A recent controversy sparked by "blasphemous" comments "insulting" the Prophet Muhammad and Islam made by spokespersons of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs, has taken on an international dimension with Islamic countries such as Qatar, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait raising the issue publicly. Some have summoned the Indian ambassadors to their countries to raise diplomatic objections, while Muslims in several Indian towns, notably Kanpur, have protested.
On an Indian television show, Nupur Sharma, the BJP spokesperson who has since been suspended, made comments about the Prophet Muhammad's marriage to his youngest wife Aisha, who he married when she was six years old, and with whom he consummated the marriage when she was nine years old. The party also expelled Naveen Kumar Jindal, who headed the BJP's media unit in Delhi, for "inflammatory tweets" about the Prophet Muhammad.
Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal sparked the controversy
India is a multi-religious society in which many blasphemy-related issues occur. On the one hand, Hindus are upset by criticism of Hindu gods and goddesses, and by the slaughtering of cows, which Hindus revere. On the other hand, Muslims are upset when Hindus mention subjects like Muhammad's marriage to Aisha at a young age. These debates are taking place amid controversies over buildings that have at various times been Hindu temples and mosques. These buildings include the Babri mosque/temple (which the Supreme Court of India handed over to the Hindus), the Gyanvapi mosque/temple in the holy city of Varanasi, and others.
Recently, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is viewed as a leading hardline Hindu organizations, sought to restrain Hindu extremists from picking fights with Muslims, saying: "We had special devotion toward some places and we spoke about them, but we should not bring out a new matter daily. Why should we escalate the dispute? We have devotion toward Gyanvapi and doing something about that, that's fine. But why look for a Shivling in every masjid [mosque]?" "Shivling" is a reference to the male sex organ of Hindu god Shiva.
Arab States' Reactions To The Controversy: Diplomatic Protest Against India
Such controversies about blasphemy have a long history in Indian society, though Nupur Sharma's comments have attracted global attention, including from Islamic countries like Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar, which led the protest over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, has again taken it upon itself to lead the protest against the offensive statements. Al-Jazeera's presenters changed their style of reporting, adopting non-journalistic language and using Islamic terms for the Prophet Muhammad, such as "the Compassionate Prophet," to arouse the sentiments of Muslim viewers.
On June 5, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Indian Ambassador Deepak Mittal and gave him an official note, which was shared on Twitter, about Qatar's "total rejection and condemnation of the remarks of an official in the ruling party in India against Prophet Mohammad." Qatar's official note was delivered as Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu arrived in Qatar as part of a four-nation foreign trip.
According to the note, Qatar "is expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the government of India, pointing out that allowing such Islamophobic remarks to continue without punishment, constitutes a grave danger to the protection of human rights and may lead to further prejudice and marginalization, which will create a cycle of violence and hate."
Qatar's Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al-Khater tweeted: "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 two billion Muslims."
In addition, the Lusail buildings in Qatar were lit up with the phrase "Just Not the Prophet," which has been a viral hashtag about the controversy.
"Just Not the Prophet," Lusayl Buildings, Qatar
The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry summoned the Indian ambassador to Kuwait, Sibi George, to express its protest and its firm rejection and condemnation of the insults to the Prophet Muhammad, to Islam, and to the Muslims.
According to a report, Grand Mufti of Oman Sheikh Ahmad bin Hamad Al-Khalili called for a boycott of Indian products over the remarks by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal. Kuwait's Foreign Ministry also gave a protest note to Indian Ambassador Sibi George "against the politician who offended the Muslim world through such a heinous act" and "welcomed the Indian ruling party's measures to suspend the offender for these irrational statements." However, Kuwait also demanded "a public apology on the part of the perpetrator for such extreme and vile statements."
The Foreign Ministry of Iran summoned Indian Ambassador Gaddam Dharmendra and lodged a protest against the "unacceptable" comments against Muhammad, while Dharmendra stressed that the statements by Nupur Sharma and others did not reflect the position of the Indian government, "which has the greatest respect for all religions." Saudi Arabia also expressed its "condemnation and denunciation of the statements made by the spokeswoman of the #Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (#BJP), insulting the Prophet Muhammad..."
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issued a statement: "These abuses come in the context of the escalation of hatred and abuse of Islam in India and in the context of systematic practices against and harassment of Muslims, particularly in the light of a series of decisions to ban headscarves in educational institutions in a number of Indian states and demolitions of Muslim property, as well as increased violence against them."
