Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.
An escalation in Islamophobic incidents, following derogatory comments made by members of India’s ruling party about the Prophet Muhammad, has instigated a wave of misleading news this month.
The BJP Spokespersons Make Offensive Comments About Prophet Muhammad
In a television appearance on May 27, Nupur Sharma, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national spokesperson, made a number of offensive remarks regarding the Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Quran. Days later, on June 1, another BJP spokesperson, Naveen Kumar Jindal, shared a disparaging tweet, now deleted, about the Prophet.
In response, protests against the BJP erupted in India, leading to the death of two Muslim demonstrators and the injury of several others. The remarks have also ignited outcry among Muslim-majority countries, including allies of India, such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council. There were online calls for a boycott of Indian goods among social media users in the Gulf. Following this, the BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal.
Photo caption: Screenshot of a tweet by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, decrying BJP’s remarks.
India Sees an Increase in Anti-muslim Incidents
The controversy has led to an increase in anti-Muslim incidents. Earlier in June, a public college reportedly suspended over 30 Muslim students for wearing the hijab. Meanwhile, some social media users in India have circulated a photoshopped image, which purportedly depicts a poster of a film entitled “Muhammed,” featuring insinuations of paedophilia. The original poster, which is of an Iranian movie by Majid Majidi, is very different. It is worth noting that in recent years, several anti-Muslim attacks, including the 2020 lynching of Muslims and burning of mosques, have occurred in India. In 2017, Amnesty International reported 10 cases of lynching or public killings of Muslim men. Last year, a Hindu extremist was videotaped reportedly calling for a genocide against Muslims.
Misinformation About Islamophobia in India
Following the BJP incident, various misleading and fake headlines have circulated. Early on, some mistakenly shared that Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister and BJP leader, had made the offensive remarks. However, as mentioned earlier, the remarks were made by two party spokespeople, not the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, several misleading images and videos were shared, allegedly showing Hindu attacks on Muslims. In one instance, an outdated 2020 video showing police brutality during COVID-19 lockdown was shared while alleging that it shows Hindu police attacking a Muslim man.
Indeed, some videos and images show anti-Muslim attacks; however, these are not due to the recent BJP controversy. This includes a misleading photo that was claimed to show clashes between Hindus and Muslims following the BJP members’ remarks. However, Misbar has found that the photo dates back to the 2019 protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a citizenship law which has been said to discriminate against Muslims seeking Indian citizenship. Most recently, an image was circulated claiming to show protests against the BJP. Misbar also found this to be misleading, as the photo dates back to February 2022 protests against a hijab ban in schools in Karnataka, India.
Lastly, there were claims that the UAE had stopped wheat imports from India and that a Qatari anchorwoman expressed concern about the BJP remarks. Yet, both claims were found to be misleading by Misbar. The UAE had only temporarily restricted imports to control supply, while the image claiming to be of a Qatari anchorwoman was, in fact, of an Afghan TV anchor.
While the rise in misinformation is unsurprising, it is concerning. It distracts the public’s attention from ongoing discriminatory acts and exacerbates religious tensions, and may harm those seeking to share their stories in earnest.