Vatican defends pope's remarks on Islam as Muslims protest

Thursday, September 14th 2006, 10:17 pm
By: News On 6

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Pope Benedict XVI did not intend to offend Muslims with remarks about holy war, the Vatican said Thursday, scrambling to defend the pontiff as anger built in the Islamic world over his comments during a trip to 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,'' said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Benedict to apologize, 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, calling them ``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, at Regensburg University, made a reference to jihad during an address about faith and reason, and how they cannot be separated and are essential for ``that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.''

Citing historic Christian commentary on holy war and forced conversion, the pontiff quoted from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos.

``The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,'' the pope said. ``He said, I quote, '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.'''

Clearly aware of the sensitivity 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 emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable,'' Benedict said.

``Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul,'' the pope said, issuing an open invitation to dialogue among cultures.

Lombardi, who traveled with the pope, said he was not giving an interpretation of Islam as ``something violent.''

In Egypt, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, also called for an apology.

``The remarks do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West,'' Akef said.

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.'' It expressed hopes that ``this sudden campaign does not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion.''

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.

Benedict, who has made the fight against growing secularism in Western society a theme of his pontificate, is expected to visit Turkey in late November. He was invited by the staunchly secularist Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who said the invitation was part of an effort to strengthen dialogue between religions.

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 Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whose headquarters, for historical reasons, are in Istanbul.