Top rabbis and imams meet as partners for peace

Muslim and Jewish leaders from across the world were set to gather in Brussels last night in an effort to quell rising tensions between Muslims and Jews in Europe.

High on the agenda was a call from a senior Muslim figure in Britain for a policy of "naming and shaming" of extremists.

The "imams and rabbis for peace" conference, which brings together 150 leaders of the two faiths, was set up by the Paris-based peace foundation Hommes de Parole (Men of Their Word).

The chief rabbis of Austria, Brussels, Bulgaria and Denmark were among Jewish religious leaders to take part, while a strong contingent from Israel was to include the chief rabbi of Haifa and prominent members of the High Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem.

Abduljalil Sajid, a senior figure in the Muslim Council of Britain who called for the naming and shaming policy, said he hoped the conference would demonstrate that "99.9 per cent of Muslims, along with 99.9 per cent of Jews" favoured peaceful co-existence.

Dr Sajid, the imam of Brighton, was to chair a session in which imams and rabbis would study values common to both religions.

He said: "We should stand shoulder to shoulder to name and shame the tiny minority of agitators and extremists within our own communities and stress our respect for the sanctity of life."

Dr Sajid said he had encountered the militant north London cleric Abu Hamza in the late 1980s, before Hamza went to fight with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and became concerned about his views.

"Hamza was staying at our mosque while studying in Brighton," he said. "When you see someone day in, day out, you quickly see what they are like. I alerted the authorities but no one would listen because he had not actually done anything."

Dr Sajid said the views of mainstream religious leaders were not heard. "That leaves a tiny minority of troublemakers to dominate headlines and cause scaremongering coverage that frightens people."

He said he was prepared to meet "obnoxious people" and confront their views.

"We have to start somewhere," he said.

Organisers say they are seeking to "create dialogue and an enduring partnership between Islam and Judaism", promoting personal friendships and joint initiatives.

Joseph Sitruk, the chief rabbi of France, said: "The assembly is an important moment because it carries hope and freedom for a disillusioned world."