Call for calm by Sweden's Muslims may have stopped Torah-burning

Rabbi says protester was talked out of setting fire to holy books

A protest called outside Israel's embassy in Stockholm ended without holy books being burned. AFP
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Appeals for calm by Muslim leaders may have prevented the burning of a Torah in Sweden, The National has been told.

An imam used a sermon at Stockholm’s main mosque to plead for solidarity with Jewish leaders alarmed by the planned protest.

A Syrian-born activist had caused outrage by telling police he planned to set fire to a Torah and Bible – weeks after a Quran was burned outside the mosque.

Sweden’s decision to grant him a permit was also condemned and led to fears the act would incite hatred.

In the event, however, no holy texts were burned as the man declared he would not follow through with the threat on Saturday.

The activist, identified as 32-year-old Ahmad A, said the point of his non-protest was to show that burning holy books was wrong.

“If I burn the Torah, another Bible, another Quran, there will be war here. What I wanted to show is that it's not right to do it,” he told a crowd of journalists who had gathered outside the mosque.

But Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen, a Jewish leader in Malmo, said he believed the man had intended to burn the Torah before being talked down by Muslim leaders.

“The Muslim leadership were active both publicly and conveyed personally that it was forbidden according to Islam and that it was forbidden to harm the Jewish partners who stood by the Muslims with the burning of the Quran,” the rabbi told The National.

“Also in the sermon on Friday at the Great Mosque, the imam came out in defence of the Jews and against burning the Torah.

“We are relieved that he was affected and did not carry out this terrible act of burning the Torah.”

The man was granted permission to stage his protest outside the Israeli embassy. Swedish police said the approval was given for the gathering and not for the burning of religious texts.

Senior Israeli figures denounced Sweden’s stance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “shameful decision” while Israel’s ambassador in Stockholm said burning the Torah had “nothing to do with freedom of expression”.

Pakistan also condemned the grant of the permit, even after the protest ended without the burning of the Torah.

“As a religion of peace, Islam calls for respect for all religions, sacred personalities and holy scriptures,” Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said.

A Pakistan-led motion to call for burning religious texts to be punished was passed by the UN’s human rights council last week despite opposition from the US, UK and European Union.

A Quran was burned outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm in January by far-right activist Rasmus Paludan, threatening to derail Sweden's bid to join Nato.

Last month an Iraqi-born member of the far-right Sweden Democrats set fire to a Quran outside the Stockholm mosque. Both incidents led to condemnation from the Muslim world and beyond.

Sweden is considering whether to bring in stricter laws, after a court said security fears were not a good enough reason to ban Quran-burning protests under current legislation.

The European Union's co-ordinator for combating anti-Muslim hatred said the bloc condemns Quran burning but that it is up to individual states whether to ban it.

Updated: July 17, 2023, 11:18 AM