Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party on Sunday suspended its spokeswoman and expelled an official after their controversial statements about the Prophet Mohammed.
Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said that spokeswoman Nupur Sharma was suspended for breaching the party's constitution and expressing views contrary to its “position on various matters”.
The party said the suspension would remain effective until its disciplinary committee completed an internal inquiry against her.
It also expelled another top media official, Naveen Kumar Jindal, over derogatory social media posts it said had breached “communal harmony” and went against its “fundamental beliefs”.
“The offensive tweets and comments denigrating a religious personality were made by certain individuals,” India's external affairs ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said. “They do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India. Strong action has already been taken against these individuals by relevant bodies. India accords the highest respect to all religions.”
The BJP action follows international and domestic outrage and street violence in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, where a curfew was imposed in some areas after Muslim and Hindu men clashed on streets on Friday.
Gulf states condemn remarks
Nayef Falah Al Hajraf, Secretary General of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), said he “condemned, rejected and denounced” the statements. “We affirm our categorical rejection of any prejudice towards all prophets, apostles and religious personalities and symbols,” he said. “We also reject provocation, or the targeting or belittling of religions and beliefs.”
The UAE condemned the statements made by the spokeswoman for the BJP, and expressed its “condemnation and rejection of insulting the Prophet Mohammed”.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation affirmed the UAE's firm rejection of “all practices and behaviours that contradict moral and humanitarian values and principles”.
The ministry called for the need to respect religious symbols and not violate them, confronting hate speech and violence and strengthening the joint international responsibility to spread the values of tolerance and human coexistence, and to prevent any practices that would inflame the religious feelings of followers of different religions.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the remarks.
The kingdom said it rejected prejudice against symbols of the Islamic religion and religious figures, and that all faiths must be respected.
The Indian embassy in Qatar said that the tweets were the views of “fringe elements” and did not represent those of the Indian government.
Egypt's Al Azhar condemns Islamophobic comments
Egypt’s Al Azhar Mosque, the Sunni world’s foremost institution of religious learning, described the remarks as “real terrorism [that] can plunge the entire world into severe crises and deadly wars.”
“Al Azhar condemns the blatant and ill-mannered comments about the Messenger of God Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his wife, the Mother of the Faithful, the pure Lady Aisha,” the institution said in a statement.
The inflammatory remarks, it said, "only served to reveal a flagrant ignorance of the history of the prophets and how they represented the highest morals”.
The Al Azhar statement accused the BJP of using the already tense relationship between India's Hindu majority and its Muslim minority to curry votes in forthcoming elections.
"It is an explicit call to extremism and to spreading hatred and sedition among followers of different religions," it said.
Mr Modi’s party said that it respected all religions and denounced insults against any religious figure. It did not elaborate on the incidents or identify anyone.
“As India celebrates [the] 75th year of its independence, we are committed to making India a great country where all are equal and everyone lives with dignity, where all are committed to India's unity and integrity, where all enjoy the fruits of growth and development,” the BJP said.
Both of the officials have issued defensive statements while retracting their comments.
Their remarks have caused outrage among India’s Muslim population of about 200 million.
Hundreds of Muslims and Hindus threw stones at each other on Friday in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur city in the north of the country.
The unrest followed a call to demonstrate by a Muslim group, prompting counter-protests by Hindus that escalated into violence.
At least three people were injured in the clashes, with police arresting nearly two dozen people, mostly organisers of the demonstrations.
Prohibitory orders have also been imposed in the state’s Bareilly district, where a Muslim religious group has called for a mass protest rally on June 10 against the derogatory comments.
Meanwhile, the remarks also stirred anger in India’s neighbour, Pakistan, and in Afghanistan.
On Monday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry summoned an Indian diplomat and conveyed Islamabad’s “strong condemnation”.
This came after Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the comments were “hurtful” and “India under Modi is trampling religious freedoms and persecuting Muslims”.
India on Monday criticised Pakistan over its reaction, accusing it of being a “serial violator” and demanding that it focus on the safety of its minorities.
“The absurdity of a serial violator of minority rights commenting on the treatment of minorities in another nation is not lost on anyone,” Mr Bagchi said.
“We call on Pakistan to focus on the safety, security and well-being of its minority communities, instead of engaging in alarmist propaganda and attempting to foment communal disharmony in India.”
Criticism also came from Afghanistan, which said the Indian government should not allow “such fanatics to insult … Islam and provoke the feelings of Muslims”.
The BJP also faced anger from some of its own supporters, but for a different reason.
Many Hindu nationalists posted comments on social media saying the government was buckling under international pressure.