South Asia protests over prophetic remarks by India’s BJP officials | News about Islamophobia

Thousands of Muslims have gathered across the South Asian nations of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan due to derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad from two officials of the Indian ruling party who have triggered a diplomatic backlash against New Delhi.

Protests were reported from various Indian cities, including the capital New Delhi, on Friday as Muslims marched after the afternoon prayer, raising slogans against the government and demanding the arrest of members belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modis’ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Anger has grown in India and Muslim-majority nations around the world since last week, when two BJP officials – spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and Delhi media chief Naveen Kumar Jindal – made comments that were seen as insulting to Islam’s prophet and his wife Aisha.

The BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal, saying they condemned the insults of religious people. The Conservative Party also asked its spokesmen to be “extremely careful” on religious issues in “debates” in prime time on Indian news channels.

New Delhi police on Thursday filed charges against the two BJP members and others – including a Muslim parliamentarian and journalist – for “inciting hatred” and other charges.

But India’s Muslims, who are facing a sharp rise in Islamophobia and attacks on them since Modi came to power in 2014, say these actions are not enough.

India is protesting
People hold posters during a protest demanding the arrest of Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal for their comments about the Prophet, outside a mosque in Mumbai [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Several parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region, on Friday observed a spontaneous shutdown to protest the derogatory statements of the two BJP leaders against the Prophet Muhammad.

Authorities in the disputed region suspended mobile internet services and deployed additional security forces in some areas as measures to quell popular protests.

“The problem is outrageous to every Muslim in the world. The BJP has hated Muslims, but they must know that insulting our prophet will not be tolerated, Mehraj Ud Din, a shopkeeper in the capital Srinagar, told Al Jazeera.

Protests were also reported after Friday prayers from several districts in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous with 204 million inhabitants, more than 19 percent of them Muslims.

In New Delhi, a large number of people gathered outside the Mughal era of Jama Masjid in the old quarters of the capital, raising slogans against the BJP-led government. Similar protests were reported from other Indian states, including West Bengal and Telangana.

A report from New Delhi told Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal that there was “enormous anger on the streets of India” over the comments of BJP officials against the Prophet Muhammad.

She said the protests became violent in some places, with a baton by the police accusing the protesters and firing tear gas.

“Protesters are demanding that former BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma be arrested for making blasphemous comments,” she said.

Mittal said that the BJP action against Sharma and Jindal, according to critics, was “a response too little too late”. “They (critics) have accused the BJP of fueling anti-minorities and anti-Muslim sentiments in India,” she said.

Anger in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, thousands of people protested outside Dhaka’s main mosque, Baitul Mukarram, after Friday prayers, chanting slogans such as “Boycott Indian products” and “Hang those who insult our prophet.”

Bangladesh protest
Muslims join a procession after Friday prayers to protest the blasphemous comments of Prophet Muhammad from BJP members in Dhaka, Bangladesh [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Small processions were also reported from other parts of the capital against the Hindu Nationalist Party’s remarks against the Prophet.

The protests were organized jointly by Islami Andolon Bangladesh, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Bangladesh and Islami Oikya Jote.

While India is fighting to curb a diplomatic storm in many countries with Arab and Muslim majorities over anti-Islamic statements, the government of Bangladesh – home to the world’s fourth largest Muslim population – has not yet condemned Modi’s government.

This silence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been criticized by the opposition parties and the people.

Asif Nazrul, a professor of law at Dhaka University, told Al Jazeera that the Bangladeshi government did not speak because it did not want to “counter India at all costs, even if it means glorifying the Prophet of Islam”.

“Sheikh Hasina’s government remains in power without a mandate from the people, and a large part of the population of Bangladesh believes India has a role behind it. So naturally, the Hasina administration would not do anything that would serve the wrath of the Modi government, he said.

Anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh regarding the treatment of India’s Muslim minority have grown since Modi came to power in 2014.

On Thursday, Bangladesh’s largest non-political Muslim platform, Hefazat-e-Islam, held a large rally in Dhaka in protest of the comments about the Prophet from BJP officials and asked the government to send a formal condemnation message to Indian authorities.

Speakers during the protest also called for a boycott of Indian products until the country leaves its anti-Muslim policy.

Rally in Pakistan

Thousands of people also gathered in Pakistan on Thursday, arguing briefly with police in Pakistan’s capital, urging Muslim countries to cut diplomatic ties with New Delhi due to statements by two BJP officials who were derogatory of the Prophet Muhammad.

Pakistan protest
Protesters burn Indian flag during a demonstration condemning derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad from BJP members in Lahore [K M Chaudary/AP]

Clashes between protesters from the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan party and police broke out as protesters tried to march on the Indian embassy in Islamabad, but were stopped by police.

In Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, dozens of people took to the streets demanding that the government close down the High Commission in India and boycott Indian products.

“The government must close down the Indian High Commission in Pakistan and boycott India economically,” said protester Shabana Ummul Hasnain.

Protesters also burned India’s national flags and photos of Modi and Sharma.

Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations. Since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, the nuclear-armed nations have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, divided between them, but claimed by both in their entirety.

Faisal Mahmud contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh.