Egypt cleric condemns reports of Koran desecration

15 May 2005 15:28:35 GMT

CAIRO, May 15 (Reuters) - One of Egypt's senior Islamic leaders on Sunday condemned reports that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.


"The matter is an unforgivable crime in the heavenly religions, which call on the followers of each religion to respect the sacred things and beliefs of other religions," Ali Gumaa, the officially appointed mufti of Egypt, said in a statement.


Newsweek magazine said in its May 9 edition investigators probing abuses at Guantanamo Bay found that interrogators "had placed Korans on toilets, and in at least one case flushed a holy book down the toilet".


Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.


The reports have caused uproar and resentment throughout the Muslim world but there have been no demonstrations over the issue in Egypt, unlike in Afghanistan where at 16 died during protests.


The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition organisation, on Friday took a harder line than the mufti, calling on the United States to apologise over the issue and punish those responsible.


"The Muslim Brotherhood ... demanded the U.S. administration issue an apology for what happened and punish the criminal investigators with the strongest of punishments," the organisation said in its statement.


"It is an episode in a series of abuses on Islamic holy things, which extends into everything -- land, honour and dignity," the Brotherhood added.

The United States has tried to calm global Muslim outrage, saying disrespect for the Koran was abhorrent and would not be tolerated and that military authorities were investigating the allegations.


The Cairo-based Arab League also condemned the reports of desecration.

"The Arab League calls -- in the event the reports are true -- on the U.S. administration to deal with the accusations with the necessary seriousness and to apply the harshest punishment on all those proved to be involved," a statement from the pan-Arab organisation said on Sunday.

Top Muslim avoids meeting with pope

Head of Cairo's Al Azhar university under pressure

March 23, 2007

VATICAN CITY (ANSA) - The Islamic cleric and teacher who is the highest authority on Sunni Muslim theology pulled out of a scheduled meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, reportedly because of pressure from fellow Muslims.

The incident appeared to be further evidence that many Muslims around the world still feel deep anger over Benedict's controversial remarks on Islam in September last year.

In a lecture at Regensburg university in Germany, the pontiff cited a medieval emperor who said Islam was "evil and inhuman", sparking protests all over the Muslim world. He subsequently apologised several times and said he had meant no offence.

During a trip to Muslim Turkey last November, the pope made further efforts to smooth relations with Islam, making a historic visit to Istanbul's Blue Mosque. As part of moves to continue developing dialogue, Sheik Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, head of the Al Azhar university in Cairo, was supposed to meet the pope in the Vatican on Thursday morning.

When the meeting was announced last month, Vatican watchers saw it as a potential landmark in Islamic-Catholic relations. Tantawi's position at Al Azhar university makes him a key reference point for Sunni Muslims all over the world. But on Thursday the Vatican press office's daily bulletin, issued at lunchtime, made no mention of the expected encounter.

Vatican sources confirmed later that the meeting had not taken place, saying that this was because of "the imam's commitments in Cairo". The sources were pessimistic about the chances of a new date being set soon for the meeting.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, sources at the Al Azhar university said the change of plan was due to pressure from Muslim 'Ulema' scholars in Egypt and also from the Muslim Brothers, the Arab world's largest group of political Islamists.


This explanation appeared to be confirmed by the statements of Ahmad Mahmoud, professor of Sharia law at the Al-Azhar university.

"The offensive observations by Pope Benedict XVI against Islam make this visit not positive," he told the Gulf News agency, going on to rebuke Benedict for having "abolished" the Vatican department for inter-religious dialogue. In fact, Benedict merged it with the Pontifical Council for Culture in a bid to put a more cultural slant on dialogue.

According to Egyptian daily Al Akhbar, the invitation issued by the Vatican to Tantawi earlier this year aroused fresh anger in Islamic world still reeling from the Regensburg incident.

Another Egyptian daily, Al Osboe el Yom, said on Thursday that by accepting the invitation Tantawi seemed to have "forgotten the pope's insults" and was therefore "offending all Muslims".