CAIRO, Egypt – Mosques in the Mideast rang with cries of holy wars and crusades Friday, as clerics and faithful looked to a coming U.S. war on terrorism that many worried loomed as nothing less than an attack on Islam.
Muslims crowded into mosques for Friday prayers with tensions about U.S. forces building in the Gulf. Words of support for the expected U.S. attacks on terror bases in Islamic nations were few, as clerics spoke of an assault that they feared would divide the Muslim world.
"The Muslim people are united, just like one body. They must stand by each other and support each other at all times," cleric Mussa Abu-Sweilem roared through a loudspeaker in Amman, Jordan, hitting a theme that sounded in mosque after mosque.
Edward Gnehm, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, tried to assure Jordanians on the Islamic holy day that American anger is directed at those who committed the terror act, not against any nationality or religion.
"Our conflict is not with Islam," Gnehm wrote in a letter published Friday in ad-Dustour newspaper. He appealed to people worldwide to "join us to ensure that what happened this week would not recur with anybody, in any city of any country."
But Muslims throughout the region seized on President Bush's declaration of the coming U.S. campaign against terrorism as a "crusade" — a remark apologized for by the White House but not forgiven in the Muslim world.
"It is a war against Islam, even though the White House had apologized for Bush's statements of them being a crusade," cleric Sheik Maher Hammoud said in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon.
"The Americans cover their colonial aims with hollow slogans such as war against terrorism ... while everyone knows that the real American motives are not that," he said.
Bush's use of the term crusade, which the White House said was meant only to express a sense of a common cause, evoked a history of Christian crusades in Islamic nations.
In prayers carried on Iraqi state TV, Baghdad cleric Bakir Abdul-Razak condemned "the new crusade war with a new cover."
"By God's will, the Americans will not have an upper hand on us," the Iraqi cleric cried. "We call for jihad, and we defy you, the Americans."
"It's a new crusader war, but this time it's directed against Muslims," businessman Ismail Bishtawi said in Amman. "The United States is falling in the trap of those terrorists and it's holding the Muslim world, all the Muslims, responsible for something they haven't done."
Some hard-line Islamic clerics saw in the U.S. campaign an attempt to increase U.S. influence over the Mideast and its resources.
The head of south Lebanon's religious scholars, Sheik Afif al-Naboulsi, called the campaign a "security, political and economic project that will lead to the control of oil-rich former Soviet Muslim republics."
He and others urged Arabs and Muslims not to lend any support to the U.S. cause.
In Egypt, hard-line clerics of the Al-Azhar Ulama Front said the proposed U.S.-led coalition against terrorists aims to "punish innocent people to [seize] an individual who until now hasn't been proven guilty."
The clerics warned that those Arab countries that join the alliance may one day find themselves the target of it.
An until-now unknown organization, the Islamic Quzeda Army, Unity of the Arabian Peninsula, said in a statement released in Beirut that it would "strike with an iron fist" if Muslim governments provided the United States with any assistance, information or ground, air and naval facilities for its possible attack on Afghanistan.
"Revenge will increase against the United States if it takes any action," a cleric warned at Bahrain's Grand Mosque in Manama. "The United States has no right to take action before investigating this matter."
In Tehran, prayer leader Mohammad Yazdi spoke in more measured tones against one of Iran's longtime enemies, saying only that any U.S. attempt to "seek revenge from a poor and weak country ... cannot achieve anything."
"Terrorism has been condemned and always will be condemned, but the fight against terrorism should not be hasty," Yazdi said.