Vatican City (AsiaNews) Benedict XVI is scheduled to meet ambassadors from Muslim countries next Monday in what is a further attempt to calm the waters after his speech at Regensburg University caused a stir among some Muslims because of its allegedly offensive remarks about Muhammad and Islam. But for some, today's Friday prayers were an opportunity to organise protests that were generally peaceful, small scale, and limited to just a few countries. And because political leaders attended them they were more political rally than religious function.
The latest initiative by the Pope is part of the Holy See's diplomatic effort towards Muslim protest. Some positive reactions have come in response to the Pontiff's remarks in favour of dialogue during last Wednesday General Audience, but not everywhere.
In Pakistan, alongside some sporadic protests, Islamic clerics and scholars have demanded in a joint statement the removal of the Pope for "encouraging war and fanning hostility between various faiths" and "making insulting remarks" against Islam." and, the statement said, "if the West does not change its stance regarding Islam, it will face severe consequences".
In Tehran, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who led Friday prayer, congratulated the world Muslim community for the way it reacted to the Pope's remarks on Islam, and earlier this year, to the Muhammad cartoons. "I congratulate the Ummah for the way it showed how it was ready to defend the prophet and the sacred values of religion," he said. "This," he added, "is a new reason for hope and a blessing for the Islamic world." In the streets of the Iranian capital, demonstrators said that Benedict XVI did not know the "divine religion of Islam" and demanded he apologise.
In Jerusalem, some 300 Palestinians took part in a protest at the al-Aqsa Mosque. They waved a banner that said "Allah is the only God and Muhammad is his prophet". No incidents were recorded.
In Malaysia a small group of protesters also brandish a banner, this one accusing the Pope of blasphemy.
Finally, Egypt's al-Azhar University, the top Sunni Muslim academic institution, has decided to freeze its relations with the Vatican.
By contrast, in Russia Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of European Russia and chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, said that "explanations [provided] by the Catholic side were satisfactory". He made these remarks yesterday during a meeting at his residence with Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Episcopate of Russia, meeting that was set up at the Catholic prelate's initiative. Other members of the Council of Muftis were also present.
Both sides agreed that as far as the controversy touched Russia it was now over and done. Both religious leaders called on their followers to engage in peaceful dialogue and cooperation for the good of the Fatherland.
The meeting took place in an atmosphere of sincerity and brotherhood as well as mutual understanding and shared concern over the current state of Catholic-Muslim relations. Both sides stressed in fact that in the last few years there have been more and more examples of mutual understanding and cooperation between Russian Catholics and Muslims. Muslims and Catholics have been taking part together in various events and celebrations as well as taking similar positions on the more urgent issues concerning modernity, especially those linked to the family, preservation of life and moral values, religious tolerance, consolidation of society, and democratic development, including joint charity work.
In Algeria, the Bishop of Algiers Henri Teissier said "that in the beginning the situation was very difficult, but now there are articles and initiatives that are trying to establish a new rapport [between Muslims and Christians]."
Speaking on the second day of a two-day conference in Rome titled Mediterranean at the Threshold of the New Millennium, the prelate explained "that things were initially difficult because people had closely followed John Paul II's death and come to think that Christians and Muslims were united in the ways the face the modern world. What happened [in Germany] seemed a change of course that created a gap between Christianity and Islam".
Still even in Algeria there have been some positive signs. "Yesterday," Mgr Tessier said, "I was invited to attend World Peace Day. Ministers and dignitaries offered me a place to sit beside them. I was a Christian among Muslims, a demonstration that peace is made by showing respect".
In Lebanon, the Maronite League issued a statement saying that the wave of protests against Pope Benedict XVI is part of a "plan" to "sow divisions between confessions similar to what is happening in Iraq with the purpose of breaking up certain states and divide certain peoples".
The same plan is intended to "cause discord and provoke a war of religion between Islam and Christianity in the Arab world and around the world."