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Muslims in Queens denounce film fracas

Coptic churches in Queens welcome Christian Egyptians and condemn the attacks overseas. Photo by Steve Mosco
TimesLedger Newspapers

After American freedom of speech clashed with Islamic tradition and honor in Egypt, Queens residents with ties to the Middle East condemned the violence as tempers continued to flare in Muslim communities across the globe.

A low-budget film produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian originally from Egypt and now living in California, sparked outrage by depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, philanderer and child molester. Any depictions of the prophet are strictly forbidden, according to Islamic teachings.

At St. Mary & St. Antonios Coptic Orthodox Church in Ridgewood, the Rev. Mina Kamel Yanni decried the violent attacks in other countries, but also said he is sensitive to offensive images of any religious figures.

“We, too, are offended by the movie and any portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad, but rioting is not the answer,” said Yanni, whose followers are Egyptian Christians. “We do not wish anyone to resort to violence as our church rejects all violence. It is hard for the West to understand their outrage, but they are profoundly offended by any image of their prophet. And that must be respected here in America.”

After the video was circulated on YouTube, protests and demonstrations followed, some erupting in violence in close to 20 countries since last week when the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three embassy staff members were killed Sept. 11 in Benghazi, the North African nation’s second largest city. There has been widespread anger at the U.S. government for not suppressing the offensive video, which was made in the private sector and legal under the nation’s freedom of speech doctrine.

Muslims in Queens were uniformly against the insulting claims made in the film, but some also said the violent reactions around the world only serve to hurt the followers of Islam.

“Any image of our prophet draws an intense and negative reaction, but not always a violent one,” said Daniyal Fayad, of Long Island City. “I think reactions are justified. If they are peaceful, they can be powerful and make a strong point. The violent reactions, though, I think work against us and do more harm than good.”

Aamir Amin, also of Long Island City, said the violence being seen around the world is the work of the “fringes of the Muslim community.

“I don’t think it represents the way the majority of Muslims would react,” he said. “But at the same time, people of Western religions don’t understand the deep connection we have to our religion. I’m not saying they don’t love their religion or their God, but there is a disconnection. We feel we must defend our God and some of us take that to the furthest extreme.”

An expert in religious studies agreed, saying that most Americans cannot comprehend the devotion to traditional values being expressed by Muslims.

“We here in the West have a different relationship with our faith, one that is more secularized and it is hard to understand the deeper emotions,” said Emily Burnham, a religious studies professor at St. John’s University. “Their tendency is to take insults toward their faith on a much more personal level than we can relate to. The freedom of speech laws in this part of the world are incomprehensible.”

But Burnham cautioned not to lump all of the protesters together as fighting for one cause.

“We can’t assume that just because they are all at the same place that they are there for the same reasons,” she said. “Some are protesting the movie, some are protesting Western policies and some are there just because they are angry young men.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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