The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI did not mean to offend Muslims when, during a lecture in Germany this week, he referred to the prophet, Muhammad, holy war and forced conversions. But Muslim clerics, organizations and Web sites have expressed outrage at the pope's comments.
Addressing academics at the University of Regensburg on Tuesday, the pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor.
Benedict said the emperor spoke of the issue of jihad saying "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."
Anger at these comments has been building in the Islamic world. Muslim scholars say the pope's remarks show how little he understands Islam. Some have said Islamic countries should break off relations with the Vatican.
In Turkey, a ruling party official accused the pope of trying to revive the spirit of the crusades, and said the pope is "in the same category" as leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. The country's top Islamic cleric called for an apology. The matter has raised tensions between the Vatican and Turkey ahead of the pope's planned visit there in November.
In Egypt, about 100 demonstrators gathered in an anti-Vatican protest outside Cairo's al-Azhar Mosque. And in Pakistan, the parliament unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the pope for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam.
As soon as Pope Benedict had returned from his six-day visit to the southern German state of Bavaria on Thursday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, said, "It certainly wasn't the intention of the pope to carry out a deep examination of jihad and on Muslim thought on it, much less to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers."
Father Lombardi said the pope respects Islam. He said the pope wants to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and also toward Islam.
Monsignor Felix Machado, undersecretary of the Vatican's pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue, on Friday urged Muslim scholars to re-read the pope's address to the academics.
"It will appear clear that, in no way can the pope's address be considered an attack on Islam, but rather that he is stretching out his hand, because the pope stressed the value of humanity's religious cultures, and, among them, gave an important place to Islam," he said.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict Friday appointed a French prelate with diplomatic experience in the Muslim world as the Vatican's new foreign minister.