DHAKA: Religious leaders in Asia on Thursday condemned Donald Trump's inflammatory comments on Muslims, warning that the US presidential hopeful was helping the Islamic State group's cause and diminishing America's global stature.
In Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan, together home to more than a third of the world's 1.5 billion followers of Islam, anger at the bouffant billionaire's incendiary proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States ran high.
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Leading Bangladeshi cleric Fariduddin Masud told AFP the remarks fed IS propaganda that sought to depict a grand war between Islam and the West.
"By uttering such a hate-spreading statement, Donald Trump has committed a crime by indirectly helping the cause of so-called global Islamist militants such as Islamic State," the chairman of the Jamiatul Ulama Bangladesh, an Islamic scholars council, told AFP.
The Republican frontrunner's remarks came after an apparently radicalised Muslim couple shot dead 14 people at a workplace party in the Californian town of San Bernardino this month.
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Trump's demand for a moratorium on Muslims entering the United States until politicians "can figure out what was going on" was roundly condemned, although fellow Republican contender Ted Cruz and some conservative commentators praised the call.
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, Zuhairi Misrawi, an Islamic scholar from Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, said the call was "a step backwards for American democracy".
"We previously regarded America as a role model for democracy, equality, peace and justice," he said.
The controversial candidate's latest outburst came two weeks after he proposed creating a database system in the United States to track Muslims.
Amid fears his comments would fuel extremist violence, the leader of a Pakistani seminary attended by Taliban militants decried the comments as emblematic of Western "aggression" towards Islam.
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"Trump's statement is part of a strong hatred and grudge against Muslims," Maulana Samiul Haq, who was nominated by the Pakistani Taliban as a negotiator in government peace talks last year, told AFP.
In Indian Kashmir, top separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani described Trump's call as indicative of an "imperialistic and sick mindset".
"We strongly condemn the California massacre but the whole Muslim community can't be held responsible for the actions of an individual," he said in a statement.
Trump's presidential bid has met with widespread ridicule, with the mainstream media struggling to take the former reality TV star seriously and doubting whether he could succeed at the ballot box, despite his popularity in the polls.
In India, home to nearly 200 million Muslims, an opinion piece in the leading Times of India newspaper Thursday invoked a warning not to underestimate the businessman, pointing out that Adolf Hitler was an elected leader.
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It also called for New Delhi to refuse Trump entry to the country.
While reaction on the streets remained muted, outrage at his comments continued to reverberate among Asian Muslims on Facebook and Twitter.
Pakistani Facebook user Sanaullah Abro expressed faith in the American voters, writing: "I don't think American people are so stupid to elect him".
Yet others voiced fears that even unelected, the comments from a high-profile presidential hopeful would fuel a rise in aggression.
"His hate speech will spread violence not only in the United States but also across the globe," a post by Bangladeshi Facebook user Sameer Hassan read.
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