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Chicago-area Muslims question Pope's choice of words
September 19, 2006

By Paul Meincke

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Muslim-Americans living in the Chicago area are weighing in on Pope Benedict's apology for comments he made last week about Islam. The pontiff's remarks sparked violent protests in parts of the world.

It was the Pope's reference to a medieval conversation that has ignited anger and disappointment in the Muslim world. Benedict the 16th pointed to the remarks of a Byzantine emperor who characterized aspects of Islam as evil and inhuman -- a religion spread by the sword.

The Pope later expressed deep sorrow for the reaction -- some of it quite violent -- caused by the 14th century reference in his speech. But among many Muslims -- including those in Chicago -- there is a feeling that Pope Benedict apologized only for the reaction to his speech and not for his judgment on the content he chose.

"We understand the words are from a Byzantine emperor from centuries back, but why even use that wording in the first place, especially given the feeling in the whole world," said Usman Hafeez.

"Not only is it ungrounded in fact, but also sends the wrong kinds of messages to be sent by someone of his stature and someone who has the ability to create a spirit of reconciliation," said Nizam Arain.

That's a direct reference to Pope Benedict's predecessor and the widely held feeling among Muslims that John Paul the Second made extraordinary progress in healing centuries of wounds between Islam and the Catholic church.

"John Paul the second built bridges and all Benedict has to do is follow in his footsteps," said Ahmed Rehab, Council on American-Islamic Relations.

While Ahmed Rehab regards the Pope's apology as incomplete, he deplores the violent acts that have followed saying they are more insulting to Islam than any words in a speech by the Pope. What's crucial, he says, is avoiding misunderstanding.

"That's the core and that is why building bridges is the path we should pursue," Rehab said.

All this comes at an increasingly fragile time -- the president Tuesday at the United Nations trying to assure some skeptical leaders that the war on terror is not a war on Islam.

A new report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations says that incidents of harassment and discrimination aimed at Muslims -- across the country -- has risen to a 12-year high.

As for the controversy over the pope's remarks, the Vatican has dispatched representatives to meet with various Muslim leaders in an effort to diffuse the anger and build bridges.

Copyright ©2006 ABC Inc., WLS-TV Chicago

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