Three faiths cry out for gay tolerance

British Muslim religious leaders have joined Christian and Jewish leaders for the first time in issuing a plea for tolerance for gay people.

In a letter supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the group, which includes two bishops, has criticised incitement to religious hatred and aggressive proselytisation as practised by some fundamentalist evangelical Christians.

Dr Williams has been targeted by hardliners in the Church of England for his suggestion that same-sex relationships need not always be regarded as sinful.

The joint letter, issued yesterday to coincide with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, calls on believers of all religions to unite in opposition to extremism.

It states: "We affirm our resolute support for Dr Williams's endeavours and we rededicate our efforts to fighting fundamentalism, aggressive proselytism and homophobia, and to defending the values of tolerance, inclusiveness and respect for differences which we all cherish."

The letter is thought to be the first time that Islamic leaders have spoken out against homophobia and there were concerns by the two who signed the letter, both ministering to university students, that they might be criticised for their stand.

Muhammad Yusuf, the chairman of the Council of University Imams, one of the letter's organisers, said: "All forms of fundamentalism, whether fundamentalist Islamist or fundamentalist evangelical, are abhorrent to the values of Britain's multi-faith and multicultural society.

"It is time for the moderate majority of Christians, Jews and Muslims in this country to lose their wishy-washy liberal image."

Other signatories included six liberal and progressive rabbis; John Gladwin, the Bishop of Guildford; Boutros Salih, Bishop of the Chaldean Orthodox Patriarchate; and Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

The group is concerned about attempts by some evangelical groups to target British Catholics, Jews and Muslims for conversion. The letter calls it a "dark threat" to multifaith harmony.

The move follows turbulence in the Church of England over the recent aborted appointment of its first gay bishop, for the Reading diocese, and the refusal of some evangelicals to accept Dr Williams's appointment last year because of his perceived liberalism on the issue.

At last weekend's evangelical conference, speakers said apparent Biblical attitudes to homosexuality could not be amended or reinterpreted. One vicar compared liberal Anglicans to concentration camp commanders.

One bishop, Nigel McCulloch, has announced he is setting up an advisory group on homosexual matters after of a furore when his cathedral cancelled a Sunday service for gay Christians attending a conference in his city of Manchester next month.