The Global Community Responds to Quran Burnings in Sweden and Denmark

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Policy Brief Program

July 25, 2023

On Thursday, July 20, 37-year-old Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee, kicked and damaged a Quran in front of Sweden’s Stockholm Central Mosque. Momika had originally planned to burn the Quran, repeating a demonstration that he executed on June 28 during the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival. The following day, July 21, members of ultranationalist group Danske Patrioter burned a Quran in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark and broadcasted the act on a Facebook live recording. Regional sources analyze the international impact of these repeated desecrations of the Quran:

Gulf News reports that, prior to Momika’s demonstration, “hundreds of protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in central Baghdad in the early hours of Thursday morning, scaling its walls and setting it on fire in protest against the expected burning of a Quran in Sweden.” Recognizing the role of Iraqi authorities safeguarding diplomatic missions and staff, “Iraq’s foreign ministry condemned the incident and said in a statement the Iraqi government had instructed security forces to carry out a swift investigation, identify perpetrators and hold them to account.”

Momika, however, was not deterred by the anticipatory protests. Arab News outlines: “Salwan Momika, who fled Iraq and sought refuge in Sweden several years ago, on Thursday stomped on and kicked Islam’s holy book after burning another copy of the Qur’an outside a Stockholm mosque last month.” 

This is not the first time that an event of such caliber had occurred in Sweden. The Jordan Times notes that “On June 28, Salwan Momika also burnt pages of the Koran, outside a Stockholm mosque, sparking a wave of indignation and anger across the Muslim world.” This Quran burning occurred “in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque during Eid Al Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world.”

According to Gulf Daily News, Swedish police “granted an application for a public meeting outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.” While Swedish police “denied several applications earlier this year for protests that were set to include burning the Quran,” many criticize Thursday’s authorization since Momika had already led a Quran burning demonstration once before. Further driving global dismay, Swedish courts have upheld that “such acts are protected by the country’s far-reaching freedom of speech laws.”

Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani responded by “recall[ing] his country’s charge d’affaires in Sweden and suspend[ing] the working permit of Swedish telecom company Ericsson on Iraqi soil,” according to Al Jazeera. Iraq has also “expelled the Swedish ambassador to the country” and threatened to “sever diplomatic ties with Sweden if such an incident was to take place again.” Other Muslim-majority countries including Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Turkey have condemned Sweden as well. 

Adding to the concern, on July 21, “a man set fire to a book purported to be the Quran on a square across from the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen.” The Khaleej Times explains that the “event was livestreamed on the Facebook platform of a group that calls itself ‘Danish Patriots.’ The video shows the book burning in a tin foil tray next to the Iraqi flag on the ground, with two onlookers standing and talking next to it.”

Arab Weekly quoted Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen who identified the act as a product of “stupidity” by a few individuals. He continued: “It is a disgraceful act to insult the religion of others. This applies to the burning of Qurans and other religious symbols. It has no other purpose than to provoke and create division.”

Protests in Baghdad surged yet again, with hundreds of individuals attempting to “storm Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and the seat of Iraq’s government,” claims Asharq Al-Awsat. The attempt was unsuccessful and “security forces pushed back protesters, who blocked the Jumhouriya bridge leading to the Green Zone, preventing them from reaching the Danish Embassy.”

Both Sweden and Denmark are receiving backlash for their lack of action in preventing and responding to these events. The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation “has informed the Government of Sweden that it has decided to suspend the status of the Special Envoy of the Kingdom of Sweden to the OIC,” according to the OIC website

In terms of Denmark, the Gulf Times reports: “The Muslim World League (MWL) has condemned – in a strongly worded statement – the crime of burning a copy of the Holy Quran, by extremists in Copenhagen, the Danish capital. The statement condemned these practices, describing them as heinous and absurd and violate all religious and humanitarian norms and principles and clash with the values of the international community which recently warned about the perils of these practices, and clearly declared its rejection of all manifestations of ‘Islamophobia’, incitement, and hatred against Islam and Muslims.”


(Image: Ap / Hadi Mizban)

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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