muslims and Christians fought. Rioters destroyed two of the regional offices of ThisDay.
By the end of the week, the Miss World pageant had been relocated to London.
Despite a sizeable Christian population, Kaduna is considered the political capital of Muslim northern Nigeria. The city has experienced widespread conflict between Muslims and Christians over the establishment of Sharia, Islamic fundamentalist law. Several thousand people were killed in religious clashes in early 2000.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan also practice Sharia.
During last week’s riots, a fundamentalist cleric in Kano said he and other Islamic leaders would call for an end to the riots if the government punished the newspaper and cancelled the pageant, according to AP.
Karibullah Nasiru Kabara said, “When we say ‘stop it,’ the people stop it. When we say ‘do this,’ the people do the same.”
However, other Islamic leaders called for an end to the riots, according to ThisDay.
The Sultan of Sokoto told Muslims that “we are now in the sacred month of Ramadan, which is to be observed with peace and dedication to worship.”
He cited a text from the Koran: “(If) they ask you about fighting in the sacred month, say therein that it is a great transgression.”
Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Muslin Unity said, “Islam does not teach abuse and insult against any religion and its leader. We are taught to respect the dignity of all human beings.”
ThisDay issued several front-page apologies.
“A commentary written by one of our staff was not only unjustified, but utterly provocative,” one apology read.
Citing key management members who are devoted Muslims, the paper asked, “Why would we do anything that would seem to denigrate any religion, when we believe in the peaceful co-existence of Nigerians?”
The paper blamed a technological glitch for failing to remove the offensive portion of the column during the editing process.
In July, Daniel, the style reporter who questioned what Muhammad would think, criticized the Miss World pageant. She wrote, “There is something cold and soulless about an organized meat market that trades in female beauty.” Writing in ThisDay, she compared it to slavery.
“Beauty pageants will never stop holding, not just because men love to look at half naked women, but because there will always be women willing to stand in their undies for a few seconds in hope of winning, instead of earning, a huge sum of money,” Daniel wrote.
ThisDay’s editor-in-chief issued another apology yesterday, detailing the technical problem and explaining what the paper had done to ask for forgiveness from Muslim leaders.
The paper said it had accepted Daniel’s resignation.