Benedict XVI's words spark calls for apologies and requests for clarification in theIslamic world

A Turkisk government official asks for the Pope's trip to be cancelled, Pakistan's parliament is asking for a retractation, Muslim Brotherhood for an apology.  Catholic schools closed "for precaution" in two Indian states.  But there are also those who are requesting clarifications and are saying that the Pope did not mean to offend.

Rome (AsiaNews) -- Protest rallies have taken place in India and have been announced, by Hamas, in Gaza.  Reactions, whether on the street or in newspapers, have been mainly to ask Benedict XVI to apologize "for having offended a billion Muslims," as Moroccan daily Aujourd'hui wrote, but there are also those, like the Great Mufti of Syria, Ahmed Bader Eddin Houssoun, who are asking for "clarifications of what has been reported by international news agencies and various satellite news channels."  Among the latter, Al Jazeera and Al Arabjia reported on the Islamic protests giving ample coverage of the opinions of extremists also, such as Kuwaiti Hakim al-Mutairi, secretary general of the "Umma" (Islamic nation) Party, who links the words of Benedict XVI with "the new wars that the West is bringing to the Islamic world, in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon." Al-Mutairi asks all Islamic countries to recall their diplomats from the Vatican and to expel those of Holy See, until the Pope apologizes.  Calls for an apology are arriving also from Cairo where the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad Mehdi Akef, said that the Pope's words are jeopardizing world peace.

From Iran, Mullah Ahmad Khatami touched a threatening note when, during the Friday prayer in Teheran, he spoke of "misinformation" from the leader of Christianity.  "Muslims in the world will surely want to react to such weak arguments and invite those who do not understand Islam to study the religion."

Turkish daily Milliyet gives a full report on its front page of the statement by Ali Bardakoglu, the government official responsible for religious affaiars, who says that he believes that, with such provocatory and hostile affirmations by Benedict XVI against Mohammad, the Pope's trip to Turkey at the end of November will not be useful for dialogue toward inter-cultural peace.  His remarks were also reported by other newspapers.

In Pakistan, it is instead parliament which is asking Benedict XVI to retract his statements, while foreign ministry spokesperson, Tasnim Aslam, said it was "very inappropriate for a religious leader of the Pope's stature to make statements that can increase disaccord among religions."

In Saudi Arabia, Arab News refers to "protests in the Islamic world" caused by the Pope's words and states that organizations and Islamic scholars are speaking of the "rashness" of the statements of a man who is supposed to have familiarity with the religions of the world and that his words serve only to increase hostility between Christians and Muslims.  Lebanon's Grand Mufti, Mouhammad Rachid Kobbani, said that the Pope's lecture was "full of errors" and that the "Truth is only found in the Koran, the Book of God, and all indications on the use of the sword are against Islam, because Islam preaches tolerance and forgiveness.  The Pope's words are the result of a campaign against our faith."  Kobbani asked for clarifications and apologies to the Islamic world.  In Syria, during the Friday gathering at the great mosque of Damascus, Grand Mufti Ahmad El Hassoun said that the Pope "forgot the great historical apparatus of Islam."  El Hassoun expressed "his preoccupation in the face of the deterioration of inter-religious dialogue" and called for the Holy See to resume the path of dialogue initiated by Pope John Paul II.

Similar considerations were made by the Organization of Islamic Conferences which groups Islamic scholars from 57 countries.  The OIC expresses its "regret" for a statement that is not "justifiable" and that "increases hostility and distance between Islamic and Christian people, while reasonable people of both sides are trying to build bridges."  However, the OIC too expects "clarifications" from the Vatican.

In the Emirates, Gulfnews doused the flames with a headline that read, "The Pope did not mean to offend Muslims", reporting on the statement of the director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi.

Harsh criticism against Benedict XVI arrived from India, where Hamid Ansar, president of the Indian National Commission for Minorities claimed that "the language used by the Pope sounded like that of his counterpart who in the 12th century ordered the Crusades."  But from the same country, Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, human rights activist and director of the Prashant Centre points out that "Benedict XVI's recent comments can offend the feelings of the entire Muslim community only if they are taken out of context.  Given that the Pope is recognized by all as the only figure who can be fully impartial and can look objectively at the world scene, his comments seem insensitive and inappropriate if they are taken out of context."  "Benedict XVI's condemnation of certain Islamic groups who legitimize violence and the use of terrorism in various parts of the world is simply echoing what he himself, but also all world leaders (including those of Islamic countries), have always said.  Violence is not compatible with the nature of God.  Nowhere in his speech does the Pope condemn Islam as violent."

News of protests are also arriving from Jammu and Kashmir, states in India which are Muslim-majority.  Government officials have asked Catholic schools to close "as a precautiionary measure to protect staff and students" in case of violent protests.  The Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese, Monsignor Peter Celestine Elampassery, Ofm, said to AsiaNews: "The Church in this part of the country has very good relations with the government and with public offices.  This is understandable as, in our schools, students receive a first-rate education but, above all, learn values which are shared by all."