Qatar released a diplomatic note on Twitter
Muslim groups are making the case that police charges should be brought against Nupur Sharma – for example in Mumbai and Hyderabad. Such charges could lead to her arrest for spreading hate against religious communities under the laws written by British colonial rulers. In India, BJP is seen as tolerant of such anti-Muslim statements by its members. However, the ruling BJP's swift steps in suspending Nupur Sharma and expelling Naveen Kumar Jindal may reflect a fear that the controversy could harm India's trade with Middle Eastern countries and the employment prospects for Indians in the Gulf.
According to the official statistics released by India, the majority of non-resident Indians (NRIs), almost 7.6 million, are living in the Middle East. Of these, 3,41,000 NRIs reside in the United Arab Emirates, followed by Saudi Arabia with 2,594,957 Indians, Kuwait with 1,029,861 Indians, Oman 779,351, and Qatar 756,062, among others. More importantly, statements like the one given by Nupur Sharma could also damage the clean image Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made for himself in most of the Arab countries in recent years.
"[Kisan Bharwad Was Murdered] On The Orders Of A Maulvi [Islamic Cleric], Named Mohammad Ayub Jarawala, Who Regularly Preached Killing For Blasphemy As Part Of Islamic Radicalization"
Such acts, deemed blasphemous against Muhammad by Muslims, often lead to murders, as a result of radicalisation by Islamic clerics. Kisan Bharwad, a Hindu activist, was killed by two Muslim youths earlier this year for a social media post deemed blasphemous against the founder of Islam. In a recent article titled "Islam And Intolerance – The Daylight Murder Of Kishan Bharwad," Indian writer Yuvraj Pokharna examined the murder.
Following are excerpts from the article:
"Kishan Bharwad, a 27-year-old man from the Dhandhuka district of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, and father of a (barely) month-old toddler, posted a video on social media which didn't go down well with Muslims. They felt it was blasphemous and decided to deal with the incident in the Islamic way: He was brutally shot dead by two Muslim youths on January 25 for posting the video that allegedly hurt the feelings of peaceful Muslims. What did the video contain?
"The video shared on Facebook on January 6 showed the image of Prophet Muhammed. It quoted Lord Jesus as saying he is God's son, Muhammad as saying he is God's prophet, and Shri Krishna as saying he is God himself. None of these were his personal statements. This is what we have been told since time immemorial by the scriptures of the respective faiths. It could have been created by someone else, which he just happened to share on his timeline.
Kishan Bharwad (image courtesy: Chitralekha)
"But this left the local Muslim community obstreperous as they went on to file police complaints about allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of the Muslim community by repeating what the prophet said. Kishan was an animal lover, and he regularly served the cause by saving cows from illegal slaughter at the hands of Muslim butchers. He was forced to apologize a few days before his murder by the Muslim youth, but that wasn't enough as per Islamic instructions.
"It was on January 25 at 5:30 that he was hunted down by two bikers who shot him to death from behind as he, along with his cousin, was passing by the Modhwada locality on his two-wheeler. The two killers, Mohammad Shabbir, 25, and Mohammed Imtiaz Pathan, 27, have been arrested and have been taken into custody by the police. It was found out that they committed the murder on the orders of a maulvi [Islamic cleric], named Mohammad Ayub Jarawala, who regularly preached killing for blasphemy as part of Islamic radicalization.
"He provided the killers with ammunition and was in contact with another maulvi from Delhi. Mohammed Shabir, who fired bullets at the late Kishan Bharwad, was a local vendor, and he came in touch with the Delhi-based maulvi sometimes ago, who had later introduced him to Maulvi Mohammad Ayub Jarawala from Jamalpur, Ahmedabad. He had met Maulvi Ayub several times where they plotted to murder Kishan, displaying the organized nature of the terror that resulted in the victim's death."
"[Hindu Leader] Late Kamlesh Tiwari Had Allegedly Called Prophet Muhammad The First Homosexual In The World"; "He Was Shot, Stabbed 15 Times, And Had His Throat Slit On October 18, 2019"
"Not to mention that it is not the first time that a crime of this sort has been committed against Hindus. [Hindu Mahasabha leader] Late Kamlesh Tiwari had allegedly called Prophet Muhammad the first homosexual in the world, and this didn't end well for him. He was shot, stabbed 15 times, and had his throat slit on October 18, 2019, at his house in Lucknow... And this isn't a local phenomenon in India, as the shootings at Charlie Hebdo continue to echo internationally, the Islamic preaching has spilt the blood of people who don't subscribe to the Mohammedan ideology.
"In 2015, two French Muslim brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, made their way into the Paris offices of the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo. They killed 12 individuals and injured 11 others while armed with rifles and other weapons. It was only in December 2021 that a mob in [the Pakistani town of] Sialkot tortured a Sri Lankan Hindu man to death who worked as a manager at a local plant over blasphemy claims before burning his body. A similar case happened recently when a Pakistani woman was sentenced to death over a 'blasphemous' WhatsApp story.
