Islamic Movement split over pope's May visit

Northern branch to boycott Benedict XVI's visit next month, while southern branch intends to participate.

pope easter 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
pope easter 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has announced that it is "boycotting" Pope Benedict XVI's visit next month, while an official from the more moderate southern branch said it intend to participate in the event. However, there was no indication that the northerners plan to protest his arrival or try to block the pontiff's path to al-Aqsa Mosque, which he is scheduled to visit. The decision of the northern branch apparently stems from a speech the pope made at a German university in 2006, in which he quoted a medieval text about the Prophet Mohammed and holy wars that offended Muslims worldwide. The pope apologized after he made the remarks and said they did not reflect his personal views about Islam. The Islamic Movement's northern branch said in a statement that it had concerns about the pope and his views in which "he insulted the Prophet Mohammed," despite relations between Christians and Muslims being marked by "mutual respect and cooperation. "Our position is a religious and legitimate perspective and not a political perspective and it has no connection to courtesies or public relations," a statement from the Islamic Movement's northern branch released last week said. "Indeed, insulting the prophet is a crime in every sense of the word. "As long as the pope is insistent in his position and does not apologize and erase the mentioned insult from the Vatican record we, the Islamic Movement, announce in all frankness that we will not participate in any activity to receive him or during his tour," the statement said. However, a leader of the more moderate southern branch of the Islamic Movement said they were not planning to boycott any of the pope's events, despite differences they have with him. "We will participate in the ceremonies … to welcome the pope in Nazareth," said MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List). "I don't think boycotting him is a solution for these disagreements. "If we have the opportunity to speak to him, we will say to him openly that we do disagree with him about many things, especially his lecture about the Prophet, peace be upon Him." A media coordinator for the pope's visit said he had no comment about the statement from the northern branch. The visit would continue as planned, he said, in a text message on Sunday. The movement's northern branch said it particularly had "reservations" concerning his expected visit to al-Aqsa Mosque. The Western Wall, which he also intends to visit, is "an inseparable part of the blessed al-Aqsa mosque," the northerners said. If the pope was considerate regarding the feelings of Jews regarding the Holocaust, then he should be "all the more concerned with the Gaza Holocaust - the Holocaust of the 21st century - for one hour or an hour-and-a-half of his visit, or it is just submission to Israeli dictates and threats." This was apparently a reference to the pope's plan to visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Vatican officials have said that the pope would also visit the Dome of the Rock while being accompanied by the grand mufti of Jerusalem during his May 11-15 visit in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Vatican officials have said that the pope will also visit the Al-Aqsa mosque, though it is unclear whether he would go inside. During his 2006 lecture in Germany, the pope reportedly quoted the Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who said: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhumane, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Following an eruption of furor and even violence in some Muslim countries, the pope apologized, saying he was "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries" to the passages in his lecture and said that the quote he cited "does not in any way express my personal thought." He also said that he cited the text as an examination of the relationship between faith and reason.