It was time for Muslims to gather at a north Minneapolis mosque, and Makram El-Amin had something more than weekly Friday prayers on his mind.

Deadly protests at U.S. embassies were spreading from Libya and Egypt to the Sudan and elsewhere. El-Amin and Muslim leaders across the Twin Cities felt called to condemn the violence.

"There is great angst and great anger in the Muslim world today from a film on the Internet that speaks ill of Mohammed," El-Amin, the imam, told worshippers at Masjid An-Nur. "We don't accept it and we do take offense to it. We love Mohammed. We love him! But sometimes if your love for him is not tempered -- is not put into perspective -- that love can become distorted.

"Whether we agree or disagree with something, we are to do it with honor. ... The question is: What would Mohammed do?"

As protests expanded worldwide over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States, metro-area Muslims sought to define the line between Islamic principles that calls for reverence for all prophets and free speech in a country where the TV show "South Park" could feature Jesus as a comic character and the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ" played despite protests from offended Christians and the Roman Catholic Church.

Hamdy El-Sawaf has seen portions of the provocative, cheaply made Mohammed video and finds it vile. "We're totally against mocking any of the prophets or messengers," said El-Sawaf, president of the board of the Islamic Community Center of Minnesota.

Even so, he sees no excuse for the murder and violence the video has unleashed.

"These are emotional reactions to what is going on [in the Muslim world]. It is not part of the teaching of Islam," he said. "We're totally against such a thing."

Lori Saroya, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said she believes American Muslims have not violently protested the film because they're more accustomed to free speech and respect it.

"People can engage in hate speech and it's still protected speech," she said. "We respect that principle even though we're not agreeing with the film or what they're saying. ... Because [other Americans] are allowed to engage in [hate speech], we also get that right to promote positive speech."

But Muslims also respect limits, said Hyder Aziz, the acting executive director at Al Farooq Youth and Family Center in Bloomington. They are taught from early on that there is a high level of respect for prophets and you don't go beyond that when speaking about issues.

"You will not find Muslims doing this to anybody else's religion -- defaming prophets of any religion," he said. "In Islam, there is no room for this."

Still, he condemned the violence.

"Most Muslims have enough intelligence and should use their intelligence and words to counter this defamation of our prophets rather than throwing rocks or killing innocent people who have nothing to do with this action," he said. "It's pretty sad. I wish it was otherwise."

El-Sawaf, who's also taught Islamic studies at the Islamic University in Minnesota, said Islam teaches that "false lies" should not be spread about Mohammed and other prophets in the Muslim faith.

"These are the chosen people by a mighty God to lead and to teach and to bring people to righteousness and follow God's teaching," he said.

'Better we just let it go'

As word spread Friday of protests, some violent, in more countries, leaders of more than a dozen Minnesota Muslim groups signed a statement condemning the violence.

"American Muslims, both frustrated by the misrepresentation of their faith by the attackers, and hurt as Americans for being attacked, have loudly condemned the attacks in unison," read a statement from Islamic Resource Group, a local Muslim speakers bureau.

Back at Masjid An-Nur, El-Amin's words resonated with Nofisat Mohammed, who came to the mosque to pray.

She said she had seen the film and was offended by it. But even before she heard the imam's words, she had decided to simply ignore the film. "You're not supposed to react to things like that," she said. "It's better we just let it go." • 612-673-4488 • 612-673-4352