KARACHI, PAKISTAN—In what appears to be the latest sign of a widening gulf between the Muslim world and the West, Islamic leaders upset over Pope Benedict XIV's recent controversial remarks about the nature of their religion are urging the Muslim faithful to boycott any and all products bearing the Pope's seal of approval.
"We are sending a message to Rome that they cannot insult the prophet, may Allah's blessings be upon him, and if they do, we will close our hearts and our pocketbooks to their extensive line of retail products," said Pakistani cleric Sheikh Othman Malik, who spoke to an estimated crowd of 10,000 in downtown Karachi Monday. "Our only recourse is to refuse to buy anything—be it candles, incense, Pope Oaties breakfast cereal, Popeshine shampoo, or Craftspope-brand power tools—and, by destroying consumer confidence, bring the worshipper of the cross and all his subsidiaries to their knees."
Added Malik, "We must remind everyone that it is the oppressed buyer who makes the Roman Catholic Church the second-largest manufacturer of consumer goods in the world."
Although the Karachi protest was mostly peaceful, a downtown Stop N' Pope grocery store's windows were smashed, and in the northwest suburbs a fiberglass statue of the Mitre Man mascot was reportedly seized from a Vatican Tires outlet and set ablaze.
"We will not rest," said protester Ibrahim Meghwar, standing behind a burning pile of Pople magazines. "Not in our La-Z-Pope reclining chairs or even in our Popesturepedic beds!"
Despite the Pope's record earnings of $42 billion in sales in 2005, an effective and well-coordinated Muslim boycott could spell trouble for the Vatican City–based domestic-products giant and religion. Although the majority of its customers are Christian, a growing 19 percent are Muslim.
"There's no question about the Church's solvency, but a concerted effort by this important retail base could significantly affect the Vatican's yearly outlook," Goldman-Sachs retail analyst Jennifer Blaisdell said. "If it happens, Pope Benedict is going to have to answer to the Cardinals in the boardroom."
"A boycott will mean great sacrifice," Cairo protester Zahoor Ismail said. "My wife will have to buy our children's back-to-madrasah clothing from somewhere besides ValuPope, and we will put off buying that PopeScan 30-inch TV we've been saving up for. But as devout Muslims, it is our duty to reject these material goods and turn inward, to our own righteous manufacturers of affordable, quality products."
While the Vatican would remain strong in the Western processed-food market with its popular Pope-Ums sliced-mackerel sandwich fixings and Dios Mio Frozen Enchilada Dinners, a boycott could all but shut down the Church's Levantine Foods division, which produces the popular Jiffy-Pope Microwave Falafel Mix, currently a top seller throughout the Arab world.
In addition, PVC pipe, aluminum siding, and fiberglass insulation produced by the Church's building-materials arm, PopeDepot Inc., could also face the threat of drastically reduced sales in Muslim countries.
Some Muslims, however, are reluctant to join such a sweeping boycott. "I am a Muslim warrior, and I will gladly take to the streets in wrathful indignation," Malaysian-born Montreal resident Ridhuan Amir said. "But papal products mean higher quality. He may be the great infidel, but the fact is, he makes the best odor-absorbing scoopable cat litter on the market."
Hoping to quell the crisis, the Vatican released a statement expressing regret over the Pope's remarks and reaffirmed his respect for the Islamic faith in his goods, announcing plans to offer its own line of long-burning Li'l Benedict effigy dolls, with prices starting at $39.95.