Muslims Lash Out at Pope’s Remarks

Benedict’s criticism of Islamic violence draws sharp rebukes and may threaten his Turkey trip.

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI flew back to Rome on Thursday to face an international flurry of protest over comments he made critical of historical Islamic violence during a six-day trip to his native Germany.

Muslim clerics and community leaders from Europe to the Middle East and beyond condemned the pope’s comments made this week. In Turkey, the first Muslim country the pope is scheduled to visit, the nation’s leading religious official demanded an apology and told the pontiff to “look in the mirror” when he assails religious violence.

The furor may jeopardize Benedict’s trip, scheduled for Nov. 28, in what would be an embarrassing contretemps for the Vatican.

“I do not see any use in somebody visiting the Islamic world who thinks in this way about the holy prophet of Islam,” the Turkish official, Ali Bardakoglu, told the news channel NTV. “He should first rid himself of feelings of hate.”

The reactions follow a speech by the pope Tuesday at the University of Regensburg in which he attacked the Muslim concept of holy war as a violation of God’s will and nature. He used the word “jihad,” a politically and emotionally charged Arabic term for holy war or struggle. And he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who derided Islam and its founder, the prophet Muhammad.

The emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, said, according to Benedict, that Muhammad had introduced “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Benedict, in the same speech, held up Christianity as the “profound encounter of faith and reason.”

As the backlash grew, the Vatican issued a statement Thursday evening defending the pope and saying he did not intend to offend Islam.

What Muslims Should Be Outraged Over:

“It is clear that the Holy Father’s intention is to cultivate respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures, and that clearly includes Islam,” said the statement by chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

“What is in the Holy Father’s heart is a clear and radical rejection of religious motives for violence,” Lombardi said.

Critics, such as Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, offered a litany of brutalities in Christianity’s history, saying Catholicism too has a bloodstained past.

“One only has to recall the Crusades and the forced conversions of Jews and Muslims in [Medieval] Spain,” Mazyek told the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, also noting the Vatican’s relationship with Hitler and Catholic conquests of Latin America. “I do not think the church should point a finger at extremist activities in other religions.”

It is not yet clear if reaction to the pope’s comments will snowball into something more violent, as was the case when a Danish newspaper published cartoons last year satirizing Muhammad. Deadly riots erupted across the Muslim world.

The pope, by contrast, is a world religious leader whose comments come in a broader context that also advocates tolerance and cultural dialogue.

Rhetorically, though, the fury was spreading.

Pakistan’s parliament today unanimously adopted a resolution condemning what it called the pope’s “derogatory” remarks.

In Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood, a highly influential organization with membership across the Middle East, demanded an apology. The pope “aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world and strengthened the argument of those who say that the West is hostile to everything Islamic,” said a statement by the group’s leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef.

In Kuwait, a high-ranking Islamist official, Haken Mutairi, called on all Arab and Muslim states to recall their ambassadors from the Holy See and expel any Vatican diplomats “until the pope says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, whose broadcasts on Al Jazeera television make him one of Islam’s most influential scholars, said the pope was mistaken in his characterization of the faith.

“Muslims have the right to be angry and hurt by these comments from the highest cleric in Christianity,” Qaradawi said on Al Jazeera.

“We ask the pope to apologize to the Muslim nation for insulting its religion, its prophet and its beliefs.”

Pakistani scholars and clerics also voiced anger over Benedict’s comments, saying he should avoid echoing President Bush and instead work to bring Christians and Muslims together.

Muslim groups in France and Italy also expressed dismay and confusion over the remarks.

The angry reaction in Turkey is in many ways the most significant because the upcoming pilgrimage has been portrayed as an important milestone in religious dialogue.

Bardakoglu said Benedict had defamed Muhammad in “hostile and arrogant” remarks that would “fan a feud” between the faiths. Bardakoglu, as head of the state’s religious affairs department, appoints and controls all imams in the country.

While in Turkey, Benedict also intends to meet with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

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