"The identical nature of these incidents across countries is a reflection of the Islamic framework of demonizing and brutalising anybody who doesn't agree with its myopic regulations. These murderers will, of course, be provided with legal aid and community backing through organizations like Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the Islamic organization that provides halal certificates.
"This often heightens a religious agenda that protects itself under the vicious garb of 'halal,' which ensures economic and social exclusion for non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are made to pay Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind through halal certificates for even vegetarian food items such as Namkeen [snacks]. The same money is later diverted to aid the perpetrators who kill innocent non-Muslims like Kamlesh Tiwari and Kishan Bharwad."
"The Supremacist, Exclusionary, And Barbarian Nature Of Islam Has Become A Hazard To The Safety Of The Common Man And The Secular Fabric Of This [Indian] Nation"
"Gujarat home minister... Harsh Sanghvi tweeted about his horrendous murder, stating that 'justice shall be served.' But this raises many stark questions about the secular fabric of this country. Religious tolerance should be at the heart of secularism but going on killing innocent people is not something that should be endured in the garb of blasphemy.
"We wonder if Kishan Bharwad will receive justice, or will this case, like so many others under the benevolent eyes of our 'secular' country, fizzle out and be thrown under the rug? The supremacist, exclusionary, and barbarian nature of Islam has become a hazard to the safety of the common man and the secular fabric of this nation, and we have failed to address the very root of this bizarre problem as a state.
Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari was killed for blasphemy, his assassins (right)
"A state that has failed to answer these real questions:
"1. Isn't it understood that a religion that asserts its supremacy by repeating 'I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is God's messenger' when they chant La Ilaha Illallah [There is no deity but Allah]? Is it not five times a day through loudspeakers that it is the one that superimposes intolerance on others?
"2. Should a Muslim expect a non-Muslim to be secular after knowing the meaning of the Shahadah?"
"Whether In Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, Islamic Republics Like Pakistan, Or Secular Democracies Like India And France, Islam's Flirtations With Blasphemy Are Soaked In Blood"
"3. How is secularism thus serving others like Hindus who are not bloodthirsty toward people who don't follow their religion?
"4. How is the Indian state planning to provide justice to the innocent people who succumbed to Islamic fanaticism in the name of blasphemy? Are there going to be enough laws to prevent such acts of terror?
"5. Should we soon be expecting the law at the hands of such people who are here to make all decisions without an iota of guilt or humanity?
"6. Do we deserve to be worried about our children posting something on social media because, literally, it can get them killed?
"We are not seeing much of real media coverage of something this heinous. We wonder if justice will really be served in a country where religious tolerance is a one-sided love affair. Whether in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Islamic republics like Pakistan, or secular democracies like India and France, Islam's flirtations with blasphemy are soaked in blood.
"As a civilized country, we must prosecute every criminal who directly or indirectly participates in the grisly act of murdering innocent citizens under the guise of blasphemy. For now, it is clearly understood that these murders in the name of blasphemy aren't committed in the heat of the moment but rather in a well-organized, syndicated manner, demanding us to revisit the matter constitutionally and spiritually.
"Yesterday it was Kamlesh Tiwari; today it is Kishan Bharwad; and tomorrow – who knows, you or I will be killed in the name of hurting Muslim feelings, with the entire prerogative of deciding what hurts their feelings being in their blood-stained hands?"
 Youtube.com/watch?v=lYfCLSeBXI0, accessed June 5, 2022; Sunnah.com/bukhari:5134, accessed June 9, 2022.
 IndianExpress.com (India), June 6, 2022.
 NDTV.com (India), June 3, 2022.
 MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 313, A Retrospective Study of the Unfolding of the Muhammad Cartoons Crisis and its Implications, January 4, 2007.
 Twitter.com/MofaQatar_EN, June 5, 2022.
 Twitter.com/MofaQatar_EN, June 5, 2022.
 Twitter.com/Lolwah_Alkhater, June 5, 2022.
 Al-Anba (Kuwait), June 6, 2022.
 Twitter.com/AhmedHAlKhalili, June 4, 2022.
 Kunwa.net.kw (Kuwait), June 5, 2022.
 Kunwa.net.kw (Kuwait), June 5, 2022.
 TheWire.in (India), June 6, 2022.
 Twitter.com/KSAmofaEN, June 5, 2022.
 TheWire.in (India), June 6, 2022.
 IndiaTimes.com (India), October 18, 2021.
 News18.com (India), January 30, 2022.