Muslims outraged by pope's remarks

Pontiff quoted ruler who long ago denounced prophet

September 16, 2006|By James Rupert

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Across the Islamic world yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI's remarks this week on Islam unleashed a torrent of rage that many fear could burst into violent protests like those that followed the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last year.

Pakistan's Parliament unanimously urged the pope to withdraw his remarks, made Tuesday in Germany, and the Pakistani government summoned the Vatican's envoy for a formal protest. Government or Muslim religious officials from India to Morocco, in addition to leaders of Europe's Muslim minorities, echoed the condemnations.

By citing an obscure medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman," Pope Benedict inflamed Muslim passions and aggravated fears of a new outbreak of anti-Western protests.

The pope devoted his half-hour lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany to the idea that reason is in accord with God's nature but that reason without faith yields an overly secularized society. He has often directed that critique at the modern, Western world.

In linking God to reason, the pope attacked the notion of holy war, one facet of the Islamic concept of jihad. He chose a quote from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, a Christian who in 1391 was warring with Muslim armies.

"`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 quoted the emperor as saying.

Vatican officials repeated for a third day yesterday that the pope had not meant to insult Muslims, but a growing number of Islamic leaders said he must explain himself personally.

The rising Muslim anger since the pope's speech has been confined mainly to words, but a grenade explosion outside a church in the Gaza Strip yesterday underscored fears that the reaction could turn violent, as did protests in February aimed at caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

The pope's remarks were a more serious attack on Islam than the cartoons "because they emanate from a chief representing millions of people and not from a journalist," said Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, a leader in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The strongest denunciations came from Turkey, a moderate democracy seeking European Union membership, which Pope Benedict is scheduled to visit in November on his first trip as pope to a Muslim country.

Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party, said Pope Benedict's remarks were either "the result of pitiful ignorance" about Islam and its prophet or, worse, a deliberate distortion.

"He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world," Kapusuz told Turkish state media. "It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades.

"Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history for his words. He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini."

Turkey's staunchly pro-secular opposition party also demanded that the pope apologize before his visit. Another political party led a demonstration outside Ankara's largest mosque, and a group of about 50 people placed a black wreath outside the Vatican's diplomatic mission.

The pope offered only vague hints about whether he endorses the "evil and inhuman" view. He described Emperor Manuel II as "erudite" and said the emperor spoke "with a startling brusqueness."

Muslim intellectuals have expressed outrage that the pope chose a sweeping, absolute condemnation of their faith - and one by an emperor fighting a war - to illustrate what he offered as a general condemnation of violence.

European Christians also started holy wars, said Ali Bardakoglu, the senior Turkish government official on religious affairs. "Because they saw Islam as an enemy, had organized the Crusades," he told Turkey's Anatolia News Agency.

Pope Benedict has distanced himself from some parts of the interfaith dialogue with Muslims that was pursued by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who became the first pope to visit a mosque - in Damascus in 2001 - and held huge prayer meetings at Assisi, Italy, with leaders of other faiths.

The pope has spoken clearly against notions of interfaith prayer, and this year's Assisi gathering was marked by greater separation among the religious groups, the U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter has noted.

Pope Benedict's "attitude is very different from that of his predecessor," said Khurshid Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar and politician who writes on Islamic affairs. "Instead of bringing Islam and Christianity closer, he is straining relations" between them, Ahmed said.

James Rupert writes for Newsday. Wire reports contributed to this article.

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