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Local Muslim, Coptic leaders condemn violent protests

September 17, 2012 |  1:33 pm

Leaders in the local Muslim community and the Coptic Orthodox Church joined Monday to condemn both the anti-Muslim film "Innocence of Muslims" and the violent protests it has sparked around the world.

At least two people associated with the making of the low-budget film, Joseph Nasralla and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, are Coptic Christians, but the mainstream church has strongly condemned it.

Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles and Muslim Public Affairs Council Senior Advisor Maher Hathout joined on the steps of L.A. City Hall to issue a call for respectful dialogue.

PHOTOS: Protests over anti-Islam film spread

In a joint statement, the two leaders said: "We collectively condemn desecration directed at any religion. ... We condemn any attacks against religious communities, Coptic or Muslim in particular, both in Egypt and in the United States."

Serapion said a few "fanatical individuals" should not define the Coptic community, a sentiment Hathout echoed, calling on Muslims to ignore hateful portrayals of their religion.

"Those are neither Muslims nor Copts," he said of the filmmakers and those who reacted to it with violence. "Those are people who are psychologically diseased."

TIMELINE: 'Innocence of Muslims' unrest

Hathout urged Muslims to ignore hate speech such as the video. Supporters held signs saying "No to violence, no to hate" and "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Serapion said there had been no retaliation against the Coptic community in Los Angeles.

"We thank God that our relationship with the Muslim community of Southern California is a good relationship," he said.

Nasralla, who runs a nonprofit called Media for Christ and a satellite TV station called The Way, is not a member of the Coptic Orthodox church. In the past he had attended local Arabic-speaking evangelical churches and used to sing in some of them, said Hisham Kamel, pastor of the largest Arabic evangelical church in the Greater Los Angeles area, the Temple City Arabic Evangelical Church.

Kamel said he doesn't believe Nasralla is affiliated with any church now. He also provided a copy of a letter that a group of local Arabic-speaking evangelical churches were planning to bring to the Egyptian consulate in Los Angeles denouncing the film and calling for "constructive dialogue that is built on mutual respect and recognition."

Nakoula had sporadically attended local Orthodox churches, but was not a well-known figure in the community until his name surfaced in connection with the film. 

The filmmakers were apparently influenced by the teachings of Zakaria Botros Henein, a fiery Coptic cleric who is sometimes called Islam's Public Enemy No. 1. Botros has espoused views similar to those portrayed in the film, including calling Muhammad, Islam's most revered prophet, a necrophile, a homosexual and a pedophile.

Serapion said Botros had resigned as an Orthodox priest about 10 years ago and had since become more radical in his anti-Islam public statements. Botros has no current affiliation with the church, he said.

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-- Abby Sewell

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