Portsmouth's Christians and Muslims condemn violent protests

Christian and Muslim leaders in Portsmouth and Fareham have issued a joint statement calling for an end to protests against an anti-Islamic film.

Protests against the "Innocence of Muslims" film have continued around the world, with Thai Muslims rallying outside the US embassy in Bangkok on Thursday. There were also protests this week in Russia's North Caucasus and the Ukraine.

The leaders of mosques and Islamic centres, and three Christian denominations in Fareham and Portsmouth have condemned the violent responses to the film.

They called for protests to be staged peacefully as they warned that violent demonstrations were playing into the hands of those who wished to attack Islam.

From the Christian community, the letter was signed by the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Philip Egan, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, and the Rev Dr Andrew Wood, Chair of the Southampton District of the Methodist Church.

Muslim signatories of the letter included Sheikh Aminur Rahman, Imam of Portsmouth Jami Mosque, and Mohammad Abdul Mukith , Chairman of Portsmouth Central Mosque.

They urged people to react with "calm, peace and tolerance".

"One of the fundamental values of Islam is peace and the Islamic faith is a peaceful religion. Those who want to attack this faith have provoked a small minority of Muslims into doing precisely what has occurred.

"Muslims should recognise that this is an attack on their faith, but treat it with the contempt it deserves."

They said that the violence witnessed in recent weeks "completely contradicts the teaching of any religion, including Islam".

"We strongly condemn such violence that does nothing to honour the Prophet whose honour the demonstrators want to defend," they said.

"Freedom of expression is not absolute. As people of faith, we re-iterate that freedom of expression doesn't justify spreading hatred based on faith, race, ethnicity or gender. Offending religious symbols or sacred spaces does real damage to society.

"We call upon all to show profound respect for the beliefs, texts, religious personalities and symbols of the various religions."

Those responsible for religious hate crimes should be prosecuted, they said.

The faith leaders pledged to work together to educate people about the importance and "positive values" of faith.

They said: "It is only through the respect and understanding of the beliefs and values of all faiths that we will be able to promote peace, security and stability. As local faith leaders, we have already committed ourselves to this. Let's urge others to do likewise."