Muslim Leaders Assail Pope’s Speech on Islam


Muslim Leaders Assail Pope’s Speech on Islam

Published: September 14, 2006

ROME, Sept. 14 — As Pope Benedict XVI arrived back home
from Germany, Muslim leaders strongly criticized a speech he gave on
his trip that used unflattering language about Islam.

Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly putting
in jeopardy Benedict’s scheduled 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 there. “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, in addition to some in Germany and France, also criticized the
pope’s remarks, with many demanding an apology or clarification. The
extent of any anger about the speech may become clearer on Friday, the
Muslim day of prayer in which grievances are often vented publicly.

As the criticisms gathered force, the Vatican
worked quickly to quell 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 Rev. 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.”

“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,” he added.

Benedict’s
remarks came on Tuesday, when he delivered a major address — which some
church experts say 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.

But the pope began this speech at Regensburg University with
what he conceded were “brusque” words about Islam: He quoted a 14th
Century Byzantine emperor as saying, “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.”

Benedict also 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.”

After his
address on Tuesday, his spokesman 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, with tensions between
religions so high.

And today, criticism began pouring the
pope’s way. The 79-year-old Benedict 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, 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. “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,” Dalil Boubakeur, the
council’s president, told Agence France-Presse.

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,” Mr. Mutairi told Agence
France-Presse.

In Pakistan, Muslim leaders and scholars said that
Benedict’s words widened the gap between Islam and Christianity, and
risked what one official called greater “disharmony.”

“The pope’s
statement is highly irresponsible,” said another ranking Muslim, Javed
Ahmed Ghamidi, an Islamic scholar. “The concept of jihad is not to
spread Islam with the sword.”

The criticism from Mr. Bardakoglu,
the Islamic leader in Turkey, was especially strong, and carries with
it particular embarrassment if Benedict is forced to cancel or delay
his visit to Turkey. Many Turks are already critical of Benedict, who
as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had in 2004 opposed Turkey’s entry into
the European Union.

The
official, Mr. Bardakoglu, 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 whether
Benedict’s call for a real dialogue between religions was made in good
faith.

“Pope Benedict XVI has a strange approach to the
dialogue between religions,” the paper wrote 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 around Europe beginning last
year.

“The global outcry over the calamitous cartoons have only
just died down and now the pontiff, in all his holiness, is launching
an attack against Islam,” the newspaper wrote.

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