Protests multiplied Monday in the Muslim world after the remarks of the spokesperson of the ruling party, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in India, were deemed insulting to Islam.
Comments by the leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP, suspended on Sunday, describing the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife, sparked outrage in several Gulf countries, where millions of Indians work, as well as in Iran, Algeria and Egypt. Hashtags criticising India are very viral in these countries, and the incident made the front page of their media.
The Indian foreign ministry has called termed Nupur Sharma as a ‘fringe element.’ In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed an islamophobic Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti as a ‘villager’ and asked the opposition to be magnanimous to forgive her as she had apologised.
On Sunday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), based in Saudi Arabia and which brings together nearly 60 Muslim countries, castigated the remarks of the Indian official intervening in a “context of Islamophobia in India.”
In Kuwait, which summoned the Indian ambassador on Sunday, the Al Ardiya Co-operative Society chain supermarket has decided to boycott Indian products.
“We have withdrawn Indian products”, can we read in this supermarket, where bags of rice and shelves of spices have been covered with tarpaulin.
“As Muslim Kuwaitis, we do not accept insults to the Prophet,” the channel’s CEO, Nasser Al-Mutairi, told AFP.
One of its representatives told AFP that a store-wide boycott of the country’s largest supermarket chain is being discussed, but no decision has been made.
“All Muslim countries should boycott Indian products,” said Mutlaq Rashid, a 26-year-old customer.
India’s Ambassador to Doha, Deepak Mittal, was summoned to the Qatari Foreign Ministry and given a letter of protest in which ‘Qatar demands from the Indian government a public apology and immediate condemnation of the Islamophobic remarks’.
“Leaving such Islamophobic remarks unpunished” could “create a cycle of violence and hatred”, the ministry wrote in a statement.
This wave of protests comes in parallel with the visit of Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu to Qatar to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Kuwait, Qatar and Iran have summoned Indian ambassadors to demand an apology. Saudi Arabia called Spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s statements “insulting” and called for “respect for beliefs and religions”, while Bahrain and Jordan welcomed Ms Sharma’s suspension on Sunday.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, regularly accused of stigmatising the Muslim minority in India, about 14% of the population, said in a statement that it “respects all religions”.
In Algeria, the main Islamist party, the Mouvement de la société de la Paix (MSP), condemned “in the strongest terms this escalation of the hateful campaign against Islam and Muslims in India, which is part […] the official pattern of persecution of religious minorities”.
In Cairo, al-Azhar University, one of the leading educational institutions in the Sunni world, on Monday “strongly condemned” Ms Sharma’s statements, which “reveal blatant ignorance” and called on “the community international community to react with force and firmness”.
Ms Sharma wrote on Twitter that she was responding to “insults” against the Indian god Shiva but would “unreservedly take back” those comments if they could “hurt anyone’s religious feelings”.
A local BJP official, Naveen Kumar Jindal, who posted similar comments on Twitter before deleting them, was evicted out of the party.
The Gulf countries, which import almost all of their food needs, maintain good trade relations with India, which also provides them with a large amount of cheap labour.
Of the 13.5 million Indian emigrants worldwide, 8.7 million reside in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, according to Indian authorities.
Prophet’s youngest wife controversy – Aisha, the “Mother of Believers”
According to the Sira, the narrative of the Prophet’s life, Muhammad had nine wives. Aïcha, the third daughter of the first caliph Abu Bakr, was the favourite, the most pious and intelligent. Revered by Sunnis, she is “the Mother of believers”.
The controversy is over the marriage of the over 50 years old Prophet with Aїcha, then a 9-year-old child. Many non-Muslims reproach him for this marriage and qualify it as aggression. Some present him as a sex maniac and a paedophile. They claim that this image is the true image of Islam and Muslims.
But, the Muslim scholars point out that the marriage age was much lower during the era and was prevalent even in Europe and the rest of the world.
The child Empress “Agnès” in France was successively the wife of the two Byzantine emperors. According to William of Tyr, a medieval prelate and chronicler, Agnes was eight years old when she arrived in Constantinople, while Emperor Alexios II was thirteen.