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Remarks by Pope Prompt Muslim Outrage, Protests
About 100 people protested in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, where demonstrators chanted, "Oh Crusaders, oh cowards! Down with the pope!" Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the sheik of al-Azhar University, a leading seat of religious scholarship, said the pope's remarks indicated "clear ignorance of Islam," and the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Middle East's largest and oldest Islamic groups, called on Muslim governments to sever relations with the Vatican if the pope does not apologize.
Thousands of Palestinians protested Friday night in Gaza City after Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who belongs to the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, said the pope's lecture had offended Muslims everywhere.
"This is another Crusader war against the Arab and Muslim world," Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, told the crowd.
The criticism of the pope's remarks was often twofold: at the reference of the prophet Muhammad's legacy as "evil and inhuman" and at the idea that Islam was spread by the sword. Much of the conversion that followed the prophet's life in the 7th century was a gradual, centuries-long process that left a remarkable degree of diversity -- albeit faded -- in parts of the Muslim world.
In Iraq, where religious differences have fueled much of the country's crippling violence, a Catholic representative warned that the pope's remarks were being distorted to "sow a crisis of chaos and enmity between the one family of Christians and Muslims."
A statement posted at mosques in Anbar province, a center of the insurgency, warned that a previously unknown group would begin killing Iraqi Christians in three days unless the pope apologized. In Basra, a bomb exploded at the Assyrian Catholic Church on Friday evening, causing damage but no injuries, according to a church leader who said the attack stemmed from the pope's remarks.
Across Iraq's sectarian Sunni-Shiite Muslim divide, clerics called the remarks another campaign against Islam. "Last year, and in the same month, the Danish cartoons assaulted Islam," Sheik Salah al-Ubaidi, a representative of Moqtada al-Sadr's radical Shiite movement, said in the group's stronghold of Kufa.
Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf, Iraq, contributed to this report.