Reaction to Muhammad Remarks Jars Pope

The Muslim world remains angry about remarks from Pope Benedict XVI. The pontiff quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who disparaged the prophet Muhammad. The Vatican says the pope is upset at the reaction.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

There is more angry reaction in the Muslim world today to remarks about Islam by Pope Benedict XVI. During his speech in Germany this week, the pontiff quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said the following. 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 that he preached."

Morocco's King Mohammed is recalling his ambassador to the Vatican over the remarks. In Iraq the main Sunni Muslim party warned today that the pope's comments could lead to violence between Muslims and Christians. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians wielding guns and firebombs attacked churches of various Christian denominations. No injuries were reported. And Turkey's prime minister is urging Pope Benedict to apologize and withdraw what he calls the ugly remarks.

Officials say Pope Benedict is extremely upset by the reaction to his speech and sincerely regrets offending Muslims. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

Father FEDERICO LOMBARDI (Vatican Spokesman): It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas of (unintelligible) still less to offend the sensibilities of the Muslim faithful.

ELLIOTT: The Vatican appeared to stop short of the kind of apology some Muslim leaders are demanding and indicated that his comments have been misinterpreted. Vatican watchers say this could be an important lesson for the new pontiff.

Mr. JOHN ALLEN (National Catholic Reporter): I think what we have here is German intellectual meets soundbite culture.

ELLIOTT: John Allen is a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Mr. ALLEN: Under the Pontificate of John Paul, or virtually any other pope of recent memory, this text would have been the product of a committee. Many hands would have been involved in it and this sort of thing would have been scrubbed out of it. Whereas the texts that Benedict has delivered so far in his pontificate have been entirely written by him in the first person. And that has been part of their richness and their depth, but this also illustrates that when you have someone who is perhaps a little tone deaf to, you know, the kind of PC sensitivities and so on, you can get yourself into real trouble in a hurry.

ELLIOTT: Allen says the pope is likely to address the issue tomorrow in his noontime prayer.

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Vatican Statement on Pope's Remarks

Read Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's statement addressing the criticism in the Muslim world over Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Islam and violence. The Vatican provided an English translation:

Given the reaction in Muslim quarters to certain passages of the Holy Father's address at the University of Regensburg, and the clarifications and explanations already presented through the Director of the Holy See Press Office, I would like to add the following:

The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that expressed by the conciliar document Nostra Aetate: "The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting" (no. 3).

The Pope's option in favor of interreligious and intercultural dialogue is equally unequivocal. In his meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, on 20 August 2005, he said that such dialogue between Christians and Muslims "cannot be reduced to an optional extra," adding: "The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity."

As for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way. He simply used it as a means to undertake — in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text — certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come. On this point, it is worth recalling what Benedict XVI himself recently affirmed in his commemorative Message for the 20th anniversary of the Inter-religious Meeting of Prayer for Peace, initiated by his predecessor John Paul II at Assisi in October 1986: " ... demonstrations of violence cannot be attributed to religion as such but to the cultural limitations with which it is lived and develops in time. ... In fact, attestations of the close bond that exists between the relationship with God and the ethics of love are recorded in all great religious traditions."

The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions. Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervor of Muslim believers, warned secularized Western culture to guard against "the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom."

In reiterating his respect and esteem for those who profess Islam, he hopes they will be helped to understand the correct meaning of his words so that, quickly surmounting this present uneasy moment, witness to the "Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men" may be reinforced, and collaboration may intensify "to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom" (Nostra Aetate no. 3).

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