A disabled woman who recently converted to Islam was subjected to an hour long tirade of religiously aggravated abuse by the Christian owners of a bed and breakfast hotel after she appeared dressed in the hijab, a court heard today.
Ericka Tazi, aged 60, had been a guest at The Bounty House Hotel in Aintree, Liverpool, for a month when she appeared for the first time wearing the veil and a traditional gown. The change from Western dress on the final morning of her stay in March is alleged to have turned the proprietor Benjamin Vogelenzang into a “whirling dervish”.
It was claimed he demanded to know whether Mrs Tazi, who suffers from the debilitating condition fibromyalgia and walks with a stick, was a murderer or a terrorist. Liverpool Magistrates Court heard that Mr Vogelenzang, 53, described the traditional Muslim outfit as a form of “bondage” and a symbol of “oppression” before accusing the prophet Mohammed of being a “warlord” and comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler.
Members of the Christian Institute were outside the court singing hymns in support of the hotelier and his wife Sharon, 54, who both deny a charge, under the 1986 Public Order Act, of using threatening, abusive or insulting words which were religiously aggravated.
Giving evidence yesterday in the first of a two day trial, Mrs Tazi dressed in a hijab and kissed and swore her oath on the Koran. The mother of two said she was left “absolutely traumatised” and frightened by her experience.
Describing herself as a “normal Warrington girl who liked the Beatles” she said she had been a member of the Catholic Legion of Mary and “many religions” before converting to Islam when she married 18-months ago.
Mr Vogelenzang followed her into the dining room and was “jumping up and down” with his “arms flailing”, it was claimed. She said: “He just couldn't accept the way I was dressed. He was laughing at me and it seemed to trigger something, I don't know why, I kept saying 'I'm Ericka', it was my outfit that had triggered him. He asked me if I was a murderer, if I was a terrorist. I'm a 60-year-old disabled woman, I couldn't understand where it was coming from, it was shocking to me.”
She said Mrs Vogelenzang had been alerted by the sound of the dispute. "Sharon came running in, she was shouting 'you started this with your dress' and she was pointing in my face and I was frightened at this stage,” she said
Mrs Tazi, who had been attending a four-week pain management course at The Walton Centre at nearby Aintree Hospital, denied trying to make a religious statement by wearing the hijab or having religious arguments with other guests. Mrs Tazi contacted the police later that night. When questioned by detectives, the couple said they had been sharing their "faith views". The court heard that Sharon Vogelenzang told officers she did not mean to be disrespectful when she referred to the hijab as bondage.
She said she was entitled to respond when her faith was challenged and insisted she was merely expressing her opinions. Benjamin Vogelenzang said he had referred to historical figures, but not Mohammed, and had not meant to be offensive or insulting. The trial continues.