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Pope Sets Off Furor In Muslim Nations

In a ripple effect reminiscent of last year's firestorm over cartoons of Muhammad, prominent Muslims in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are denouncing remarks made by Pope Benedict about Islam – comments the Vatican says weren't meant to offend.

In a speech while visiting his native Germany earlier this week, Benedict 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."

Clearly aware of the delicacy 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.

Muslim clerics, organizations and Web sites have expressed outrage at the pope's remarks.

Friday, Pakistan's parliament unanimously condemned Pope Benedict XVI for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam and demanded he apologize.

Thursday, Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Benedict to apologize and unleashed a string of accusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pope's planned visit to Turkey in November on what would be his first papal pilgrimage to a Muslim country.

Ali Bardakoglu, the cleric who sets the religious agenda for Turkey, said he is deeply offended by the pope's remarks, which he called "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.

Thursday night, the Vatican issued a statement seeking to smooth over the controversy.

"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 the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman who was with Benedict on the trip to Germany.

Benedict, said Lombardi, wants to "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam."

"It is opportune to note that that which is at the pope's heart is a clear and radical refusal of the religious motivation of violence," Lombardi continued. "Proper consideration of the religious dimension is, in fact, an essential premise for a fruitful dialogue with the great cultures and religions of the world."

Lombardi adds that while in Germany, Benedict did not give an interpretation of Islam as "something violent," although the religion contains both violent and non-violent strains.

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, is among those calling on the pope to apologize.

"The remarks do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West," Akef said in a statement Thursday evening. 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."

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."

Militant Islamic Web sites also unleashed a scathing campaign against the pope.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Akef contended that the pope's remarks "threaten world peace" and "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."

The Organization of the Islamic Conference expressed hopes that "this sudden campaign does not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion."

In his address Tuesday, Benedict did not touch directly on the current controversy over Islamic extremism, although it is an issue he follows closely with concern. In Cologne, Germany, last year, he urged Islamic leaders to take responsibility for their communities and teach their young to abhor violence.

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

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