BAGHDAD — Muslim-majority nations expressed outrage Friday at the desecration of a copy of the Quran in Sweden. Some prepared for street demonstrations following midday prayers to show their anger.
In Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, protesters planned demonstrations after Swedish police permitted a protest Thursday in which an Iraqi Christian living in Stockholm kicked and stood on a Quran, Islam’s holy book, outside of the Iraqi Embassy. Hours before that, demonstrators in Baghdad broke into the Swedish Embassy and lit a fire to show their anger at his threats to burn the book.
Iraqi Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani has ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from Iraq and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden. But that may not be enough to calm those angered, and another protest in Baghdad is planned for Friday afternoon.
In neighboring Iran, demonstrators also planned to take to the streets. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has written a letter to the United Nations secretary-general over the Quran desecration and has summoned the Swedish ambassador.
“We consider the Swedish government responsible for the outcome of provocation reactions from the world’s Muslims,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said.
The man in Stockholm also wiped his feet with a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his demonstration and did similar to a photo of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful leader there.
Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah also called for a demonstration Friday afternoon. Khamenei and Iran’s theocracy serve as Hezbollah’s main sponsor.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a video address Thursday night called on Muslims to demand their governments expel Sweden’s ambassadors.
“I invite brothers and sisters in all neighborhoods and villages to attend all mosques, carrying their Qurans and sit in them, calling on the state to take a stance toward Sweden,” Nasrallah said in the address, according to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency.
On Friday “the whole world must see how we embrace our Quran, and the whole world must see how we protect our Quran with our blood.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab nations, summoned Swedish diplomats to condemn the desecration. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry also criticized it.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the events in Sweden. He called on the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation to play a “historic role in expressing the sentiments of Muslims and stopping this demonization.” Meanwhile, Islamists in his country have been pushing Sharif, who faces an upcoming election, to cut diplomatic ties with Sweden.
On Thursday morning, protesters in Baghdad occupied the Swedish Embassy for several hours and set a small fire. The embassy staff had been evacuated a day earlier. After protesters left the embassy, diplomats closed it to visitors without specifying when it would reopen.
Prime Minister Sudani said in a statement that Iraqi authorities would prosecute those responsible for starting the fire and referred to an investigation of “negligent security officials.” Some demonstrators stayed at the site, ignored by police, after the attack. An Associated Press photographer and two Reuters staff members were arrested while covering the protest and released several hours later without charges.
This is the second Quran desecration to involve the Iraqi Christian in Sweden, identified as Salwan Momika. Last month, a man identified by local media and on his social media as Momika burned a Quran outside a Stockholm mosque during the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, triggering widespread condemnation in the Islamic world.
The right to hold public demonstrations is protected by the constitution in Sweden. Blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s. Police generally give permission based on whether they believe a public gathering can be held without major disruptions or safety risks.
For Muslims, the burning of the Quran represents a desecration of their religion’s holy text. Quran burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, some turning violent. In Afghanistan, the Taliban suspended all the activities of Swedish organizations in the country in response to the recent Quran burning.
A similar protest by a far-right activist was held outside Turkey’s embassy earlier this year, complicating Sweden’s efforts to persuade Turkey to let it join NATO.
In June, protesters who support al-Sadr stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad over that Quran burning.