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Turkish Muslim wants Pope to say Islam peaceful

November 24, 2006

Turkish Muslim wants Pope to say Islam peaceful

By Gareth Jones and Selcuk Gokoluk

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's top Muslim official said on Thursday Pope Benedict should state clearly during a planned visit to Turkey next week he believes Islam, like Christianity, to be a religion of peace. 

Benedict infuriated Muslims worldwide in September with a lecture that appeared to portray Islam as an irrational religion tainted by violence. Benedict later expressed regret over the pain his remarks caused but stopped short of a full apology. 

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican November 22, 2006. Turkey's top Muslim official said on Thursday Pope Benedict should state clearly during a planned visit to Turkey next week he believes Islam, like Christianity, to be a religion of peace. (REUTERS/Max Rossi)
"I think the attitude the Pope should take is that neither Islam nor Christianity is a source of violence," said Ali Bardakoglu, who heads Ankara's Directorate General for Religious Affairs which controls Turkish imams and writes their sermons. 

"If they ask me if Christianity has been the cause of violence, I would say no, that is not so ... We believe all prophets sent by God, from Moses to Jesus and Mohammad, are messengers of compassion," he told Reuters in an interview. 

Violence committed in the name of religion was the fault of fallible and misguided human beings, he said. 

"I believe the Pope shares this view and his saying this will be in the interests of all humanity," he said. 

Bardakoglu, who meets the Pope next Tuesday at the start of the four-day visit, said in September Benedict must apologise for his remarks and should reconsider his trip to Turkey. 

But he told Reuters it was now time to look to the future and said the Pope would receive a hospitable reception in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. 

He said he would be happy to explain to the Pope the "unbreakable" link between reason and faith in Islam, citing the historic achievements of Islamic science and learning. 

PROTESTS 

Turkey plans tight security measures for the Pope, whose trip takes in the capital Ankara, the commercial and culture hub of Istanbul and the site where the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived and died near Izmir on the Aegean coast. 

Bardakoglu said Turkey was a free country where people had the democratic right to protest. 

"But any street protests will not reflect the mainstream hospitable attitude of Turkey," he added. 

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a pious Muslim, said he expected the Pope to give positive statements that would improve ties between Christians and Muslims. 

"I believe it will create a new climate," Gul told Reuters. 

"He may make some good statements, saying we have only one God although we have different religions. We have sympathy for each other and we should not exploit the differences in a negative way." 

The Pope is due to hold talks during his visit with the Istanbul-based spiritual head of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Bartholomew, who has complained of property and other restrictions his church faces in Turkey. 

Bardakoglu defended Turkey's treatment of its tiny Christian community and of other religious minorities. 

"If the Pope says Christians in Turkey are mistreated, I will tell him that he has been seriously misinformed," he said. 

"For example, we give support to Christians settling in our holiday resorts when they want to build churches. We say this is their natural right and this is guaranteed by laws," he said, referring to a growing number of Europeans retiring in Turkey. 

Bardakoglu also signalled he was ready to tackle the Pope over Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Before becoming Pope, Benedict spoke out against Turkey joining the EU, saying it did not belong there because of its religion and culture. 

"The European Union as a Christian club would pave the way for other similar groupings that would seriously hurt the cause of world peace. For that reason, I think it important that the EU be based on common values rather than religion," he said. 

(Additional reporting by Paul de Bendern in Istanbul) 

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