- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

BEIRUT, Lebanon Shi'ite Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Iran have reacted with rage at the Rev. Jerry Falwell for calling Islam's prophet a terrorist, and an envoy of Iran's supreme leader reportedly called for his death.
Iranian cleric Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, addressing Friday prayers in the northwestern town of Tabriz, said Mr. Falwell was a "mercenary and must be killed," the Farsi-language daily Abrar reported yesterday.
"The death of that man is a religious duty, but his case should not be tied to the Christian community," Mr. Shabestari, a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying.
In an interview broadcast last week on the CBS program "60 Minutes," Mr. Falwell said in reference to the Prophet, "I think Muhammad was a terrorist."
Mr. Falwell, a conservative Baptist minister, said he has concluded from reading Muslim and non-Muslim writers that Islam's prophet "was a violent man, a man of war."
But Mr. Falwell apologized yesterday for calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.
"I sincerely apologize that certain statements of mine made during an interview for the September 30 edition of CBS's '60 Minutes' were hurtful to the feelings of many Muslims," the preacher said in a statement issued in Lynchburg, Va.
"I intended no disrespect to any sincere, law abiding Muslim," Mr. Falwell added.
In presenting his apologies, Mr. Falwell said that in his more than 50 years of Christian ministry, he had never preached a sermon on Islam, nor written a book or pamphlet on the subject.
"I have always shown respect for other religions, faiths and denominations," he said. "Unfortunately, I answered one controversial and loaded question at the conclusion of an hourlong CBS interview which I should not have answered. That was a mistake and I apologize."
In Lebanon yesterday, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah called on Muslim countries to respond to Mr. Falwell's comments on CBS, which, he said, had "infringed on the prophet [Muhammads] dignity."
Mr. Fadlallah, however, cautioned against resorting to "physical violence" against Mr. Falwell, saying Islam is a "religion of mercy and love."
In a statement issued in Beirut, Mr. Fadlallah also urged Muslims worldwide to counter what he called a "cultural war" launched against Islam after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Mr. Fadlallah, 67, has condemned the September 11 attacks. He is a senior Shi'ite religious authority and a harsh critic of U.S. policies in the Middle East.
In August, Mr. Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious edict, banning Muslims from assisting the United States and its allies if they attack Iraq. He also urged Muslims to withdraw their money from U.S. markets for fear they may be frozen or confiscated.
Earlier this week, another Shi'ite cleric in Iran, Ayatollah Hussein Nouri Hamedani, called on Muslims to cut relations with the United States. He accused Mr. Falwell of implementing a "Zionist plan" to cause a clash between Islam and Christianity.
But other Muslim clerics held different opinions.
"Although [Falwells] opinion is insulting, he can be answered through dialogue so that all ambiguities in his mind are cleared," Iranian Ayatollah Hussein Mousavi Tabrizi said.
Mr. Tabrizi refused to compare Mr. Falwell to British author Salman Rushdie, against whom the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian revolution, issued a death verdict in the 1980s for blaspheming Islam in his book "Satanic Verses."
"Rushdie is a symbol of the red line between Islamic countries and the West. But we will not issue a death verdict against the priest. Iran is a country that promotes dialogue among civilizations," Mr. Tabrizi said in an interview yesterday.

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