Posted on July 24, 2023

Thousands of Muslims Took to the Streets to Express Outrage Over Quran Desecration in Sweden

Abby Sewell, Associated Press, July 21, 2023

Thousands of people took to the streets in a handful of Muslim-majority countries Friday to express their outrage at the desecration of a copy of the Quran in Sweden, a day after protesters stormed the country’s embassy in Iraq.

The protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran that followed weekly prayers were controlled and peaceful, in contrast to scenes in Baghdad on Thursday, when demonstrators occupied the Swedish Embassy compound for several hours and set a small fire.

The embassy staff had been evacuated before the storming, and Swedish news agency TT reported that they were relocated to Stockholm for security reasons.

For Muslims, any desecration of the Quran, their holy text, is abhorrent.

Under scorching heat Friday, thousands gathered in Baghdad’s Sadr City, a stronghold of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, some of whose followers took part in the attack on the Swedish Embassy. They brandished Qurans, burned the Swedish flag and the LGBTQ rainbow flag and chanted, “Yes, yes to the Quran, no, no to Israel.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani had called on protesters and security forces to ensure that the demonstrations remained peaceful.

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, thousands more gathered at a protest called by the Iran-backed militia and political party Hezbollah, also brandishing copies of the holy book and chanting “with our blood, we protect the Quran.” Some burned Swedish flags.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a video address Thursday night called on Muslims to demand their governments expel Sweden’s ambassadors. Iraq cut diplomatic ties with Sweden earlier that day.


In Iran, thousands marched in Tehran and other cities across the country, demonstrations that were aired on state television. In the capital, protesters gathered in the city center, shouting: “Death to the Americanized Sweden! Death to Israel! Death to enemies of the supreme leader!”

Student protesters pelted the Swedish Embassy building that was closed for the weekend, which in Iran is Friday and Saturday, with eggs and demanded the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador.


The demonstrations come after Swedish police permitted a protest Thursday in which an Iraqi of Christian origin living in Stockholm — now a self-described atheist — threatened to burn a copy of the Quran. In the end, the man kicked and stood on the holy book outside of the Iraqi Embassy. He gave similar treatment to an Iraqi flag and to photos of Sadr and of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The right to hold public demonstrations is protected by the constitution in Sweden, and blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s. Police generally give permission based on whether they believe a public gathering can be held without major disruptions or safety risks.


Leaders in several Muslim-majority countries condemned the desecration of the Quran and summoned diplomats from Sweden to express their outrage. {snip}


Worshippers gathering for Friday prayers at the Stockholm mosque outside which last month’s Quran-burning took place expressed frustration that Swedish authorities allowed such actions. Imam Mahmoud Khalfi told the AP the situation made him feel “powerless.”