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Pope’s apology fails to appease angry Muslims

Updated On: Sep 19, 2006

The pope has apologized for offending Muslim sensibilities when he quoted a 14th century Christian emperor as referring to elements of the Muslim faith as “evil and inhuman”.

Pope Benedict XVI has stressed that it was “a quotation from a medieval text, which [did] not in any way express [his] personal thought”.The papal office has also published an official statement to explain the “true meaning” of the pope’s speech. The pope expressed hope that it would clarify the confusion and open the way to “frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect”.

This is not enough for many Muslims who insist that the pope retract his words and offers a personal apology. In Iran, Ahmad Khatami, a member of Iran’s highest Islamic body –the Assembly of Experts – denounced the pope of being ignorant of Islam.

However, others want to move on from the incident. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Mahdi Akef told Deutsche Press Agence, “Whether he said what he said with good intentions or bad, we accept his apology… We do not want to create a crisis between Muslims and Christians. Islam taught us to deal with others in a civilized manner.”

Also, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany feels that the pope has made “an important step” to quell the widespread outrage. It has urged religious leaders and politicians in the Islamic world to dissipate tensions.

Muslims in Southeast Asia are also reacting in anger, with protests in Indonesia. Mar'uf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulamas, the highest clerical authority in Indonesia, said, “It's improper for the most-respected religious leader to make statements that hurt the feelings of other religious followers… He should follow the late pope, the well-mannered John Paul II, who was able to bridge his own religion with others.”

However, official reactions remain comparatively muted to those in the Middle East. Only Malaysia and Indonesia have criticised the pope’s words. Antara quoted Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as saying that the remarks were “inappropriate and unwise” and could stall “efforts to promote inter-faith dialogue”.

Christian-Muslim tensions have always simmered in Indonesia, thus President Yudhoyono has the difficult task of balancing delicate relations. He appealed to Indonesian Muslims, saying, “Although I understand your feeling, please remain patient and refrain from committing violence.”Nonetheless, The Star reported Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar  as saying that the pope needed to apologise properly as it was what the Muslim community demanded. “It is clear that Muslims want the Pope to withdraw his statement and apologise. Otherwise, the anger will continue and lead to more protests,” he added.

Sources:

‘Pope must retract comment’ (The Star, 18 September 2006)

Pope says he's sorry about strong reaction, says speech didn't reflect his personal opinion (Jakarta Post, 18 September 2006)

Indonesian leaders bemoan Pope's remark on Islam (Bangkok Post, 17 September 2006)Pope to address Muslim furor (CNN, 17 September 2006)

Indonesian Islamic leaders condemn Pope but urge restraint (Antara, 16 September 2006)

Malaysia condemns Pope’s comments (ABC News Online, 16 September 2006)