India Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits UAE mosque in conciliatory gesture to Muslims

A picture made available by the United Arab Emirates' official news agency WAM on Sunday shows Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspecting the honour guard during a reception
A picture made available by the United Arab Emirates' official news agency WAM on Sunday shows Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspecting the honour guard during a reception at the Presidential Airoprt in Abu Dhabi. PHOTO: AFP

ABU DHABI (REUTERS) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the main mosque in Abu Dhabi on Sunday in a conciliatory gesture to the Muslim minority back home wary of his past and his Hindu nationalist party.

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been dogged by allegations he did not stop religious riots in Gujarat over a decade ago, when at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in communal riots.

He has denied the allegations and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to suggest he was complicit in the violence.

Modi toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, capital of the oil-producing United Arab Emirates, accompanied by UAE Culture Minister Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak al-Nahayan.

He made no statements to journalists.

Analysts said Modi, who has vowed to protect all religious groups after a series of attacks on Christians, was trying to show the same concern for Muslims.

"Modi's visit to the Grand Mosque is a clear signal that he wishes to bury his own communalist baggage and build on India's pluralistic reputation and highlight Islam's role in Indian history," Kadira Pethiyagoda, visiting fellow in Asia-Middle East Relations Brookings Doha Centre, told Reuters.

Modi's two-day visit to Abu Dhabi is the first by an Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi's trip in 1981.

The Grand Mosque, Modi's first stop in this visit, is the largest in the UAE and has the largest hand-woven carpet in the world, where thousands can pray at the same time.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan said Modi's visit comes at a time when relations between the two countries were strong.

"The prime minister's visit is of strategic significance in our bilateral relations and follows on the heels of growing diplomatic, economic, energy and defence cooperation between our two countries," UAE state news agency WAM quoted him as saying.

There were opportunities for bilateral security cooperation against extremists, he said.