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Q&A: Coptic Christians on film sparking protests

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The Associated Press | September 13, 2012 04:02 PM EST | AP

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LOS ANGELES — The California man who made "Innocence of Muslims," a film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, is a Coptic Christian. The film has sparked protests in the Middle East and is implicated in an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and other Americans. Here's a look at the religion and reaction to the film:


Coptic Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the largest Christian church in Egypt. The church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when it took a different position over Christological theology from that of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Their history dates back 19 centuries and the language used in their liturgy can be traced to the speech of Egypt's pharaohs.

Once a majority in Egypt, Coptic Christians now make up about 10 percent of the country's 85 million people. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

Many Egyptian Christians fled to the U.S. to escape what they say is religious discrimination in the majority Muslim nation.

Since the ouster of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, a series of anti-Christian attacks has heightened tensions, with Christians blame the ruling military council that took power.

The U.S. expatriate community numbers about 300,000 with the largest concentrations in New York and northern New Jersey, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Cleveland.


His Grace Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii, said Thursday he doesn't support the views portrayed in the movie and he also condemned the murders of the U.S. ambassador and three others.

Serapion said in a statement that the diocese "strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora in the latest production of an inflammatory movie about the prophet of Islam. The producers of this movie should be responsible for their actions. The name of our blessed parishioners should not be associated with the efforts of individuals who have ulterior motives."

Serapion added: "Holistically blaming the Copts for the production of this movie is equivalent to holistically blaming Muslims for the actions of a few fanatics. Even though Christians often face persecution, injustice and calls for open attacks over the airwaves, we reject violence in all its forms."

The Rev. Joseph Boules, a priest at St. Mary and St. Verena Church in Anaheim, Calif., said no one in the Coptic Orthodox community knows the filmmaker and the church had nothing to do with the movie.

The filmmaker could be an Egyptian Catholic or Egyptian evangelical, he said, noting that the word "Coptic" is often used in to denote Egyptian Christians from any Christian denomination.

Parishioners are worried about their security and at least one church in the nearby city of Orange on Wednesday received a visit from police officers, who advised them to keep their church locked in case of retaliation, Boules said.