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A poet faces death for "killing" God

Islam Samhan — found guilty of apostasy — jokes that his wife is to blame.

“[Samhan] is trying to push his case to the media … but he just violated the rules of press and publication,” Mommani said. “We have to defend our law, but people in general, and especially writers, they don’t admit their mistakes.”

Cases like Samhan’s are rare, but not unprecedented in Jordan. In 2006, Jordan jailed two magazine editors for reprinting the inflammatory Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Nine years ago, Islamists accused Jordanian poet Musa Hawamdeh of being a kafir after he wrote a poem about Joseph that some Muslim groups said contradicted the story in the Koran. Hawamdeh’s book was banned, but he was eventually acquitted.

Despite incidents like these, said Moneef Zou’bi, director general of the Islamic World Academy of Science in Amman, such trials did not indicate a conservative shift. “Jordan has been a bastion of the moderate Sunni school of thought and moderate Islam since it was founded back in 1921,” he said.

For his part, Samhan hardly seems a controversial figure. Zarqa, where he lives, is a lower-income city outside Amman, just a few blocks from the childhood home of the one-time leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad in 2006.

In his living room, decorated with an artist’s care, Samhan jokes that his wife, Nada Damra got him into all this trouble. The two met at a local poetry club and his work in question, titled “Grace like a Shadow,” is a collection of love poems he wrote for Nada.

Religious authorities have taken issue with certain verses in the collection. According to Samhan, these include the following verses, translation:

*   "You have to lay down/Like a flock of doves/Over the corpse of the sky;"

*   and, "The Prophet reads the cup of coffee of the sky/A cup of coffee that his women are reading."

Taken out of the context, Samhan says the first stanza could be read to imply that God is dead, however, he says the lines are a dialogue between two lovers without religious connotation. The other stanza, again read out of context, could be interpreted to imply that the Prophet Mohammed is being compared to a fortuneteller, but Samhan says that this was just a different way to describe the prophet meditating or praying while his wives focused on worldly matters.

Others have charged that the tone and style of some his poems inappropriately mimics the Koran.