Turkey's top Islamic cleric asks pope to take back remarks about Islam, quoting from a book
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Sep. 14, 2006
By BENJAMIN HARVEY Associated Press Writer
(AP) Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday to take back recent remarks he made about Islam and unleashed a string of counteraccusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pontiff's November visit _ his first to a Muslim country.
The Vatican hastened to defend the pope, saying that the pontiff wanted to promote respect and dialogue toward other religions, "obviously also toward Islam."
Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey's powerful Religious Affairs Directorate, said he was deeply offended by remarks about Islamic holy war made Tuesday by the pope during a visit to Germany, calling them "extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate."
Bardakoglu said that "if the pope was reflecting the spite, hatred and enmity" of others in the Christian world, it would be even more troubling.
In a speech Tuesday, the pope quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Islam and Christianity.
"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.'"
Clearly aware of the delicacy of the issue, Benedict said "I quote" twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and described them as "brusque," while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday the pontiff had not been giving an interpretation of Islam as "something violent," although Lombardi said the religion contained both violent and nonviolent strains.
Bardakoglu said he expected an apology from the pope and said it was Christianity, not Islam, that popularized conversion by the sword, according to Turkey's state-owned Anatolia news agency.
"The church and the Western public, because they saw Islam as the enemy, went on crusades. They occupied Istanbul, they killed thousands of people. Orthodox Christians and Jews were killed and tortured," he said.
Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, was the capital of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine Christian empires before being conquered by Ottoman Muslims in 1453.
The Christians "saw war against those outside the Christian world as a holy duty," Bardakoglu said. "That's why the Western clerics always have in the back of their minds a crusade mentality and the idea of holy war."
Bardakoglu said he suspected Benedict had the same mentality and asked the pope to "look in the mirror" before making remarks against Islam.
Benedict and his entourage were heading back to the papal summer residence near Rome when Bardakoglu spoke. A few hours after Benedict's arrival back in Italy, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, insisted that the pontiff respects Islam.
Benedict wants to "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam," Lombardi, who had accompanied the pope in Germany, said in a statement released by the Vatican.
"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 said.
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. He urged Islamic leaders last year to take responsibility for their communities and teach their young to abhor violence.
Benedict, who has made the fight against growing secularism in Western society a theme of his pontificate, is expected to visit Turkey in late November. He was invited by the staunchly secularist Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who said the invitation was part of an effort to strengthen dialogue between religions.
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 Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whose headquarters, for historical reasons, are in Istanbul.
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