Palestine Singer avoids controversial song before trial for blasphemy

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Tue Nov 16 04:49:13 MST 1999

13 November 1999
Singer avoids controversial song before trial for blasphemy
Beirut, Lebanon: In an apparent change of tactics, a populist Lebanese
singer has chosen not to perform the song for which he has been charged with
An estimated 5,000 people packed the UNESCO Palace hall in Beirut on
Wednesday night to hear Marcel Khalifa and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud
Darwish. Fans of the 48-year-old Christian singer with communist leanings
perched on the edges of the auditorium's balcony while others stood outside
in the rain and watched the concert on a large screen.
Khalifa was charged Oct. 2 with insulting Islam for singing the song "I am
Yussef, oh Father." Based on a poem by Darwish, the song quotes the Koran,
Islam's holy book. Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Sheik
Mohammed Kabbani, says singing the Koran constitutes blasphemy. If
convicted, Khalifa faces up to three years in jail.
But many artists, intellectuals, politicians and even some Muslim clerics
have defended Khalifa. The song speaks about the suffering of Yussef, the
Biblical Joseph, at the hands of his brothers. Khalifa says the lyrics
reflect the plight of Lebanese and Palestinian people living under Israeli
Three days after his indictment last month, Khalifa sang the song to loud
applause at a Press Association meeting. On Wednesday night, Khalifa
strummed the oud, a guitar-like instrument, and sang several hits, but not
"I am Yussef, oh Father."
He appeared to be seeking to avoid prejudicing his trial, which is scheduled
to begin December 1. However, Darwish referred to the song, saying that the
memory of Yussef was "a search to draw a lesson from a bitter experience."
The audience cheered and Darwish, mindful of the controversy, quickly
dissociated himself from the court case. "I am only here to salute you," he
said. Darwish, who recited his latest poems, was making his first trip to
Beirut since being evacuated with Palestinian guerrillas during the 1982
Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

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