Remarks by Pope Prompt Muslim Outrage, Protests
14th-Century Quote Refers to 'Evil' Islam

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.

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.

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