Pope's Baptism of Former Muslim a "Slap in the Face" to Islam

The Times' sour coverage of the Pope's visit to America continues.

So far, the Times' coverage of Pope Benedict XVI on his American trip has been mixed. On the sour side is a long story on Thursday by Daniel Wakin (with the often-antagonistic Ian Fisher contributing reporting) dwelling on a 2006 comment made by the pope which Muslims took offense at, in "Wary Reception Among Muslims Who Recall Pontiff's Remark About Muhammad."

The Muslim boys at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn pass under the stone gaze of the Virgin Mary every morning, and crucifixes adorn the classrooms where they receive a solid Catholic education. The school band is to play for Pope Benedict XVI when he arrives in New York on Friday, so the buzz of his first papal visit to the United States is also inescapable.

And so is the lingering sting of the pope's words in September 2006, when he quoted a Byzantine emperor as saying that the Prophet Muhammad brought "things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

"He brought it up from nowhere," said Mustafa Choucair, 16, a junior and one of 76 Muslim students at Xaverian. He likes the school but suspects that the pope may not like Muslims. "It makes me feel like you shouldn't talk about someone's religion when you don't know anything about it."

At the time, the pope's remarks prompted violence and expressions of outrage from Muslims abroad. Reactions in the United States were muted, but many Muslims today - even those closely connected to a Roman Catholic institution - remain troubled by the remarks. Their feelings are often complicated, a mixture of respect for the church and wariness about this pope, who will meet with Muslim and other religious leaders in Washington on Thursday.

While many say they continue to feel welcome at Catholic schools and hospitals, the pope's speech has left an indelible, often negative impression.


Benedict's views of Islam are complicated, too, but they center on his idea of - and fears for - Europe. As a cardinal he often wrote that ever more secular Europeans were committing a sort of moral and cultural suicide in ignoring their Christian roots. Islam, a competitor, was gaining strength through Muslims' conviction, he said, something that Europe had forgotten. The view seemed not wholly negative: He has often praised the depth of Muslims' devotion.

Benedict has sought to repair the damage from his remarks, which came fleetingly in a speech about faith and reason in Regensburg, Germany. He said the words did not reflect his personal views and expressed regret that critics said fell short of an apology. Benedict has since visited a mosque in Turkey, reaffirmed the need for dialogue, upgraded the Vatican's department dealing with interreligious dialogue and met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

But in the eyes of many Muslims, Benedict delivered another slap in the face on Easter eve when he baptized Magdi Allam, 55, a secular Muslim and writer who immigrated to Italy from Egypt in the early 1970s and who has become well known for his criticism of radical Islam and his support for Israel.

Does the Times really believe the Pope would welcome someone into the Christian faith just to insult Muslims?

Near the end, Wakin threw in this extraneous aside:

Muslim students interviewed last week said they felt comfortable at Xaverian but were not immune to the prejudices faced by many Muslims, particularly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There is teasing from other students, and occasional misunderstandings about Islam by teachers, which the students said they felt free to correct.

During a class discussion about the outrage prompted by the pope's remark, one teacher suggested that the rioters were looking for an excuse "to kill Christians," Haytham said. "He knew the minute he said it he messed up," he said.

And that has what to do with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI?