Burning of Holy Qur’an – ugly reality of Islamophobia

01 Jul 2023 09:39pm
Supporters of Iraq's Sadrist movement gather outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on June 30, 2023 for a second day of protests against a Quran burning outside a Stockholm mosque that outraged Muslims  around the world. (Photo by Ahmad Al-rubaye / AFP)
Supporters of Iraq's Sadrist movement gather outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on June 30, 2023 for a second day of protests against a Quran burning outside a Stockholm mosque that outraged Muslims around the world. (Photo by Ahmad Al-rubaye / AFP)

As Muslims worldwide celebrated Eid al-Adha, one of the major Islamic festivals, an individual lit pages of the holy Quran on fire outside a mosque in Stockholm. This has sparked a global fury of protests and a wave of condemnation from the Muslim world over the despicable and vile act.

What made matter worse was the impression given to the Muslim world, which currently stands at hundreds of millions worldwide, that the act was condoned, especially when the local authority granted the incident permit and protection.

In one way or another, the individual is “encouraged” by the authority’s approval to sacrilege the Islamic holy book under the guise of “freedom of expression.”

Indeed, this unveils an ugly reality of Islamophobia in Europe. While numerous non-Muslim leaders expressed their disapproval of the act, a large quarter of Europeans have defended it under the pretext of advocating freedom of speech and expression.

Further and beyond such “freedom of speech and expression acts”, which undeniably contradict the values of peaceful coexistence, tolerance, and respect for others, this recent incident hurts the religious sensitivity of the Muslim.

The demonstration in the Swedish capital, where the Islamic holy book was set alight, only presents the tip of the iceberg of Islamophobia. This recent heinous act was the second time this year, and there is an emerging pattern that this incident will be repeated in the near future.

Rise of Islamophobia

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The current state of Islamophobia in Europe is indeed worrying. According to a report by al-Jazeera, up to a thousand cases of Islamophobia have been reported across Europe.

Based on the report published by the Collective for Countering Islamophobia in Europe (CCIE), there was a “remarkable rise of Islamophobia and the policies that it inspired in 2022”.

Throughout the year 2022 alone, the report mentioned that it received almost 800 alerts of Islamophobia, of which were divided over Islamophobic acts, discrimination, provocation, insulting, moral harassment, defamation, and physical violence and linked to the fight against radicalisation and separatism.

The report also provided a pertinent suggestion – that the European Union (EU) Commission needs to designate a coordinator that leads the campaign to put a stop to Islamophobia.

As a way forward, the CCIE maintains that there is more to do in addressing discrimination against the Muslim community.

Indeed, desecrating the holy Qur’an is nothing but unmasking the ugly truth attitude that lies beneath. And the previous comment made, which remarked that Europe is a “garden”, while the rest of the world is a “jungle”, would definitely be the highest form of contradiction.

This is especially true when the principles of respect and understanding are not espoused.

Flagrant violation of Human Rights

Against the backdrop of rampant Islamophobia as a direct result of stigmatisation against the Muslim community, it is nothing but a flagrant violation of human rights.

Indeed, Islamophobia further infringes fundamental rights and freedoms of Muslims worldwide, to which we are all entitled to practice freedom of religion or belief.

The Muslim community should be able to exercise the right to express themselves freely and practice faith without fear of retribution.

In the words of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, before the Human Rights Council, “Islamophobia builds imaginary constructs around Muslims that are used to justify state-sponsored discrimination, hostility and violence against Muslims with stark consequences for the enjoyment of human rights including freedom of religion or belief".

The palpable climate of exclusion where the Muslim community is discriminated against and sidelined in the public sphere undermines the principles of pluralism and equality that democratic societies often pride themselves upon.

While many preach that the desecration of holy book goes under the guise of “freedom of expression”, it should not be equated to freedom of insult, which apparently goes against the universal principle of respect for religions.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that Islamophobia’s root cause lies in misinformation. Ergo, it is often linked to broader social and political issues, such as xenophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant sentiments that are also fuelled by a lack of unbiased information.

In an era of globalisation, hate speech has no place in the modern world. And it should not be normalised under the guise of free speech and expression. Already, there are calls to launch an investigation for this action constituted a “hate crime” or “agitation towards any group.”

Way forward

And the way forward, indeed, especially for the international community to work hand-in-hand to address the surge in Islamophobia by promoting dialogues that ensure peaceful coexistence in an otherwise diverse global community. And only then the notion of tolerance will be meaningfully fulfilled.

Apart from that, it is of utmost important that the underlying issues of Islamophobia are adequately addressed, as it would pave the way for rebuilding tolerance and respect for all walks of life. This requires full commitment from all quarters, be it governments, private sectors, and communities.

Closer to home, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s earlier decision to distribute one million copies of the holy Qur’an indicates a strong message. One copy may be burned, but there will be a million copies coming in.

Nik Luqman is an analyst and writer focused on Southeast Asia. Currently, he is attached to the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, National University of Malaysia, as an Associate Fellow.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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