CAIRO,(Reuters) – Pope Benedict has failed to persuade Arabs and Iranians that he is interested in a profound dialogue on the questions he raised in a controversial speech seen as hostile to Islam, religious figures said on Wednesday.
They repeated their request for a full apology for comments earlier this year implying Islam was violent and irrational.
The Pope, in Turkey on his first visit to a mainly Muslim country as Pontiff, said on Tuesday Christians and Muslims must continue an open dialogue because they believe in the same God and agree on the meaning and purpose of life. But he has steered clear of the controversies he sparked in September when he linked Islam and violence and implied that Islam was less committed than Christianity to the use of reason.
Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, said the Pope’s visit to Turkey was an attempt to contain demands that he apologise for his speech in the German city of Regensburg, and that Muslims still awaited an explanation. “He has not stated his opinion in full candour and clarity on this insult. He says he respects Muslims but does he respect Islam and the beliefs of Islam? This is the issue,” he added.
The most the Pope has said is that he was sorry that Muslims were offended and that when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine attack on Islam he did not mean to imply that he agreed.
Ali al-Samman, an Egyptian Muslim active in interfaith dialogues, said the Pope’s call for dialogue should lead to a round-table discussion on the issues he has raised. “The two sides have never gone to the substance. When you say, for example, there is no link between Islam and reason, even progressive Muslims cannot agree,” he said. “We need a round table where the thoughts of the Pope can be answered.”
Saleh al-Wohaibi, Secretary-General of World Assembly of Muslim Youth, a leading Saudi charity and proselytising body, said the Pope still needed to apologise. “Unfortunately, if we took the Pope’s statement, if we take the new conservative Christian attitude in America, we find that they put the seeds for … a clash. Muslim scholars should all the time stick to the principles. We should not hope for a clash, we should pray that peace will prevail,” he added.
Representatives of political Islam said the Pope had failed to meet fully their expectations. “When he says something good about Islam, he is trying to alleviate the tension… The Pope did not make an apology for the offence against Muslims, but we regard his speech as a step towards improving the atmosphere,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Palestinian governing group Hamas.
The head of Iran’s Dialogue Among Religions Organisation, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said the Pope had become a symbol of religious extremism, strengthening the extremism of others. He and other Muslims compared Pope Benedict unfavourably with his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who died last year and who was seen in the Muslim world as a man of peace and dialogue. “The former pope never faced such problems when he travelled to Turkey. It shows that Muslims have no problem with Christians,” said Abtahi, a mid-ranking cleric who also was former president Mohammad Khatami’s vice-president. The Iraqi wing of the al Qaeda organisation said the Pope’s visit was part of a crusade against Islam aimed at pulling Turkey away from the Muslim world. “(It is) an attempt to extinguish the flame of Islam among our Muslim brothers in Turkey and to wipe out their Islamic heritage… and to guarantee that they stay in the quagmire of secularism,” the al Qaeda-led “Islamic State in Iraq” said in a statement posted on the Internet.