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How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'There is lot of work needed to be done': American Muslims on 'Innocence of Muslims' and the film's violent aftermath

As the story surrounding an inflammatory anti-Muslim film shot in Southern California developed over the last week, KPCC's Public Insight Journalism team put together some questions for the public on what has become a volatile subject. The film, titled "Innocence of Muslims," mocks Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and has been blamed for sparking deadly violence in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, as news got out last week that the alleged filmmaker was an Egyptian American Coptic Christian from Cerritos, Calif. with a criminal record in the United States, the Coptic community was quick to distance itself from him, also fearing targeting. In recent days, Muslim and Coptic groups in Southern California have come together to denounce both the film and the violence.

We took our questions to Muslims living in Southern California and throughout the United States, who have found themselves not only feeling targeted, but also uncomfortable watching the violent reaction overseas. Several responses have come in so far. Here are two, slightly edited for clarity.

From Mansoor Ishfaq of Norwalk, Calif., who has roots in Pakistan and is the president of the youth chapter at a Los Angeles-area mosque:

Q: How does it feel to be the target of "Innocence of Muslims?"

A: I have watched a 4 minute clip on YouTube. The video seems to be made by a person who knows nothing about life of Prophet of Islam or Quran. Such ideas just cause destruction to the efforts of peace. The producer seems to hate Islam and it reflects very much in the clip. Personally I felt sorry that hate can take a person to that far to attack Prophet of other religion.

Q: As you watch the violent protests erupt in the Mideast, how--if at all--does this reflect on you?

A: In comparing a video insulting Prophet Muhammad to Muslims responding violently, the bigger insult to the prophet, and the bigger atrocity to humanity, is the latter.

The Koran repeatedly and specifically instructs Muslims to simply "turn away" when non-Muslims insult their faith or prophets. The Koran further restricts Muslims from insulting non-Muslims, instead imploring Muslims to "argue in the way that is best" and with "absolute justice." By looking into the situation many questions arises in mind.

It seems to be that some forces in Mideast are using it for political gains. How are Muslims in Mideast serving Islam by showing violence? Does it help to establish peace in the world? Islam teaches that free speech is a valuable right but not at the cost of the much higher value of and right to life. Innocent continue to suffer.

Q: In the context of the last 11 years of phobia and targeting, how does Islamophobia affect you now? Has it changed from the early post 9/11 years?

A: It seems to be that there is lot of work needed to be done to educate people about the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam in general. As an Ahmadi Muslim, we have been taught by our founder, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (peace be upon him) to pray for the peace in the world.

Q: What are the conversations you are having with your family?

A: I had a discussion with my family and am sad on the situation. We are afraid that this will destabilize the Mideast and will have an impact everywhere in the world. As Muslim Americans we still appreciate the constitution of United States which give rights of free speech and religion. I agreed with the President that such good things always have higher price. It seems to be the motto of Ahmadiyya Muslims Community, "Love for All Hatred for None," is the only solution to the world's problems.

From Jamila Hakam of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who describes her self as a Muslim whose roots are "European-American mixed with Sephardic Jewish ancestry":

Q: How does it feel to be the target of "Innocence of Muslims?"

A: I don't feel that I and other Muslims are "targets" of this film. I think the person who made the film and those who helped him to do so has a lot of hatred in his heart and used this film as a vehicle to convey his hatred. But it's also a calculated move - he was aware from previous events in the past 6 years that the reaction of some of the most disenfranchised people in the Muslim world would be a violent and irrational one, and he wanted to provoke such reactions.

Q: As you watch the violent protests erupt in the Mideast, how--if at all--does this reflect on you?

A: I don't think it reflects on me, personally, but it does give those who already harbor prejudices against Muslims and the religion of Islam a lot of "fodder" and a chance to say "See, I told you they were like that!"

Q: In the context of the last 11 years of phobia and targeting, how does Islamophobia affect you now? Has it changed from the early post 9/11 years?

A: I think that in some ways people in the U.S. and the West in general have a more nuanced concept of Islam/Muslims than they used to: They do know more than they did before. But still, what they know is very little, and often inaccurate. So this affects how people react to Islam/Muslims, and if there is fear or ignorance, this can be manifested as Islamophobia.

I live in a cosmopolitan city, with a sizeable Muslim population, so I don't experience Islamophobia very often. What is so tragic is that non-Muslims like Ambassador Stevens, who worked to help Muslim populations and societies who wanted to advance in their implementation of social justice, freedom and better relations between nations, turn out to be the first victims in this violent and misplaced reaction to an Islamophobic tirade.

Q: What are the conversations you are having with your family?

A: I'm explaining to my children about the background of the film-maker and the motives he and his colleagues may have. I'm trying to get them to understand why someone would do this. I'm also trying to explain to them that the current socio-economic and political situations in the various countries where U.S. and other western embassies were attacked have a lot to do with why the reaction in these countries (albeit by small groups of people) was so violent and so out of proportion to the provocation.

The PIJ list of questions can be found here. I'll be posting more responses throughout the week.

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