Why Is the Islamic World Suddenly Anti-Sweden?

Protesters burn a poster of a Swedish flag set aflame during a demonstration against the burning of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, in Sweden after the weekly Muslim Friday prayers at Mosalah mosque in Tehran on July 21.
AFP via Getty Images

Why Is the Islamic World Suddenly Anti-Sweden?

And where will its pushes lead Europe?

If you have read Middle Eastern news the past month, you could get the sense that the Crusades are back in full swing after a roughly 700-year hiatus. The Islamic world from Morocco to Pakistan has united religiously against a European aggressor: Sweden. Notice the following headlines:

  • “Morocco Recalls Ambassador From Sweden After …” (Africanews, June 29)
  • “UN Calls Urgent Meeting on Pakistan’s Request Against … in Sweden” (Pakistan Observer, July 4)
  • “Protesters Storm Swedish Embassy in Iraq Over …” (cnn, July 20)
  • “Khamenei Demands Harsh Punishment Over … in Sweden” (Iran International, July 22)

What could cause such furor? Did Swedish troops intervene in Sudan’s civil war? Did Sweden recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

No. A refugee tore pages from a Koran and burned them outside of a mosque in Stockholm, Sweden, on June 28.

Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee and self-described atheist, did so with permission from the Swedish government. Momika and his one fellow protester didn’t harm anybody. One counterprotester tried to throw a rock but was detained. The action certainly was disrespectful and insulting. June 28 happened to be the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. But it was nonviolent and the kind of demonstration most Western democracies allow—not out of any spite for a particular religion, but out of respect for civil freedoms. Momika getting official permission doesn’t mean the Swedish government agrees with him.

That hasn’t stopped practically the whole Muslim world from going ballistic against Sweden. Morocco recalled its ambassador to Sweden and called Sweden’s ambassador in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, for an explanation of this “unacceptable act.” The day after, the United Arab Emirates summoned Sweden’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi. Iraqi rioters broke into Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad but shortly withdrew. The break-in was on the orders of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who also called for Iraq to withdraw Momika’s Iraqi nationality.

Pakistan took one step further. It called an emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (unhrc). On July 12, the unhrc approved the draft resolution, “Countering Religious Hatred Constituting Incitement to Discrimination, Hostility or Violence.” It passed 28 to 12, with seven abstentions. The countries that voted “No” were the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, other European Union member states, Montenegro and Costa Rica.

This means the United Nations declared that Momika’s act of “religious hatred” was really Sweden’s act of religious hatred.

Circumstances took a more violent turn on July 20, in response to a second Koran burning planned by Momika in Stockholm. Baghdad rioters again laid siege to Sweden’s embassy and were more successful this time. The rioters set fire to the compound, while the embassy staff scattered. Iraq promised to punish the perpetrators but said it would expel the Swedish ambassador if Momika’s protest took place. Momika stamped on the Koran outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm but didn’t set fire to it. The Iraqi government followed through with its threat and expelled Sweden’s ambassador.

Momika organized a third Koran desecration last Monday. We’ll see what kind of reaction follows.

Iraq wasn’t the only country to threaten violence. After Momika’s second Koran desecration, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for Momika to be extradited to Muslim judicial authorities: “The consensus of all Muslim scholars is to impose the severest punishment on the perpetrator of this crime.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Cmdr. Hossein Salami was more provocative. He called to bring the battle to Sweden. “We will not allow those who insult the Koran to have security,” he said. “If someone wants to play with our Koran and religion, we will play with all his world.” Salami didn’t restrict his threat to Momika. He included the Swedish government. “Sooner or later the vengeful hand of mujaheds [jihadists] will reach politicians and stage managers behind these sort of crimes, and we will render the highest punishment to the perpetrator,” he said.

Iran is notorious for being excessively petty in going after those who insult Islam. The stabbing of author Salman Rushdie last year is a case in point. When Iran makes threats like this—especially toward politicians—people listen.

People could die in the fallout of what happened in Stockholm. This raises the question: Why is the Islamic world suddenly anti-Sweden?

It seems straightforward. A man in Sweden with permission of the authorities insulted Islam, so the Islamic world is reacting. But this isn’t about Salwan Momika or the Koran. This is about power.

Other countries in the West have insulted the Islamic world far worse in recent years. When campaigning for president in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump proposed a Muslim immigration ban in the United States. After he entered the White House in 2017, Trump restricted immigration from Syria, Libya, Somalia and other Muslim-majority countries. He still enjoyed close relations with many Muslim-majority states throughout his term as president. He convinced the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Kosovo and Morocco to recognize Israel as a country.

Israel is another example. Several times this year, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has visited the Temple Mount to reinforce Israel’s claim to it, as well as East Jerusalem, which the Palestinian Authority claims for itself. His visits have garnered some backlash from the Muslim world. But the Israeli government is currently in normalization negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Those negotiations apparently aren’t falling apart because of Ben-Gvir’s actions.

Meanwhile, one refugee legally manhandles a few books, and everybody in the Islamic world hates Sweden.

The difference is this: When countries bite at the U.S., the U.S. bites back. When Iran plotted to kill Americans, America killed Iranian “super general” Qassem Suleimani. When rockets land in Israel, Israel lobs rockets back. When everybody turns against Sweden, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson states, “Everything that is legal is not [necessarily] appropriate.”

The Islamic world pushes at Sweden—and Europe at large—because it knows it can. Between crises like floods of refugees, terror attacks, never-ending chaos in North Africa and more, Europe and the Islamic world have a lot to butt heads about. The Koran burnings are a convenient excuse to make Europe look bad without fear of repercussion. Nobody expects Europe to do much about this.

Bible prophecy, however, says Europe’s patience has a breaking point.

A prophecy in Daniel 11 reads: “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over” (verse 40). This prophecy dates to the “time of the end,” a time far in the future from when it was first penned. It is discussing two multinational power blocs to form in our day: “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.”

The chapter’s context shows the king of the north to be a united European power. (Please see here for more information.) The other power bloc is south of Europe. It has a formidable military, for it feels it can go toe-to-toe with Europe’s advanced armies. Verses 42-43 show this power has much influence over the Middle East and North Africa. But one of the biggest identifying characteristics of this king of the south is its push.

The word “push” means, according to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, “to strike with the horn, used of horned animals.” It can also be “used figuratively of a victor, who prostrates the nations before him.” The king of the south is pushy and provocative. It goes out of its way to hurt its opponents. It gloats over its victims as a conqueror with no pity or compassion. And it has its sights set on Europe.

For decades, the Trumpet has identified the king of the south as radical Islam, led by Iran. (For more information, read Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s free booklet The King of the South.)

There are many ways radical Islam pushes at Europe. But the fallout from Sweden’s Koran burnings is a good example. What Salwan Momika did is insulting but hurting nobody. No family in North Africa or Pakistani Punjab will lose food on the table or see a drop in income because of what a refugee in Stockholm did. Yet countries are recalling or expelling ambassadors and calling UN meetings. They are deliberately overreacting to something minor to get under Europe’s skin. And they’re getting away with it.

But they won’t get away with it for long. Daniel 11:40 shows Europe’s eventual response to all the pushing: “[A]nd the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.”

To learn more, read our trends article “Why the Trumpet Watches Iran and Europe Heading for a Clash of Civilizations.”