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Muslim scholars point out Pope's 'errors'

In an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, 38 top Muslim clerics from around the world have accepted Pope's words of regret.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2006 23:33 IST

In an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, 38 top Muslim clerics from around the world have accepted his words of regret for his controversial remarks last month about Islam but pointed out "errors" in his understanding of the Quran.

Though the letter, signed mainly by Sunni ulema or scholars, is not to be handed to a Vatican official till Sunday, it has already been published on the website (www.islamicamagazine.com) of Islamica, a California-based magazine.

Referring to the Pope's quotation of an emperor who said Islam had brought "evil and inhuman things", the scholars said: "Muslims appreciated your unprecedented personal expression of sorrow, and assurance that your quote does not reflect your own personal opinion."

Instead they challenged Benedict's interpretation of a verse from the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion", which the Pope suggested was superseded by Mohammed's "instructions" on holy war.

They denied this was overridden by Islamic rules of war, adding, "If a religion regulates war and describes circumstances where it is necessary and just, that does not make that religion war-like, any more than regulating sexuality makes a religion prurient."

Ali Jum'a, grand mufti of Egypt, was among the signatories, along with figures from Syria, Yemen, Oman, Kosovo, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The group also challenged Benedict's quotation in the Sep 12 lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany of an early Islamic writer who said, "God is not bound, even by his own word."

The 38 signatories said it was wrong "to conclude that Muslims believe in a capricious god who might or might not command us to evil".

Describing the letter as "the first of its kind for several centuries", Islamica said it would be handed over to the Vatican's top diplomat in Jordan, the papal nuncio, on Sunday.

The Shia community was represented among the signatories by an Iranian ayatollah, Muhammad Ali Taskhiri, who heads an Islamic unity group.

The letter was written "in the spirit of good will" and to "engage with the papacy on theological grounds", Islamica said.

"It is imperative that both sides share a responsibility for peace to move the debate away from the anger of the streets toward a frank and sincere dialogue of hearts and minds," the magazine added.

News reports of the Pope's lecture, in which he concluded with an appeal to "our partners in the dialogue of cultures" to join in debate, led to riots in several countries and the murder of an Italian nun in Somalia.