Pakistani clerics urge Muslims to rally to condemn pope's remarks on Islam

Pakistani clerics and religious scholars urged Muslims to hold peaceful rallies across the country on Friday to condemn the pope's remarks on Islam, a spokesman for a radical Islamic group said.

The appeal for "nationwide peaceful protests" after the main weekly prayer services was made Thursday when 1,000 clerics and religious leaders met in the eastern city of Lahore, said Abdullah Muntazir, a spokesman for the Jamaat al-Dawat group.

The meeting called for Pope Benedict XVI to be replaced by someone like the previous Pope John Paul II, who died last year.

The controversy began last week when the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Islam's founder, Prophet Muhammad, as "evil and inhuman" and referred to Islam as being spread "by the sword."

The pope acknowledged that his remarks were open to misinterpretation, but insisted he had not intended to endorse a negative view of Islam and that the comments did not reflect his own opinions.

Jamaat al-Dawat runs schools, colleges and medical clinics. In April, Washington put the group on a list of terrorist organizations for its alleged links with militants fighting in the Indian part of Kashmir, reports AP.

After Thursday's meeting, a statement demanded the West "change its stance regarding Islam (or) it will face severe consequences." It did not elaborate.

It also said that jihad was not terrorism and that "Islam was not propagated with the sword."

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