A leading Turkish cleric called criticism of Islam a serious threat to world peace, speaking Wednesday as Turkey prepared for a controversial visit by Pope Benedict XVI later in the month.
Benedict visits Turkey, his first as pope to a predominantly Muslim country, two months after provoking widespread anger by quoting an emperor who characterized the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman."
Ali Bardakoglu, head of the country's religious affairs, said, "it was saddening" to see Islam being criticized while the religion's contribution to civilization is ignored.
"This attitude, which fuels division and lack of mutual trust, is seriously threatening world peace," Bardakoglu told a conference in Istanbul attended by several African Muslim leaders.
The Religious Affairs Directorate oversees religious issues in Turkey. Bardakoglu is expected to meet with Benedict during the pope's Nov. 28-Dec. 1 visit.