CAIRO, (Reuters) – Muslims deplored on Friday remarks on Islam by Pope Benedict and many of them said the Catholic leader should apologise in person to dispel the impression that he had joined a campaign against their religion.
In a speech in Germany on Tuesday, the Pope appeared to endorse a Christian view, contested by most Muslims, that the early Muslims spread their religion by violence.
“The Pope of the Vatican joins in the Zionist-American alliance against Islam,” said the leading Moroccan daily Attajdid, the main Islamist newspaper in the kingdom.
“We demand that he apologises personally, and not through (Vatican) sources, to all Muslims for such a wrong interpretation,” said Beirut- based Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of the world’s top Shi’ite Muslim clerics.
The Pope on Tuesday repeated criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
The Pope, who used the terms “jihad” and “holy war” in his lecture, added “violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”.
Pakistan’s National Assembly, parliament’s lower house, unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Pope’s comments.
“This statement has hurt sentiments of the Muslims,” the resolution said. “This house demands the Pope retract his remarks in the interest of harmony among different religions.”
The Sheikh of al-Azhar, one of the Sunni Muslim world’s most prestigious seats of religious studies, said: “The Azhar asserts that these statements indicate clear ignorance of Islam.
“They attribute to Islam what it does not contain,” the sheikh, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, said in a statement on MENA.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world’s largest group of political Islamists, demanded an apology from the Pope and called on the governments of Islamic countries to break relations with the Vatican if he does not make one.
The Jordanian branch of the Egyptian-based movement said the Pope’s remarks would only widen a rift between Muslims and the West and revealed deep hatred towards Muslims.
The rift is already deep because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Lebanon.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt, which opposes political Islamism and is friendly with Western governments, has told Cairo’s ambassador to the Vatican to seek clarifications on the Pope’s remarks, state news agency MENA said.
Sheikh Hamza Mansour, who heads the Shura Council of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s largest opposition party, said only a personal apology could rectify the “deep insult made by the provocative comments” to over 1 billion Muslims. And in Iraq, the Pope’s comments were condemned at Friday prayers by followers of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Sheikh Salah al-Ubeidi, one of Sadr’s aides, condemned “the offence to Islam and the character of the Prophet.”
“This is the second time such an offence has been give before Ramadan,” he said, referring to last year’s publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper that led to violent protests by Muslims around the world.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi defended the Pope’s lecture and said he did not mean to offend Muslims.
“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,” Lombardi told Vatican Radio.
A high-ranking Church source expressed fears for the Pope’s safety, saying: “While I think the controversy will go away, it has done damage and if I were a security expert I’d be worried.”
At least one Muslim leader, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric of New Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, extolled Muslims to “respond in a manner which forces the Pope to apologise”. He did not elaborate.
As the Pope’s historical reference showed, the dispute between Muslim and Christian religious leaders over the conditions for the use of violence is an ancient one.
The Koran endorses the concept of jihad, often translated as holy war, but Muslims differ on conditions for it, with some saying it applies only for self-defence against external attack.
Aiman Mazyek, head of Germany’s Muslim council, said he found it hard to believe that the Pope really saw a difference between Islam and Christianity in attitudes towards violence. “One only need think of the Crusades or the forced conversions of Jews and Muslims in Spain,” he said.