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Pope's comments on Islam hit 'civilization clash' fault line

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Many prominent Muslim leaders like the Muslim Brotherhood's Mahdi Akef and Yusuf Qaradawi, an influential television preacher based in Qatar, have urged Muslims not to react with violence. The Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman at first said the pope's expression was sufficient, and then later backtracked and demanded a stronger apology. The group may have been responding to popular anger, and seeking to surf with it rather than go against it, analysts say.

Mr. Qaradawi, on Al Jazeera Sunday, urged Muslims to protest Friday "to express their anger in a peaceful and rational manner." Qaradawi also linked the pope's comments to President Bush's recent statement that America is at war with "Islamic Fascists," saying the pope is "giving international cover" for Bush.

Mr. Messiri agrees with what is a widely held view in the region. "It was a bit opportunistic for the pope. He sees the war on terror going on and he wants to jump on the bandwagon and infuse some life into the church,'' says Messiri. "His comments exposed some ignorance. There are many rational schools in Islam. Many Muslims find concepts like the trinity and incarnation irrational."

Pope Benedict has since sought to calm the furor, saying he was "deeply sorry" that anyone took offense and that he didn't share the views of the 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel Palaeologus, whom he quoted as saying the only new things Muhammad brought to the world were "evil and inhuman."

On the topic of jihad, the pope also quoted a scholar, Theodore Khoury, as saying the Greek influence left a strong rational strain in Christianity, and this leads to a rejection of propagating the religion by force. This is contrasted with injunctions in the Koran concerning holy war. Carrying on Mr. Khoury's point, the pope said: "For Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound with any of our categories, even that of rationality."

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