Anger has been growing over France’s defence of the cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad, objections over which centre on the intent to ridicule Islam at large in a country where overtly practicing can come hand-in-hand with discrimination.

Muslims take part in a protest after Friday prayer in Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 30, 2020.
Muslims take part in a protest after Friday prayer in Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, have poured out of Friday prayer services to join anti-France protests, as the French president’s vow to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad continues to roil the Muslim world.

An estimated 2,000 worshippers celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad took to the streets in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

Crowds led by religious parties chanted anti-France slogans, raised banners and clogged major roads en route to a Sufi shrine. 

Dozens of people furiously stomped on French flags and cried for the boycott of French products. 

Depicting prophets is strictly avoided in Islam.

Muslims object to the cartoons published by a French satirical magazine on the basis that they were meant to provoke and insult the community at large. The publication of such caricatures is seen in the larger context of the French state's anti-Islam policies, which have discriminated against people for eating halal food and women wearing the hijab.

In Multan, a city in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, thousands burned an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron and demanded that Pakistan sever ties with France.

More gatherings were planned for later Friday in Pakistan, including the capital Islamabad, where police were out in force to prevent possible demonstrations outside the French Embassy. The atmosphere was tense as police positioned shipping containers to block the roads.

In Afghanistan, members of the Hezb-i-Islami group set the French flag ablaze. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warned Macron that if he doesn't “control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible.”

'Soldiers' in Dhaka

Muslim worshippers came out of Friday prayers in mosques across the Bangladeshi capital and chanted: "We are all soldiers of Prophet Muhammed."

They also called for a boycott of French goods and for Macron to be punished, with some burning an effigy of the leader.

Police said 12,000 people took part in the Dhaka rally, but independent observers and organisers said there were many more.

A poster of Macron was set alight in the port city of Chittagong, where authorities said another 4,000 people took part in protests.

Smaller rallies were held in other towns across the Muslim-majority nation of more than 160 million people.

READ MORE: Is French secularism a divisive force in the country?

Souls and blood

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 holy site into the Old City.

Other protests are expected across the region, including in Lebanon and Gaza.

READ MORE: French foreign policy mimics Macron's alienation of Muslims at home

Lone wolf attacks?

The protests come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when a young Chechen man beheaded French schoolteacher Samuel Paty who had shown caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in class.

Those images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have stirred the ire of Muslims. Depicting prophets is strictly avoided in Islam.

On Thursday, a knife-wielding Tunisian man killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice. The same day, another man with a knife was apprehended in Lyon.

That same day, a Saudi man stabbed and lightly wounded a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, prompting France to urge its citizens there to be on “high alert.”

READ MORE: Five times boycotts have been used as an act of political protest

International outrage

Over the past week, protests and calls to boycott French products have spread rapidly from Bangladesh to Pakistan to Kuwait. Social media has been pulsing with anti-France hashtags. Muslim leaders, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular, have loudly criticised France for what they see as the government’s provocative and anti-Muslim stance. Some countries have pulled French products from their shelves.

Thursday's attack in Nice also drew condemnations from leaders of countries that had voiced outrage over the caricatures, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt.

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.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies