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The Questionable Track Record of Religious Freedom in Countries Attacking India


Last Updated: June 09, 2022, 10:25 IST

Supporters of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) religious and political party chant slogans against BJP leaders’ blasphemous comments on Prophet Muhammad, during a protest in Karachi on June 6, 2022. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Supporters of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) religious and political party chant slogans against BJP leaders’ blasphemous comments on Prophet Muhammad, during a protest in Karachi on June 6, 2022. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

Conversion from Islam to other religions is forbidden in many of the countries that have issued statements against the derogatory remarks made by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, who have been suspended and expelled from the BJP, respectively

The anger over the remarks on Prophet Muhammad by BJP leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal continues to spread as more nations condemn the remarks. New Delhi has been trying to placate governments in different countries in the last 48 hours, emphasising that India is tolerant and respectful toward all religions.

On Monday, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan hit out against the BJP leaders, while appreciating the party’s action against them. More countries have joined the list taking the number to at least 14.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a close ally of India, joined the Islamic world in slamming the remarks against Prophet Muhammad by Sharma, now suspended, and Jindal, who has been expelled.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) expressed its “denunciation and rejection of insults of the Prophet”. In a statement, it “affirmed the UAE’s firm rejection of all practices and behaviors that contradict moral and human values and principles” and “underscored the need to respect religious symbols and not violate them, as well as confront hate speech and violence”.

“The Ministry also noted the importance of strengthening the shared international responsibility to spread the values of tolerance and human coexistence while preventing any practices that would inflame the sentiment of followers of different religions,” it said.

The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner and home to over three million non-resident Indians (NRI), according to The Indian Express.

Religious freedom: Freedom House, the US government-funded non-profit, considers the UAE ‘not free’. Conversion to other religions (and by implication, advocacy of atheism) is forbidden and the legal punishment for conversion from Islam is death.

The law in the UAE prohibits blasphemy, defined, as the act of insulting God, religions, or prophets and eating pork. It includes imprisonment of five years or more and fines that can go up to two million AED. Non-citizens can be deported.

The Maldives

The Maldives, one of India’s closest trading partners, also slammed the derogatory remarks.

In a statement, the Government of Maldives said, it “unreservedly condemns all and any action that purports to pervert the true nature and teachings of Islam”. It added that it was “deeply concerned by the derogatory remarks made by some officials of BJP” but has welcomed the “denouncement by the Government of India of the derogatory remarks by concerned officials and the prompt action taken by the BJP” against them.

Religious freedom: Religious freedom does not exist in the Maldives. It requires all citizens to be Muslims and all public office holders including the President to be followers of Sunni Islam. Propagation of any religion other than Islam is a criminal offence.


Iraq issued a strong statement expressing condemnation of the “inaccuracies of the spokeswoman” of the ruling BJP. That statement noted that the “disgraceful acts will have serious repercussions and, if not contained, may lead to dire consequences that will have unimaginable consequences for the peaceful coexistence, as well as increase strife and tensions between peoples”.

Religious freedom: US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USIRF) report 2022 puts Iraq on a list of countries under special watch.

Christianity in Iraq, which is one of the oldest Churches, is close to extinction, the Archbishop of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, said in 2019. According to him, the Christian community had dwindled by 83 per cent, from around 1.5 million to just 250,000. They face threats from Islamic State and in 2014 more than 125,000 Christians were displaced from their historic homelands, according to a BBC report.


The country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia, “strongly” condemned the “unacceptable derogatory remarks” by “two Indian politicians” and said that it had relayed the message to the Indian envoy in Jakarta.

Religious freedom: In Indonesia, the government continues to prosecute blasphemy allegations and impose disproportionate prison sentences. Hardliners and other intolerant groups continue to threaten houses of worship associated with minority faiths, including by exploiting the 2006 Joint Regulation on Houses of Worship, according to the USIRF report.

Atheists in Indonesia can get a lifetime in jail or a death sentence. Indonesia is among the nations where Christians are persecuted the most.


The foreign ministry of Bahrain welcomed the BJP’s decision to “suspend the party’s spokeswoman” and stressed the need to “denounce any reprehensible insults” against Prophet Muhammad, which amounted to an “incitement to religious hatred”.

Bahrain called for respecting all religious beliefs, symbols and personalities and sought concerted efforts by the world community to spread the values of moderation, tolerance and dialogue between religions and to confront extremist ideas.

