Tens of thousands of Muslims – from Pakistan to Bangladesh to the Palestinian territories – poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests on Friday, as the French president’s promise to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad continues to roil the Islamic world.
An estimated 40,000 people in Bangladesh marched after Friday prayers in the capital Dhaka.
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The angry protesters carried signs reading “World Muslims united,” “Macron will pay a high price,” “Stop Islamophobia,” and “Macron is Satan.”
“We urge the government to convey our anger to France and boycott French products until France offers a public apology for what it has done to Muslims,” said Akramul Haque, a protester.
About 10,000 people marched through Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city. Demonstrations in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad turned violent as some 2,000 people who tried to march towards the French embassy were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons.
Crowds of demonstrators hanged an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron from a highway overpass after pounding it furiously with their shoes. Several demonstrators were wounded in clashes with police as authorities pushed to evict them from the red zone, a security area that houses Pakistan’s diplomatic missions. As night fell, demonstrators staged a sit-in on a main road.
In Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, thousands of worshippers celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets, chanting anti-France slogans, raising banners and clogging main roads en route to a Sufi shrine.
In Multan, a city in eastern Punjab province, thousands more torched an effigy of Macron and demanded that Pakistan sever ties with France and boycott French goods.
Protests were also held in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. A few hundred demonstrators flocked towards the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, but found their way blocked by lines of police officers in riot gear.
Waving black and white flags the activists yelled, “At your service, oh Prophet of God.” Some slung stones at police who responded with tear gas.
In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians protested against Macron outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, chanting, “With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Muhammad.” Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they dispersed the gathering and detained three people.
Scores more turned out in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas organised anti-France rallies at mosques across the territory it controls.
Fathi Hammad, a Hamas official, addressed a demonstration at the Jabaliya refugee camp, promising “to stand together to confront this criminal offensive that harms the faith of about two billion Muslims”, referring to depictions of the Muslim prophet. He reiterated Hamas authorities’ appeal for Palestinians to boycott all French products.
One protester, who identified himself as Abu Huzayfa, equivocated when asked about recent attacks in France in retribution for the cartoons.
“We don’t target innocents,” he said. “But those who directly insult our prophet will shoulder the responsibility.”
In Afghanistan, members of Hezb-i-Islami set the French flag ablaze. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warned Macron if he does not “control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible”.
Cries of “Death to France” rang out in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul and several other provinces as thousands filled the streets. Demonstrators trampled on portraits of Macron and called on Afghan leaders to shut down the French embassy, sever ties and ban French citizens from the country. In the country’s western Herat province, protesters hoisted an effigy of Macron on a crane and set it alight.
In a Friday sermon aired live on Egyptian state TV, the country’s minister of religious endowments appeared to denounce any violent retaliation for the cartoons.
“Love of the prophet cannot be expressed by killing, sabotaging or responding to evil with evil,” said Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, addressing dozens of worshippers at a mosque in Egypt’s Delta province of Daqahleya.
The protests come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when Macron described Islam as a religion “in crisis” globally.
The rift widened after a man beheaded a French teacher who had shown caricatures of the prophet in class. It is forbidden in Islam to depict Prophet Muhammad in any way.
While Muslims have condemned the killing, they fear a crackdown targeting Islamic organisations and are upset by the renewed support for the right to show the cartoons, which often suggest Islam and “terrorism” are linked.
Those images were republished by the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication.
France was sent into further shock on Thursday, when a knife-wielding Tunisian man killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice. That same day, a Saudi man stabbed and lightly wounded a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Leaders of many Muslim countries offered their condolences to France after the attack and expressed their solidarity as they condemned the violence.