India faces backlash over BJP's 'Islamophobic' remarks
A row over remarks by India's ruling party officials grew on Monday as several Muslim-majority countries summoned Indian diplomats.
The comments by the now-suspended members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) triggered wide criticism from Arab and Muslim-majority countries, which say the comments were offensive and "Islamophobic."
What triggered the row?
Last week, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma commented on Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife during a televised debate, specifically about how old she was believed to be when they married.
Her remarks were blamed for clashes in an Indian state and prompted demands for her arrest.
The BJP on Sunday said it had suspended, and denounced "insult of any religious personalities of any religion."
Sharma took to Twitter to retract her statement, saying that the comments were made in response to "insults" made against the Hindu god Shiva.
The BJP also expelled spokesman Naveen Kumar Jindal over comments made about Islam on social media. Jindal said he questioned some comments made against Hindu gods on Twitter: "I only questioned them but that does not mean I am against any religion."
How did Muslim countries react?
The Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) said the remarks came in a "context of intensifying hatred and abuse toward Islam in India and systematic practices against Muslims."
Resisting such allegations, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India "categorically rejects OIC Secretariat's unwarranted and narrow-minded comments. The government of India accords the highest respect to all religions."
Bagchi also called out Pakistan, which summoned an Indian diplomat on Monday and conveyed its "strong condemnation."
He said Islamabad was "a serial violator of minority rights'' that should not engage "in alarmist propaganda and attempting to foment communal disharmony in India."
Qatar's Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Indian ambassador and demanded that India apologize for the "Islamophobic" comments. This comes as India's Vice President Venkaiah Naidu was on a visit to the Gulf state to bolster trade.
Doha said it welcomed BJP's decision to suspend the official, but added that it was expecting "a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the government of India."
Kuwait also summoned the Indian envoy to hand over a protest note. Saudi Arabia described Sharma's comments as "insulting" and called for "respect for beliefs and religions."
With calls for the boycott of Indian-made goods spreading across several Muslim countries, the BJP-helmed government has been propelled into action over 10 days after the comments were first made.
Religious tensions have escalated in India in recent months, with critics saying they are prompted by Indian television anchors during raucous debates.
Edited by: Farah Bahgat