Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 25, 2006
Pope responds to Muslim fury
He is 'deeply sorry' for giving offence
By JOHN THAVIS
"Pope Benedict's apology should be responded to wisely and broad-mindedly."
- Din Syamsuddin
In Turkey, where there had been harsh criticism of the papal speech, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said there are no plans to change Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey this fall.
In his talk at the University of Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, the pope's main theme was how reason and faith must be reconciled in the West. But he introduced it by quoting the 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus on the errors of Islam and jihad, or holy war.
Most of the Muslim negative reaction has been based on the erroneous assumption that the pope agreed with the quoted material, including the line that Islam had brought "things only evil and inhuman."
Criticism came from Muslim leaders and representatives in many countries, including Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia. In the West Bank, fire bombs were hurled at several Christian churches, apparently in reaction to the pope's speech; no injuries were reported.
In the Iraqi city of Basra, some 150 people joined a protest organized by a Shiite cleric, burning the pope's effigy along with U.S., Israeli and German flags.
Other protests against the pope - including some that turned violent - took place in London; in Delhi and Srinigar, India; and in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In Somalia, authorities were investigating whether the killing of an Italian nun, Sister Leonella Sgorbati, at a children's hospital was related to the controversy over the papal speech. However, a local Islamic authority said the killing of the nun and her bodyguard were not connected to reaction to the pope's speech.
The pope's decision to confront the controversy came after the Vatican issued two statements clarifying his speech, saying it had been misinterpreted.
A few hours after the pope returned from Germany Sept. 14, Lombardi said that while the papal speech contained a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence," it was not meant to be a critical assessment of Islam.
On the contrary, Lombardi said, the pope's talk focused primarily on the religious shortcomings of the West.
The Vatican's new secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, issued another statement Sept. 16 saying the pope respected Islam and its followers, and was unequivocally in favour of interfaith dialogue.
The cardinal said that in Germany the pope had been arguing in favour of religious values in modern cultures - a point that should be welcomed by Muslims.
Ali Bardakoglu, the head of Turkey's directorate of religious affairs, who had earlier denounced the papal speech, welcomed the clarifying remarks.
"Whoever insults the message of Mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment."
- Anjem Choudary
"(The pope) says that he respects Islam and didn't want to offend Muslims. That's a civilized position," Bardakoglu said.
Indonesian Islamic leaders say they hope fellow Muslims will think clearly and forgive the pope.
The chairman of the Indonesian Ulema (Islamic scholars) Council, with the single name of Amidan, said he regretted the pope's remarks because they could affect the general view of the international community about Islam.
Amidan expressed hope that the incident would not create religious conflict.
Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, told UCA News the same day: "Pope Benedict's apology should be responded to wisely and broad-mindedly. We might be offended by his remarks, but he has offered an apology. It is better for us to forgive him."
But elsewhere the pope's words drew a less enthusiastic response. In Iran, a government spokesman said Sept. 18 that the pope's explanation was not enough, and that "he should say that what he declared was wrong."
In London, a radical Muslim said the pope should be executed for "insulting" Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
Speaking to British ITV News Sept. 17, Anjem Choudary said: "Whoever insults the message of Mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment."
Several Vatican officials expressed deep dismay that Muslim reactions were based on distorted news media accounts of the papal speech.
Leaders in Catholic-Muslim dialogue say the papal remark the papal remark will cause problems but won't halt the dialogue.
John Borelli, the interreligious affairs specialist for the U.S. bishops for 17 years, told Catholic News Service that his years in interreligious dialogue have taught him "that a situation like this can lead to a great step forward."
Some who are not interested in dialogue might try to exploit the pope's words for their own purposes, but "we really need to listen to our Muslim partners in dialogue, who really care, and hear what they are saying," he said.
"They don't want this to end like this; they want some kind of serious reflection why all of this - which is beneath the surface, the effects of centuries of hostility and polemics - why the effects of bitterness and suspicion so quickly re-emerge and what can we do about that."
Sayyid Syeed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, said, "We were shocked and very saddened," especially since "our generation has been raised to look to the pope as a symbol of unity and a symbol of religious reverence."
"This tragedy cannot set back the clock" on Catholic-Muslim dialogue and mutual understanding, he said. "The atmosphere that we have built jointly has been tremendously cooperative and tremendously mutually appreciated."
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