By SUZAN FRASER
Turkey’s ruling Islamic-rooted party joined a wave of criticism of Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, accusing him of trying to revive the spirit of the Crusades with remarks he made about Islam. Muslim leaders in the Middle East expressed dismay, and Pakistan’s parliament unanimously condemned him.
The Vatican said the pope did not intend the remarks — made in Germany on Tuesday during an address at a university — to be offensive.
The pope quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam.
“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,'” he quoted the emperor as saying. He did not explicitly agree with them nor repudiate them.
Turkey’s top Islamic cleric, Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Bardakoglu, asked Benedict on Thursday to apologize about the remarks and unleashed a string of accusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pontiff’s planned visit to Turkey in November on what would be his first papal pilgrimage in a Muslim country.
Bardakoglu said he was deeply offended and called the remarks “extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate.”
On Thursday, when the pope returned to Italy, Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said, “It certainly wasn’t the intention of the pope to carry out a deep examination of jihad (holy war) and on Muslim thought on it, much less to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers.”
Lombardi insisted 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 said.
On Friday, Salih Kapusuz, a deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party, said Benedict’s remarks were either “the result of pitiful ignorance” about Islam and its prophet, or worse, a deliberate distortion of the truths.
“He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world,” Kapusuz blurted out in comments made to the state-owned Anatolia news agency. “It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades.”
In Beirut, Lebanon’s most senior Shiite Muslim cleric denounced the remarks and demanded the pope personally apologize for insulting Islam.
“We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels … and ask him (Benedict) to offer a personal apology — not through his officials — to Muslims for this false reading (of Islam),” Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah told worshippers in his Friday prayers sermon.
A Lebanese government official said the country’s ambassador to the Vatican has been instructed to seek clarifications on the pontiff’s remarks.
In neighboring Syria, the grand mufti, the country’s top Sunni Muslim religious authority, sent a letter to the Pope saying he feared the pontiff’s comments on Islam would worsen interfaith relations.
And in Cairo, about 100 demonstrators gathered in an anti-Vatican protest outside the capital’s al-Azhar mosque.
Pakistan’s parliament unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the pope for making what it called “derogatory” comments about Islam, and seeking an apology from him
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry also called the pope’s remarks “regrettable.”
“Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
“What he has done is that he has quoted very offensive remarks by some emperor hundreds of years ago,” Aslam said. “It is not helpful (because) we have been trying to bridge the gap, calling for dialogue and understanding between religions.”
She said Muslims had a long history of tolerance, adding that when the Catholic kingdom of Spain expelled its Jewish population in 1492 they were welcomed by Muslim nations such as the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Benedict, who has made the fight against growing secularism in Western society a theme of his pontificate, is expected to visit Turkey for a few days, starting Nov. 28. 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.
On Friday the pope appointed a French prelate with diplomatic experience in the Muslim world as the Vatican’s new foreign minister. The new foreign minister — officially called secretary for relations with states — is Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, 54, who was born of French parents in Morocco.