Egyptian Brotherhood leader cites misunderstanding of Islam
VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI did not intend to offend Muslim sensibilities with remarks about holy war, the Vatican said Thursday night, scrambling to defend the pontiff as anger built in the Islamic world over some of his remarks during his pilgrimage in Germany.
It certainly wasn t the intention of the pope to carry out a deep examination of jihad [holy war] and on Muslim thought on it, much less to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers, Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, who accompanied the pontiff on the trip, said in a statement after Benedict returned to Rome.
The head of the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood called on Islamic countries to threaten on Thursday to break off relations with the Vatican unless Pope Benedict withdraws remarks about Islam he made in Germany. Mohamed Mahdi Akef, whose organization is one of the oldest, largest and most influential in the Arab world, said Pope Benedict poured oil on the fire, aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world and strengthened the argument of those who say that the West is hostile to everything Islamic.
The Egyptian government, which opposes political Islamism and is friendly with Western governments, said it was worried about the effect the Pope s speech might have. [Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit] said he looked forward to intensifying efforts to strengthen the dialogue between civilizations and religions and to avoid anything that is likely to exacerbate confessional and ideological differences, a foreign ministry statement said.
Earlier, Turkey s top Islamic cleric asked Benedict to apologize about the remarks and unleashed a string of accusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pontiff s planned visit to Turkey in November on what would be his first papal pilgrimage in a Muslim country.
Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric who sets the religious agenda for Turkey, said he was deeply offended by remarks about Islamic holy war made Tuesday during the pilgrimage to the pontiff s homeland, and called the remarks extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate. Bardakoglu said that if the pope was reflecting the spite, hatred and enmity of others in the Christian world, then the situation was even worse.
The pope made his remarks on Islam in a speech in which he quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam.
The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war, the pope said.
He said, I quote, 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, he quoted the emperor as saying.
Clearly aware of the delicacy of the issue, Benedict added, I quote, twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and described them as brusque, while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.
The remarks do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West, Akef said in a statement Thursday evening. Akef said he was astonished that such remarks come from someone who sits on top of the Catholic church which has its influence on the public opinion in the West.
The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia said it regretted the pope s quote and for the other falsifications. Militant Islamic Web sites also unleashed a scathing campaign against the pope.
Lombardi insisted that the pontiff respects Islam.
Benedict wants to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam, Lombardi said in a statement released by the Vatican.
It is opportune to note that that which is at the pope s heart is a clear and radical refusal of the religious motivation of violence, Lombardi said.
Proper consideration of the religious dimension is, in fact, an essential premise for a fruitful dialogue with the great cultures and religions of the world, Lombardi said.
While in Germany, Lombardi said that the pontiff had not given an interpretation of Islam as something violent, although the spokesman said the religion contained both violent and non-violent strains.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference expressed hopes that this sudden campaign does not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion. In his address Tuesday, Benedict did not touch directly on the current controversy over Islamic extremism, although it is an issue he follows closely with concern.
In Cologne, Germany, last year he urged Islamic leaders to take responsibility for their communities and teach their young to abhor violence.
Although officially secular Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, the main purpose of the pope s pilgrimage there is to meet with the spiritual leader of the world s 200 million Orthodox, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whose headquarters, for historical reasons, are in Istanbul.
As recently as Saturday, while flying to Germany, the pope mentioned Turkey as one of his next pilgrimages abroad. Agencies