The Vatican announced today that Pope Benedict XVI has invited “certain representatives of Muslim communities in Italy,” as well as Ambassadors from Muslim countries to the apostolic palace at Castelgandolfo on Monday.
The meeting with Islamic representatives comes as a part of a continuing Vatican effort to clarify segments of a speech made by the Holy Father on the relation between faith and reason and to “relaunch dialogue with the Islamic world,” a senior Vatican official said today.
The speech, which contained contentious quotes from a Byzantine emperor, drew a response of outrage and protest from many segments of the Islamic world. As radicals in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia responded with violent protests, the firebombing of churches, and the assassination of a religious sister, a few Islamic countries took the symbolic step of withdrawing their ambassadors from the Holy See. Some of those ambassadors have returned following the Pontiff’s statements of clarification on Sunday and Wednesday.
Despite the Pope’s insistence that his words were meant to be an invitation to dialogue and the restating of his tremendous respect for Islam, several Muslim groups remain in an uproar.
Yesterday Muslim clerics and religious scholars meet in eastern Pakistan to demand the removal of Pope Benedict XVI, the Associated Press has reported.
Benedict "should be removed from his position immediately for encouraging war and fanning hostility between various faiths" and "making insulting remarks" against Islam, said a joint statement issued by the roughly 1,000 clerics and scholars at the end of their one-day convention.
The "pope, and all infidels, should know that no Muslim, under any circumstances, can tolerate an insult to the Prophet (Muhammad). ... If the West does not change its stance regarding Islam, it will face severe consequences," it said.
The meeting was organized by the radical Islamic group Jamaat al-Dawat, which Washington put the group on a list of terrorist organizations in April for its alleged links with militants in the Indian part of Kashmir.
The clerics and religious scholars said they did not consider Benedict's latest comments as an apology. "The pope has neither accepted his mistake, nor apologized for his words," their statement said.
The statement denied that Islam was spread by violent means. "Islam was not propagated with the sword, but it became popular and was accepted by the oppressed peoples of the world because of its universal values and teachings," it said.
The clerics also said jihad was not terrorism. "Jihad is waged to rid an area, state, or the world of oppression, violence, cruelty, and terrorism, and bring peace and relief to the people,” they wrote. “History is full of incidents where Muslims waged jihad to provide relief to people of many faiths, especially Jews and Christians.”
Nonetheless, several Muslim leaders in Rome are saying the Pope’s invitation is an important step and are eager to meet with him.
"We welcome it and are definitely going to participate," said Iran's deputy ambassador to the Holy See, Ahmad Faihma, according to the Mail and Guardian.
"This is a positive signal from the Vatican. I know that this will improve relations with the Islamic world," he said.
Fathi Abuabed at the Arab League's Vatican mission told the paper that "This meeting will be very important, especially in these days, to try to stop every action that is not good."