MUSLIMS IN India demanded an apology from Pope Benedict XVI. Pakistan's legislature unanimously condemned him. And in Turkey, the ruling party compared the pontiff to Hitler and Mussolini.
Across the world, Benedict's remarks on Islam and jihad in a speech this week in Germany have unleashed a torrent of rage among Muslims that many fear could burst into violent protests like those in February that followed the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
By citing an obscure Medieval text that characterises Mohammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman", Benedict inflamed passions and aggravated fears of a "clash of civilizations".
On Friday, Imam Ahmed Bukhari of Delhi's Jama Masjid said, "The pope's statement was an attempt to hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world at a time when they are being targeted in the name of terrorism. He should apologise. What he said is absolutely wrong. Prophet Mohammad only preached love and peace."
Shaikh Mohammad Hassan, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, said: "It is an outrageous statement, and depicts the pope's ignorance about Islam and the Prophet Mohammad."
Some experts said the perceived provocation by the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics could leave even deeper scars. "The declarations from the pope are more dangerous than the cartoons, because they come from the most important Christian authority in the world — the cartoons just came from an artist," said Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based analyst of Islamic militancy. Agreed All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Maulana Rashid. "The pope's statement is more insulting than the Danish cartoons," he said.
Pakistan's parliament on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Benedict for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam, and seeking an apology.
Notably, the most violent denunciation so far has come from Turkey. Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party, said on Friday that Benedict's remarks were either "the result of pitiful ignorance" about Islam and its prophet, or worse, a deliberate distortion of the truths.
"Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history for his words," he said. "He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has tried to defuse the anger, saying the pope had not intended to offend Muslim sensibilities and insisting that Benedict respected Islam. In Pakistan, the Vatican envoy regretted "the hurt caused to Muslims".
But Muslim leaders said outreach efforts by papal emissaries were not enough. "We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels... and ask him (Benedict) to offer a personal apology -- not through his officials," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah -- Lebanon's most senior Shia Muslim cleric -- told worshippers in Beirut on Friday.
The pope had quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam. "The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad 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."