An atheist shocked Muslim volunteers at a stall promoting Islam when he ripped out pages from the Koran. Peter James Crawford (52) then threw the holy book onto the ground and told them: “Your religion is a load of b******s.”
He is on trial at Leicester Crown Court accused of causing religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress, by demonstrating hostility based on membership of a particular religious group, Islam. He denies the charge.
The incident happened at the Islamic Information Centre’s stall, near the Clock Tower in Leicester city centre, on a busy Saturday afternoon, on May 12.
Kamran Qayyum, an employee of the organisation, told the court: “We give out literature to create an awareness of Islam and engage with the public.” He was with four volunteers when Crawford began pacing around nearby.
Mr Qayyum said: “He started tearing up pages from a book and they were going on the floor. He wasn’t saying anything. The pages covered a lot of ground, they were everywhere. I then noticed Arabic inscriptions and realised it was the Koran. I knelt down and was picking up the papers when he threw the Koran down, just missing me.”
Mr Qayyum said: “The Koran is sacred to us and we honour it. We also have a Bible on our stand and we show the Bible the same respect. One of the laws of the Koran is it shouldn’t be on the floor, it should be high up and our hands should be clean when it’s touched. I was shocked.”
Mr Quyyum said after the defendant was arrested: “He made a signal to us, shaping his hand in the form of a gun, saying ‘See you next Saturday’.”
Defence advocate Steven Newcombe said: “There are many who oppose Islam. Did you take it he was expressing anti-Islamic views and disrespecting the religion?”
“Yes,” said Mr Quyyum.
Mr Quyyum agreed that apart from a hand gesture – which Mr Newcombe suggested was the pointing of a finger rather than a gun gesture – the defendant did not threaten or provoke any violence.
Another stall volunteer, Zahid Hussein, said: “I saw him ripping up the book. I was in shock, disgusted. It’s our life, our way of life and we live by that book – it’s very sacred.” He said Crawford told them their religion was “a load of b******s.”
Crawford, of Mere Road, Spinney Hill, Leicester, claimed, in interview, he was expressing his disagreement with religion of any kind. He told the police it was his own copy of the Koran he tore up, and he would have done the same with a Bible as he did not understand either holy book and “hated” all religion. “I’m not against the people, just their religion,” he said.
James Bide-Thomas, prosecuting, said: “The real issue is whether Crawford was insulting and whether it was a crime that we say he committed. It’s tradition in this country of freedom of speech and people are entitled to say what they want, as long as it’s not illegal in relation to the law, which prevents people going out to cause harassment, alarm or distress by insulting behaviour, basically upsetting people.
“It’s for you to decide whether what he did was insulting or whether it was a legitimate piece of freedom of speech being exercised or if what he did was deliberately calculated to upset the people from the Islamic Information Centre.”
The trial continues.
Update: See “Ripping Koran was ‘freedom of speech’, accused Peter Crawford tells Leicester court”, Leicester Mercury, 21 December 2012