Leaders of prominent Muslim groups in India are urging followers to shun protests that are supposed to take the next few days in response to the violent turn of the demonstrations that occurred the past week. The protests are in response to the derogatory comments made about Prophet Mohammed by the leading spokespeople of the governing Hindu-nationalist Party.
The demonstrations over the past week led to the deaths of two Muslim teenagers, injuries of over 30 people, and arrests of an estimated 400 people. Both police officers and rioters suffered injuries, and it is still uncertain if the two deaths were due to the police force or the demonstrators.
A senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami, Hind Malik Aslam, emphasized the importance of peace and non-violent protests in a statement to Reuters: “It is the duty of every Muslim to stand together when anyone belittles Islam, but at the same time it is critical to maintaining peace.”
The riots began because of comments made by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, two spokespersons for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Their comments on national television and social media were highly offensive toward Islam’s Prophet Mohammed and his wife, Aisha. In a statement following her television appearance, Sharma explained that her comment about the Prophet was in response to “continuous insult and disrespect” towards a Hindu god.
The BJP immediately suspended both members from the party and released a statement condemning insults toward any religion. Indian police have also begun the investigation process against the two spokespeople. Nonetheless, these actions did not suffice in halting the angry protests that occurred on the streets.
Following the protests, authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh began demolishing the homes of several Muslim men and women that participated in the protests. The Muslim community and human rights groups took this as a retaliated act of violence against the protests. One of the homes demolished was previously owned by Muslim political activist and businessman Mohammad Javed. His lawyer declared, “The action taken by the administration cannot be justified. It is illegal and unconstitutional,” adding that the family will take the case to India’s Supreme court.
The district authorities responded that their actions in demolishing the houses were not due to the protests but rather due to the houses being built illegally on public land. However, an aide to the state’s hardline Hindu leader told Reuters, “We are not demolishing houses to stop Muslims from protesting as they have all the right to take to the streets.”
But despite all of the upheaval occurring in the streets of India currently, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, has still not publicly responded to the anti-Islam remarks made by spokespeople of the BJP. His lack of response has gathered international attention as countries abroad, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Iran, are all now participating in diplomatic protests.
It is urgent that Modi makes amends with the Muslim community in India to restore peace in the region. The Muslim community comprises 13% of India’s 1.35 billion population, and they are feeling increasingly marginalized by the Hindu Nationalist leading party. Heightening the stakes of the amends, Al-Qaeda released a threat to the BJP on June 6th, stating, “The offenders of the Prophet Muhammad, the pride of humanity, shall find no amnesty or clemency, no peace and security will save them, and this matter will not close with any words of condemnation of sorrow.”
The future of peace and security in a country with a long history of religious coexistence heavily depends on the subsequent actions Modi takes to repair relations with Muslim communities in India. Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah al-Khater said in a tweet, “The Islamophobic discourse has reached dangerous levels in a country long known for its diversity & coexistence. Unless officially & systemically confronted, the systemic hate speech targeting #Islam in #India will be considered a deliberate insult against the 2 billion Muslims.”
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