Leaders of national, local Muslim groups join in decrying pope's speech

September 16, 2006|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

Local and national Muslim leaders denounced yesterday a recent speech by Pope Benedict XVI that included a 14th-century reference describing the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" and urged the pope to carry on the outreach of his predecessor.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Muslim-Catholic dialogue and said it is seeking a meeting with the Vatican's Washington representative.

"Let us all continue the interfaith efforts promoted by the late Pope John Paul II, who made great strides in bringing Muslims and Catholics together for the common good," the council said in a statement released yesterday.

Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, agreed that the episode contrasts with the legacy of John Paul II, who was known for building relationships with other religions.

"Pope John Paul II was a great communicator, a man that reaches out to other religions," Pharoan said. "We really had the great hope that Pope Benedict XVI would follow his steps."

Pharoan said he was disappointed when he heard about Pope Benedict's speech but pointed out that Vatican officials said the entire speech was not meant to convey disrespect for Islam.

"It should be noted that what the Holy Father has to heart - and which emerges from an attentive reading of the text - is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said yesterday.

"It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas on the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful."

Still, Pharoan said, the pope's brief comment misrepresented Islam.

"The pope really did not provide an appropriate description of the religion of Islam," he said. "By him spreading misinformation, it really is a green light for other people to discriminate or commit acts of hatred against Muslims."

Anwer Hasan, president of the Maryland Muslim Council, called comments such as the pope's "unhelpful," particularly when made by high-ranking officials.

Such statements "create more confusion and rift between the West and Muslims," Hasan said. "They should be more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims."

"It was really not called for, for a person of his caliber, of his level," the Howard County resident said.

Apologies often cannot overcome the rifts such statements create, especially when "you have the opportunity to connect to millions and billions of people," Hasan said. "The damage is done."

According to Vatican transcripts, Pope Benedict thanked Muslim leaders who publicly denounced any connection between their faith and terrorism during last year's World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. He added that it was their responsibility to lead the next generation.

"Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends," the pope told the Muslim leaders.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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