Church leaders call for peace amid Islam film protests

The head of the UK Coptic Church has warned that the reputation of Egypt and other countries is being “damaged” by angry protests over an anti-Islam film.

Protests started on Tuesday in response to a film, Innocence of Muslims, which mocks Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

Protests across Sudan, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon on Friday left seven people dead, the BBC reports.

US embassies in the countries are under heavy guard after being targeted by the protesters.

Authorities in the US have identified the film’s creator as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-born Copt residing in the US, although he denies making the film.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said it was “imperative that a clear distinction be made between the vast majority of Coptic Christians, and a minute majority that may choose to use inflammatory and insulting means to further political agenda”.

He defended the right of people to protest against insulting conduct but said this should be done in a “responsible manner”.

“As these protests continue to escalate, sometimes dangerously out of hand, there must be a realisation that in Egypt, its surrounding region, and beyond, it is only local citizens and communities, and the reputation of these states that is being damaged through such aggressive and violent behaviour,” he said.

“While we must realise and accept that there will always be differences on faith matters between religious communities, it must also be agreed that interaction, conversation, debate, dialogue and even protest must be in a respectful and peaceful manner that safeguards the wellbeing of individuals and the harmony of communities.”

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit issued a statement on Friday expressing his “regret” over the making of the film.

He said the film was an “insult to the heart of the Muslim faith” and “to all peoples of faith”.

“It is tragic if the reactions provoked by this film were in turn to lead to negative stereotypes of Muslims,” he said.