"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 Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi in a statement late yesterday.
Several Muslim clerics have called on the Pope to apologize for his statements, made during a speech at the University of Regensburg this week. However, some militant Islamic websites have gone further, unleashing a scathing campaign against the Pope, reported The Associated Press. The incident may also create tensions for the pontiff’s November visit with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim.
In his statement, Fr. Lombardi insisted that the pontiff respects Islam and wants to "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam.”
"That which is at the pope's heart is a clear and radical refusal of the religious motivation of violence," he continued.
The remarks at which Muslims have taken offence were made by the Pope Tuesday, while in Germany. The Pope had 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,'" he quoted the emperor as saying.
The Pontiff clearly indicated that his quote was simply that, a quote, and moved from the quote to a discussion of the need of greater interreligious understanding. Fr. Lombardi noted that, “what emerges clearly from the Holy Father's discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom.'”
“A just consideration of the religious dimension is, in fact, an essential premise for fruitful dialogue with the great cultures and religions of the world. And indeed, in concluding his address in Regensburg, Benedict XVI affirmed how 'the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions,” Lombardi said.
According to the AP, Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Benedict to apologize about the remarks and unleashed a string of accusations against Christianity.
The head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate Ali Bardakoglu said he was deeply offended by the Pope’s remarks, calling them "extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate."
In Egypt, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, also called for an apology.
"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. 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."
Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, a Sharia professor at Qatar University, has invited Pope Benedict XVI to participate in a public debate to challenge his recent comments about Islam. The professor sent the invitation in a letter to the pope on Thursday, reported Aljazeera.
It described the pope's statements as evidence of ignorance of Islamic teachings. It said such statements could allow the United States to justify their military operations in the Middle East and trigger cultural and religious clashes between the east and west.
The letter expressed shock at the Pope's statement and said everyone expects the pontiff to join the efforts to bridge the gap between east and west.
Al-Kubaisi said that the Pope should take a look at verse 2: 256 of the Quran, which says there is to be "no force in religion."
Pope Benedict actually quoted that exact verse, even citing the paragraph number, at the beginning of his remarks.
For the full text of the Holy Father’s remarks see our special coverage at: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/bavaria06/message9.htm
Pope Benedict XVI did not intend to offend Muslims with remarks about holy war during his pilgrimage in Germany this week, the Vatican said. The Pontiff’s remarks, which briefly touched on the irrationality of forcefully compelling people to “believe” in a religion have drawn outrage from several voices in the Muslim world.