A man tore up and burned a Quran outside Stockholm's central mosque on Wednesday, an event that risks angering Turkey as Sweden bids to join NATO, after Swedish police granted permission for the protest to take place.
A series of demonstrations in Sweden against Islam and for Kurdish rights have offended Ankara, whose backing Sweden needs to gain entry to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Sweden sought NATO membership in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year. But alliance member Turkey has held up the process, accusing Sweden of harboring people it considers terrorists and demanding their extradition.
Some 200 onlookers witnessed one of the two organizers tearing up pages of a copy of the Quran and wiping his shoes with it before putting bacon in it and setting the book on fire, whilst the other protestor spoke into a megaphone.
Protest against the burning
Some of those present shouted 'God is great' in Arabic to protest against the burning, and one man was detained by police after he attempted to throw a rock.
A supporter of the demonstration shouted "let it burn" as the holy book caught on fire.
Turkish foreign minister Hakan Fidan condemned the act in a tweet on Wednesday.
While Swedish police have rejected several recent applications for anti-Quran demonstrations, courts have overruled those decisions, saying they infringed on freedom of speech.
Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said at a press conference on Wednesday he would not speculate about how the protest could affect Sweden's NATO process.
"It's legal but not appropriate," he said, adding that it was up to the police to make decisions on Quran burnings.
One of the two people who took part is Salwan Momika, who in a recent newspaper interview described himself as an Iraqi refugee seeking to ban the Quran.
Representatives of the mosque were disappointed by the police decision to grant permission for the protest on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, mosque director and Imam Mahmoud Khalfi said on Wednesday.
"The mosque suggested to the police to at least divert the demonstration to another location, which is possible by law, but they chose not to do so," Khalfi said in a statement.
Up to 10,000 visitors attend Stockholm's mosque for the Eid celebrations every year, according to Khalfi.
Turkey in late January suspended talks with Sweden on its NATO application after a Danish far-right politician burned a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Jewish-Muslim solidarity in Sweden
In January, a Swedish-Israeli rabbi shared with The Jerusalem Post that the work of himself and a local Imam, led the local Swedish Muslim community that convinced organizers of a planned Torah-burning event to cancel it.
“Saying it's a hate crime masquerading as freedom of speech,” said Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen, co-founder and project director of Amanah, a Swedish organization that promotes dialogue and connections between religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Jews. HaCohen said on Wednesday that “Since January we have met with the Archbishop of Sweden to promote and hear how he sees the issue of burning sacred books and how the Swedish church can stand up to this.” The rabbi explained that the Swedish Church later issued an official statement on the matter.
Amanah is based on the personal relationship and dialogue that was established between Imam Salahuddin Barakat HaCohen. HaCohen was formerly the rabbi of the Malmo Jewish community in the Southern part of Sweden and now lives in Israel, but visits Sweden regularly.
“We are working on the legal aspects of these types of events, to see how to deal with government officials,” the rabbi said. He said that “the Muslims prevented the burning of Torah books, which came as a response to the burning of the Quran. There were requests to burn the Torah four times, but thank God it did not happen, because of the Imams' intervention.”
In the joint statement, the Swedish Jewish communities and Amanah said in January that “it is with deep concern that we once again witness Islamophobic hate manifestations in the streets of Sweden. Once again racists and extremists are allowed to abuse democracy and Freedom of Speech in order to normalize hate against one of the religious minorities in Sweden, by burning the Quran.”
The international impact of the burning
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan condemned the burning of a Quran in Sweden.
"I condemn the vile protest in Sweden against our holy book on the first day of the blessed Eid al-Adha," Fidan tweeted on Wednesday.
He also said that it was unacceptable to allow anti-Islam protests in the name of freedom of expression.
Morocco recalled its ambassador to Sweden for an indefinite period after a man tore up and burned a Koran outside Stockholm's central mosque on Wednesday, the state news agency said.
Morocco's foreign ministry also summoned Sweden's chargé d'affaires in Rabat on Wednesday and expressed the kingdom's "strong condemnation of this attack and its rejection of this unacceptable act", the state news agency said.