As the fallout from Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial remarks on the Islamic faith last week continues to worry world leaders, students on campus expressed regret for the rift created between the Catholic and Muslim faiths.
During a speech at a German university last week, the pope quoted Manuel II Palaeologus, a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, who said the Prophet Mohammad spread the religion of Islam “by the sword.”
The remarks have sparked outrage and violence throughout the Muslim world.
On Sunday, the pope apologized that his remarks were misunderstood, but did not retract them. Some in the Muslim community have called for additional apologies.
Yesterday, the pope issued a statement urging mutual respect for religious beliefs and also denounced the killing of a nun in Somalia, which may have been connected to his remarks.
History Prof. Brian Porter, an expert on the Catholic Church, said the pope’s apology is unprecedented.
“To many outside observers, the apology may appear half-hearted, and in some sense it was, because he said in essence, ‘I’m sorry you misunderstood me,’ ” Porter said. “But in the context of the Roman Catholic Church, (the apology) is really quite significant.”
Unlike previous popes, who have used staff and consultants to write sermons and speeches, Porter said Benedict prides himself on writing all of his remarks himself.
“I think he recognized very quickly he made a very significant error,” Porter said. “But there are some words that are very difficult to unsay.”
Porter said that the pope could have chosen to use many different examples from within the Christian faith, such as the crusades, to illustrate his point.
“Why he chose that example, I’m truly bewildered,” Porter said.
LSA senior Ellen Michaels, who is Catholic, said an apology was necessary.
“From what I’ve read he was severely repentant,” Michaels said.
Michaels said the best way to mend the rift created between Catholicism and Islam would be for Catholics and Muslims to step back and respect each other’s convictions.
“Both religions teach forgiveness and tolerance, and I think the best way to speak up is to exemplify those values,” she said.
Rackham student Christopher Blauvelt, who is the coordinator of the Muslim Graduate Students’ Association, said the remarks came as a shock, given that Pope John Paul II had been active in dialogue with Islamic leaders.
“(Benedict) has much more rigid and conservative agenda when it comes to other faiths, which is really concerning for a lot of Muslims I know,” Blauvelt said.
Porter said Benedict does not believe in indifferentism – the belief that all religions are equal paths to God.
Porter said that as a cardinal, Benedict expressed concern that John Paul was too aggressive in his gestures to pursue interfaith dialogues.
Benedict felt those gestures diminished the Roman Catholic Church’s status, Porter said.
Zaib Rasool, political chair of the Muslim Students’ Association, said the pope’s comments were troubling.
“I was deeply disheartened by the choice of words of Pope Benedict XVI,” she said. “Being that he is an influential religious leader of and for a huge civilization, it is saddening that he chose to cite and rely on erroneous interpretations of Islam from a 14th Century text, especially in such volatile times.”
Rasool said the Muslim Students’ Association does not have any plans to specifically address the Pope’s remarks. She added that the group’s annual Islam Awareness Week this November will include events to dispel stereotypes surrounding Islam.
Blauvelt said he believed the reaction in the Muslim community is a result of “built-up frustration from repeated disrespect.”
“History proves that Islam has peaceful origins,” he said. “It gets frustrating to keep hearing negative things about Islam.”
LSA senior Azmat Khan, who is a Muslim, said the pope’s remarks were incorrect and derogatory.
But Khan said the reaction by some Muslims, like burning the pope in effigy were “equally intolerant.”
“If Muslims expect some sort of acceptance, they can’t be involved in that type of behavior,” Khan said.
It is unclear whether the pope’s scheduled visit next month to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, will be canceled.
Rasool said the Turkish government should not cancel the visit.
“Canceling such plans would lessen the chance for dialogue,” she said.
On his blog Informed Comment, Middle Eastern and South Asian History Prof. Juan Cole wrote that the pope was mistaken to try to oversimplify and separate religious traditions.
“Religious traditions are complex and multiple and often self-contradictory,” Cole wrote. “Trying to play politics with them by putting down the founder of a religion with false accusations will always cause trouble, of course. But what is worse is that the allegation causing the trouble is simply inaccurate.”
Cole said the pope could have communicated the virtues of the Roman Catholic Church without demeaning others.
“If Christianity is superior, that can be perceived without it being necessary to brand Islam inferior,” Cole wrote.
– The Association Press contributed to this report