Indian Muslims urged to avoid protests

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Leaders of prominent Islamic groups and mosques in India have appealed to fellow Muslims to avoid protests against derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad made by two members of the ruling Hindu nationalist party.

The message to eschew big gatherings was circulated after demonstrations took a violent turn last week, leading to the death of two Muslim teenagers and injuries to more than 30 people, including police.

"It is the duty of every Muslim to stand together when anyone belittles Islam but at the same time it is critical to maintain peace," said Malik Aslam, a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a Muslim organisation that operates in several Indian states.

In late May and early this month, two senior spokespersons for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)made remarks that offended Muslims, in one case in a television debate and in the other on social media.

The party suspended both of them and said it condemned any insult towards any religion. Indian police have also filed official complaints against the two, a step that can lead to a formal investigation, but that did not stop angry Muslims taking to the streets in protest over the remarks.

Police said they arrested at least 400 suspected rioters during unrest in several states, curfews were imposed and internet services were suspended in some places.

Modi has not commented on the anti-Islam remarks even as condemnation grew abroad. Countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran - all important trade partners for India - have lodged diplomatic protests.

Modi has played down his roots in a powerful Hindu nationalist group to which his party is affiliated since he came to power in 2014, but many minority Muslims in India have been questioning their place in society under BJP rule.

Critics say his BJP has pursued a confrontational line, promoting the idea that India is a Hindu nation and rounding on "anti-national" opponents. Many Muslims see as this as an attempt to marginalise their community, which comprises 13 per cent of India's 1.35 billion population.

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