Victoria’s Muslim leaders will refuse to support any rallies against an “offensive” anti-Islamic film, as police prepare for a protest in Melbourne on Sunday.
Muslim leaders on Tuesday said there had been text messages circulating from unknown people, calling for a rally to be held at Melbourne’s State Library on Sunday.
Police are monitoring social media websites and other communications indicating that people intend to gather and protest against “Islamaphobia” in the CBD.
After initially calling for any rallies to be held peacefully, the Board of Imams Victoria has decided it would not sanction or support any rallies against the film.
The board says it is being “extra vigilant in following the example of Sydney’s Muslim leaders in recommending that the community find alternative, more productive ways to respond to the insulting film”.
Board of Imams spokesman Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem said religious leaders were confident that the violence seen at a Sydney rally on Saturday would not occur in Melbourne.
“There has never been any fear that a repeat of the violent scenes which took place in Sydney could be repeated in Melbourne due to the level of dialogue and community engagement that exists in Victoria,” he said in a statement.
The leaders are urging the Muslim community instead to hold mosque open days, public lectures and community dinners and to write letters to organisations and politicians to express their offence at the film, made by an Egyptian Coptic Christian in Los Angeles.
Islamic Council of Victoria spokeswoman Sharene Hassan said withdrawing support for rallies was aimed at calming fears of violence in the broader community.
She said there had been one Facebook message from a teenage girl suggesting a rally be held in Melbourne to show that Muslim people could protest peacefully.
“That was the purpose of it … but even so, the Board of Imams has taken the cautious step to say they will not sanction or support any future rallies regarding the offensive film,” Ms Hassan told AAP.
At a joint press conference in Melbourne earlier on Tuesday, both Islamic and Coptic church leaders denounced the film.
“I want to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters that we denounce this video that came out, that was denigrating to Islam and to Prophet Mohammed,” Melbourne Coptic Orthodox Church Bishop Suriel said.
“This is something as a Coptic Orthodox Church that we totally reject and we don’t accept. We do not accept any vilification against any religion and in this case, of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Muslim leaders at the press conference blamed a small group of extremists for “hijacking” the Sydney rally.
Sheikh Saleem told reporters he was confident the Islamic leadership could quell any further violence.
“Definitely, because the people involved is a very small number of people. The large number of people will listen,” he said.
“It is time for us to stand up and say enough is enough and say enough violent action.”