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Muslim nations slam India for slur on Islam: NPR

Indian Muslims shout slogans as they react to derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad made by senior officials of the ruling Hindu Nationalist Party during a protest in Mumbai, India, on Monday.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP

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Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Muslim nations slam India for slur on Islam: NPR

Indian Muslims shout slogans as they react to derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad made by senior officials of the ruling Hindu Nationalist Party during a protest in Mumbai, India, on Monday.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP

NEW DELHI – India is facing major diplomatic outrage from Muslim-majority countries after senior officials from the ruling Hindu nationalist party made derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, prompting accusations of blasphemy in some Arab countries that left New Delhi to struggle to contain the damaging fallout.

At least five Arab nations lodged formal protests against India, and Pakistan and Afghanistan also reacted strongly on Monday to comments from two prominent spokespersons for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party. Anger spilled onto social media and calls to boycott Indian products surfaced in some Arab countries. At home, it has led to protests against Modi’s party in parts of the country.

The controversial remarks follow growing violence targeting India’s Muslim minority led by Hindu nationalists who have been emboldened by Modi’s regular silence on such attacks since his first election in 2014.

Over the years, Indian Muslims have often been targeted for everything from their food and dress style to interfaith marriages. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned that the attacks could intensify. They also accused Modi’s ruling party of looking the other way and sometimes allowing hate speech against Muslims, who make up 14% of India’s 1.4 billion people but are still large enough to be the second largest Muslim population of any nation.

Modi’s party denies the charges, but Indian Muslims say attacks on them and their faith have risen sharply.

Anger has been growing since last week after the two spokespersons, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, made speculative remarks that were seen as an insult to Islam’s prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. .

Modi’s party took no action against them until Sunday, when a sudden chorus of diplomatic outrage began with Qatar and Kuwait summoning their Indian ambassadors to protest. The BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal and released a rare statement saying it “strongly denounces the insulting of any religious figure”, a move which was hailed by Qatar and Kuwait.

Later, Saudi Arabia and Iran also filed complaints with India, and the Jeddha-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation said the remarks came amid a “context of heightened hatred and abuses of Islam in India and systematic practices against Muslims”.

India’s Foreign Ministry on Monday dismissed the OIC’s comments as “unwarranted” and “narrow-minded”. On Sunday, India’s embassies in Qatar and Kuwait issued a statement saying that views expressed on the Prophet Muhammad and Islam were not those of the Indian government and were expressed by “fringe elements”. The statement said strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory comments.

Critics from Muslim countries, however, were harsh, indicating that insulting the Prophet Muhammad was a red line.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said it expected a public apology from the Indian government, and Kuwait warned that if the comments went unpunished, India would see “an increase in extremism and hatred “. Oman’s Grand Mufti has described Modi’s party’s “obscene rudeness” towards Islam as a form of “war”. Riyadh said the comments were insulting and called for “respect for beliefs and religions”. And Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni world’s leading institution of religious learning, called the remarks “real terrorism (which) can plunge the whole world into serious crises and deadly wars.”

The remarks made by Sharma on a TV show in India and Jindal in a tweet risk damaging India’s ties with Arab countries.

India has close ties with the Gulf countries, which rely on millions of migrant workers from India and elsewhere in South Asia to serve their tiny local populations and run the machines of daily life. India also depends on oil-rich Arab Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia to fuel its energy-thirsty economy.

The remarks also angered India’s arch-rival and neighbor Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned an Indian diplomat on Monday and conveyed Islamabad’s “strong condemnation”, a day after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the comments were “hurtful” and that “India under Modi tramples on religious freedoms and persecutes Muslims.” India’s Foreign Ministry responded by calling Pakistan a “serial violator of minority rights” and said it should not engage “in scaremongering propaganda and attempt to foment communal discord in India”.

“India gives the utmost respect to all religions,” said ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi.

Critics also came from Kabul. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan said the Indian government should not allow “such fanatics to insult… Islam and provoke the feelings of Muslims”.

Modi’s party also faced the wrath of some of its own supporters, but that was for a different reason. Many Hindu nationalists posted comments on social media saying the government was caving in to international pressure.

Anti-Muslim sentiments and attacks grew across India under Modi. Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said India was seeing “an increase in attacks on people and places of worship”, prompting a response from New Delhi, which called the comments “evil informed”.

More recently, religious tensions have escalated after some Hindu groups went to a local court in the northern city of Varanasi to seek permission to pray at a 17th-century mosque, claiming it was built in tearing down a temple. Critics say these tensions have been further heightened by Indian TV presenters in heated debates.


Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, Munir Ahmad and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.


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