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.
“It reflects on him as an intolerant person at that moment,” said Dr. Yusuf Mamdani of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., who is affiliated with St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan. “The pope should be beyond these things. I believe a person should respect me.”
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.