- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

LONDON The American contestant in the Miss World pageant says she was "horrified" by sectarian strife in Nigeria, where a state deputy governor is calling on Muslims to kill a reporter whose article on the beauty contest triggered deadly riots.
"I felt horrible, seeing on television in my bedroom that a hundred people had died," Rebekah Revels, a 5-foot-6-inch brunette, told The Washington Times at a London airport hotel after the contestants' hasty exit from the West African country during the weekend.
"But never once did I think that this was the fault of the pageant," she said. "I will never agree [that] the two can be connected."
More than 200 people died in sectarian riots triggered by a newspaper article speculating that Islam's founder, Muhammed, would have enjoyed the Miss World pageant and perhaps even chosen one of his wives from among the contestants.
Nigerian Muslims opposed the pageant, claiming it promoted sexual promiscuity.
The deputy governor of a largely Islamic state in northern Nigeria fanned the conflict Monday by urging Muslims to kill the female reporter who wrote the article.
Mahmoud Shinkafi of Zamfara state told a gathering of Muslim groups that the state legislature had imposed a death sentence against the writer with the consent of an Islamic court.
"Just like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed," Mr. Shinkafi said.
Mr. Rushdie went into hiding after Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa or religious edict calling for his death, saying his novel "The Satanic Verses" had insulted the prophet.
The Nigerian federal government, which controls the official police force and the secular court system, rejected the call by Mr. Shinkafi and vowed the journalist would be safe from attack.
The provincial ruling has yet to be tested in a formal Shariah court. Critics of predominantly Muslim northern Nigerian states where Shariah, or Muslim law, has been imposed say the declaration of a death penalty reflects an increasingly tense power struggle between the state and central governments.
From the Nigerian capital, Abuja, a leading Islamic scholar told The Washington Times a death penalty would be justifiable under Muslim law.
Those who cause death by reckless behavior could be put to death, said Hussein Mohamed.
"Over 200 people have died because of that article," he said. "So why are you concerned about the fate of one lady?"
Despite the escalating Nigerian crisis, followed by a spate of unflattering articles in the British press, pageant contestants put on a brave face.
The Guardian featured on its front page a picture of the black-hatted, earring-bedecked Miss Revels waving and flashing a wide, pearly smile.
Miss Revels was not quoted, but her roommate, Daniella Luan, Miss England, was. "I am so excited, I feel so happy," she said.
These signs of enjoyment were seized on by British feminists as signs of gross insensitivity.
The writer Muriel Gray urged the Miss World contest be banned from Britain, which is now scheduled to play host to the event.
"It is completely despicable that we have agreed to host this travesty," said Miss Gray.
Miss Revels disagreed.
"Giving up and not competing at all would be what all our opponents would want. We had to go to Nigeria to make a stand for women and freedom," she said. "The show must go on."
Still, she admitted she had considered boycotting the Nigerian event to protest another well-publicized death sentence: a verdict by an Islamic court against a woman who bore a child out of wedlock.
"I did think of boycotting. I did ponder it," she said.
"But my family and I felt we could do more good for [the woman] by me going. There have been some positive developments in her case since we went to Nigeria. But I don't want us to take credit for it," Miss Revels said.
The Nigerian central government has said the state sentence will not be carried out.
Miss Revels said the contestants received a warm welcome from both Christians and Muslims while they were in Nigeria, but she admitted her feelings since the violent outbreak in the north have been "not good."
She added: "It has been tough. But I have a lot of faith and I pray a lot, which is one reason why I have come out on top."
Miss Revels and the entire Miss World troupe managed to get away from the spotlight last night.


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