Outcry over Quran burning in Sweden: A timeline

A protester holds up a portrait of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr as smoke rises from the Swedish embassy during a protest in Baghdad, Iraq [Ahmed Saad/Reuters]

Muslim nations have expressed outrage since Salwan Momika desecrated the holy book in Stockholm last month.

Iraq has expelled Sweden’s ambassador shortly after protesters had stormed its embassy in Baghdad and set parts of the building on fire.

Supporters of the influential Iraqi Shia religious and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr had called for the burning of the embassy on Thursday. The demonstrators were angry over what was supposed to be the second burning of a Quran in front of the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.

While protesters in Sweden kicked and partially damaged a book they said was the Quran, they did not burn it as they had threatened to do.

According to Swedish media reports, the incident was planned by Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi refugee in Sweden who also burned pages of a Quran in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque on June 28 during the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival.

The incident last month also prompted widespread anger in Iraq and drove supporters of al-Sadr, who positions himself as a populist and whose supporters have previously overrun the Iraqi parliament, to storm Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad.

It promoted several other protests in Muslim-majority countries as governments in Iraq, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Morocco decried the incident.

Here is a timeline of the key events that unfolded in the lead-up to Thursday’s desecration and the protests in Iraq:

June 28

  • Momika waves two Swedish flags and blasts the country’s national anthem in front of the Stockholm Central Mosque. He then desecrates the Quran repeatedly by tearing it up and lighting it on fire.
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan criticises the incident, saying it is unacceptable to allow anti-Islam protests in the name of freedom of expression.
  • The US Department of State rejects the incident while calling on Turkey to approve Sweden’s NATO membership bid, which it had been blocking.

June 29

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slams Sweden over the incident, saying Ankara will never bow to a policy of provocation or threat. “We will teach the arrogant Western people that it is not freedom of expression to insult the sacred values of Muslims,” he said.
  • Iraq summons the Swedish ambassador and calls the act “racist” and “irresponsible”. Hundreds of Iraqis storm the Swedish embassy in Baghdad after al-Sadr urges people to do so, calling Sweden “hostile to Islam”.
  • Morocco recalls its ambassador to Sweden for an indefinite period. The kingdom’s foreign ministry also summons Sweden’s charge d’affaires in Rabat and expresses its “strong condemnation of this attack and its rejection of this unacceptable act”.
  • A number of Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the UAE also express their condemnation.
  • The US Department of State condemns the burning but adds that issuing the permit for the demonstration supported freedom of expression.

July 2

  • The 57-country Organisation of Islamic Cooperation says international law and other collective measures are needed to prevent future incidents involving the desecration of the Quran.
  • Sweden’s government condemns the incident, calling it “Islamophobic”.

July 3

  • Pope Francis condemns Momika’s actions, saying he feels “angry and disgusted” to see the Muslim holy book desecrated.

July 7

  • Muslims in Pakistan, including in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, hold rallies to observe a Quran Sanctity Day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif calls for protests.

July 11

  • Muslim nations file a motion at the United Nations human rights body, calling on countries to review their laws and plug gaps that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.

July 12

  • The UN Human Rights Council approves a resolution on religious hatred and bigotry. But as with all of the council’s resolutions, it is not legally binding.

July 15

  • Ahmad Alloush, 32, abandons a plan to burn the Torah and the Bible outside the Israeli embassy in Sweden.


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