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Protests in Iraq Over Burning of Quran

Sweden has been widely condemned for allowing the burning of the Muslim holy book outside a mosque on Wednesday during Eid al-Adha, a major Islamic holiday.

Protesters outside the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on Thursday, a day after two men in Stockholm burned a Quran outside a mosque.Credit...Ahmed Saad/Reuters

The burning of a Quran outside a mosque in Sweden on one of the holiest days in Islam sparked outrage Thursday in many Muslim countries and widespread condemnations of the Swedish authorities.

In Iraq, several hundred people protested outside the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad at the urging of Muqtada al-Sadr, a populist cleric who called on the Iraqi government to break off diplomatic relations with Sweden, which he called “hostile” to Islam.

The crowd became increasingly angry, scaling the wall surrounding the compound and pushing through an external gate. There was no sign that Iraqi diplomatic police forces attempted to stop them. The protesters did not enter the embassy itself, which was closed for the Islamic holiday, and eventually left. Mr. Sadr called for larger protests after prayers on Friday.

Iraq’s foreign ministry also condemned Sweden “for allowing an extremist to burn a copy of the holy Quran.”

In the incident in Stockholm on Wednesday, two men, watched by a crowd of people, tore pages out of a Quran and burned them outside a mosque.

In an application for the permit, one of the men, Salwan Momika, identified by Swedish media as an Iraqi immigrant living in Sweden, said he wanted to express his opinion about the Quran by tearing it up and burning it. The police had granted a permit for the demonstration after a Swedish court ruled that banning it would impinge on the right to freedom of speech.

However, the permit says that demonstrators are not allowed to burn objects in Stockholm.

The timing of the burning of Islam’s holy book, during the important Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, further angered and pained Muslims in many countries, who were celebrating the holiday, which honors the end of the hajj pilgrimage.

Morocco summoned Sweden’s representative in Rabat to ask him to condemn the act and recalled its own ambassador in Sweden according to the Moroccan state news agency. Jordan also said it had expressed its displeasure to Sweden’s ambassador, according to the state news agency, calling it “a racist act of serious hate.”

Egypt called the burning of the Quran “a disgraceful act” and Saudi Arabia said that such “hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted with any justification.” Malaysia’s foreign minister said the desecration of a holy book while Muslims celebrated such an important holiday was “offensive to Muslims worldwide.”

And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said in an address Thursday that the country would never bow to “the politics of provocation,” in a reference to the incident in Sweden, according to the Anadolu state news agency. Insulting things that were sacred to Muslims, he said, was “not freedom of thought.”

His condemnation came as diplomatic ties are already strained between Turkey and Sweden, with the Turkish government holding up a Swedish bid to join NATO. Turkey wants Sweden to take a tougher line on pro-Kurdish activists and members of an outlawed religious group whom it considers terrorists living in Sweden.

The burning of the Quran in Stockholm on Wednesday followed a similar incident in January in which a far-right Danish-Swedish figure burned a copy of the holy book outside the Turkish Embassy in the Swedish capital, which also exacerbated tensions with Turkey.

Since then, the police in Stockholm said they had rejected two other requests to protest by burning Qurans and that Sweden’s security apparatus had expressed worries that such acts would raise security concerns and pose a threat to embassies abroad.

A Swedish court in April overturned the police’s decision, saying that the police did not have sufficient evidence to ban the protests. Sweden has long grappled over whether to allow such demonstrations, with the implications they have for free speech and religious tolerance.

The Stockholm police said they were investigating Mr. Momika for violating the burning ban and for incitement against a group of people.

The Quran burning in Stockholm was particularly troubling to many Iraqis because it was widely reported that it was carried out by an Iraqi immigrant, Mr. Momika. Calls to Mr. Momika on Thursday were not answered.

Mr. Sadr, the Iraqi cleric, called on the government in Iraq to strip Mr. Momika of his citizenship and for Sweden to repatriate him for prosecution. If Sweden failed to do, he said, he should be tried in absentia in Iraq.

There are more than 140,000 Iraqi-born immigrants in Sweden, the second largest immigrant group in the country after Swedish Finns.

© 2023 The New York Times Company


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