Islamic leaders denounce Pope’s remarks

Islamic leaders in the Middle East denounced Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks about Islam and demanded an apology.

“The remarks do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West,” said Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in a written statement.

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,” according to the statement.

The pope made his remarks on Islam during a speech in Germany on Tuesday 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,’ the pope quoted the emperor as saying.

Benedict made it clear he was quoting someone else’s words and did not specify whether he agreed with them, but called them “brusque”. A Vatican spokesman said Benedict was not characterising Islam as inevitably violent.

The 57 nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference, based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia also said it regretted “the pope’s quote and for the other falsifications that offended the Islamic tenant.”

“The OIC hopes that this sudden campaign does not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion … and it expects the Vatican to express its real vision of Islam,” the organisation said in a written statement.

Akef, meanwhile, called on the pope to study Islam in a fair way and far from extremism and to “apologise for these remarks which agitate enmity among the followers of religions and threaten world peace”.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic-based political party that is formally banned but usually tolerated by the Egyptian government, won nearly 20 per cent of the legislature’s seats in last year’s elections, making it the largest opposition bloc.

Akef urged Islamic governments and civil societies to denounce the remarks and to sever relations with the Vatican if the pope did not apologise.

“At a time wise men in the world call for opening channels of dialogue between the West and the Islamic World to serve general human issues, the pope’s remarks come to pour oil on the fire and ignite the wrath of the whole Islamic World to prove the claims of enmity of politicians and religious men in the West to whatever is Islamic,” he said.

Militant Islamic websites also unleashed a scathing campaign against the pope. The extremist cleric Hamed al-Ali called the pope “Benedict, the cursed worshipper of the cross” in a very long article arguing that Islam is the right religion.

Another website said “it seems that the man (Benedict) has realised the danger of Islam through the large numbers of Christians who are converting to Islam”.

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