Religious freedom: Shia Muslims continue to face systematic discrimination. Shia Bahrainis have long faced difficulties in such areas as employment, political representation, freedom of expression, promotion within the military and mosque construction, according to the USIRF report.

In Bahrain, Muslim women are expected to cover their hair. For expat women, visiting public places should wear clothes that cover their knees and they cannot wear swimming costumes or spaghetti tops.


Sheikh Khalifa bin Ali bin Issa Al Harthy, undersecretary for diplomatic affairs in Oman’s foreign ministry, met Indian ambassador Amit Narang and brought up the issue. Al Harthy noted the spokespersons had been suspended and said such statements and incidents are not conducive to relations of peaceful coexistence between different religions.

Religious freedom: Offending Islam or any other Abrahamic religion is a criminal offence in Bahrain. The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs monitors the sermons of all imams.


The foreign ministry of Jordan wrote a tweet condemning “in the strongest terms” the insulting statements on Prophet Muhammad issued by the spokesperson of the BJP.

Religious freedom: In Jordan, the government monitors mosque sermons and requires that preachers refrain from political commentary and adhere to approved themes and texts. Coverts to Christianity continue to be ostracised and instances of anti-Semitism in the press and online are common.


The interim Afghan government, led by the Taliban, strongly condemned the derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad, Pajhwok News, Afghanistan’s largest independent news agency, reported.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns the use of derogatory words against the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him) by an official of the ruling party in India,” the agency quoted government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid as saying in a tweet.

“We urge the Indian government not to allow such fanatics to insult the holy religion of Islam and provoke the feelings of Muslims,” he said.

Religious freedom: Religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan have worsened as the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021. There’s strict implementation of Sunni Islam. Taliban continue to persecute religious minorities and punish residents in areas under their control by their extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

Most Hindus and Sikhs have fled the country. Attacks on Shia Muslims continue including on their mosques are increased under the Taliban, leading to scores of deaths.

Girls are denied an education beyond the sixth grade and the Taliban has enforced an order for Afghan women TV anchors to cover their faces.


The African nation of Libya joined the condemnation against the remarks.

In a state, the Government of National Unity Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation condemned “the offensive statements made by media officials” of the ruling party, “which it deemed anti-Islamic”.

Libya called for “tolerance and co-existence, rejection of hate speech, violence, and hatred”.

Religious freedom: In Libya, activities of non-Muslims are curtailed and conversion from Islam is prohibited. Christians in the country face a higher risk of physical assault, including sexual assault and rape, according to a 2020 report on religious freedom by the US State Department. They also live in the fear of detention, kidnappings, and killings.

Gulf Cooperation Council

The Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Nayef Falah M Al Hajraf, also condemned, rejected and denounced the statements.

The Secretary-General affirmed his categorical rejection of prejudicing all the prophets and apostles as well as personalities and religious symbols, stressing the position that rejects provocation, targeting or underestimating beliefs and religions, the Council said.

The GCC is a regional, intergovernmental, political, and economic union that consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

India fire-fighting

Qatar, Iran and Kuwait had on Sunday summoned Indian ambassadors to express their strong protest and condemnation of the remarks. The embassies later issued statements, saying the “offensive tweets” by individuals in India “do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India”.

Slamming the comments, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, urged the United Nations to take necessary measures to ensure that the rights of minorities are protected in India.

“These abuses come in the context of the escalation of hatred and abuse of Islam in India and the context of the systematic practices against Muslims and restrictions on them, especially in light of a series of decisions banning headscarves in educational institutions in several Indian states and demolitions of Muslim property, in addition to the increase in violence against them,” the OIC said.

Responding to the OIC statement, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said, “We have seen the statement on India from the General Secretariat of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Government of India categorically rejects OIC Secretariat’s unwarranted and narrow-minded comments.”

India also responded to Pakistan’s condemnation calling it a “serial violator of minority rights”. “The world has been witness to the systemic persecution of minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Ahmadiyyas by Pakistan,” the MEA spokesperson said.

He reiterated that the Indian government “accords the highest respect to all religions,” which is “quite unlike Pakistan where fanatics are eulogized and monuments built in their honour.”

With inputs from agencies

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first published:June 09, 2022, 10:22 IST
last updated:June 09, 2022, 10:25 IST