Leaders of Orange Couny's Coptic Christian and Muslim communities met yesterday evening at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove to discuss the amateur (emphasis on the "amateur") video that is blamed for sparking violent protests across the Middle East, and how to move forward from it in a constructive way. This was only the third time that the Southland's Coptic and Muslim leadership formally met, according to Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. But he wants to move beyond meeting with the group in times of crisis.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, president of the Shura Council and head of the Islamic Society, opened the meeting by expressing gratitude towards the statement the Coptic community issued last Thursday condemning the film which insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles has spearheaded efforts to distance his community from the film since its release, and foster better relations with the Southland's Muslim community.
"We want to transform this crisis into an opportunity," said the Bishop, who referred to the video as "low" and "cheap." Serapion told the Associated Press that he wasn't aware of alleged filmmaker Nakoula Bassely Nakoula's activities, and a priest told him that Nakoula had attended services at a Bellflower church once. "We have to isolate wrongdoers...what happened with this film doesn't represent the Coptic community."
Both groups have their differences, but that doesn't mean they should lose respect for one another, the Bishop reiterated throughout the course of the meeting.
Several of the Muslim community members reciprocated the messages of working together in the spirit of unity, respect, and love for the sake of God.
One of them, Said Seddouk, Imam of the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, never formally sat down with a group of Copts before.
"This is the first time I meet Copts," he said, and he appreciated the meeting. "We have to work hard to be united, and we still respect and love each other for the sake of God."
Both groups segued into finding ways to transform that spirit into action.
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Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles chapter, suggested sending an American delegation of Copts and Muslims to Egypt to show how both communities work together.
Other suggestions borne out the meeting included increasing education about both groups among each other, working together through community service projects, and pairing up imams and priests to build bridges, especially between the younger members within both religious groups.
"We lived together, Muslims and Christians, as brothers for so long, so we want to extend this relationship to our youth," said Friar Felimon Mikhail of Priest of Archangel Michael in Santa Ana.