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Muslims demand pope apologise for comments on Islam

Associated Press | September 14, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI faced sharp reactions to a lecture in which he linked Islam with violence, with Muslim leaders in several countries demanding he apologise.

"We hope that the (Roman Catholic) Church will very quickly... 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," the head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), Dalil Boubakeur, told AFP.

Benedict provoked the outcry with comments on Tuesday in a theological lecture in which he implicitly denounced connections between Islam and violence, particularly with regard to jihad, or "holy war".

The pope's official spokesman later issued a response to the outcry, saying that Benedict respected Islam but rejected violence motivated by religion.

"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," said Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican's press department.

The pope's comments, made in a lecture at the University of Regensburg during a visit to his native Bavaria in southern Germany, were couched in a historical reference to a 14th century Byzantine emperor.

"He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Mohammed 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,'" Benedict said, quoting the Byzantine source on the Prophet Mohammed, founder of the Muslim faith.

The comments provoked an outcry among Muslims in several countries.

"It is a statement full of enmity and grudge," said Ali Bardakoglu, the head of Turkey's state-run religious affairs directorate. He also expressed opposition to the pope's planned visit to Turkey in November.

Senior Islamic officials in Kuwait and Egypt demanded an immediate apology by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Hakem al-Mutairi, secretary general of Kuwait's Umma (Islamic Nation) party, urged Muslim countries to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican until the pope apologised for what Mutairi called his "calumnies" against Islam.

Several Islamic parties in Pakistan expressed their regret at the pope's comments, and the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah called on the Vatican to clarify its "true position on Islam and its precepts".

This demand was echoed by Mustapha Cherif, an Algerian Islam expert and co-founder of an Islamic-Christian friendship group, who said Benedict's views should be "made explicit".

"If they are confirmed, that proves Islam is misunderstood," Cherif told AFP in Paris. He also called on Muslims to help promote understanding of their faith.

Benedict's speech at Regensburg University explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.

"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God," he said.

Muslims also objected to another part of the lecture, in which Benedict quoted a scholar's assertion that the Muslim view of God, unlike the Christian, was not informed by the Greek-inspired western philosophical tradition of "rationality".

A member of the Moroccan parliament, Abdelilah Benkirane, told AFP in Rabat that this claim was "an offence to a billion Muslims".

Justo Balda Lacunza, a Vatican-based priest specialising in Islamic affairs, said the speech was not intended to look unfavourably on Islam, but was an "examination" of the relationship between violence and faith.

The president of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, responded to Benedict's comments by recalling violent chapters in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.

Benedict had also drawn criticism on Wednesday from a leading Muslim figure in Italy. Ejaz Ahmad, a member of a governmental consultative committee on Islam, called on him to retract his comments.

"The Muslim world is currently undergoing a deep crisis," Ahmad was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency. "Any attack from the West can aggravate this crisis."

Yussef al-Qardawi, a widely respected Muslim cleric who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, said: "This is not the first time this pope has adopted a negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims."

"Does the pope want to close the door on dialogue and new crusades to be readied?," said the cleric, who was stripped of his Egyptian nationality and is now a citizen of Qatar in the Gulf.

"We hope the pope will call for positive dialogue between religions, true dialogue between civilisations rather than confrontation and conflict," Qardawi added.

The cleric defended "violence carried out by certain Muslims", saying: "Some violence is legitimate in the eyes of both religion and law, such as resistance to the occupation in Palestine, Lebanon or in Iraq."

"We call for peace because our religion orders it, but if war is imposed on us we will take it to our hearts."


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