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Friday, September 15, 2006

Muslim angry over pope's remarks

By Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa

Anger mounted across the Muslim world Friday over remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to Germany this week in which the pontiff quoted a 14th century Christian emperor as calling aspects of the legacy of Islam's Prophet Mohammed "evil and inhuman."

In Pakistan, both houses of parliament - the National Assembly and the Senate - passed unanimous resolutions Friday calling on Pope Benedict to retract his remarks.

The National Assembly resolution said the pope's remarks hurt the feelings of Muslims worldwide, created a gulf between religions and demanded that the pope withdraw his remarks immediately "to promote inter-religion harmony."

In Egypt, the chairman of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, expressed his "astonishment" over the German-born pope's remarks, saying the pontiff's statements demonstrated "ignorance of Islamic teachings" and showed Western clerics and politicians were "hostile to Islam."

The pope's remarks came Tuesday in Regensburg in his home state of Bavaria, when he was quoting a conversation that took place in Ankara in the year 1391 between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on Christianity and Islam.

"Show me just what Mohammed 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," the pope quoted Manuel as saying.

As head of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned by law but tolerated in Egypt, was calling on Pope Benedict to apologize, the Vatican was attempting to shore up criticism of the pontiff on a day that saw a new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, take office.

One of the first tasks awaiting Bertone, an Italian, who becomes the Vatican's new "prime minister" will be to repair the damage caused by Benedict's remarks.

In a statement issued Thursday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi already assured the pope was keen to "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures, obviously toward Islam too" and that what the pope took exception to was the "religious motivation of violence."

Lombardi was also quoted by daily La Repubblica Friday as saying the pope "never intended to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers," but such assurances appeared unlikely to bring a quick end to the controversy.

In Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which groups together 57 countries with Muslim populations, in a statement criticized the "smear campaign" by the Pope against the Prophet Mohammed.

"The Organization of the Islamic Conference hopes that this campaign is not the prelude of a new Vatican policy towards Islam," the OIC said.

In India, where Muslims account for 13.4 per cent of the population of 1.1 billion, Muslim scholars and religious leaders termed Benedict's comments irresponsible and blasphemous and several northern cities saw protests.

"The pope should have been very careful about his utterances; what he said was nothing but blasphemy," Muslim Personal Law Board Member Kamal Farooqi told the Times of India newspaper, while the chief cleric at India's largest mosque, the Jama Masjid in Delhi, urged worshippers at Friday prayers to respond in such a way as to prompt an apology from the pope.

There were angry reactions in Iran and Syria also. A member of Iran's highest Islamic body, Ahmad Khatami, termed as "outrageous" Benedict's remarks during Friday prayers in Tehran while Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmed Badereddine Hassoun sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking for an explanation.

In the first sign that Christian symbols might be targeted by protestors angry over the pope's remarks, a homemade bomb exploded at the entrance to the Roman Orthodox Church in Gaza City causing damage but no injuries.

Meanwhile in Europe, Muslim populations were adding their voices to the chorus of disapproval Friday. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Mohammed Abdul Bari called on the pope to "clarify" his remarks "in the interests of truth and harmonious relations" between Islam and Caholicism and wondered at the pope's quoting of "ill- informed and frankly bigoted" remarks.

In the northern French city of Lille, the rector of a mosque also criticized the comments as "a hateful provocation" a day after the head of the French Council of the Muslim Religion, Dalil Boubakeur, demanded a "clarification" from the Vatican over the pope's comments.

Britain is home to an estimated 1.6 million Muslims, France 5 million.


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