Muslims Seek Detailed Apology from Pope

Muslims in Turkey, Iraq and the Palestinian territories demanded Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI make a clear apology for his remarks on Islam, but the Malaysian prime minister said he accepted the pon
( [email protected] ) Sep 19, 2006 10:46 AM EDT

ANKARA, Turkey - Muslims in Turkey, Iraq and the Palestinian territories demanded Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI make a clear apology for his remarks on Islam, but the Malaysian prime minister said he accepted the pontiff's statement of regret.

In the Vatican, the pope also issued a statement appealing for mutual respect for religious beliefs as he mourned an Italian nun slain in Somalia in an attack possibly linked to the uproar over his recent remarks.

While denouncing violence, the pope said he hopes the killing "becomes the seed of hope to construct authentic brotherhood among peoples in the mutual respect for the religious convictions of each other," according to a condolence telegram released by the Vatican.

Sister Leonella, 65, who taught and worked at a pediatrics hospital in Mogadishu, was shot dead by gunmen as she left the Austrian-run S.O.S. hospital on Sunday. There was no claim of responsibility, but many speculated the shooting was linked to Muslim anger toward Benedict.

In a speech last week, the pontiff cited a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

Benedict said Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" that Muslims took offense, and stressed that the emperor's words did not reflect his own opinion.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Benedict's expression of regret was acceptable. Malaysia — which chairs the world's largest Muslim bloc, the Organization of the Islamic Conference — had demanded the pope offer a full apology and retract what he said.

"I think we can accept it and we hope there are no more statements that can anger the Muslims," Abdullah told Malaysian journalists late Monday in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly.

His comments came after he met with President Bush, who told the Malaysian leader he believed that Benedict was sincere in apologizing.

In Turkey, however, protesters said Benedict must make full amends before a planned November trip that would be his papacy's first visit to a Muslim nation. "Either apologize, or do not come," read a banner carried by a group of demonstrators from a religious workers' union.

Iraq's parliament also rejected Benedict's explanation of his remarks, saying it was insufficiently clear. The parliament "demands the pope take practical steps to restore respect to the Islamic world and its religion, and a clear-cut apology for what he said," lawmakers said in a statement read at a press conference.

The top Muslim clergyman in the Palestinian territories similarly demanded that Benedict offer a "clear apology." The mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, urged Palestinians to halt attacks on churches in the territories, but held the pontiff responsible for the outpouring of anger.

"So far, we consider the apology of the Vatican Pope insufficient," Hussein told reporters. "We firmly ask the Vatican Pope to offer a personal, public and clear apology to the 1.5 billion Muslims in this world."

A previously unknown Islamic group calling itself "The Army of Guidance" pledged Tuesday to strike at Christian targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the remarks.

"Every place relevant to Christians will be a target," said a statement from the group. "This will be until the accursed infidel, the Vatican, apologizes to Muslims."

Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said security forces had been ordered to protect Christian sites after seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza in the last few days. However, he played down the threat.

"This is a new name and an unknown group," he said. "I think this is empty talk."

Damage was minor in the earlier attacks and no one was hurt, but it unsettled the small Christian minority, which accounts for about 2 percent of the 3.4 million Palestinians.

In Ankara, protesters demanded Tuesday that the Justice Ministry arrest the pope upon his arrival in Turkey on charges of insulting Islam and causing hatred based on religious differences, local media reported.

Ilnur Cevik, editor-in-chief of The New Anatolian newspaper, said in a commentary that the pope must reach out to Muslims before visiting.

"How can the pope make amends and convince the masses with religious sensitivities in Turkey that he is not an enemy of Islam and that he wants to forge an atmosphere of coexistence?" Cevik wrote. "If he fails to do this, it will be very hard for the Turkish people to give him a warm welcome."

In Turkey, the pope's remarks strengthened the widespread view that he is hostile to the country's campaign for membership in the European Union.

Before becoming pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger questioned whether the EU should open its doors to Turkey, saying it might be incompatible with European culture.

Secular Turkey's government accused the pope after his latest remarks of trying to revive the spirit of the Crusades, and called on him to offer a sincere and personal apology.

Catholic bishops met in Istanbul on Monday and decided the pope's visit to Turkey in November should go ahead, said Monsignor Georges Marovitch, the Vatican Embassy spokesman in Turkey. The pope was invited by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunchly secular leader.

Benedict is scheduled to visit Turkey from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, where a focus of his visit will be meeting with the Istanbul-based leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I.