Indian Ruling Party Officials’ Insulting Comments About Prophet Muhammad Ignite Anger Across Islamic World
Pakistani people chant anti-Indian slogans during a demonstration against Indian BJP leaders' remarks insulting Prophet Muhammad in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 7,2022. (Sabir Mazhar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Indian Ruling Party Officials’ Insulting Comments About Prophet Muhammad Ignite Anger Across Islamic World

PM Modi’s party sanctions offending politicians as calls to boycott Indian goods mount in Muslim countries

[Islamabad] Anti-Islam remarks by two Indian politicians continue to provoke a strong reaction in Muslim countries throughout the world.

Nupur Sharma, who was a spokesperson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made the remark during a televised debate last month, and videos of it have gone viral. Naveen Jindal, who was media head of the party’s Delhi unit, posted an offensive tweet on the issue.

Protests and riots broke out in some Indian cities over Sharma’s blasphemous statement, while a boycott of Indian products has been launched in Arab countries.

Indian police registered cases against 1,500 Muslims and arrested several. Strict security has been imposed on the protests in Muslim-majority areas.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council strongly denounced the insulting remarks by the Indian leaders.

Pakistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Indonesia, and Iran summoned India’s envoys and handed them diplomatic protest notes over the controversial remarks.

Majed al-Ansari, spokesperson for the Qatari Foreign Ministry, demands a public apology from the Indian government for the insulting remarks by the ruling party’s officials against the Prophet Muhammad.

The United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Afghanistan, and the Maldives also issued statements condemning the insulting remarks.

Sharma’s derogatory remarks triggered a wave of denunciation inside the country and from the Islamic world. Despite the outcry, her party colleague Jindal tweeted them.

The tweets were subsequently deleted. The two politicians issued public apologies and the BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal.

India is home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

India’s 209+ million Muslims are the second-largest community after Hindus, forming 14.6% of the total population.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) General Secretariat strongly condemned the denigration of the Prophet Muhammad by officials from India’s ruling party.

“These cases of defamation are part of a growing spate of hatred and defamation of Islam in India and systematic practices against Indian Muslims,” the OIC statement read.

The OIC called on the Indian authorities to “decisively address these incidents of defamation and all forms of insult to the Holy Prophet and Islam and to bring those who incite and perpetrate violence against Muslims to justice and hold those behind them accountable.”

Arindam Bagchi, spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry, on Monday rejected the OIC statement saying it was “unwarranted” and “narrow-minded.”

“We accord the highest respect for all religions,” he added.

Bagchi further said that the “tweets and comments ‘denigrating a religious personality’ do not reflect the official views of the Indian government.

“Strong action has already been taken against those individuals by relevant authorities,” he said.

The Indian official also accused Pakistan of “engaging in alarmist propaganda and attempting to foment communal disharmony in India.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia described Sharma’s comments as “insulting,” and called for “respect for beliefs and religions.”

On Sunday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry denounced the statements made by the BJP leaders.

The ministry reiterated its “enduring rejection” of any insult to the symbols of the Islamic religion.

Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has categorically rejected insulting prophets, apostles, religious figures, and symbols of all religions, emphasizing the position that rejects provocation, targeting, or undermining beliefs and religion.

The Indian chargé d’affaires in Islamabad was summoned to the Foreign Ministry. He conveyed the government of Pakistan’s categorical rejection and strong condemnation of the derogatory remarks made by the two senior BJP officials about the Prophet Muhammad.

“These remarks are unacceptable and have not only deeply hurt the sentiments of the people of Pakistan but of Muslims across the world,” he was told.

Imran Khan, former Pakistani prime minister, condemned the offensive remarks and said that Modi’s government has been following a policy of deliberate provocation and hatred toward Muslims.

Perhaps the strongest reaction came from the grand mufti of Oman, who launched a campaign to boycott Indian products.

The Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad bin Hamad Al-Khalili tweeted that “the blasphemous remarks of the spokesperson of the ruling extremist party in India against our Holy Prophet (PBUH) is a war against every Muslim in the world and it is an issue that calls on all Muslims to unite as one nation.”

Indian media reported that “in Kuwait, Indian products have been pulled from shelves over the insulting remarks.”

“Superstores in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain remove Indian products after insulting remarks against Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by Indian PM Modi’s close aide,” the South Asia Index, an online data-driven platform that focuses on politics, diplomacy, and defense, tweeted.

The Media Line spoke with global experts regarding the Indian politicians’ insulting remarks.

Amer Al Sabaileh, a Jordanian strategic analyst and a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, told The Media Line that “this is always a very sensitive issue, and in the past, we have witnessed such incidents in some parts of the world and the consequences of such events are never encouraged.

“But now with India, the situation is more sensitive due to its trade and economic relations, particularly with the Gulf countries,” he continued. “This comes also in a very delicate moment where universal relations are going through a phase of reshaping since the spark of the Ukrainian war.”

Replying to a question from The Media Line, Al Sabaileh said that “there is always the risk of a wave of boycotting Indian goods and maybe taking actions against Indian laborers if there are no serious attempts to contain the situation with rationalism and wisdom.

“Active diplomacy based on respect and clarifying the official position of the Indian government are very important steps, not just to avoid the risk of boycotting Indian goods and economic loss but also to maintain stable and good relations with the Islamic world,” he added.

“In this way, things can be controlled; otherwise, the costs will be controlled by the impulsive reaction and populism that may lead to making the situation worse,” the Amman-based Al Sabaileh said.

Rohit Sharma, a New Delhi-based leading security and political analyst, told The Media Line that “after the exclusion of two ruling party leaders for their insulting remarks, Indian leadership officially asserted that they respect all religions. The quick expulsion gave a clear message that no such act will be tolerated in the future.

“The government’s decision was expected as India is a secular country and had three Muslim presidents. Whichever party rules India, the sanctity of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad have always been a priority for the government,” he added.

“The reaction from the Islamic world was as expected. Indeed, India has good diplomatic and trade relations with them,” Rohit Sharma said.

He also noted that “the fact that the countries summoned Indian envoys is a serious issue as an Indian ambassador is rarely summoned elsewhere in the world apart from Pakistan, where the Indian chargé d’affaires is a regular visitor to the foreign ministry.

“The boycott of Indian products in the Gulf countries is a serious one, though the Gulf countries removed the French products at the time of the cartoon controversy, but it did not impact the overall economy of France,” he continued.

“The damage control steps taken by the government were appropriate and timely, or else there could have been an escalation of the matter. India is fully capable of tackling this controversy via diplomatic channels,” Rohit Sharma said.

Umar Karim, a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told The Media Line that “the boycott movement against Indian products can gather steam, but this will be different in different Gulf countries depending on what is the government stance on such campaigns.

“It seems in Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, there’s a greater resentment against the insulting remarks by the Indian officials, but in other Gulf countries there have been customary official condemnations but no popular boycott movement,” he said.

“There’s considerable political pressure on the Indian government, which is now clearly on the back foot on the issue and has resorted to an apologetic discourse,” he continued.

However, “no one can force the Modi-led government to abandon anti-Muslim measures because that’s the ideology which runs in the political soul of BJP and its political discourse is pretty much built upon hatred for minorities and its policies are geared toward their persecution,” Karim said.

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