India is facing major diplomatic outrage from Muslim-majority countries after top officials in the governing Hindu nationalist party made derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, drawing accusations of blasphemy across some Arab nations that have left New Delhi struggling to contain the damaging fallout.
At least 15 countries, including Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Maldives, Libya, Turkiye and Indonesia have lodged official protests against India over the controversial remarks.
Anger has poured out on social media, and calls for a boycott of Indian goods have surfaced in some Arab nations. At home, it has led to protests against Modi's party in some parts of the country.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, also condemned the remarks, saying they came in a "context of intensifying hatred and abuse towards Islam in India and systematic practices against Muslims".
The Indian foreign ministry said in a statement that the offensive tweets and comments "did not, in any way, reflect the views of the government. These are the views of fringe elements".
The BJP has suspended spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled Naveen Jindal over the controversial comments. The party on Sunday issued a statement, saying it is "strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion" and "does not promote such people or philosophy".
Qatar, Iran and Kuwait had on Sunday summoned Indian ambassadors to express their strong protest and condemnation of the remarks. The embassies later issued statements, saying the "offensive tweets" by individuals in India "do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India".
The UAE's foreign ministry on Monday said the BJP officials' comments were "contrary to moral and humanitarian values and principles". The ministry underlined the "need for respecting religious symbols… and countering hate speech", state news agency WAM reported.
Kuwait's deputy foreign minister for Asia handed over a note of protest to the Indian envoy over the issue. He also welcomed the announcement about suspension of BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma whose comments about the Prophet made recently on national television has sparked an uproar in the country and abroad, especially in Arab nations like Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, reports Hindustan Times.
Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif took to Twitter to slam India. "I condemn in strongest possible words hurtful comments of India's BJP leader about our beloved Prophet (PBUH). Have said it repeatedly India under Modi is trampling religious freedoms and persecuting Muslims. World should take note & severely reprimand India," he wrote.
Indonesia summoned India's envoy in Jakarta over the "derogatory" remarks made about the Prophet Mohammed, its foreign ministry said.
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah told the AFP news agency that India's ambassador Manoj Kumar Bharti was summoned on Monday for a meeting in which the government lodged a complaint about the anti-Muslim rhetoric.
On Monday, Cairo-based Al Azhar University, one of Islam's most important institutions, said the comments were "the real terrorism" and "could plunge the entire world into deadly crisis and wars".
The Saudi-based Muslim World League said the remarks could "incite hatred", while Saudi Arabia's General Presidency of the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque called them a "heinous act".
In further criticism of the BJP's Sharma, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an umbrella group for the six Gulf countries, "condemned, rejected and denounced" her comments.
India's trade with the GCC, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, stood at approximately $90bn in 2020-2021.
Gulf countries are a major destination for India's overseas workers, accounting for 8.7 million out of a worldwide total of 13.5 million, Indian foreign ministry figures show.
They are also big importers of produce – from India and elsewhere – with Kuwait importing 95 percent of its total food, according to its trade minister.
The comments were made by Nupur Sharma during a TV debate last week in the backdrop of a series of communal incidents across the country. BJP media chief Naveen Jindal posted a tweet about the Prophet, which he later deleted.
The Delhi Police have provided security to Nupur Sharma and her family after a case was registered on a complaint that she was getting death threats. Ms Sharma earlier posted an apology on Twitter, saying that it was not her intention to hurt anyone's religious sentiments.