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Why Muslims of the Indian subcontinent are always on the streets over alleged ‘blasphemy’ but Gulf Muslims never take to the streets

Why do Muslims in only some countries, like the Indian subcontinent, always take to the streets, and why Muslims in some Islamic countries never do the same?

Recently, Rasmus Paludan, the leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burnt a copy of the Quran in Sweden. The act outside the Turkish embassy was supposedly a protest against Turkey and its opposition to Sweden’s entry into NATO, but it offended Muslims worldwide. A couple of days later, the Dutch leader of the far-right group, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), destroyed a copy of the Quran in the Netherlands before setting it on fire.

Predictably, the Quran burning in Sweden led to public protests in Turkey since it was aimed at them. Countries like Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Indonesia also saw such protests against the incident. When it comes to protests against Quran burnings, one name you can always rely on to appear, yes, Pakistan saw public protests as well. Just like Pakistan is always certain to appear in this list, there is one influential group that is almost certain never to appear, the Gulf countries.

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) comprises 6 countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. Together, they are one of the most influential countries in the world. All 6 countries are Islamic, and in Saudi Arabia, one of the members is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as well. After incidents of Quran burnings elsewhere or any other blasphemy against Islam religion, even if the governments of these countries express their displeasure, the people never come out to protest on the streets.

Unlike the Indian subcontinent, where Muslims in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are always out on the streets any time such ‘blasphemy’ occurs, Muslims in these countries are never on the streets shouting ‘sar tan se juda’ slogans, never burning effigies to express their anger, and most certainy never damaging any public property over it.

Even during the Nupur Sharma episode in 2022, when the former BJP spokesperson was accused of ‘blasphemy’, all GCC countries officially expressed their displeasure and wrote to the Indian government, there were no public protests in these countries by locals. If anyone protested, like the one protest in Kuwait where Indians protested, they were swiftly deported.

On the other hand, India saw protests every Friday for weeks, most of them violent in nature, over the same issue. Pakistan and Bangladesh also saw massive public protests full of angry Muslims demanding death for the ‘blasphemer’.

This got me thinking, why do Muslims in only some countries, like the Indian subcontinent, always take to the streets, and why Muslims in some Islamic countries never do the same? Some of the reasons that lead to this dichotomy could be as follows:

The difference in general law & order

Law and Order situation in Gulf countries is infinitely better than the situation in India. With all the riches of petrodollars, GCC countries can afford to spend significant sums on their local police force and provide them with the best equipment that money can buy. The much smaller populations compared to the countries in the subcontinent also make implementing law and order easier.

On the other hand, in the subcontinent, the police force is already stretched thin as it is, and this additional burden of controlling such protests gets a little overwhelming for the cops. During Islamic protests in India, if stone-pelting breaks out, we frequently see policemen wearing bike helmets to save their heads. That is the only anti-riot gear most of them are equipped with.

Interestingly, with this strict implementation of law & order, even the Muslims from the sub-continent don’t take to the streets while living in these countries. They know that they can’t riot with impunity there and any protest will mean a quick deportation or jail or fine, or all 3!

No political backing to violent protests in Gulf

In the Indian subcontinent, whenever any violence happens during such protests, one can always trace their links to a political party. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, they can do it directly and openly, while in India, most of them provide logistical support while trying to remain in the background. This political support ensures them the votes in return of those people, while the protesters get to run riot with impunity knowing that they will be saved by their political backers and their battery of lawyers if the need arises.

All the Gulf countries are monarchies, there is no democracy to speak of in these countries so nobody needs to play such gambits to ensure votes. There are some local elections for Shura Councils but at the end of the day, Royal decrees announce all the important decisions and the King rules with unchecked powers.

No complex, and hence no need to prove themselves as the “True Muslims” in Gulf

Even if Pakistanis keep tracing their ancestry to Turkey or the Arab world or some other part from time to time, the fact is that most of the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent are the ones whose forefathers converted during Islamic invasions. Unlike the Gulf, where Islam originated and most of the early adherents of Islam came from there, who then spread it around the world.

There is a saying in Hindi “Naya Mulla jyada pyaz khata hai”, which basically means that a new convert always tries to show that he is even better. The Muslims of the sub-continent are always eager to show that they are even more Muslims than the Arabs, so they go the extra mile to prove their Muslim identity. This involves taking personal offense after every alleged blasphemy around the world and then taking to the streets to protest for the same.

The desire to exhibit street power among Muslims in Indian sub-continent

For varying reasons, Muslims in the Indian sub-continent always have the desire to exhibit their street power. From taking up roads and public spaces for their prayers to blocking entire roads during these regular protests and stone-pelting, the exhibition of street power is always at play. When an Akbaruddin Owaisi says “remove police for 15 minutes”, it is not appearing out of thin air. It stems from the belief that they do have street power.

On the other hand, in Gulf, there is no such desire to exhibit on the streets who has all the power, that is pretty much settled.

So, to conclude, what we see is that Islam is there same everywhere, but Islamic protests are not. This is not to assume that the Muslims in the Gulf are not offended by or harbour the same sentiments as the subcontinent Muslims – perhaps more so.

However, they don’t come out on the streets because they are already in an Islamic nation that adheres to the principles of Islam rather strictly – that coupled with the fact that they have no interest in proving that they are “true Muslims”, given that they actually are, and with their economic affluence, they have no motivation to come out on the streets and protest.

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Amit Kelkar
Amit Kelkar
a Pune based IT professional with keen interest in politics

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