AMMAN, June 16 (AFP) - A Jordanian poet who wrote allegedly blasphemous verses has appeared in court accused of renouncing Islam and faces being split up from his wife if found guilty, a legal source said Friday.

The public prosecutor refered Mussa Hawamdeh to Amman's Court of First Instance, where he appeared Thursday, following the publication earlier this year of his poetry collection "My Trees are Taller."

The accusation of apostasy is based on verses in a poem called "Joseph" in which Hawamdeh says the wife of the Pharoah of Egypt, who according to the Koran tried to seduce Joseph, "never in fact laid eyes on him."

Muslims consider the Koran their holy book and the uncontestable word of God.

According to Hawamdeh's poem, Joseph "imagined that the queen loved him although she was purer than him" and believed that "Egyptian women sleep with Israelis and adore Mossad men" -- Israeli secret agents.

Some Muslim prayer leaders branded the poet an "apostate" when the book was published and called for his death, prompting the government to withdraw the book in March and warn people not to take the law into their own hands.

According to Islamic law, apostacy is punishable by death, but Jordanian law punishes it with up to three months in prison and a fine.

Hawadmeh told AFP he defended himself in court saying he was a "believing Muslim."

"I wasn't trying to distort the version of the Koran in the poem, but as a poet I have the right to draw on historic symbols to criticise a current situation," he said.

The charge sheet requires the court to strip Hawabdeh of his possessions and force him to divorce his wife if he refuses to make a retraction.

"I told the court I had made no attack on Islam to justify a retraction," the poet said.

He added that his poem had intended to underline his "rejection of the idea that an Arab woman could be a source of seduction for the Jewish descendents of Joseph."

The next court session will take place Sunday.

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