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JORDAN: Poet arrested for insulting Islam

October 21, 2008 |  9:28 am

Maghribi_script_sura_5 A Jordanian poet who published a collection of his works has found himself in hot water. He's been accused of apostasy, a crime that could carry the death penalty in some parts of the Islamic world.

Islam Samhan, 27, was arrested by authorities today. He could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. The specific charge?  Harming Islam by incorporating Koranic imagery into his love poems.

According to The National, the Abu Dhabi daily, Samhan's work, "Slim Shadows," caught the attention of Jordanian clerics, including Jordan's Grand Mufti Noah Alqdah Samas, who called him an enemy of religion for comparing his loneliness to that of the prophet Youssef in the Koran.

Suddenly, Samhan's nightmare began. His book was banned and he began receiving death threats.

Next came today's arrest. According to a report by the Associated Press, authorities have charged him with harming Islam by violating the press and publication law "for combining the sacred words of the Koran with sexual themes."

The law in Jordan bans insults to religion. But in the heady world of literature, who decides when something is insulting faith or inspired by it? Samhan says he grew up around religion. He can't help but let it influence his work.

Editors and writers in the Muslim world must constantly police their publications for fear of insulting clerics. Even if the government approves a work, sometimes individual clerics weigh in against it afterward and pressure authorities into punishing the offender.

Even on the streets of Jordan these days, people are afraid to curse God or religion. Using God's name in vain might mean three months in the slammer.

Another Jordanian poet was arrested eight years ago and charged with apostasy because Islamists said one of his pieces contradicted the Koran.

He was acquitted.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: A page from a 13th century copy of the Koran. Credit: Smithsonian, via Wikimedia Commons

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