Muslim leaders in Hong Kong vow peaceful rally over anti-Islam film

Community says it is hurt by anti-Islam movie and cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:25pm

Leaders representing the city's Muslim community are confident that a protest today in Central against an American film condemned as being anti-Islamic will not erupt into riots of the kind seen across the Middle East over the past fortnight.

About 5,000 of the city's 250,000 Muslims are expected to gather at Chater Garden from 2pm, with some also taking part in prayers there at 1.45pm.

After a formal programme of speeches and readings from the Koran, several hundred protesters are expected to march to the US consulate in nearby Garden Road to deliver a letter airing their grievances over the YouTube trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims.

The protest is the first public gathering by Hong Kong's Muslim community in reaction to the video, which sparked deadly protests across the Middle East and Pakistan, and demonstrations in other parts of the Muslim world such as Indonesia, as well as Australia.

Twenty-one people were killed in a day of protests on Friday in Pakistan, while US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three embassy staff were killed on September 11 when a mob claiming to be protesting about the film broke into the US consulate in Benghazi.

Kowloon Mosque chief imam Muhammad Arshad said he was certain today's protest would not get out of hand. "It will be a peaceful gathering," he said yesterday, as religious and community leaders representing Muslims in Hong Kong met at the Kowloon Mosque.

"The message that we want to give to the Hong Kong people and the world is that we are hurt by the movie and the cartoons in France."

Last week, a French satirical magazine published cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed by depicting him naked.

"We love the Prophet more than our lives, more than our children, more than our parents, so we cannot tolerate any disrespect or derogatory insults about him," said Saeed Uddin, the chairman of the Incorporated Trustees of Islamic Community Fund in the city.

After the mass prayer this afternoon, several speeches will be made in Chinese, English and Urdu by Muslim representatives including Arshad, Uddin and Muhammad Tayaib Qasmi, chief imam of the Sham Shui Po mosque and chairman of the Islamic Education Centres Hong Kong. The police confirmed that they had approved the march from Chater Garden to the US consulate.

Qamar Minhas, president of the International Islamic Society in Hong Kong, said Muslims have been living peacefully in the city for decades and would not jeopardise that reputation.

Arshad called on the United Nations to enforce a human rights charter for religious icons such as the Prophet Mohammed to deter people from making inflammatory material.

The video, made in the United States, apparently by a radical Coptic Christian exiled from Egypt, was published online in June with little reaction, but two days before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the US, a trailer for the film dubbed in Arabic was posted on YouTube.