DUBAI / ISLAMABAD: While Pope Francis said the desecration of Holy Quran in Sweden made him angry and disgusted, Pakistan on Monday demanded immediate action against the perpetrator of the act.

“Any book considered holy should be respected to respect those who believe in it,” the pope said in an interview published in the United Arab Emirates newspaper Al Ittihad on Monday.

The pontiff said he condemned and rejected permitting the act as a form of freedom of speech.

“I feel angry and disgusted at these actions. Freedom of speech should never be used as a means to despise others and allowing that is rejected and condemned.”

In Islamabad, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif while addressing a cabinet meeting said the whole Ummah and the government and people of Pakis­tan strongly condemned the sacrilegious act.

“We demand immediate action against the perpetrator,” PM Shehbaz said.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that such an act has been committed, he said, recalling that a similar incident had taken place in the past too.

The premier also dem­anded that the Swedish government take notice of the Islamophobic and hateful narrative against the Muslim population in their country.

PM Shehbaz appreciated the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for convening an urgent meeting on the issue and said Pakistan endorsed the OIC’s meeting and its decision with a hope that such Islamophobic incidents would not recur in the future.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia summoned Sweden’s ambassador to denounce the burning of a copy of the holy book outside a Stockholm mosque.

The kingdom had already condemned Wednesday’s incident committed by a 37-year-old Iraqi citizen living in Sweden, Salwan Momika.

The foreign ministry summoned the ambassador on Sunday to urge Sweden “to stop all actions that directly contradict international efforts seeking to spread the values of tolerance, moderation and rejection of extremism, and undermine the necessary mutual respect for relations between peoples and states”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Momika’s act coincided with the start of Eidul Azha holiday and the end of Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, triggering widespread anger.

Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco had already summoned Swedish ambassadors in protest. Several states condemned the incident, including Turkey whose backing Sweden needs to gain entry to the NATO military alliance.

Iran has said it is holding off on sending its new ambassador to Sweden because of the incident.

At an extraordinary meeting on Sunday at its Jeddah headquarters, the OIC called for collective measures to avoid such incidents in future.

Swedish police had granted Momika a permit in line with free speech protections, but authorities later said they had opened an investigation over “agitation against an ethnic group”, noting that Momika had burnt the pages from the holy book very close to the mosque.

Sweden’s government condemned Momika’s actions on Sunday, calling them “Islamophobic”.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2023

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