“Patriarch Irinej insults Islam”

BELGRADE -- Islamic communities in Serbia have condemned statements of the Serbian Patriarch Irinej about Islam, describing them as insulting.

The Islamic Community of Serbia (IZS) sent a letter to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) demanding an official interpretation of Patriarch Irinej’s statement about Islam, said ISZ General Secretary Eldin Ašćerić.

Belgrade Daily Blic reported yesterday the patriarch as saying that “Islam’s philosophy was that Muslims, when they are in small numbers, can behave well and be fair, but that once they become superior, they start to exert pressure”.

“We have requested an official statement from the SPC – whether the patriarch himself makes it, or the Synod, it is completely irrelevant. It is important to have an official interpretation of what was said. As long as it can be understood, but this message can be understood in many ways. That is extremely unacceptable and unfair,” he told Beta News Agency.

Ašćerić added that the newspaper said its quote of the patriarch’s statement from January 27 was genuine and that they had video footage to back that claim up, while the IZS website published an announcement saying that words of the head of the SPC were “insulting Islam”.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Community in Serbia (IZuS) also reacted, condemning and rejecting “insulting and false accusations” uttered by Patriarch Irinej.

“It is unbelievable that the newly elected patriarch is beginning his mission with unscrupulous statements about Islam, a religion that more than a billion people in the world belong to,” it is stated.

“It is completely clear that this statement calls for genocide, because it undoubtedly shows that Muslims are acceptable to the patriarch only when they are in minority and when they live with their heads bowed down,” this Islamic community said.

“If the head of the SPC wants a minimum dialog with the Muslim representatives, we expect a clear and definite apology,” the statement concluded.

In Belgrade on Thursday, Patriarch Irinej met with reporters in his first news conference since he was elected, to say that “the Serbian Orthodox Church has always been tolerant and respected every religion”.

Speaking about relations with the Islamic community, the patriarch said that the SPC respected it as a religious community.

“It is their religion and why would we interfere and give our opinion? We respect them as a religious community. That’s what we have always been doing. We will continue that in our time as well, and fully tolerant toward every religion, religious community and ideology,” he said.