Muslims assail pope over Islam comments

Posted in Tolerance , Other | 15-Sep-06 | Author: Ian Fisher| Source: International Herald Tribune

Pope Benedict XVI waves goodbye before boarding his flight back to Italy, at Munich's international airport.
ROME As Pope Benedict XVI arrived back home from Germany, Muslim leaders Thursday strongly criticized a speech he gave using unflattering language about Islam and violence.

Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly putting in jeopardy Benedict's plan to visit there in November.

"I do not think any good will come from the visit to the Muslim world of a person who has such ideas about Islam's prophet," Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric who is head of the Turkish government's directorate of religious affairs, said in a television interview. "He should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other."

Muslim leaders in Pakistan, Morocco and Kuwait, and in Germany and France, also criticized the pope's remarks, with many demanding an apology or clarification.

The extent of anger about the speech may become more clear Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, in which grievances are often aired publicly.

As the criticisms gathered force, the Vatican moved quickly to snuff out a potentially damaging confrontation with Muslims. It issued a statement saying that the church seeks to "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures and obviously also toward Islam."

The statement, from the pope's chief spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said: "It should be said that what is important to the pope is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation of violence."

The pope mentioned jihad in his speech and Lombardi said Thursday: "It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to do an in-depth study of jihad and Muslim thinking in this field and still less so to hurt the feelings of Muslim believers."

On Tuesday, Benedict delivered what some church experts said was a defining speech of his pontificate, saying that the West, and specifically Europe, had become so beholden to reason that it had closed God out of public life, science and academia.

He began his speech at Regensburg University with what he conceded were "brusque" words about Islam: He quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as having said: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The pope then used the word jihad, or holy war, saying that violence was contrary to God's nature and to reason.

But at the end of a speech that did not otherwise mention Islam, he also said that reason could be the basis for "that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

Lombardi said the pope did not intend to insult Islam. But many experts on Islam warned that Benedict ran the risk of offense in using such strong language, especially with tensions between religions so high.

And criticism began flowing Thursday toward the 79-year-old Benedict, who has taken a more skeptical, hard- nosed approach to Islam than did his predecessor, John Paul II, who died in April 2005.

"I don't think the church should point a finger at extremist activities in other religions," Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, pointedly recalling the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Vatican's relations with Nazi Germany.

The French Council for the Muslim Religion demanded that Benedict "clarify" his remarks. Dalil Boubakeur, president of the council and head of the Paris Mosque, told Agence France- Press: "We hope that the church will very quickly give us its opinion and clarify its position so that it does not confuse Islam, which is a revealed religion, with Islamism, which is not a religion but a political ideology."

In Kuwait, the leader of the Islamic Nation Party, Haken al-Mutairi, demanded an apology for what he called "unaccustomed and unprecedented" remarks.

"I call on all Arab and Islamic states to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican and expel those from the Vatican until the pope says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality," Mutairi told Agence France-Presse.

In Pakistan, Muslim leaders and scholars said that Benedict's words widened the gap between Islam and Christianity, risking what one official called greater "disharmony."

"The pope's statement is highly irresponsible," said Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, an Islamic scholar in Pakistan. "The concept of jihad is not to spread Islam with sword."

The criticism from Bardakoglu, the Islamic leader in Turkey, was especially strong, and carried with it particular embarrassment if Benedict were forced to cancel or delay his visit to Turkey.

Many Turks are already critical of Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger opposed Turkey's entry to the European Union in 2004.

Bardakoglu, the head of the directorate of religious affairs, demanded an apology, saying that the remarks "reflect the hatred in his heart. It is a statement full of enmity and grudge."

In Morocco, the newspaper Aujourd'hui questioned the good faith of Benedict's call for dialogue between religions.

"Pope Benedict XVI has a strange approach to the dialogue between religions," the paper said in an editorial. "He is being provocative."

The paper also drew a comparison between the pope's remarks and the outcry in the Muslim world over unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper last year.

"The global outcry over the calamitous cartoons has only just died down and now the pontiff, in all his holiness, is launching an attack against Islam," the newspaper said.

Theologian voices concerns

The dissident theologian Hans Küng faulted Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday for not reaching out more to Protestants during his visit to his native Germany, The Associated Press reported from Munich.

He praised the pope, however, for his defense of religion's role in public life.

Küng, a professor emeritus of theology at the University of Tübingen, said he was gratified to hear that Benedict had told President Horst Köhler, a Protestant, that he would work for reconciliation.