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Muslim countries outraged over Indian official’s 'Islamophobic' remarks

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party suspends spokesperson for expressing ‘views contrary to party’s position'
Muslims break their fast at the Jama Masjid mosque during Islam's holy month of Ramadan in the old quarters of Delhi on 13 April 2022 (AFP)

Muslim countries have denounced “Islamophobic” comments about Prophet Muhammad made by a senior official in India's ruling party, as New Delhi attempts to manage the diplomatic fallout.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma for expressing "views contrary to the party’s position".

On Monday, India's foreign ministry said in a statement that the offensive comments made during a television debate did not, in any way, reflect the views of the government.

Some of India's top officials were engaged in managing the diplomatic fallout, as Muslim countries, including BahrainQatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iran have demanded an apology from the government for allowing the derogatory remarks, according to Reuters.

Saudi Arabia condemned the “insulting” comments and welcomed Sharma’s suspension, according to a foreign ministry statement.

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Qatar demanded that New Delhi apologise for the "Islamophobic" comments, as India's Vice President Venkaiah Naidu visited Doha, and handed the Indian ambassador an official protest letter.

Kuwait summoned India's ambassador, amid calls on social media for a boycott of Indian goods in the Gulf. 

Modi's party, which has previously been criticised for cracking down on India’s Muslim minority, said it "respects all religions".

In Cairo, al-Azhar, Egypt's highest Sunni institution, denounced the defamation of Islam for political gains, describing it as a “call for extremism, spread of hatred and discord among followers of religions".

The Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have also condemned the remarks made on Sunday.

Pakistan, meanwhile, called "the international community to take immediate cognizance of the grievously aggravating situation of Islamophobia in India".

BJP also expelled another spokesman Naveen Jindal, who heads its Delhi media, over an inflammatory tweet he posted about Islam and later deleted.

Sharma said on Twitter her remarks were in response to comments made about a Hindu god.

"If my words have caused discomfort or hurt religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement," she said.

The remarks have also led to protests in the Indian city of Kanpur, with 38 people arrested for rioting. Protests are also planned in in the financial capital Mumbai later on Monday.

The BJP has long faced accusations of stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in India and pursuing policies that discriminate against Muslims and other religious minorities.

In March, India objected to the creation of a United Nations-recognised international day to combat Islamophobia.

Addressing the General Assembly, India’s permanent representative TS Tirumurti called on the UN to condemn “religiophobias” rather than singling out Islamophobia, citing discrimination against Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

“It is in this context that we are concerned about elevating the phobia against one religion to the level of an international day, to the exclusion of all the others,” he said.