The Pakistani prime minster has added his voice to the growing criticism of the French president for "encouraging Islamophobia" following the killing of a teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils.
"Hallmark of a leader is he unites human beings... rather than dividing them. This is a time when President [Emmanuel] Macron could have put healing touch, and denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation and marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalization," Imran Khan said in a series of tweets on Sunday.
"It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists."
Sadly, he added, Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam, and Prophet Muhammad.
By attacking Islam, Khan said, Macron clearly without having any understanding of it, has attacked and hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe and across the world.
"The last thing the world wants or needs is further polarisation. Public statements based on ignorance will create more hate, Islamophobia and space for extremists."
Earlier this month, Macron described Islam as a religion "in crisis," and announced plans for tougher laws to tackle what he called "Islamist separatism" in France.
French Muslims have accused him of trying to repress their religion, and legitimizing Islamophobia.
Opposition joins protest
Several Pakistani opposition leaders also slammed Macron for "hurting the sentiments" of Muslims across the globe.
"Today, when millions of Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, events in France have hurt their sentiments," Maryam Nawaz, the vice president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, a key opposition party, said while addressing a huge rally in southwestern Quetta city.
The rally was organized by an 11-party opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement against Khan-led government.
Referring to Macron's support to the repeated publication of blasphemous caricatures, and anti-Islam remarks, Maryam, who's the daughter of three-time former premier Nawaz Sharif, said Pakistanis "condemn and reject" the smear campaign.
Former opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman also condemned Macron for his "derogatory" remarks, which "could instigate the Muslim youth" across the world in the defense of Prophet Muhammad.
Sirajul Haq, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's mainstream religious party, meanwhile, called for summoning of an urgent session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to discuss the issue.
"The honor of Prophet Muhammad PBUH is the most precious belonging of every Muslim and its defense is an article of Islamic faith and love for the Prophet. The display of caricatures on buildings in France must be unequivocally condemned by Muslim leadership," he said in a tweet late Saturday.
Shireen Mazari, Pakistan's human rights minister, termed the rising Islamophobia in France "state-sponsored."
"From banning niqab (veil) even during COVID-19, when masks seen as necessary to insisting blasphemous cartoons are freedom of expression, when questioning or criticizing holocaust is banned, French Islamophobia is endemic and sadly encouraged by state. Muslims can't wear religious attire," she tweeted.
Protest in Bangladesh
Bangadeshi youths also protested against the French government's support to provocation against Islam, calling for "boycott of French goods."
The Islamic Youth Movement, a religious group, staged a rally in the capital Dhaka. They rejected the "provocative activities" in the name of freedom, pushing for cutting of diplomatic ties with France.
A virtual campaign on platforms including Facebook and Twitter has also gained momentum.
“Promoting hate speech against any religion or community isn't freedom of speech,” Hasan Al Mahmud, one of the participants in the online campaign, told Anadolu Agency. “The boycott is a non-violent protest but has a wide socio-cultural significance."
Meanwhile, the Islami Andolan Bangladesh, a religious party, announced it will hold a protest outside the French embassy in Dhaka on Wednesday.
Turkey has also condemned Macron’s attitude toward Muslims and Islam, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying the French leader needed "mental treatment."
* Najmus Sakib contributed to this story from Dhaka, Bangladesh