Quran protest
A child holds the Quran during a protest in response to the burning of a copy of the Quran in Sweden, during Friday prayers in Baghdad, Iraq Image Credit: AP

A few days ago, an extremist Swede of Iraqi origin tore up and burnt the pages of the Quran outside the main mosque in Stockholm. As the Quran is the holy book of billions of faithful worldwide, it drew quick and sharp condemnation from all quarters. In that the Swedish authorities allowed this brazen act of Islamophobia to take place under the freedom of expression act, it garnered no good tidings for that country.

Reacting swiftly to this brazen act, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called an emergency meeting in Jeddah to address the issue. The 57-member body, the largest global international body — after the United Nations — unanimously censured the act and called for collective measures to prevent acts of desecration to the Quran and international law should be used to stop religious hatred in Sweden and elsewhere.

OIC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha stated that “We must send constant reminders to the international community regarding the urgent application of international law, which clearly prohibits any advocacy of religious hatred.” The OIC also highlighted that ‘the exercise of the right to freedom of expression entails special duties and responsibilities in the light of Article 19 (3) and Article 20 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the role played by the exercise of those rights in countering all forms of religious intolerance.’

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A harsh response

This latest incident is nothing new as we have seen or heard of increasing numbers of incidences that tug at the feelings of Muslims everywhere from the desecration of mosques, to the burning and destruction of mosques and religious books, and even to the murdering of those who stepped into the house of worship. Invariably, it draws a harsh response.

Sveriges Television (SVT), Sweden’s public service television company with the widest range of programming of all TV companies in Sweden reported that the Swedish police had received 3 requests to organise demonstrations in Stockholm and Helsingborg with the burning of religious books.

According to the channel, one of the events is the burning of the Quran in front of a Stockholm Mosque, which the applicants wish to implement “as soon as possible.” A fifty-year-old applicant who petitioned the police told the channel’s reporter that she decided to play the role of the organising party for a new event, after the burning of the Qur’an last week and the furore it raised.

She claimed that the protests against Sweden, which took place in many parts of the world against the backdrop of the recent burning of the Quran were unfair and was now responding with another similar event.

Anti-racism xenophobia law

Another applicant also petitioned for the burning of the Torah and the Bible on July 15 in front of the Israeli embassy. The applicant, a 30-year-old citizen, wants to take this measure in response to the burning of the Quran last week and “as a symbolic event to affirm freedom of expression.” Now I have marked that date with interest as I want to see how the Swedish police react. If they intervene my suspicions would have been confirmed.

Back in 2001, the European Union’s Executive Commission proposed a European Union-wide anti-racism xenophobia law, which included the criminalisation of Holocaust denial. On July 15, 1996, the Council of the European Union adopted a joint action concerning action to combat racism and xenophobia.

Islamophobia continues unabated in view of pathetic responses by governments on whose territory it takes place. While the OIC is to be appreciated for swiftly meeting up in an emergency session and addressing the incident in Sweden, more needs to be done, as outlined in its final communique.

As for Muslims everywhere, I have this word of advice. Do not react with rage and anger. Understand that this is exactly the reaction these sick individuals expect to provoke. Ignore them. There would be no more amusement from it. Let the OIC deal firmly with countries around the world where such acts occur. This is not the first time and certainly not the last. As long as religious hatred is being fostered and, in some cases, promoted in some spots, it will not cease.

One must take lessons from Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who turned his back and moved on from those throwing stones at him as he prayed. His faith blazed a trail of endurance, illuminating Islam’s unstoppable rise through the ages. Islam continues to be the fastest-growing religion in the world.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena