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Book with Prophet's image withdrawn

Crossword bookstores withdrew copies of History of the World as it carried blasphemous content.
None | By Reuters, Kolkata
UPDATED ON MAR 25, 2006 05:28 PM IST

An Indian state government and one of the country's leading bookstore chains have withdrawn a U.S.-published book from stores because it included a sketch of the Prophet Mohammad.

Muslims consider sketches and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad blasphemous and at least 50 people have been killed in protests in Asia and the Middle East since newspapers in Denmark carried such cartoons last October.

India, home to more than 140 million Muslims out of a population of more than one billion, witnessed widespread and sometimes violent protests over the Danish cartoons but there were no deaths in the country.

The 900-page History of the World: Earliest Times to the Present Day was imported from a Massachusetts-based publishing house and sold in India for the past few weeks until Muslims in West Bengal state in the east of the country protested.

"We were completely in the dark about the presence of a sketch of Prophet Mohammed in the book," Anniyan Nair, the central manager of Crossword, which has 28 stores across India, told Reuters from Mumbai by phone late on Wednesday.

"As soon as this issue was brought to our notice, we decided to take them off the shelves and stop selling it in India. We respect religious sentiments," Nair said, adding the books were removed on Wednesday from Crossword stores.

The book has a black and white sketch of the Prophet Mohammed in a chapter on the Islamic world.

On page 171, a short and bearded Prophet, clad in a robe, is seen holding the venerated Black Stone and placing it in a cloth in the Kaaba in Mecca after Islam's central shrine had been cleared of idols and sanctified in the seventh century.

Thousands of copies of the book have already been sold around India, book sellers say.

In communist-ruled West Bengal state, the local administration bought a consignment from Crossword and distributed the books in some school libraries for reference.

But the state government stopped further distribution after protests by Muslim groups.

"The books will not be used in any of the schools of Bengal and all of them will be taken off the shelves of libraries," West Bengal School Education Minister Kanti Biswas told Reuters.

Muslim leaders were angry.

"The sketch is in extremely bad taste and is blasphemous. The book should be immediately withdrawn from everywhere in the world and the guilty people must apologise," said Hasan Ahmed Imran, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Bengal.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fog Rasmussen put off his state visit to India last week amid fears that the trip could provoke further protests.

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