Pope condemns Quran burning in Sweden and calls for respect

The pontiff says no holy book should be desecrated and rejects the idea that offensive protests should be allowed in the name of free speech.

Pope Francis
'Freedom of speech should never be used as a means to despise others,' Pope Francis said of a Quran burning in a newspaper interview published on July 3. 2023 [Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters]

Pope Francis has condemned last week’s Quran burning in Sweden, saying he felt “angry and disgusted” to see the Muslim holy book desecrated.

In an interview published on Monday in the United Arab Emirates newspaper Al Ittihad, the pope said: “Any book considered holy should be respected to respect those who believe in it.

“I feel angry and disgusted at these actions.”

On Wednesday, when many Muslims were celebrating Eid al-Adha, a man in Stockholm tore up and burned a Quran outside a mosque, drawing widespread condemnation, including from the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of 57 states, said collective measures are needed and international law should be used to stop religious hatred.

The OIC said in a statement: “We must send constant reminders to the international community regarding the urgent application of international law, which clearly prohibits any advocacy of religious hatred.”

Demonstrators burn the Swedish flag
Demonstrators burn the Swedish flag during a protest in front of the Swedish embassy in Tehran against a man who burned a Quran in Stockholm [Majid Asgaripour/West Asia News Agency via Reuters]

On Monday, Saudi Arabia summoned Sweden’s ambassador over the incident to urge Stockholm to “stop all actions that directly contradict international efforts seeking to spread the values of tolerance, moderation and rejection of extremism and undermine the necessary mutual respect for relations between peoples and states”, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

While Swedish police had granted permission for a protest, the man who burned the Quran was charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group.

The incident, also condemned by the Swedish government and Washington, triggered large protests in Baghdad.

Sweden Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said it was time for Sweden to think about its identity.

“It is a serious security situation. There is no reason to insult other people,” he said.

While Swedish police have rejected several recent applications for anti-Quran demonstrations, courts have overruled those decisions, saying they infringe on freedom of speech.

In his interview, the pope rejected the free speech rationale.

“Freedom of speech should never be used as a means to despise others, and allowing that is rejected and condemned,” he said.

Anti-Muslim protests in Sweden have erupted before.

In late January, Turkey suspended talks over Sweden’s NATO membership application after a Danish far-right politician burned a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies