Young and adults hold copies of the Holy Quran during a demonstration in Peshawar on July 7, 2023, as they protest against the burning of the Quran outside a Stockholm mosque that outraged Muslims around the world. (Photo by Abdul Majeed / AFP)
Islamabad: Thousands of people rallied in streets across Pakistan on Friday to condemn a Quran burning in Sweden that has outraged Muslims around the world.
Last week, Salwan Momika, an Iraqi living in Sweden, stomped on the Muslim holy book and set several pages alight outside a Stockholm mosque.
His act came as Muslims across the globe began celebrating the Eid al-Adha holiday and as the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia was drawing to a close.
Earlier this week Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for countrywide protests against the burning, declaring on Friday “a day to uphold the Quran’s sanctity”.
Several political parties used the occasion to trumpet their Islamic credentials ahead of an election that must be held later this year, including former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
In the finance hub of Karachi, about 3,000 supporters of the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) marched for kilometres on Friday, with some beating effigies draped in Swedish flags.
People take part in a demonstration in Peshawar on July 7, 2023, as they protest against the burning of the Koran outside a Stockholm mosque that outraged Muslims around the world. (Photo by Abdul Majeed / AFP)
About 5,000 more TLP members rallied in one of at least a dozen protests held in the second-largest city of Lahore.
Swedish flags were burned at rallies across the country, including at Islamabad’s Sitara Market.
“Quran is our red line,” chanted hundreds of protesters at the market, who held placards calling for the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador and severing of diplomatic ties with Stockholm.
Others trampled on modified Swedish flags that read “#Boycott Sweden” and featured a crossed-out image of Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
Clerics and Imams in mosques across the country condemned the burning in their Friday sermons.
“The entire Islamic world should cut diplomatic ties with Sweden and put economic pressure on Sweden by boycotting its products,” Maulana Sheikh Tahir said in a sermon at a mosque in Islamabad.
Death to Sweden
Pakistan’s imports from Sweden were worth around $311 million in 2021 — the latest year for which data was available — while exports amounted to $194 million, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Blasphemy and insults to Islam are galvanising issues in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where leaders have regularly voiced concerns about rising Islamophobia on the international stage.
On Thursday, parliament passed a resolution urging Sweden to take legal action against Momika, and to “ensure that no such act takes place in future”.
More than 200 rallies were also held across the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, an official told AFP.
“We demand the international community stop the persecution of Muslims by creating effective legislation and stop the desecration of religions and holy books of every religion,” Tayyab Qureshi, a cleric, told a gathering of around 1,000 people in the provincial capital Peshawar.
“We cannot allow anyone to desecrate our holy book Koran under the guise of the law of freedom of expression,” he said.
Pakistan’s ambassador in Geneva wrote to the UN Human Rights Council president on Monday on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to request an urgent debate.
The council said it would hold the session on July 11 to address “the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Koran in some European and other countries”.
Stockholm has condemned last week’s Quran burning as “Islamophobic”, but added that Sweden had a “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration”.
Countries including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco have summoned Swedish ambassadors in protest, echoing widespread denunciations that have included thousands-strong protests near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.