Fatal Commentary

When Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel wrote a comment on Prophet Mohammed and a beauty pageant, little did she know that her words would change her life.

By Hilde Marie Tvedten (text) and Lars Idar Waage (photo) 10.09.2008 14:37
Fatal Commentary

Isioma Daniel in front of her computer in Stavanger Aftenblad. In 2002 religious groups in Nigeria subjected her to a fatwa because of an article about Prophet Mohammed in the newspaper ThisDay. Photo: Lars Idar Waage/Stavanger Aftenblad

When journalist Isioma Daniel wrote a commentary article on the Miss World contest in 2002, it resulted in violent riots and a death threat from the Muslim community. At the GIJ-confernce, the journalist who now lives in Norway will share her experience of having a fatwa issued on her life. - It’s important for me to convey that when you are writing about religion, you have to be aware of the cultural and religious tensions present. I was a young, inexperienced writer who did not know enough about the situation of the Christians and Muslims in my country. Even if I don’t regret what I wrote, I made an error in not seeing things from a historical point of view, she says. The article was printed in the Nigerian newspaper This Day on 16th of November 2002. “The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them”, Daniel wrote. The following week, this remark led to clashes between Muslims and Christians in the north of Nigeria. The fundamentalist Muslim groups felt that she had insulted Prophet Muhammed. According to the BBC , one of the offices of the newspaper was set on fire, and 200 people died in the riots. Daniel took refuge in Benin, where she found out about the fatwa that called for her death.

Google revealed fatwa
- I received e-mails from friends who told me to not take it seriously, but they never said what “it” was. I wondered if there had been any development in the situation, and when I googled my own name, I found out about the fatwa, Daniel tells. When hearing about the fatwa, she found herself truly scared for the first time. - Up until then I thought about the possibility of going back, and wondered if I could ever continue to work as a journalist in Nigeria. But after the fatwa, I had no idea what to do. She was granted asylum in Norway, and says that she has a normal life. She also claims her life is not affected by the fatwa today. But she still takes precautions. When a documentary about her was set to be shown on Norwegian TV, Isioma had talks with the security department of the Norwegian police. As a journalist in Norwegian regional newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad, she is now in a very different working environment from in Nigeria. - I didn’t get any support from my colleagues when this happened, and my editor did nothing to back me up either. He asked me why I hadn’t written “properly”, but he hadn’t even read through the whole article before printing it. I clearly felt that they needed a scapegoat in this situation, she says.  

• The definition of a fatwa is much broader than pronouncing a death sentence upon someone: A fatwa is the answer which a competent and qualified religious authority gives to a question concerning a point of Islamic law (shari’a).
• The fatwa deals with practice of religion in many ways, although some questions are obviously more political than others.
• In the case of Isioma Daniel, the legitimacy of the fatwa was questioned in several ways.
Source: Mehdi Mozaddari: Fatwa. Violence & Discourtesy, BBC.