DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian rapper living in Germany has a $100,000 bounty on his head after an Islamist website offered a reward for anyone who kills him over a song that satirizes the Islamic Republic and irreverently addresses a historic religious figure.
The Iranian news and religion website Shia-Online.ir said hip-hop star Shahin Najafi deserved to die for a song which it said "grossly insulted" Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, one of the 12 imams, the religious figures highly revered by Shi'ite Muslims.
Najafi denied his song focused on the revered Shi'ite imam or was meant to criticize Islam.
The song takes the form of a prayer to the ninth century Naqi and expresses ironic reverence for many contemporary Iranian figures.
With references ranging from Iranians' love of nose jobs to economic sanctions and the contested 2009 presidential election, the song's Farsi language lyrics would mean little to a foreigner but have resonated with Iranians and have earned it more than 320,000 hits on YouTube.
Many rap songs by exiled Iranians would be politically and morally offensive to authorities in the Islamic Republic, where little home-grown pop music is allowed. But Najafi's constant refrain of "O Naqi" has drawn more ire than usual.
"A (website) founder who lives in one of the Gulf Arab states has promised to pay the ($100,000) bounty on behalf of Shia-Online.ir to the killer of this abusive singer," the site said in a posting.
In echoes of the 1989 fatwa - religious ruling - ordering the death of British author Salman Rushdie for his novel "The Satanic Verses", which was deemed blasphemous - a senior cleric in Iran said Najafi's rap might merit a death sentence.
Asked by his followers about the song, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi said in a ruling: "Any outrage against the infallible imams ... and obvious insult against them would make a Muslim an apostate," Iran's Fars news agency reported.
Apostasy carries a death sentence under Islamic laws which are applied in predominantly Shi'ite Iran.
Speaking to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Najafi said: "I thought there would be some ramifications. But I didn't think I would upset the regime that much. Now they are taking advantage of the situation and making it look like I was trying to criticize religion and put down believers.
"For me it is more of an excuse to talk about completely different things. I also criticize Iranian society in the song. It seems as though people are just concentrating on the word 'imam'."
Najafi, in his early 30s, was active in Iran's underground music scene before he left the country in 2005.
Iranian officials have not yet commented on Najafi's song and Iran's media have not widely reported the bounty put on his head by the Shi'ite website.
Najafi said he had taken some "precautionary measures" because "some of the supporters of the regime want to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation".
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)