US Quran burning by student sparks concerns over rising Hindu nationalism
A copy of the Quran was burnt in Illinois by a 16-year-old high school student, and rights organisations say it raises concerns about the India-based Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary organisation’s influence in the US.
While the incident took place in June in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, the video was recently posted to social media. In the video, a boy used a lighter to burn a Quran while standing in a field of grass. Once the Quran was on fire, he threw it on the ground.
India is home to 200 million Muslims but hatred is growing against religious minorities and is being fuelled by Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, fuelled by the RSS, which aims to turn India into a Hindu state.
The incident in Naperville is likely to have taken place around the same time as the Quran burning in Sweden, which led to thousands of people across the world protesting the burning of the Quran.
In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning the burning of the Quran as a religious hate act.
According to the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), the largest advocacy organisation for Indian Muslims in the US, the student confessed to the action and claimed his reasoning for doing so was because “[the Quran] said to kill all non-Muslims and it slandered other religions,” an anti-Muslim myth he claimed to have seen on social media, IAMC said.
This was not a random isolated incident, IAMC executive director Rasheed Ahmed told Middle East Eye.
“He’s not learning this in school,” he said. “This is not a random book that he picked up to burn. He was clear that this was a Quran and he’s a sophomore student who has knowledge that it’s a religious book that belongs to a particular faith and it must be respected.”
According to Ahmed, the main concern is the fact that this was not an isolated incident.
Two years earlier, there was a campaign by Hindutva-aligned groups opposing the building of a mosque in Naperville. Despite the opposition, which consisted of both automated bots online and individuals not from the area flooding the city's website with anti-mosque remarks, the project was ultimately approved.
According to Ahmed, the student responsible for burning the Quran is said to have voiced opposition to the mosque on two separate occasions.
“The big question that comes to my mind is now it’s the Quran, what's next?” Ahmed said.
Ahmed argues that the anti-Muslim sentiment in the USA is an extension of an increase in Islamophobia in India. Since Narendra Modi became India's prime minister in 2014, human rights groups have reported an increase in abuses against minorities, including Muslims and Christians.
On Wednesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement reiterating its concerns about religious freedom in India.
Since 2020, USCIRF has recommended that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
"Religious freedom conditions in India have notably declined in recent years,” USCIRF chair Abraham Cooper said in a statement.
“Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Dalits, and Adivasis are experiencing increased levels of attacks and acts of intimidation. Authorities have continued to suppress minority voices and those advocating on their behalf. These trends, and their implication for US foreign policy, should not be ignored.”
The IAMC is urging school authorities to hold the student accountable for his actions. It is also calling on elected officials to strongly condemn this incident and is appealing to local authorities to begin an investigation to uncover the underlying reasons behind the anti-Muslim sentiments.
IAMC is also calling on the FBI to work alongside activists and advocacy groups to protect the local Muslim community and examine the activities of far-right Hindu supremacist organisations in Illinois.
“This particular incident is not an isolated arbitrary act, but allegedly part of a larger trend of Hindutva-inspired Islamophobia playing out in Naperville and other communities, and it is high time it is confronted," Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
He added that the incident is a "stark reminder of the impact of ideological extremism quietly imported into America" which needs to be addressed urgently.