Muslims Condemn Pope’s Remarks on Islam

Published: September 15, 2006

ROME, Sept. 14 — As Pope Benedict XVI arrived back home from Germany, Muslim leaders on Thursday strongly criticized a speech he had given using unflattering language about Islam.

Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly putting in jeopardy Benedict’s plan to visit there in November.

“I do not think any good will come from the visit to the Muslim world of a person who has such ideas about Islam’s prophet,” Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric and chief of the Turkish government’s directorate of religious affairs, said in a television interview there. “He should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other.”

Muslim leaders in Pakistan, Morocco and Kuwait, in addition to some in Germany and France, were also critical, with many demanding an apology or clarification. The extent of anger about the speech may become clearer on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, in which grievances are often vented publicly.

As the criticisms gathered force, the Vatican worked quickly to snuff out a potentially damaging confrontation with Muslims. It issued a statement saying the Roman Catholic Church sought to “cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures, and obviously also toward Islam.”

The statement, from the pope’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said, “It should be said that what is important to the pope is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation of violence.”

He added, “It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to do an in-depth study of jihad and Muslim thinking in this field and still less so to hurt the feelings of Muslim believers.”

The remarks came on Tuesday, when Benedict delivered a major address — which some church experts say was a defining speech of his pontificate — saying the West, and specifically Europe, had become so beholden to reason that it had closed God out of public life, science and academia.

But he began that speech, at Regensburg University, with what he conceded were “brusque” words about Islam: He quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying, “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.”

The pope also used the word jihad, or holy war, saying violence was contrary to God’s nature and to reason.

But, at the end of a speech that did not otherwise mention Islam, he also said that reason could be the basis for “that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.”

Father Lombardi said Tuesday that the pope did not intend to insult Islam. But many experts on Islam warned that Benedict ran the risk of offense in using such strong language, especially with tensions between religions so high.

On Thursday, the criticism began flowing the way of the 79-year-old Benedict, who has taken a more skeptical, hard-nosed approach to Islam than did his predecessor, John Paul II, who died in April 2005.

“I don’t think the church should point a finger at extremist activities in other religions,” Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, was quoted as saying in the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday, pointedly recalling the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Vatican’s relations with Nazi Germany.

The French Council for the Muslim Religion demanded that Benedict clarify his remarks. “We hope that the church will very quickly give us its opinion and clarify its position so that it does not confuse Islam, which is a revealed religion, with Islamism, which is not a religion but a political ideology,” Dalil Boubakeur, the council’s president, told Agence France-Press.

In Kuwait, the leader of the Islamic Nation Party, Haken al-Mutairi, demanded an apology for what he called “unaccustomed and unprecedented” remarks.

“I call on all Arab and Islamic states to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican,’’ Mr. Mutairi told A.F.P., until the pope “says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality.”

In Pakistan, Muslim leaders and scholars said Benedict’s words widened the gap between Islam and Christianity, and risked what one official called greater “disharmony.”

“The pope’s statement is highly irresponsible,” said Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, another ranking Muslim, and an Islamic scholar, in Pakistan. “The concept of jihad is not to spread Islam with the sword.”

The criticism from Mr. Bardakoglu, the Islamic leader in Turkey, was especially strong, and carried with it the prospect of particular embarrassment if Benedict were forced to cancel or delay his visit to Turkey. Many Turks are already critical of Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004 opposed Turkey’s entry to the European Union.

In Morocco, the newspaper Aujourd’hui le Maroc questioned whether Benedict’s call for dialogue between religions was made in good faith. “Pope Benedict XVI has a strange approach to the dialogue between religions,” an editorial said. “He is being provocative.”

The paper also drew a comparison between the pope’s remarks and the outcry in the Muslim world over unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published around Europe beginning last year. “The global outcry over the calamitous cartoons has only just died down and now the pontiff, in all his holiness, is launching an attack against Islam,” the newspaper wrote.


*1:Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst “The roots of Islamic terrorism” http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2005/07/27/opinion/edpabst.phpを読まれたい。