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Mixed Arab reaction to pope's apology By Pakinam Amer

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Sunday September 17, 2006

By Pakinam Amer, Cairo- Even as some Muslims across the Arab world welcomed the papal apology Sunday, there are still many who considered it "meaningless" or at least falling short of appeasing those who were deeply offended. Pope Benedict XVI said early Sunday during the traditional Angelus prayer at his Castel Gandolofo summer residence near Rome that he was "deeply sorry" that a speech he made earlier this week quoting a medieval text which described some of Prophet Mohammed's teachings as "evil and inhuman" had offended Muslims.

The apology apparently was seen by many Muslims as a calculated about-face that was only meant to curb the anger and avoid a violent backlash. "This kind of apology is not accepted. We demand the retraction of the statements," Qatar-based Youssef al-Qaradawi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Al-Qaradawi, a popular Islamic figure, was one of the Imams responsible for mobilizing Muslims against Denmark over a series of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in a manner deemed offensive. The Egyptian sheikh had called for a widescale boycott that lost the Scandinavian country millions of dollars.

Following criticism from the Muslim world, the pope issued a personal statement explaining that his speech was "misunderstood" and that the text he had referred to therein did not essentially reflect his personal belief.

As Muslims continued to take to the streets and gather in mosques in protest, outraged by the papal speech, Al-Qaradawi vehemently defended the Muslim anger. "Do they expect Muslims to be beaten on their back, without responding?" said the sheikh, referring to voices deeming the Muslim reaction exaggerated.

"Any person with dignity would have been angered or enraged [in a similar situation]," he said. "If you offend a person, he would be furious and he might even fight you. Let alone if you offend his religion and beliefs, his prophet!"

Although the pope said he had merely quoted an old text on the subject of Islam and violence, and holy war, adding that this quote was not in his own words, the pontiff - during his speech - seemed to build an argument on the subject of this controversial quote, which accuses Muslims of violence.

In his lecture Tuesday at a university in his German homeland the Holy Father went on to state that, "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," without stopping to challenge the content of the text, which was taken to be offensive by Muslims.

When referring to the verse of the Koran that read "There is no compulsion in religion", the pope said that, "According to the experts, this is one of the suras [verses] of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat."

The pope went on to contrast different traditions, mainly Islam and Christianity, in their understanding of God. "Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry," said the head of the Catholic church.

"By delving in such issues, the pontiff entered a mine field," commented Fadel Soliman, head of Egypt's newly-founded Bridges Foundation, a centre for spreading understanding of Islam and encouraging inter-religious dialogue.

By implying that Muslims should not question God or that they should not ponder on his nature, the pontiff - some had argued - had struck a deep nerve for Muslims.

"He started contrasting the concept of understanding divinity in Islam and Christianity, which gets us into a different debate, especially that Islam encourages thinking about God, his 99 names and his transcendent nature," Soliman said.

A Saudi member of the World Muslim League echoed some of Soliman's rhetoric. "The Islamic religion urges the Muslim to use his mind and to think, to utilize his mental, psychological and physical strengths to construct the Earth. Thinking and the calls for it are mentioned in many verses of the Holy Koran," said Abdullah al-Torki.

"We only say to the pope that there were always two parties in the Vatican; one is John Paul II who called for dialogue, love and peace. And the other is Gregory VII who called for the crusades," said Soliman "Choose a party? We know how to deal with both."

Regarding the pope's apology, Soliman said that the Muslim world does not need an apology. "It's meaningless," he said.

The dialogue centre's head said that the main issue is not the apology or the lack of it. "It is the problem of knowledge about Islam. Members of my centre are ready to travel to the Vatican and do a presentation to this congregation about Islam."

But not all the calls emerging out of the Middle East, or at least Egypt, are of denunciation or criticism. Some, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have tried to adopt what could arguably be called a moderate stance.

On Sunday, leader-at-large of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammad Mahdi Akef told dpa that the group accepts what he perceives as an apology from the holy pontiff.

"We accept his apology," said Akef. "We do not want to create a crisis between Muslims and Christians. Islam taught us to deal with the other in a civilized manner."

"These statements will never be a cause for strife or rivalry [between Muslims and Christians]," he said. "It will never stop the dialogue and the cooperation between Islam and other heavenly traditions."

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur