Muslims Rally Over Koran Report

Muslims in Pakistan rally in Islamabad to protest alleged Koran desecration by U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Muslims in Pakistan rally in Islamabad to protest alleged Koran desecration by U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (By Mian Khursheed -- Reuters)
By Daniel Williams and Kamran Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 28, 2005

CAIRO, May 28 -- Muslims in several countries demonstrated Friday in resurgent anti-American anger over reported desecration of the Islamic holy book, the Koran, and some protesters called on their leaders to demand an apology from the United States.

The Muslim Brotherhood held rallies in the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Alexandria, where worshipers and protesters wiped their feet with paper replicas of the U.S. and Israeli flags on their demonstration route.

At the Lawyers Club compound on Alexandria's waterfront, about 5,000 demonstrators held up signs asking, "What next after the Koran?" while the crowd chanted, "We have to hate them like they hate the Koran."

Riot police on side streets blocked hundreds of other demonstrators from reaching the shoreline. Sheikh Mahaldaway, the preacher at the demonstration, assailed President Hosni Mubarak, saying his government failed to speak up following reports that the Koran was defiled by guards at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "I would have expected the political and security leaders to take a stand," he said.

This month, Newsweek magazine published, then retracted, a report that interrogators had put a Koran in a toilet in an attempt to intimidate a prisoner. The report of the desecration of a book that religious Muslims revere as the literal word of God touched off rioting that killed at least 16 people in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp said the U.S. military had identified five incidents of "mishandling of a Koran" by U.S. personnel there. But Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood said investigators had found no credible evidence that a copy had been flushed down a toilet, as detainees alleged.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party, led thousands of Muslims in a march through the city's boulevards. The U.S. admission "that its soldiers were disrespectful of the Koran is a much more serious offense than its invasion of Iraq," Qazi Hussain Ahman, the leader, said in a phone interview.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the opposition in parliament, said in a telephone interview that Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, should respond to the U.S. admission about the Koran by expelling the American ambassador "as a first sign of protest."

"How can a country whose soldiers have no respect for the holy Koran be the most important ally of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan," Rahman said.

In the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, news service reports said about 300 people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy after prayers in a nearby mosque. The demonstration, organized by Malaysia's largest Islamic opposition party, was loud but largely peaceful. Protesters listened to speeches condemning the incident, waved banners with anti-American slogans and burned cardboard replicas of U.S. and Israeli flags.

The crowd dispersed after several demonstrators were allowed to hand a protest letter to embassy officials. "We sent a memo to express our outrage at the desecration of the Koran," Hassan Ali of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party told reporters.

In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, about 50 people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy and pelted pictures of President Bush with tomatoes. The demonstration ended without serious incident.

At a rally in Beirut organized by the Islamic group Hezbollah, thousands of Lebanese chanted, "America, listen, listen, with my blood I will protect my Koran," according to news reports. Similar protests swept the country's Palestinian refugee camps, where men hoisted pictures of Osama bin Laden and his ally Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is leading the insurgency in Iraq.

Hundreds of Jordanians protested after noon prayers and marched on a main square in Amman, the capital of Jordan, the Reuters news agency reported. "Americans, your battle with the youths of the Koran will only bring you death," the crowd chanted.

Khan reported from Karachi, Pakistan. Correspondent Alan Sipress in Jakarta contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company