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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Cleric condemns suicide attacks
Hamas militants
Some groups such as Hamas use suicide bombings as a tactic
One of the world's most influential Islamic leaders has condemned all attacks by suicide bombers at an international conference for Islamic scholars.

Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of the Al-Azhar mosque of Cairo - which is seen as the highest authority in Sunni Islam - said groups which carried out suicide bombings were the enemies of Islam.

Speaking at the conference in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, Sheikh Tantawi said extremist Islamic groups had appropriated Islam and its notion of jihad, or holy struggle, for their own ends.

He called on Muslim nations to open themselves to dialogue with the West saying Islamic nations should "wholeheartedly open our arms to the people who want peace with us".

The difference between jihad in Islam and extremism is like the earth and the sky
Sheikh Tantawi

"I do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations. People of different beliefs should co-operate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity," he added.

Sheikh Tantawi was addressing a gathering of nearly 800 scholars and representatives from various non-governmental organisations.

"Extremism is the enemy of Islam. Whereas, jihad is allowed in Islam to defend one's land, to help the oppressed. The difference between jihad in Islam and extremism is like the earth and the sky," Sheikh Tantawi said.

Book ban

Sheikh Tantawi said Muslim suicide attacks, including those against Israelis, were wrong and could not be justified.

His comments echoed those by Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed who said, at the opening of the conference on Thursday, that salvation could not be achieved through the killing of innocent people.

Worried that Islam's image is being damaged by terrorists who have hijacked the religion for their own ends, delegates also considered banning books which fuel extremism.

"We have to block them from channels that are meant to spread Islam," Sheik Husam Qaraqirah, head of an Islamic charity association in Lebanon, said.

"Their books must be banned and lifted off the shelves of mosques, schools, universities and libraries," he added.

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