When the Rev. Terry Jones was preparing to put the Quran on trial last month, his supporters could find only one Muslim willing to take part in the bizarre proceeding, which ended with the holy text being set ablaze.

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When the Rev. Terry Jones was preparing to put the Quran on trial last month, his supporters could find only one Muslim willing to take part in the bizarre proceeding, which ended with the holy text being set ablaze.

Mohamed Elhassan, 50, a computer-store owner who leads a tiny Sufi congregation in Irving, Texas, readily agreed to defend the Quran. He’d debated Islam with Jones’ supporters before and wasn’t put off by the prospect of interacting with Jones, though he knew the pastor had threatened to burn the Quran in September.

“I thought it would help other Muslims, other Christians and Terry Jones himself. I thought we were just going to discuss the Quran. That’s why I went there,” Elhassan said.

But he had never seen anything quite like Jones’ mock trial, in which the pastor dressed up in judicial robes at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., and pronounced the Quran “guilty” of inciting terrorism and violence. Elhassan said he had no idea the Quran would be desecrated at the end of the trial, an act that led to days of deadly violence in Afghanistan.

“They didn’t tell me that,” Elhassan said in a telephone interview from his home in Irving, near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Elhassan, a native of Sudan who is now a U.S. citizen, likes to call himself a sheik. He wears a cleric’s flowing white robes and claims hundreds of followers throughout Egypt, Sudan and the United States.

But he is unknown as a scholar or holy man in the state he has called home for two decades. Religious leaders in Texas say they have never heard of Elhassan, including the imam at the mosque where he worships.

“This so-called leader, we have never heard of this person,” said Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, head of the Islamic Center of Irving. “I believe the whole thing is made up.”

Elhassan has only a handful of followers who chant with him on Saturdays and Sundays at a small prayer center in a strip mall that he founded in 2001 for other Sufi Muslims, a sect that embraces mysticism and a personal relationship with God.

Elhassan has sought the spotlight before. Last year he declared himself a candidate for the president of Sudan but never made it onto the official ballot.

He said he agreed to serve as the defense attorney at Jones’ mock trial because the Quran teaches that Muslims should engage in peaceful dialogue with Christians.

But there was also a more pragmatic reason. It was spring break and he wanted to take his wife and five kids to Disney World: to “kill two birds with one stone,” as he put it.

Since returning to Texas, Elhassan says he has been questioned by others about his participation in the trial. Some of his small group of followers have asked that he no longer lead prayers. Others have refused to drive for the taxi fleet that his family owns, he said.

“There are some people who blame me, who say you don’t need to go there,” he said. “You were in the place of the devil.”