21 July 2023

Muslim-majority nations express outrage over Koran desecration in Sweden

21 July 2023

Muslim-majority nations have expressed outrage at the desecration of a copy of the Koran in Sweden.

Some countries have prepared for street demonstrations following midday prayers to show their anger.

In Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, activists planned protests after Swedish police permitted a protest on Thursday in which an Iraqi Christian living in Stockholm kicked and stood on a Koran, Islam’s holy book, outside the Iraqi embassy.

Hours before that, demonstrators in Baghdad broke into the Swedish embassy and lit a fire to show their anger at his threats to burn the book.

Iraqi Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani has ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from Iraq and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden. But that may not be enough to calm those who were angered, and another protest in Baghdad is planned for Friday afternoon.

In neighbouring Iran, demonstrators also planned to take to the streets. Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has written a letter to the United Nations secretary-general over the Koran desecration and has summoned the Swedish ambassador.

“We consider the Swedish government responsible for the outcome of provocation reactions from the world’s muslims,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.

The man in Stockholm also wiped his feet with a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his demonstration and did similar to a photo of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful leader there.

Lebanon’s Shia militant group Hezbollah also called for a demonstration on Friday afternoon. Khamenei and Iran’s theocracy serve as Hezbollah’s main sponsor.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the events in Sweden. He called on the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to play a “historic role in expressing the sentiments of Muslims and stopping this demonisation”.

Meanwhile, Islamists in his country have been pushing Mr Sharif, who faces an upcoming election, to cut diplomatic ties with Sweden.

On Thursday morning, protesters in Baghdad occupied the Swedish Embassy for several hours and set a small fire. The embassy staff had been evacuated a day earlier. After protesters left the embassy, diplomats closed it to visitors without specifying when it would reopen.

Prime Minister Mr al-Sudani said in a statement that Iraqi authorities would prosecute those responsible for starting the fire and referred to an investigation of “negligent security officials”.

Some demonstrators stayed at the site, ignored by police, after the attack. An Associated Press photographer and two Reuters staff members were arrested while covering the protest and released several hours later without charges.

This is the second Koran desecration to involve the Iraqi Christian in Sweden, identified as Salwan Momika. Last month, a man identified by local media and on his social media as Momika burned a Koran outside a Stockholm mosque during the major muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, triggering widespread condemnation in the Islamic world.

The right to hold public demonstrations is protected by the constitution in Sweden. Blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s. Police generally give permission based on whether they believe a public gathering can be held without major disruptions or safety risks.

For muslims, the burning of the Koran represents a desecration of their religion’s holy text. Koran burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, some turning violent.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban suspended all the activities of Swedish organisations in the country in response to the recent Koran burning.

A similar protest by a far-right activist was held outside Turkey’s Embassy earlier this year, complicating Sweden’s efforts to persuade Turkey to let it join Nato.

In June, protesters who support al-Sadr stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad over that Koran burning.

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