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Jordanian poet refuses allegations of blasphemy
Trouble started when the Syrian Brotherhood vilified Nasrallah for his collection of poems "Bism Al Um Wal Ibn"

By Ibtisam Awadat
January 17, 2001, 03:20 PM
- Jordanian writer and poet Ibrahim Nasrallah is the latest personality to face the wrath of Islamists, only this time from the Syrian Brotherhood over allegations of blasphemy.

Ibrahim Nasrallah
'The collection is dedicated to my mother and her story when she was expelled, along with my father, from Palestine more than 50 years ago'

Trouble started when the Syrian brothers vilified Nasrallah for his collection of poems "Bism Al Um Wal Ibn" (In the Name of the Mother and Son) published in Arabic by the Arab Establishment for Studies and Publications a year and a half ago.

Syrian religious figure Dr Mohammed Al Bouti was reported as saying "it's banned from a religious aspect to use on an arbitrary basis, verses of the Holy Quran." Bouti pointed out the writer used one of the verses in the volume's title. The Quran's verse begins with, "In the name of God....". Bouti suggests that Nasrallah is a Christian but at the same time has no right to assail Islam or the language of the Quran.

But Nasrallah, a Jordanian of the Islamic faith, was surprised with what he called as the unjustified attack and rejected all means to impose "intellectual terrorism" and attempts to assassinate the character of intellectuals in the Arab world. Nasrallah received one of the Arab world's most reputable literary awards for his works, the Sulaiman Oweiss Award last year.

"The collection is dedicated to my mother and her story when she was expelled, along with my father, from Palestine more than 50 years ago." Nasrallah told The Star the accusations were based on a misinterpretation of the poems and in particular the two verses of one particular poem.

Most of the poems, Nasrallah maintained, narrate real events through real characters who lived the tragedy of the Israeli occupation. The poet said he felt very close to the collection since for him, they are a real incarnation of the relationship between him and his mother.

"I believe this is a fabricated battle where those who attacked my volume intended to invent new texts and reformulate my words to fulfill their sick purposes," Nasrallah added.

Meanwhile, many writers called on the enlightened Islamic movements in the Arab world in particular to combat all attempts to charge anyone of apostatism or blasphemy. "These attempts deform the image of Islam and show Muslims as narrow-minded," Nasrallah said.

However, the timing of the aggressive campaign was related to the publishing of part of Nasrallah's collection of novels titled Malhat Filistenyya (A Palestinian Comedy). Nasrallah said the censors in Jordan waited a long while before authorizing its publications.

Nasrallah spent more than 16 years writing these novels that chronicle the history of the Palestinian cause. "This project presents the real narration of events that are much different and against the official version of the Palestinian story," Nasrallah noted.

Nasrallah continues to receive letters and phone calls of support from intellectuals and readers from all around the Arab world.

"It seems the Arab nation has nothing else but to bash its writers." Nasrallah is in the midst of a media campaign to clarify his position against such accusations.

Jordanian writers are disappointed. They say such accusations of blasphemy, which have occurred over the last couple of years, have turned the lives of such writers into nightmares and kept them busy in refuting such accusations instead of investing their time and effort in creative, inspiring work.

"I believe Nasrallah's volume is worth reading and very inspiring," Jordanian writer and poet Musa Hawamdeh told The Star.

Hawamdeh himself continues to face the same charges at court. "Poets can't help but be affected by the language of the Holy Quran since it's a very classic one," he said.

Hawamdeh was accused of blasphemy for publishing a poem seen by Islamists as violating the Quran.

Titled "Joseph", the poem is part of a volume called "Shajari A'la" (My Trees Are Higher) and was published in 1999. Jordanian Islamists considered this poem as a violation to Surat Yussef (Story of Joseph) as told in the Quran.

Hawamdeh is currently defending himself before the courts. The religious Court issued its verdict that acquitted him from the charges. Yet, an appeal was submitted and another trial convened.

"To be declared an infidel means to be threatened by maniacs who might turn the intellectual's life into a living hell," Hawamdeh pointed out, adding that he, his wife and children received threats.

Many Jordanian poets called on all intellectuals to take action to prevent attempts to expose Arab writers and poets to an atmosphere of cultural terrorism.

This article was published in The Star weekly.
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