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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 12:06 GMT
Church leaders call for peace
Muslim Association of Britain posters at February's anti-war demonstration
Muslim protests: Thousands demonstrated in February
Christian and Muslim leaders have appealed for unity between faiths amid concern over rising tensions now the war against Iraq has begun.

A joint statement calling for an end to military action was issued on behalf of bodies representing Christian churches and the UK's largest Muslim organisation.

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and The Muslim Council of Britain urged religious communities to come together to pray for peace.

Their statement came after the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain described the start of the war as a "black day in our history".

A military victory against Iraq and subsequent celebrations will be short-lived
Iqbal Sacranie, MCB

Iqbal Sacranie said the religion's 1.6 million followers in the UK were deeply disappointed their government had committed its forces to battle in dubious circumstances.

British Muslims received an unprecedented invitation to pray in an Anglican cathedral as Church leaders sought to minimise tension.

The joint statement said: "We stand together to see military action ended as quickly as possible."

It said in a time of "crisis and deep disappointment", none should see the conflict as one between faiths or the "Christian West versus the Muslim East".

None should see the conflict as one between faiths or the Christian West versus the Muslim East
Joint statement
"We must exercise the utmost caution to prevent opportunist elements from exploiting this state of affairs," it said.

Mounting tensions

Earlier Mr Sacranie warned the war would damage the UK's political, economic and cultural ties with the Muslim world "for a long time to come".

"This is a black day in our country's history," he said.

The United States Government had been determined to go to war regardless of the United Nations or Iraq's co-operation over disarmament, he argued.

"Our government should not have been a party to this conflict which has only undermined the United Nations, our own democracy and the rule of law."

He continued: "A military victory against Iraq and subsequent celebrations will be short-lived as the peoples of the region begin to resist what will be seen as the start of a new colonial enterprise that will not be limited to Iraq".

Community relations fears

Anglican leaders in three British cities with large Muslim populations - Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham - have moved to head off a rise in community tensions by inviting Muslims into churches for prayers.

The prayers are being led by senior Church of England bishops who have continued to oppose military action.

British Muslims have been publicly protesting in unprecedented numbers against the war, many of whom see it as being fought on double standards because of the perceived failure of the US to deal even-handedly with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), one of the organisers of the national Stop the War alliance, has urged Muslims to protest peacefully at 1800GMT.

Many imams are expected to lead Friday prayers with calls for peace while the MAB has called on supporters to march again in London this Saturday.

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