NEW DELHI – Thousands of people rallied in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India on Friday to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s supposedly anti-Islam remarks in defending the alleged blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.
The protests on Eid-e-Milad or Mawlid, the birthday of Muhammad – the most revered figure in Islam – were in continuation of similar gatherings in predominantly Islamic countries amid rising tensions between France and the Muslims.
The rallies were peaceful in South Asia, which houses 600 million Muslims, the largest concentration of the followers of Islam in any region in the world.
In Pakistan, thousands of Muslims took to streets after Friday prayers, shouting pro-Islam slogans.
About a thousand protesters tried to march towards the French embassy in Islamabad but the police stopped them from reaching the diplomatic enclave.
The protesters tried to resist, sparking minor clashes with the police. Several protesters carried Macron’s posters, defaced with footprints.
The tension between the angry protesters and the police was clear. An Islamist shouted at them: “You are not a Muslim.”
Similar protests were also held in the cities of Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar cities.
A supermarket in Peshawar city has announced a boycott of French products. The store owner has put Macron’s picture at the entrance for customers to step on when they enter.
Tens of thousands of Muslims also protested in Bangladesh.
Police said some 20,000 protesters joined the protest in the capital Dhaka after Friday prayers under the banner of two Islamists groups – Combined Islamic Parties and Like-minded Islamic Parties.
The protest ended peacefully, said Abu Bakar Siddiq, the officer-in-charge of the Paltan police station.
Protesters demanded Macron tender an unconditional apology and the Bangladesh government summon the French ambassador in Dhaka to seek an explanation.
“We urge the people to boycott French products,” said Shahidul Islam Kabir, a protester, and leader of Islami Andolon Bangladesh.
The protesters burnt the effigy of Macron after a large procession near the Baitul Mukarram mosque.
Kabir said demonstrations were also held in many other mosques across the country.
Hardline Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam held a protest in the southern city of Chittagong.
Hefazat spokesperson Azizul Islam said they urged Bangladesh to end diplomatic ties with France if Macron refused to apologize.
In Afghanistan, mostly youth and Islamic clerics gathered for a protest in Kabul.
The protest that began shortly after Friday prayers continued for nearly two hours.
“The main aim of the protest was to condemn the French president’s insult of Islam and the prophet, and to call on westerners not to indulge in animosity with Muslims,” Saif-ul-Islam, an organizer of the rally, told EFE.
The protesters shouted anti-France and pro-Islam slogans. Many of them held placards, reading: “We love Muhammad.” Some of them tore apart posters of Macron.
They also demanded a boycott of French products.
“Making cartoons of the prophet and insulting comments by the French president are organized acts to defame Islam and prevent the progress and expansion of Islam in the world, particularly in the west,” Omar Rahmani, one of the protesters, told EFE.
In India, which has the second biggest population of Muslims worldwide, posters of Macron were found pasted on a road in the western city of Mumbai, the main financial hub of the country.
Mumbai police spokesperson Chaitanya S told EFE that unknown persons had stuck the posters on a road on Thursday, but they had been removed and an investigation was underway.
Protests and calls for boycotting French products have grown in the last week across the Muslim world with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leading the voices criticizing Macron for his allegedly provocative and anti-Muslim stance.
Macron had on Oct. 21 proclaimed in a speech at the Sorbonne University that “France will not give up the cartoons.”
He was paying homage to French teacher Samuel Paty who was decapitated by an Islamist student for showing the controversial caricatures to his class.
Paty, a 47-year-old secondary school history and geography teacher, was killed by the knife-wielding attacker because he had shown the cartoons to students during a class on freedom of expression.
Images of the prophet are considered deeply offensive by many Muslims and are widely seen as taboo in Islam.
The incident caused widespread outrage and solidarity across the country, along with a series of arrests and government action on extremist Islamist individuals and groups.
There has been a series of attacks in the country, and the French government has blamed Muslim extremists for them.
On Thursday, three people were killed by an assailant in a knife attack at a Catholic church in central Nice.
This prompted the government to sound the highest security alert level following what Macron described as an “Islamist terrorist attack” at the Notre Dame Basilica in the Mediterranean city.