A wave of Muslim outrage swept the globe after Pope Benedict XVI linked Islam with violence, while reactions within Germany have been mixed. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pope had been misunderstood.
In the Saturday edition of the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, Merkel defended the pope against accusations of blasphemy and provocation, saying: "Those who criticize the pope have misjudged the intention of his speech."
Benedict had issued an invitation to interfaith dialogue, she said. "The pope has expressly championed this dialogue, which I also support and consider to be urgently needed."
What Benedict XVI was seeking was 'a decisive and uncompromising rejection of all use of violence in the name of religion,' she added.
Merkel's Bavarian colleague, State Premier Edmund Stoiber, also came to the pope's defense. "His message that faith and religion should never be tied to violence is exemplary," he said. "Against the backdrop of today's hostilities, his unambiguous rejection of religiously motivated violence is highly topical and deserves to be taken seriously all over the world."
Ayyub Axel Köhler, president of the German Council of Muslims, expressed primarily disappointment. "We are indignant at these remarks," he said. "Especially after the lengthy dialogues we have had. But we will continue an exchange, because we want to establish common ideological ground. That is our contribution to de-escalating the situation here in Germany."
"Now it is up to the pope himself to do what he can to mend fences with the Islamic world," he added, calling on the pope to "apologize to Muslims for the crusades, and forced christenings and persecutions of Muslims. That would be an admirable gesture for peace and understanding."
Volker Beck from the Green party described the comments as "bizarrely one-sided and historically ignorant."
In India, the head of the minorities' commission said the pope sounded like a medieval crusader.
"The language used by the pope sounds like that of his 12th century counterpart who ordered the crusades," said Hamid Ansari, chairman of the National Commission for Minorities.
And in Gaza City, a grenade exploded outside a Christian church, although there were no casualties or damage.
Outgoing Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said the head of the Roman Catholic Church should "stop attacking Islam."
"These remarks go against the truth and touch the heart of our faith," Haniya told reporters after the main weekly Muslim prayers in a Gaza mosque. "The pope should revise his comments and stop attacking Islam, which is the religion of more than 1.5 billion people in the world."
The pope made the comments in a complex speech in the German city of Regensburg on Tuesday, implicitly denouncing connections between Islam and violence, particularly with regard to jihad, or "holy war."
His official spokesman said later that Benedict respected Islam but rejected violence motivated by religion.
The explanation failed to quell anger across the Muslim world.
The Pakistani parliament Friday unanimously called on the pontiff to take back his words.
"This house demands that the pope should retract his remarks in the interest of harmony between religions," said the resolution passed by the National Assembly of the overwhelmingly Muslim country.
"The derogatory remarks of the pope about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Mohammed have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions," the resolution said.
The Pakistani foreign office also waded into the row, saying the pope's words would undermine international efforts for peace between religions.
A member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board also slammed the pope, saying his words were "nothing but blasphemy," and called on Muslims to "exercise restraint and not lose their cool."
In Indian Kashmir, where an Islamic separatist insurgency has raged since 1989, the Muslim League group called a day-long strike Friday.
More serious than the cartoons
The Muslim Brotherhood, the leading opposition force in the Egyptian parliament, said the pope's comments were more serious than the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed whose publication in European newspapers caused outrage this year.
"I foresee an extreme reaction to the pope's words, which harm Islam more than the cartoons because they come from a leader who represents millions of people and not just from a journalist," said a senior official of the group, Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh.
In Iran, top cleric Ahmad Khatami said: "It is a pity that the leader of the world's Christians is so uninformed about Islam and speaks so rudely."
A powerful Sunni cleric in Iraq urged the government to expel the Vatican's representative over the comments.
"Do not ignore these remarks and expel the ambassador of the Vatican," Mahmud al-Issawi said in his Friday sermon.
And in Britain the Ramadan Foundation compared the pope unfavorably to his predecessor John Paul II.
"The late Pope John Paul II spent over 25 years to build bridges and links with the Muslim community. He showed the world that its perception of Islam was false and that we are peace-loving people," it said.
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