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18 Dec, 2019 07:35

New citizenship law that sparked protests 'has nothing to do' with India's Muslims, says top imam

New citizenship law that sparked protests 'has nothing to do' with India's Muslims, says top imam

The leader of the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi has called on Muslims to show restraint while protesting against a new citizenship law, since it does not directly affect the country's Muslim citizens.

"To protest is the democratic right of the people of India. No one can stop us from doing it. However, it is important that it is done in control, keeping our emotions in control is the most important part," Syed Ahmed Bukhari said on Tuesday, as quoted by news agency ANI.

He explained the difference between the Citizenship Amendment Act, the passage of which sparked mass protests by Muslims in various parts of India last week, and the planned National Register of Citizens. The former fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and "has nothing to do with the Muslims living in India," said the cleric, who is often referred to by his official title, Shahi Imam.

The register has not been passed into law yet, the cleric added. There are fears among Muslims that once it is enacted, Muslims who had come to India as refugees may lose their citizenship. The Indian government denies this would be the outcome.

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Violent protests started in India's predominantly Muslim state of Assam last week as the citizenship law amendment was making its way through the legislature. Demonstrations spread to other parts of country after its passage. The Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi became the focal point of confrontation between angry crowds and police last Sunday.

Indian PM Narendra Modi's government has clarified that the law does not affect the Muslims of India. New Delhi has explained that the law is necessary to protect persecuted minorities from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain, and Parsis – by giving them an easy way to obtain Indian citizenship.

Modi has rejected accusations that the law is discriminatory, stressing that the legislation reflects "a culture of compassion." He has denounced violent riots, which he claims were incited by the opposition spreading "lies" about the bill's nature.

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