Islamic law latest victim of Miss World controversy

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  • Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002 09:43:04 -0000

More than 80 contestants have arrived in the Nigerian capital, Abuja,
reassured by the federal government's promise that they will intervene
if necessary to save the life of a Muslim woman sentenced to death by
stoning for adultery. 

The ugly controversy has dogged this year's Miss World beauty contest
with some beauty queens deciding to boycott the event to be held on 7

"There's no record of anybody who has ever been stoned to death in this
Dubem Onyia, Nigerian Minister  

At Abuja airport they were welcomed to a huge crowd of chaos and
pandemonium of music, of drums in the background - a big festive

Most of the contestants who have arrived, like Miss England Daniella
Luan, are determined to take part in this contest. 

They are here to enjoy themselves and take part in what for them is a
once in a lifetime experience. 

Media spotlight 

Daniella Luan said: "Well, I've just been assured that it [stoning
sentence] has been resolved and it's not going ahead... the Nigerian
Government has overruled it". 

She said that she did not consider boycotting the event. 

The Nigerian Government is desperate to play down the controversy
surrounding the convicted woman Amina Lawal, who has a child outside

Government says Amina will not be killed

This is, after all, an international media event which has the potential
to portray the country in a much-needed positive light. 

Spokesman for the government on this occasion is the Minister of State
for Foreign Affairs, Dubem Onyia, and he has assured everyone that
ultimately the federal government will intervene to overturn the stoning
conviction of Amina Lawal. 

"The federal law takes precedence over the individual or collective
Muslim law," Mr Onyia said, stating that Muslim punishments like stoning
to death "will never be carried out". 

But these laws still exist in Nigeria. What is the federal government
going to do to change the laws if that is what they choose, or want to

Mr Onyai insisted: the "supreme document in this country is the
constitution and once the appeal is made, it will be sustained and the
judgement will be thrown away, because there's no record of anybody who
has ever been stoned to death in this country". 

'Sex hazard' 

But that argument does not convince the lawyers defending Amina. 

And hers is not the only case. At least three other stoning convictions
under Sharia law are currently awaiting appeal. 

Hauwa Ibrahim a lawyer acting for Amina Lawal told the BBC: 

They are against the beauty pageant because it's all about commercial
sex trading 
Huseyn Zakaria, Islamic preacher  

"As far as we are concerned, we want to stick to our cases and to ensure
that Amina's life is not taken away without due process and the rule of
law applied in her case". 

And if the controversy surrounding Amina Lawal were not enough of a
headache for the Miss World promoters, the country's devout Muslims are
also angry that the contest is taking place here. 

Huseyn Zakaria is an Islamic preacher in Abuja. He says all Muslims in
Nigeria are against this beauty pageant. 

"They are against the beauty pageant because it's all about commercial
sex trading, it's about nudity, it's about immorality. 

"It's about exposing the youngsters of the community to a sex hazard,"
he says. 

And yet this beauty pageant will be keenly watched by millions on
television here who welcome the idea of such a glamorous event being
staged in Nigeria. 

Rights and wrongs 

But the arrival of the Miss World contestants has at least provoked a
debate over the Sharia issue among ordinary Nigerians. 

One woman said: "Yeah, I think it's a shame because I mean in the 20th
or 21st century, stoning somebody, a human being to death. I think it's
a bad thing". 

Miss England did not consider boycotting the event

A male bystander added: "If anyone makes a decision they're not coming
to Nigeria because of Sharia, it's just unfortunate for Nigeria. But I
feel bad, I feel bad on my pride here because I'm looking forward to the

So the stage is set for both a beauty pageant and a major political
controversy here, with the rights and wrongs of Islamic justice firmly
in the spotlight. 

The life of a woman, Amina Lawal, and others who find themselves also
facing the sentence of death by stoning is hanging very much in the

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