The world's most powerful religious leaders

The Pope: The Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ has “supreme and universal power over the whole Church” which comprises over 1.1 billion people. He is “successor of blessed Peter” and endowed with infallibility. The Pope is pronounced to have ordinary, immediate and Episcopal jurisdiction over all the faithful.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Dr Rowan Williams is leader of 77 million Anglicans worldwide but he has no power to make any of his 38 bishops bend to his will. The Archbishop of Canterbury is considered the highest person in the realm, second only to the Sovereign and other members of the Royal family. He is followed by the Lord Chancellor, and then the Archbishop of York.

Dalai Lama: The Dalai Lama – translated as the Ocean of wisdom - is Head of the Tibetan state but is in self-imposed exile. The Dalai has the power to reincarnate himself.

In 1963 the current incarnation of the Dalai Lama drew up a democratic constitution promulgated a democratic constitution, based on Buddhist principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a model for a future free Tibet. He is also holder of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Queen: As head Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the monarch maintains the established church. The defender of the faith also appoints the Archbishops and bishops on the advice of the Prime Minister. Between 13-17 million members of the Church of England. Nearly 50 million subjects as monarch of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The queen is alone in having the power to oust the Archbishop of Canterbury from office.

Sunni Islam does not have leaders as the term is recognised in Christian circles. Since 1926, when Ataturk declared the end of the Caliphate, there has been no Caliph – official leader. When the Caliphate was in operation it was not equivalent to a Pope for Catholics or Dalai Lama for Buddhists.

The next entry should be considered as leading figure in Sunni Islam.

Muhammad Sayid Tantawy the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the most influential Sunni Muslim Institutions. He is a leading authority for Sunni Muslims.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah A leading figure of Shi'a Islam. Born in Iraq Fadlallah now resides in Lebanon where he gives a weekly sermon to members of Hezbollah - The Party of God. He courted controversy by showing support for the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. However he has spoken out against the events of 9/11 and other suicide bombings.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as the leading authority in Shi'a Islam in Iraq the Ayatollah has huge power over Iraq's Shi'a majority and holds enormous sway over Shi'a Muslims worldwide.

Yona Metzger: Chief Rabbi of Israel (Ashkenazi) was appointed to office in 2003 and has put forward the idea for a 'religious United Nations'.

Shlomo Amar Chief Rabbi of Israel (Sephardi) appointed to office in 2003.

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi is a Hindu spiritual leader. She was born in 1953 in India and as a youngster often went into trances to communicate with the divine. She became a guru and is known as the 'hugging saint', her cuddle is known as the 'darshan' and an estimated 26 million people have huggeed her. She is respected as a living god and travels around the world visiting people who wait to be hugged by her.

Li Hongzhi founder of the Falung Gong, a mind and body enhancement technique which draws on Buddhism and Taoism and claims 100 million followers.

Ariffin Muhamed leader of the Sky Kingdom based in Malaysia, who claims to be the saviour of the world and says he allows his followers to be members of any faith. His followers believe him to be the incarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and Shiva and that he will return as the Imam Mahdi.

George O. Wood Superintendent of the Assemblies of God Church America

The US Assemblies of God Church as over 2.8 million members and is the largest Pentecostal denomination in America. Claims to powers of prophecy and gifts of healing are marks of this denomination.

Joginder Singh Vedanti: The Jathedar, high priest, of the Golden Temple in Amritsar India. Vendati is the most powerful leader of the Sikh community in India if not the world. He was at the Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar in 1984 when the Sikhs and the Indian Army found themselves in violent confrontation. He has spoken out in favour of equality for women in the Sikh faith.

Adolfo Nicolas leader of the Society of Jesus was elected as The Black Pope in January this year. The Jesuits are the largest male religious order in the Roman Catholic Church with over 19,000 members.