Religious Riots Spread in Nigeria

AP, Nov. 22, 2002

KADUNA, Nigeria- Muslims and Christians armed with daggers and machetes rioted in two Nigerian cities Friday, burning cars and attacking bystanders in a third day of violence over the Miss World pageant.

About 100 people have been killed and 500 seriously injured, Red Cross officials said Friday.

Sporadic gunshots rang out in the northern city of Kaduna, where most of the fighting has taken place. Christians retaliated Friday after enraged Muslim mobs in previous days stabbed and set fire to bystanders they believed were Christian, and set fire to at least four churches.

The rioting spread Friday 225 miles southwest to the capital, Abuja, where the beauty pageant is still planned to take place Dec. 7. Muslim protesters armed with sticks, machetes and daggers burned cars and attacked pedestrians outside the city’s plush international hotels after gathering outside the central mosque following afternoon prayers.

Rioters pulled a local journalist off a motorcycle and told him he would be killed unless he could recite verses from Islam’s holy book, the Quran. The crowd released him unharmed when they realized he was Muslim.

Miss World publicist Stella Din said the contestants were safe inside their Abuja hotel, not far from where the riots took place. None of them witnessed any of the violence, she added.

The violence began Wednesday, when the Kaduna office of ThisDay newspaper was torched after the paper published an article questioning Muslim objections to the pageant. The article, published Saturday, suggested the prophet Muhammad would have chosen a wife among the contestants.

The newspaper ran a brief front-page apology Monday and a longer retraction Thursday.

On Friday, plumes of black smoke rose above Kaduna, a tense, religiously mixed city of several million people. Authorities extended a round-the-clock curfew – although many ignored the order.

Young Muslim men shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” or “God is great,” ignited makeshift barricades of tires and garbage. Others chanted, “Down with beauty” and “Miss World is sin.”

In neighborhoods dominated by minority Christians, witnesses said youths smashed windows and set fires in mosques used by the ethnic Hausa and Fulani Muslims who dominate Kaduna.

Fearful residents sought protection at police stations and military bases.

“The soldiers have been very helpful, giving us bandages and first aid. Everyone is here – Muslims, Christians and pagan. We are all afraid of going home,” said Habiba Ibrahim, who spent the night in the city’s defense academy near the government clinic where she works. “Only God knows when this will end.”

Previous riots in Kaduna, a predominantly Muslim city with a sizable Christian minority, have escalated into religious battles that killed hundreds since civilian government replaced military rule in 1999.

Islamist groups have warned for months that they would protest the pageant, prompting organizers to postpone the finale until after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Muslim groups say the pageant promotes promiscuity and indecency.

In the article that prompted the spasm of violence in Kaduna, ThisDay writer Isioma Daniel said, “What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them.”

Security forces patrolled other major cities Friday, including the northern trading hub of Kano, where Muslim women peacefully protested.

“We are calling on the government to stop Miss World, this show of shame. For women to expose herself to men other than their husbands is forbidden,” said one of the protesters, Hadiza Usman.

Miss World organizers insist contestants have respected conservative Muslim values by dressing conservatively.

“We regret these incidents, but his is not the fault of Miss World. It is the result of irresponsible journalism,” Din, the spokeswoman, said. “The show definitely will go on.”

The pageant also caused controversy elsewhere; at least five contestants are boycotting it to protest judgments in Nigeria’s Islamic courts that condemned several women to death by stoning for getting pregnant while unmarried.

Contestants from Costa Rica, Denmark, Switzerland, South Africa and Panama stayed away.

Nigeria’s government insists none of the judgments will be carried out, although it has refused to intervene directly with the Islamic court system.

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This post was last updated: Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 8:48 PM, Central European Time (CET)