India’s Ruling Hindu Party Suspends Spokeswoman for Mentioning Muhammad’s 6-Year-Old Wife on TV

MUMBAI, INDIA JUNE 6: Muslim activists shout slogans in reaction to the remarks of suspended BJP leader and spokesperson Nupur Sharma on Prophet Muhammad during a protest at Bhendi Bazar, on June 6, 2022 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Bhushan Koyande/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India’s ruling BJP Party on Sunday suspended spokeswoman Nupur Sharma and permanently expelled Delhi regional media director Naveen Kumar Jindal this weekend after they made televised comments critical of Islam’s Muhammad and his child bride, Aisha.

Protests erupted across India, where tensions between Muslims and the Hindu majority were already running high, and condemnations poured in from Muslim countries led by Qatar, which demanded a public apology from the Indian government.

Western media outlets have proven extremely reluctant to quote what Sharma said, even though her comment was brief and occurred during a televised debate panel. Most reports mention only that she criticized Muhammad, perpetrated “hate speech,” or has been accused of blasphemy.

Many Indian media outlets are also treading lightly in their accounts of the incident, which occurred on a panel show on the Times Now network on May 27, but OpIndia provided a transcript:

Sharma was a part of a debate panel on Times Now, discussing the finding of Shivling in the Gyanvapi complex and the subsequent mockery of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses that followed in the wake of the discovery. Islamists have claimed that the Shivling discovered inside the wuzukhana of the Gyanvapi disputed structure was not a Shivling but a fountain. Across social media platforms, detractors have been repeating ad nauseam that the Shivling found inside the Gyanvapi premises is a fountain and not an idol of a Hindu God.

In response to the contempt and scorn poured over Hindu Gods and Goddesses, which was evident even during the Times Now debate where some of the fellow panellists referred to the Shivling as a fountain, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma asked them to refrain from insulting Hindu Gods and cited Islamic scriptures and Holy Quran for substantiating her remarks on Prophet Muhammad and Islam.

“Should I start mocking claims of flying horses or the flat-earth theory as mentioned in your Quran? You are marrying a 6-year-old girl and having sex with her when she turned 9. Who did it? Prophet Muhammad. Should I start saying all these things that are mentioned in your scriptures?” said Sharma, after being heckled by Taslim Ahmed Rehmani while talking about the longstanding practice of mocking Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

“Shivling” is a reference to a Hindu sacred carving that represents the god Shiva – more specifically, a rather delicate part of Shiva’s anatomy. Gyanvapi is a mosque where a sizable Shivling was allegedly discovered during a videography survey in May. 

The sculpture is located in a pond that is used by the mosque as a “wuzukhana” – a facility for “wuzu” bathing, the ritual cleansing procedure undertaken before Muslim prayers. The pond was sealed by court order until the precise nature of the carving can be ascertained.

Some Hindus are demanding access to the mosque so they can study the Shivling or perform religious devotions in the pond. Muslims argue the sculpture is meant to be a fountain, possibly carved in the image of a famous mountain, and they claim the pond should be recognized as an important part of the mosque. Some Muslims accuse the BJP party of exploiting the Gyanvapi controversy to stoke Hindu nationalist sentiments for political gain.

As OpIndia indicated, BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma was responding to these arguments, claiming it was an insult to describe the presumed Shivling as a mere fountain or to mock what a Shivling is actually supposed to represent. 

Sharma lashed back by listing some Mulsim beliefs she found risible, including the account in the Quran of Muhammed riding a flying steed called a buraq to Heaven, a Quranic passage that was interpreted by some early Muslim tribesmen as saying the earth was flat – and, most importantly, the account of Muhammad marrying a child named Aisha when he was in his 50s and she was six years old, consummating the relationship when she was nine.

The story of Aisha is an extremely sensitive issue with modern Muslims, as the outraged response to Sharma’s comments illustrates. Some Muslims argue Aisha’s comment about her own age in the Quran was misinterpreted and she was older than six when she married Muhammad, while others argue child marriage was common at the time. Accusations of pedophilia against Muhammad from non-Muslims are reliably met with outrage.

The Tribune of India on Sunday argued that a “strong reaction from the Grand Mufti of Oman,” followed by a “Twitter storm in West Asia,” inflamed international Muslim outrage against Sharma and pressured the BJP into suspending her for six years and expelling media director Naveen Kumar Jindal.

The Grand Mufti called for boycotts against Indian products in Muslim countries, and several Muslim governments demanded BJP fire Sharma and apologize for her remarks.

“The insolent and obscene rudeness of the official spokesman for the ruling extremist party in India against the Messenger of Islam and his pure wife Aisha is a war against every Muslim in the east and west of the Earth, and it is a matter that calls for all Muslims to rise as one nation,” the Grand Mufti declared on social media.

BJP issued a statement on Sunday saying it “respects all religions” and “strongly denounces insults of any religious personalities of any religion.”

“The BJP is also strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people of philosophy,” said party general secretary Arun Singh.

Singh’s memo did not mention Sharma or Jindal by name.

Sharma issued a statement saying she was provoked because Shiva was “insulted and disrespected continuously” during the debate over the Gyanvapi Shivling.

“If my words have caused discomfort or hurt the religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement,” she said.

Jindal and Sharma both said they have received death threats over the controversy. Jindal has requested police protection.

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