Muslim outrage prompts papal apology
Pope Benedict XVI quoted criticisms of the Prophet Muhammad made by a 14th century Byzantine emperor
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The Pope has apologised to the world's Muslim community after making comments about the history of Islam, according to media reports.
He said he hoped the speech had not been taken as being intentionally offensive and insisted that the Vatican was "strongly upset" by the Islamic world's reaction.
Delivering a speech on Tuesday at a university in his homeland of Germany, Pope Benedict XVI quoted criticisms of the Prophet Muhammad made by 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, who claimed that the Islamic prophet had brought "things only evil and inhuman" on the world, "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
The Pope made a point of saying "I quote" during his speech in order to distance himself from the sentiment, but his comments have attracted widespread criticism from leading Muslims.
"The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers," Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said.
Commentators claim that despite his apology, the Pope's planned visit to the mainly Islamic country of Turkey in November is now in jeopardy.
But the Vatican has said it has not changed its plans to go ahead with the papal visit to the country.
In the Gaza Strip, several thousand Palestinians took to the streets in protest at the Pope's comments, while Pakistan's national assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling on the pontiff to retract his statement.
Meanwhile, prior to the apology, Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf warned that "sinister tendencies" to associate terrorism with Muslims were helping to fuel a sense of alienation between the west and Islam.
"Our strategy must clearly oppose the sinister tendencies to associate terrorism with Islam and discrimination against Muslims, which are giving rise to an ominous alienation between the west and the world of Islam," said Mr Musharraf, addressing the Non-Aligned Movement's summit in Cuba.
The Pope's comments in his speech also sparked outrage in the UK, where the Muslim Council of Britain had urged the head of the Catholic church to "urgently clarify" his comments, which the organisation said had caused "dismay and hurt" to Muslims.
Meanwhile, the first Muslim woman to enter the House of Lords has said that UK politicians must put pressure on the Pope to apologise for the "disappointment and hurt" caused by his remarks.
Speaking on the Today programme, Labour peer Baroness Uddin said: "I am worried about the current climate which licenses this type of irresponsible analysis of religion. If he did not mean it he should not have said it."
Urging Muslims to "show reverence and reflection" in their response to the Pope's comments, she added: "What I do not want is any effigy burning here or any irrational discussion. Already the environment is such that demonising Islam has become acceptable. We have got to be thoughtful in our responses."
However, German chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the pontiff, stressing that critics had misunderstood the aim of his speech.
"It was an invitation to dialogue between religions," said Ms Merkel, in an article published in the Bild newspaper today.
"What Benedict XVI emphasised was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion," she stressed.
The Vatican has attempted to quell discontent over the Pope's comments by insisting that he was attempting to put across a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence".
"It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas on the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful," Vatican press office director Federico Lombardi said.