ANKARA, Turkey – A leading Turkish cleric said Wednesday that criticism of Islam is a serious threat to world peace, speaking ahead of a visit later this month by the pope, who has come under fire for quoting a Medieval emperor's thoughts on Islam and violence.
Religious Affairs Directorate chief Ali Bardakoglu said "it was saddening" to see Islam being criticized while the religion's contribution to civilization is ignored.
"This attitude, which fuels division and lack of mutual trust, is seriously threatening world peace," Bardakoglu told a conference in Istanbul attended by several African Muslim leaders.
Bardakoglu, is expected to meet with Pope Benedict XVI during his Nov. 28-Dec. 1 visit to Turkey — his first to a predominantly Muslim country as pope.
Benedict has appealed for greater dialogue with Muslims after a speech he gave at a German university in September sparked anger in the Muslim world. The pope quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman" and called Islam a religion spread by the sword.
Since the uproar over the speech — which has cast a cloud over his Turkey visit to Turkey — Benedict has expressed his regrets for offending Muslims. Bardakoglu called the pope's apology "indirect."
Bardakoglu encouraged Muslim religious leaders to work and correct the false and misleading information about Islam.
"Today, Muslims must first remember the human values of Islam ... and the collective peace it aimed for and tell and teach this to the world," Bardakoglu said.
Benedict in an appeal last month to Muslim envoys, said the two faiths must together reject violence because the future of humanity is at stake.
Although the official focus of Benedict's trip is scheduled to meet with the Istanbul-based leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew, he is widely expected to seize upon it as an opportunity to improve relations with the Muslim world.
The pope's tentative schedule includes a visit to Ankara on Nov. 28 to meet with the Turkish president and Bardakoglu, a trip to the ruins of Ephesus on Nov. 29 and a meeting with Bartholomew in Istanbul on the following day.
Benedict is also expected to lead a ceremony at Istanbul's Saint Esprit Cathedral on Dec. 1.