About 2,000 Palestinians angrily protested Friday night against Pope Benedict XVI, accusing him of leading a new Crusade against the Muslim world. Earlier, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of the Islamic Hamas group, said the pope had offended Muslims everywhere.
Two churches in the West Bank were hit by firebombs early Saturday, and a group claiming responsiblity said the attacks were meant as a protest against the Pope’s comments.
The firebombs left black scorch marks on the walls and windows of a Greek Catholic and an Anglican church in Nablus. Father Yousef, a priest at the Anglican Church, said several firebombs hit the outside wall of the church.
In a phone call to The Associated Press, a group calling itself the “Lions of Monotheism” claimed responsibility. The caller said the attacks were carried out to protest the pope’s remarks about Islam.
The Vatican said the pope did not intend the remarks — made in Germany on Tuesday during an address at a university — to be offensive. Benedict 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 Muhammad 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.'” Benedict did not explicitly agree with the statement nor repudiate it.
“In the name of the Palestinian people who live on holy Palestinian land, we express our rejection of the comments made by the holy pope about Islam as a faith, its religious law, history and way of life,” Haniyeh said Friday. “These comments hide the truth and hurt its blessed essence.”
“We call on the holy pope to reconsider his statement and to stop offending the Islamic religion that has a billion and a half followers,” he said.
On Friday night about 2,000 protesters gathered outside the Palestinian parliament building to express their anger at the pope’s statement. “This is a new crusade against the Arab Islamic world. It comes in different forms, in cartoons or lectures … They hate our religion,” Ismail Radwan, a local Hamas official, told the rally.
Outrage around world
Muslims around the world expressed outrage Friday over Pope Benedict XVI’s comments, with Turkey’s ruling party accusing him of trying to revive the spirit of the Crusades and scores taking to the streets in protest.
Pakistan’s parliament unanimously condemned the pope, and the Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to express regret over the remarks.
The comments raised tensions ahead of his planned visit to Turkey in November – his first pilgrimage to a Muslim country. 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 a deliberate distortion.
“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 was quoted as saying by the state-owned Anatolia news agency. “It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades.”
“Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history for his words,” he said. “He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as (Adolf) Hitler and (Benito) Mussolini.”
Lebanese cleric denounces remarks
Lebanon’s most senior Shiite Muslim cleric denounced the remarks and demanded the pope personally apologize.
“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.
After Benedict returned to Italy on Thursday, Vatican spokesman 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 pope respects Islam. Benedict wants to “cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam,” he said.
Turkey’s top Islamic cleric, Ali Bardakoglu, said Lombardi’s comments were not enough. “The pope himself should stand at the dais and say ‘I take it all back, I was misunderstood’ and apologize in order to contribute to world peace,” he said.
UK Muslims ‘disturbed’ by incident
The head of Britain’s largest Muslim body said it was disturbed by the pope’s use of a 14th century passage. The Muslim Council, which represents 400 groups in Britain, said the emperor’s views were “ill-informed and frankly bigoted.”
“One would expect a religious leader such as the pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor’s views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism,” said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the council’s secretary-general.
In Cairo, Egypt, about 100 demonstrators gathered in an anti-Vatican protest outside the al-Azhar mosque, chanting “Oh Crusaders, oh cowards! Down with the pope!”
Elsewhere, Syria’s top Sunni Muslim religious authority, Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, sent a letter to the pope that he feared the comments would worsen interfaith relations.
Later, he delivered a scathing sermon in which he denounced the remarks. “We have heard about your extremism and hate for Arabs and Muslims. Now that you have dropped the mask from your face we see its ugliness and extremist nature,” he said.