ISTANBUL -- Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Pope Benedict XVI yesterday to take back recent remarks he made about Islam and unleashed a string of counteraccusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pontiff's November visit -- his first to a Muslim country.
Muslim figures in Egypt and Qatar also demanded that the pope retract his remarks.
The Vatican hastened to defend the pope, saying that the pontiff wanted to promote respect and dialogue toward other religions, ``obviously also toward Islam."
Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey's powerful Religious Affairs Directorate, said he was deeply offended by remarks about Islamic holy war made Tuesday by the pope during a visit to Germany, calling them ``extraordinarily worrying, saddening, and unfortunate."
Bardakoglu said that ``if the pope was reflecting the spite, hatred, and enmity" of others in the Christian world, it would be even more troubling.
In a speech Tuesday, 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 Islam and Christianity.
``The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said.
``He said, I quote, `Show me just what Mohammed 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."'
Clearly aware of the delicacy of the issue, Benedict said ``I quote" twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and described them as ``brusque," while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday the pontiff had not been giving an interpretation of Islam as ``something violent," although Lombardi said the religion contained both violent and nonviolent strains.
Bardakoglu said he expected an apology from the pope and said it was Christianity, not Islam, that popularized conversion by the sword, according to Turkey's state-owned Anatolia news agency.
The Christians ``saw war against those outside the Christian world as a holy duty," Bardakoglu said. ``That's why the Western clerics always have in the back of their minds a crusade mentality and the idea of holy war."
Bardakoglu said he suspected Benedict had the same mentality and asked the pope to ``look in the mirror" before making remarks against Islam.
In a statement released by the Vatican after Benedict's arrival back in Italy, Lombardi, who had accompanied him in Germany, insisted that the pontiff respects Islam.
Benedict wants to ``cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam," the statement said.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.