Remarks by Pope Prompt Muslim Outrage, Protests

Muslims shout slogans during a protest rally against the Pope in Jammu, India. A growing chorus of Muslim leaders have called on the Pope to apologize for the alleged derogatory comments he made about Islam.
Muslims shout slogans during a protest rally against the Pope in Jammu, India. A growing chorus of Muslim leaders have called on the Pope to apologize for the alleged derogatory comments he made about Islam. (Channi Anand -- AP)

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By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 16, 2006

BEIRUT, Sept. 15 -- A medieval reference in an academic lecture by Pope Benedict XVI unleashed a wave of denunciations, outrage and frustration across the Muslim world Friday, with officials in Turkey and Pakistan condemning the pontiff, Islamic activist groups organizing protests and a leading religious figure in Lebanon demanding that he personally apologize.

The reception to the pope's speech in Germany on Tuesday was a reminder of the precarious, suspicious state of affairs between a West that often views Islam as a faith in need of reform and a Muslim world that feels besieged in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some of the criticism evoked the Crusades; others accused the Vatican of joining a Western-led war on Islam.

"We ask him to offer a personal apology -- not through his officials -- to Muslims for this false reading" of Islam, said Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of the world's leading Shiite Muslim clerics, who lives in Beirut.

The pope began his lecture at the University of Regensburg by quoting from a 14th-century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, and a Persian scholar. In a passage on the concept of holy war, Benedict recited a passage of what he called "startling brusqueness," in which Manuel questioned the teachings of Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

"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," Benedict quoted the emperor as saying.

The pope neither explicitly endorsed nor denounced the emperor's words, but rather used them as a preface to a discussion of faith and reason. The Vatican said the pope did not intend the remarks to be offensive to 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," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

But the reaction was quick, and though it was largely peaceful, it evoked the storm of violent protests that erupted in most Muslim countries after a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons a year ago that lampooned Muhammad. In some ways, the denunciations seemed even more pronounced, given the pope's stature and authority over the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.

Pakistan's parliament adopted a resolution Friday condemning the pope for what it called derogatory comments and seeking an apology. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican's ambassador to express regret over Benedict's remarks.

In Turkey, where Benedict planned to visit in November in his first trip as pope to a Muslim country, the deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-inspired party called Benedict's remarks the result of ignorance or a provocation.

"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," Salih Kapusuz told state media. "It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades."

Even the country's secularist opposition party demanded the pope apologize before his visit to Turkey, which has long been one of the least ostensibly religious of Muslim countries. News agencies reported that another party led a demonstration outside the largest mosque in the capital, Ankara, and about 50 people placed a black wreath outside the Vatican's diplomatic mission.


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