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Indian Prime Minister Modi visits UAE after controversy over Prophet Mohammed

Spokesperson for Modi’s Hindu nationalist party had criticized Mohammed’s relationship with wife Aisha, sparking mass protests and global condemnations

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to a speaker during the opening ceremony of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Pool/AFP)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to a speaker during the opening ceremony of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. (Jeff J. Mitchell/Pool/AFP)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, just weeks after a top Indian official’s remarks about the Prophet Mohammed set off anger in the Gulf.

Modi shared an embrace with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who met the Indian leader at Abu Dhabi airport, according to a tweet by India’s foreign ministry spokesperson.

“I am touched by the special gesture of my brother, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, of coming to welcome me at Abu Dhabi airport. My gratitude to him,” Modi tweeted.

The one-day visit by Modi, who is heading back to India after attending the G7 summit in Germany, follows protests by Gulf states earlier this month after a spokesperson for his party made disparaging remarks about the Prophet Mohammed on TV.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia condemned the comments, while Qatar and Kuwait summoned their Indian ambassadors. One Kuwaiti supermarket took Indian goods off its shelves.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party suspended spokesperson Nupur Sharma over her comments describing the Prophet Mohammed’s relationship with his youngest wife.

The remarks were also blamed for clashes in India and prompted demands for her arrest.

India’s foreign minister said Modi’s visit was to convey his sympathies to Sheikh Mohamed — whose brother, former UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, died in May — and his congratulations on taking over as leader.

The two countries enjoy strong trade and cultural ties, with Indians making up 35 percent of the UAE’s 10 million population, the biggest expatriate community.

India-UAE trade is valued at $59 billion, making the oil-rich Gulf country India’s third-largest trading partner for the year 2019-20 after China and the United States, according to the Indian foreign ministry.

The UAE is also India’s third-largest export destination, with nearly $16 billion clocked in 2020-21, it added. Major exports include petroleum products, precious metals, stones, gems and jewelry, minerals, food and textiles.

In February, the two countries signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement to boost trade and investment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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