RIYADH: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) voiced “disappointment” on Monday with the response by Sweden and Denmark to a spate of Holy Quran burnings that have sparked outrage across the Middle East.

Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha called on both countries to prevent desecration and “expressed his disappointment that no measures have been taken in this regard so far”, the 57-member, Jeddah-based body said in a statement after the opening session of an extraordinary meeting on the issue.

“It is unfortunate that the authorities claiming freedom of expression continue to provide licences to repeat these acts contrary to international law, and this leads to a lack of respect for religions,” Hissein Taha said in remarks during the OIC meeting.

Around the time the OIC chief was speaking, two men set the Holy Quran alight outside Sweden’s parliament — the latest such protest in Stockholm.

Sweden’s foreign minister writes to OIC members; Bilawal slams Islamophobic acts, seeks action plan

One of the men, Sweden-based Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika, had also burned pages of the Holy Quran outside Stockholm’s main mosque on June 28 and, on July 20, stepped on it outside the Iraqi embassy. The other man was identified as Salwan Najem, who is leading a campaign to get the Holy Quran “banned” in Sweden.

“I will burn it many times, until you ban it,” Salwan Najem told Expressen newspaper after the desecration.

Ahead of Monday’s OIC meeting, both Sweden and Denmark reached out to try to calm tensions.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Monday that he had been in contact with several of his counterparts among the 57 member states of the OIC ahead of the meeting and sent a letter to all members.

In a statement, Billstrom said he had informed them about the process for granting permits for public gatherings in Sweden and that police made such decisions independently.

Billstrom added he had also reiterated that “the Swedish government has been very clear in its rejection of the Islamophobic acts carried out by individuals at demonstrations in Sweden”.

On Sunday, Hissein Taha received a call from Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who also “condemned” insults to the Holy Quran and said his government was “studying this issue with great interest”, the OIC said.

Outrage in Muslim states

In Denmark, far-right group Danske Patrioter last week posted a video in which a man is seen desecrating what appears to be the Holy Quran and trampling an Iraqi flag.

The incidents have stoked unrest in Iraq, where hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Swedish embassy 10 days ago and set fires within the compound.

The Danish Refugee Council has said its office in the southern Iraqi city of Basra came under “armed attack” in response to the Danske Patrioter video.

Governments across the region have also expressed their outrage.

Iraq expelled Sweden’s ambassador and Iran said it would not allow a new Swedish ambassador into the country.

Saudi Arabia has in recent weeks summoned Swedish and Danish diplomats to deliver protest notes denouncing “disgraceful” acts against the Holy Quran.

Bilawal condemns Islamophobic acts

While speaking at the 18th extraordinary meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the OIC held in a virtual format, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned, in the strongest terms, the Islamophobic and hateful acts of desecration of the Holy Quran, which manifested religious hatred and intolerance.

He also asked for an action plan, which would include the appointment of a UN special envoy to combat Islamophobia and the establishment of judicial mechanisms to hold perpetrators accountable.

The extraordinary CFM meeting adopted a comprehensive resolution expressing grave concern over increasing incidents of intolerance, discrimination and rising Islamophobia.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2023

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