Autistic teen bombarded by death threats after a Koran was dropped

An autistic 14-year-old high school student was expelled and threatened with death after an incident where a Koran was “disrespected.”

 Cover of a Quran (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Cover of a Quran
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

An autistic high schooler in year 10 at Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield, England received a slew of death threats and threats of physical harm after an incident where a Koran was “disrespected” and slightly marred last Wednesday. At a subsequent meeting at the local mosque called to address the incident, the boy’s mother pleaded her son’s remorse to the assembled congregation.

The meeting, called to review the facts of the incident and put the local Muslim community at ease, took place at Jamia Masjid Swafia, a local mosque in Wakefield.

The meeting was hosted by the Imam, Hafiz Muhammad Mateen Anwar and was recorded on video. It was later posted to the mosque’s Facebook page on Friday.

The event featured a panel that included Imam Anwar, Chief Inspector Andy Thornton, Inspector Glen Costello, Kettlethorpe High School headteacher Tudor Griffiths, Akef Akbar, an Independent councilor for Wakefield East, and the 14-year-old boy’s mother among others.

Also in attendance was the mosque’s congregation, which included parents of children who attend the high school.

 Wakefield, UK (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Wakefield, UK (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

What happened?

As recorded in the video, both the Imam and Councilor Akbar related how the events transpired. Both report that it started when the boy, who is unnamed, was playing video games with his friends, during which a wager was made.Supposedly, the winner of the game would get to dictate something for the loser to buy or do, and the boy, upon losing, was directed to buy a Koran.

He then took the Islamic holy book to school where it was passed to another student, who then, with peers, recited a portion of the text somewhere on the school’s outdoor premises.

The book was then brought inside and, shortly thereafter, was knocked from the hands of the student carrying it, causing it to slam into the floor.

Finally, the boy who initially lost the bet and bought the book picked up the Koran and placed it in his bag.Word of the events quickly spread and, consequently, the boy soon found himself inundated with threats of violence and death.

Councilor Akbar reported that, while rumors circulated on social media claiming that the Koran had been burnt, torn, or spat upon, the rumors were ungrounded. While the book indeed sustained slight damage, the reports were heavily exaggerated.

On Saturday, the East Wakefield councilor posted photos of the Koran which reveal some markings on the bottom edge, a tiny tear in the front cover, and what appear to be skid marks on one of the pages.

How were the proportions of blame distributed?

While the imam acknowledged that it is wrong to respond to disrespect of the Koran with threats of physical violence, he nevertheless focused much of his attention elsewhere. He spoke on how Muslims shouldn’t engage in such threats because of how the non-Muslim public will respond to them, how it is wrong to disrespect the Koran, how the feelings of the offended Muslims are valid and how important it is that non-Muslims understand that Muslims will never tolerate disrespect of the Koran.

“Somehow the Muslims turn into the perpetrators due to the way in which we react,” Imam Anwar said. “The feelings that we feel are not wrong. It's just the way in which we express them which is taken negatively, and the whole table is turned and the focus from the disrespect element is shifted to the... Muslims [reacting negatively.]”

Furthermore, seemingly in order to placate the offended community, both the imam and the councilor frequently highlighted the schoolboy’s autism diagnosis.

“Our brother and councilor Akef Akbar alongside one of the organizers [of the meeting] both attended the house of that autistic student, the mother of whom is present here today, and have both witnessed the level of high autism that the student faces,” the imam said.

“We spoke with [the boy. He] is highly autistic,” councilor Akbar added later.

The boy’s mother, however, gave a less dramatic description of her son’s diagnosis, describing him as “high functioning,” and not always aware of whether something is appropriate. No one present, however, addressed that most diagnostically normative fourteen-year-old boys also do not always have the best judgment regarding the appropriateness of an action.

Additionally, none of the speakers addressed that a diagnosis of autism is irrelevant in a discussion about whether or not it is appropriate to bear a grudge against, much less threaten, a fourteen-year-old boy because he disrespected a holy book.

The boy’s mother took the opportunity to deliver a contrite apology to the assembled congregation on her son’s behalf and spoke at length about how her son was sorry. She also was careful to repeat how the boy had since learned how disrespectful what he had done was.

“He hasn't eaten since Wednesday afternoon when this occurred because, with his autism, it's put his anxiety to a level where he is beside himself. He’s very, very sorry,” the boy’s mother said as she sat at the edge of the panel, hair covered with a black scarf.

After again repeating how sorry her son was, she added, “we have had to call the police. He has received death threats, he has received threats that he will be beaten up if he goes back to school. He’s absolutely petrified, [and] I don't want anybody to be prosecuted because of the stupidity of my son and his friends.”

He hasn't eaten since Wednesday afternoon when this occurred because, with his autism, it's put his anxiety to a level where he is beside himself. He’s very, very sorry.

The boys mother

The Imam then invited the mother and son to an event at the masjid the following Thursday and proceeded to tell the congregation that they have successfully demonstrated that they will not remain silent and passive when the Koran is disrespected. Nevertheless, he voiced that he hopes that the series of events has served as a learning opportunity.

“For those who may have been of the mindset before coming here, that the way of reacting to this [is] violence, I hope this has been an education for as well. That both ways, number one that Islam and Muslims will not tolerate anything to disrespect the honor of this religion, but at the same time how we deal with when someone does disrespect the honor of our religion. That's been the purpose of today, I hope that has been achieved.”