A renowned Muslim scholar said on Sunday that the French president’s recent remarks, in which he said he understands the feelings of Muslims shocked by blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, are a “step toward moderation” but not enough for remedy of his earlier statements.

“We expect from him the courage to openly apologize to our beloved, the greatest Messenger Muhammad and to all Muslims,” Ali al-Qaradaghi, the secretary general of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, tweeted.

The French leader told Al Jazeera Arabic that he respects the sentiments of Muslims but will always defend freedom to speech and expression.

Earlier, he defended the cartoons, paid tribute to Samuel Patty, a teacher who was murdered on Oct. 16 after he showed the derogatory images to his students, and described Islam “as a religion in crisis.” He also announced a crackdown against “Islamist separatism” in France.

Last month, the cartoons were also projected on French government buildings.

The Muslim scholar called on Emmanuel Macron to initiate “constructive” and “serious” dialogue, and to enact laws that prohibit and criminalize “insult and contempt against Islam and religious sanctities.”

Macron’s controversial stance has led to international condemnations, protests and calls to boycott French-made products.

Amid the outcry, on Oct. 29, a knife-wielding man killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice. The violent attack attracted global condemnation.

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