Muslim leaders upset by pope's strong language


ROME -- As Pope Benedict XVI returned to the Vatican from Germany, Muslim leaders strongly criticized a speech he gave on his trip that used unflattering language about Islam and violence.

Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly jeopardizing the pope'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. "He should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other."

The pope's remarks were also criticized by Muslim leaders in Pakistan, Morocco, Kuwait and France, many of whom demanded an apology or clarification. The extent of any anger about the speech might become clearer today, the Muslim day of prayer, when grievances are often vented publicly.

The Vatican did not respond yesterday to the criticism of the pope's speech as he returned from his six-day trip to his homeland, Germany.

On Tuesday, the pope delivered a major address - which some church experts have called a defining speech of his pontificate - in which he said the West, specifically Europe, had become so beholden to reason that it had closed God out of public life, science and academia.

The pope began the 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."

Pope Benedict also used the word jihad, or holy war, saying that violence is contrary to God's nature and to reason. At the end of the speech, which did not otherwise mention Islam, he said reason could be the basis for "that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

The pope did not intend to insult Islam, his spokesman said Tuesday. But many experts on Islam said the pope ran the risk of giving offense in using such strong language, with tensions between religions so high.

More criticism was directed at the pope yesterday. The 79-year- old pope has taken a more skeptical, hard-nosed approach to Islam than did his predecessor, Pope 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 Deutsche Zeitung, recalling the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Vatican's relations with Nazi Germany.

The French Council for the Muslim Religion demanded that Pope 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.

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