This Thursday, October 30, the Jordanian poet Islam Samhan will attend court on charges of defaming Islam through his collection of amorous poems, Grace Like A Shadow.
According to the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti, Noah Alqdah Samas, Samhan has blasphemed against “God, the angels and Prophet Muhammad”, by allegedly interspersing his works with phrases from the Quran.
Of the more contentious elements are the lines comparing his loneliness to that of the prophet Yusuf in the Quran.
Under Jordanian law, the publication of any books or articles that could be seen as harmful to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad is prohibited.
Currently languishing in custody in Amman, the 27 year-old poet and journalist could be sentenced to three-years imprisonment if found guilty.
In the meantime, there have been calls for Samhan’s collection of poetry to be banned and the publishing house penalised, while threatening phone calls are finding their way to his private mobile number.
That his new tome can attract such negative attention is almost ironic, since Samhan’s book, In a Slim Shadow, an anthology of his best work over the past ten years published eight months ago, was bought in bulk by the Jordanian ministry of culture.
Naturally, Samhan dismisses the accusations that he insulted the Prophet or defamed Islam through his work, although he speculates that the furore may have emerged due to the subtle nuances bearing similarities to excerpts of the holy text:
The Quran is in Arabic and I am influenced by my language and its rich terminology. Where I grew up, the Quran was sung and its music is still playing in my ears. I have read the Quran, and the Arabic language is that of the Quran. [Source]
If found guilty, Samhan would not be the first writer to suffer for his art.
Eight years ago, Musa Hawamdeh was charged with apostasy because of a poem he wrote titled Joseph, which Islamists said contradicted the story as it was told in the Quran.
His book was subsequently banned.
Although he was later acquitted on all charges in both Sharia and civil courts, he has been sentenced to three months in prison for violating the press and publication law.
Thankfully, the voice of reason has emanated from the head of the Jordanian Writer’s Association, Saud Qubeilat:
One shouldn’t judge poetry based on literal terms, otherwise many of the poets would be declared apostates. And if anyone has a say in literature, it should be a literary critic and not anyone from a different field who doesn’t know anything about old or contemporary literature.
It is so dastardly that an art such as poetry, which by its very nature draws beauty from ambiguity, should be condemned and banned.
In these troubled times, in which war and economic woes dominate the headlines, a little poetry – even if amorous – can go a long way.
Locking up the poets is but the first step towards consolidating misery in this bleak era; let us hope then, that Samhan shall not be found guilty on Thursday, and shall be freed to continue his works.