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Pope remark offends Muslim leaders

Ahmad Pathoni / Reuters | September 14 2006

Pope Benedict's comments about Islam could hurt global religious harmony, government and religious leaders in the world's most populous Muslim countries said on Friday.

A growing chorus of Muslim leaders have called on the Pope to apologize for the remarks he made in a speech in Germany on Tuesday when he used the terms "jihad" and "holy war".

Pakistan's National Assembly, parliament's lower house, unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Pope's comments.

"This statement has hurt sentiments of the Muslims," the resolution said. "This is also against the charter of the United Nations. This house demands the Pope retract his remarks in the interest of harmony among different religions of the world."

Pakistan is the world's second most populous Muslim nation after Indonesia.

Islamic scholars say the Pontiff's comments show how little he understands Islam and some have said Islamic countries should threaten to break off relations with the Vatican.

The Vatican issued a statement to say the Pope had never meant to offend Islam.

In his speech at the University of Regensburg, Benedict quoted criticism of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who wrote that everything Mohammad brought was evil and inhuman, "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

Benedict repeatedly quoted Manuel's argument that spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable, adding: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

The reaction was swift.

"It is obvious from the statements that the Pope doesn't have a correct understanding of Islam," said Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia.

Syamsuddin told Reuters the remarks could hurt "harmonious" relations between Muslims and Catholics and urged Muslims against reacting excessively.

"Whether the Pope apologizes or not, the Islamic community should show that Islam is a religion of compassion," he said.

Fauzan Al-Anshori, spokesman for the radical Indonesian Mujahideen Council, said the Pope misunderstood Islam and jihad (Islamic holy war or struggle) and challenged him to a dialogue.

"Muslims can't eliminate jihad from the Islamic discourse, the same way Christians can't do away with the doctrine of Trinity," he said.

The Vatican press office said the Pope had not intended to carry out an in-depth study of jihad and Muslim thinking about it, "even less to offend the sensitivity of the Muslim faithful".

TOLERANT RELIGION

Washington's response to September 11, invading Afghanistan and Iraq and tightening civil freedoms as part of a wider "war on terror", has created a widespread feeling among Muslims worldwide that their religion is under attack.

A row earlier this year over Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Mohammad deepened the sense of a divide between Islamic culture and the West.

Indonesia's Anshori said the recent surge in Muslim radicalism was a response to America's "crusade" against Muslims.

"We believe in respect for each other, freedom for Muslims to practice Islamic teachings and for Christians to practice their religion," he said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said he was worried the Pope's statements might upset efforts to bring about a rapprochement between West and East.

"He (Aboul 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," an Egyptian foreign ministry statement said.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said that anyone who felt that Islam was intolerant or Islam spread through use of force showed ignorance.

"Statements of this nature are very unhelpful in the efforts that we are making to bridge the gap and promote understanding between different religions," he added.

In New Delhi, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric of the historic Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, extolled Muslims to respond to the Pope's comments.

"No Pope has ever tried to attack the glory of Islam like this Pope," Bukhari said to chants of "Allah-hu-Akbar" (God is Great) by thousands of worshippers at the sprawling mosque.

"Muslims must respond in a manner which forces the Pope to apologize," he added after Friday prayers. He did not elaborate.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad, Kamil Zaheer in New Delhi, Jonathan Wright in Cairo)

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