Thousands of Muslims in South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan rallied to protest insulting remarks to the Prophet Muhammad by officials from India’s ruling party that sparked diplomatic backlash against New Delhi.
Protests were reported from various Indian cities, including the capital, New Delhi, on Friday as Muslims marched after afternoon prayers, chanting anti-government slogans and calling for the arrest of members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
Anger has been building in India and Muslim-majority countries around the world since last week, when two BJP officials – spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and head of Delhi’s media cell Navin Kumar Jindal – made comments seen as an insult to the Prophet of Islam and his wife, Aisha.
The BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal, saying he denounced insults to religious figures. The right-wing party has also asked its spokesmen to be “extremely cautious” on religious matters in prime-time “debates” on Indian news channels.
Police in New Delhi on Thursday filed cases against two BJP members and others – including a Muslim parliamentarian and a journalist – for “inciting hatred” and other charges.
But India’s Muslims, who have faced a sharp rise in Islamophobia and attacks on them since Modi came to power in 2014, say these measures are not enough.
Several parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region, on Friday saw an automatic lockdown in protest of insulting remarks made by two BJP leaders against the Prophet Muhammad.
Authorities in the disputed region have suspended mobile internet services and deployed additional security forces in some areas as precautionary measures to quell popular protests.
“The case infuriates any Muslim in the world. Maharajuddin, a shop owner in the main city of Srinagar told Al Jazeera that the BJP is promoting hatred against Muslims, but they should know that insulting our Prophet will not be tolerated.
Protests after Friday prayers were reported from several districts in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 204 million, more than 19 percent of whom are Muslims.
In New Delhi, a large number of people gathered outside the Mughal-era Jama Masjid in the old quarters of the capital, chanting slogans against the BJP-led government. Similar protests were reported from other Indian states, including West Bengal and Telangana.
In a report from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Bavni Mittal said there was “enormous anger in the streets of India” over comments made by BJP officials against the Prophet Muhammad.
She said the protests turned violent in some places, with police charging protesters with batons and firing tear gas.
“The protesters are calling for the arrest of former BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma for making blasphemous comments,” she said.
Mittal said the BJP’s action against Sharma and Jindal, according to critics, was a “too late reaction”. “They (critics) blamed the BJP for inflaming anti-minority and anti-Muslim sentiment in India,” she said.
Anger in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, thousands of people protested outside the main Bait Makram mosque in Dhaka, after Friday prayers, chanting slogans such as “Boycott Indian products” and “Hang up whoever insults our Prophet”.
Small operations were also reported from other parts of the capital against the statements of a Hindu Nationalist Party official against the Prophet.
The protests were organized by Andolon Bangladesh Islami, Association of Islamic Scholars of Bangladesh and Islami Okiya Guti.
While India struggles to contain a diplomatic storm in many Arab and other Muslim-majority countries over anti-Islam statements, the government in Bangladesh – home to the world’s fourth largest Muslim population – has yet to condemn the Modi government.
The silence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was criticized by the opposition parties and the people.
Asif Nazrul, a law professor at Dhaka University, told Al Jazeera that the Bangladesh government had not spoken because it did not want to “antagonize India at any cost, even if it concerns the honor of the Prophet of Islam”.
“Sheikh Hasina’s government remains in power without a mandate from the people, and a large section of the people in Bangladesh believe that India has a role behind it. So naturally, the Hasina administration would not do anything that would irritate the Modi government.
Anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh over the treatment of India’s Muslim minority has increased since Modi took power in 2014.
On Thursday, Bangladesh’s largest non-political Muslim platform, Hafizul Islam, organized a mass rally in Dhaka to protest BJP officials’ statements about the Prophet and called on the government to send an official letter of condemnation to the Indian authorities.
Speakers at the protest also called for a boycott of Indian products until the country abandons its anti-Muslim policies.
gathering in pakistan
Thousands of people rallied in Pakistan on Thursday and briefly clashed with police in the Pakistani capital, urging Muslim countries to sever diplomatic ties with New Delhi over statements by two BJP officials that violated the Prophet Muhammad.
Brawls erupted between the Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami protesters and the police when the protesters tried to march towards the Indian embassy in Islamabad but were stopped by the police.
In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, dozens of people took to the streets, calling on the government to close the High Commission of India and boycott Indian products.
“The government should close the Indian High Commission in Pakistan and boycott India economically,” said the protester, Shabana Umm al-Hassanin.
The protesters also burned India’s national flags and pictures of Modi and Sharma.
Relations between Pakistan and India are bitter. Since their independence from British rule in 1947, the two nuclear-armed nations have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, split between them but both claiming it in full.
Faisal Mahmood contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh.