Shi'ite cleric wants apology from Pope

Top Lebanese Ayatollah urges pontiff not to believe Jewish "propaganda."

Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric on Friday denounced Pope Benedict XVI's recent remarks about Muslim holy war as Egypt warned that the pope's comments could incite violence between Muslims and Christians. "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 in his Friday prayers sermon. Fadlallah's words were some of the strongest yet in response to the pontiff's remarks on Islam's prophet Muhammad and holy war, during a speech this week in Germany, which angered many in the Muslim world. "We call on the pope to carry out a scientific and fastidious reading of Islam. We do not want him to succumb to the propaganda of the enemy led by Judaism and imperialism against Islam," Fadlallah said. Other Islamic and Middle Eastern leaders have demanded an apology from the pope, and one Kuwaiti lawmaker called on his government to restrict new churches from opening. Egypt's Foreign Minister called on the pope to explain himself after insulting the Muslim world. "He has to explain himself, and tell us what exactly did he mean," Ahmed Aboul Gheit told The Associated Press in Cuba. "It can't just be left like that." The pope quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian, 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 quoted the emperor as saying. On Thursday, the Vatican said the pope had not intended to offend Muslim sensibilities with the remarks. But the comments continued to reverberate Friday. About 100 worshippers demonstrated after Friday prayers at Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque, the Sunni Arab world's most prominent institution, chanting "Oh Crusaders, oh cowards! Down with the pope!" Many attributed the pope's comments to a larger political bias against Muslims. "This is part of the whole war against Islam. Whenever we close a door on evil, they open another door," said an Egyptian man who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "These Christians are all infidels. Benedict himself is an infidel and a blind man. Doesn't he see that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places were waged by Christians?" another worshipper said. One of the protest's organizers, a Muslim Brotherhood figure, shouted into a microphone, demanding an official apology from the Vatican. Hundreds of Egyptian riot police wearing black helmets and carrying heavy shields surrounded the mosque, preventing protesters from spilling over into the streets. Fadlallah said he condemns "and protests in the strongest terms" the pope's comments, "particularly his quoting without any occasion of the words of the emperor in which he insults Prophet Muhammad." Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora instructed Lebanon's ambassador to the Vatican, Naji Abi Assi, to visit the Vatican Foreign Ministry to seek clarifications on the pontiff's remarks, a Lebanese government official said Friday. Gheit also directed his country's embassy in the Vatican to demand a clarification and asked for a script of the speech he gave, Egypt's Foreign Ministry said. The ministry also warned that the pope's remarks could lead to violence in the Middle East. "Such remarks will have negative impact on the sought efforts to support the dialogue among religions and civilizations, and will only lead to inciting sedition and sectarianism," the ministry in a written statement issued by the country's Information Ministry. In Kuwait, lawmaker Daifallah Burmiyah said an apology from the pope is not enough and urged the government to issue a law that restricts new churches from opening. "There will be no goodness expected from a nation that doesn't protect it's religion," Burmiyah said in a written statement. The Syrian grand mufti, the country's top Sunni Muslim religious authority, sent a letter to the pope saying he feared the pontiff's comments on Islam would worsen interfaith relations. Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, a moderate cleric, said in the letter addressed to the pope and delivered to the Vatican embassy in Damascus that the comments "raise intellectual, cultural and religious problems between followers of religious faiths." "We expect that what has been attributed to your holiness is not true and hope we can all work together on spreading divine values that call for harmony, accord and cooperation," Hassoun wrote. Hassoun later delivered a scathing sermon in which he denounced the pope's 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. We call on you to apologize to Muslims," he said.