Muslims angered by cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad should follow his example of enduring insults without retaliating, Egypt's highest Islamic legal official said.
The main agency representing Muslims in France also appealed for calm on Friday as a new print run of cartoons featuring a naked Prophet Mohammad hit newsstands, raising fears of protests on prayers day around the Islamic world.
The drawings in satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo risk stoking a furore over a film mocking the Prophet, which provoked the storming of U.S. and other Western embassies, the killing of the U.S. envoy to Libya and a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in recent weeks.
French embassies, schools and cultural centres were shut in some 20 Muslim countries, on orders issued from Paris after the cartoons were first published. In the French capital, police were on alert after protests planned by some Muslim groups were banned.
Condemning the publication of the cartoons in France as an act verging on incitement, Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said on Thursday it showed how polarised the West and the Muslim world had become.
Gomaa said Mohammad and his companions had endured "the worst insults from the non-believers of his time. Not only was his message routinely rejected, but he was often chased out of town, cursed and physically assaulted on numerous occasions.”
"But his example was always to endure all personal insults and attacks without retaliation of any sort. There is no doubt that, since the Prophet is our greatest example in this life, this should also be the reaction of all Muslims."
His statement echoed one by Al Azhar, Egypt's prestigious seat of Sunni learning, which condemned the caricatures showing the Prophet naked but said any protest should be peaceful.
Gomaa said insults to Islam and the response, including the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Libya and attacks on other Western embassies in the region, could not be dissociated from other points of conflict between the West and the Muslim world.
He cited the treatment of Muslims at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo, the U.S.-led war in Iraq, drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, and the demonisation of Muslims by far-right European parties as "underlying factors" for the tension.
"To then insist on igniting these simmering tensions by publishing hurtful and insulting material in a foolhardy attempt at bravado - asserting the superiority of Western freedoms over alleged Muslim closed-mindedness - verges on incitement," he said in his statement published on the Reuters blog FaithWorld.
An official at the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, whose population of 83 million people is 10 percent Christian, also condemned the cartoons as insults to Islam.
Last week, some Egyptian protesters scaled the U.S. Embassy walls and tore down the flag. They clashed with police for four days, although most of the thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets did so peacefully.
French Muslim leader urges calm
Meanwhile, Mohammed Moussaoui, the leader of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), described both the film and the cartoons as "acts of aggression" but appealed to French Muslims not to take to the streets for wildcat protests.
"I repeat the CFCM's call not to protest - any protest could be hijacked and counterproductive," Moussaoui told French radio station RFI.
Charlie Hebdo, an anti-establishment weekly whose Paris offices are under police protection, defied critics to rush out another run of the publication that caused outrage and sold out in minutes last Wednesday. It says the cartoons are designed simply to poke fun at the uproar over the film.
About 100 Iranians protested outside the French embassy in Tehran on Thursday. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, condemned the cartoons as "a systematic plot" against Islam.
In the Pakistani capital, about 1,000 stone-throwing protesters clashed with police as they tried to force their way to the U.S. embassy on Thursday and the government shut down mobile phone services in more than a dozen cities as part of security arrangements ahead of protests expected on Friday.
The U.S. embassy in Pakistan has been running television advertisements, one featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, emphasising that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the film.
The U.S. and French embassies were closed on Friday in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population, and diplomatic missions in the Afghan capital, Kabul, were on lock-down.
In Kuala Lumpur, thousands of Malaysians held peaceful demonstrations near the US embassy and at a nearby mosque to express their anger over the video. The embassy closed its offices in the morning ahead of the rally.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned in a statement the video, Innocence of Muslims, and described it as "deeply offensive" to Islam, but he urged fellow Muslims to remain calm.
In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, the Islamist-led government decreed a ban on protests planned on Friday against the cartoons. Four people died and almost 30 were wounded last week when protesters incensed by the movie about the Prophet Mohammad stormed the U.S. embassy.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now