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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 February 2006, 10:28 GMT
Thousands join pro-Islam protest
Pro-Islam rally in Trafalgar Square
There were no reports of arrests
About 5,000 UK mainstream Muslims joined a protest in London's Trafalgar Square against controversial cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

There had been fears the rally may have been disrupted by extremists, but it proved to be a trouble-free afternoon.

Protesters waved banners calling for unity against Islamophobia.

The event aimed to explain the views of moderate Muslims towards cartoons published in a Danish newspaper which led to worldwide protests.

Organisers also said it wanted to dissociate the mainstream Muslim community from a "minority of extremists".

This is the heart of our faith - we believe it is wrong to talk badly about the prophet
Hanifa Brka

Coach-loads of demonstrators arrived at the rally called United Against Incitement and Islamophobia, which got off to a peaceful start at about 1340 GMT on Saturday.

Police said the total turnout was about 5,000, a figure endorsed by a spokesman from the Muslim Council of Britain.

Among them was Hanifa Brka, a 29-year-old student from Birmingham, who said: "This is the heart of our faith - we believe it is wrong to talk badly about the prophet.

"I would like to send a message to all honest Christians - we are all brothers and sisters."

A series of speakers gathered to support the Muslim community, including MP Jeremy Corbyn.

In his speech, which was met with cheers from the crowd, he said: "The only way our community can survive is by showing mutual respect to each other.

Protester at pro-Islam rally in Trafalgar Square

"We demand that people show respect for each other's community, each other's faith and each other's religion."

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather described the cartoons as "a juvenile posturing exercise".

"Nothing was done to further the cause of liberal values or the freedom of speech - the publication of the cartoons was just plain racist," she added.

While Bruce Kent, friend of British hostage Norman Kember and representative of Christian group Pax Christi, said religious groups should be working together for "a world of justice and peace".

Respect MP George Galloway received a rather frostier reception however, as he took to the stage to boos and cries of "Big Brother, Big Brother".

The event was organised by the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain, with the backing of a number of Christian groups, peace organisations and the Mayor of London.

Police operation

Mayor Ken Livingstone had singled out football thugs and extremists and warned them to stay away, saying police would halt any attempt to disrupt the demonstration.

A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard said there had been no reported arrests.

Police had worked with organisers all week to plan the operation, involving 500 officers - some of whom were on standby.

Earlier, organiser Anas Altikriti, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said he was confident the demonstration would not be taken over by extremists, adding that only the official slogan - United against incitement and united against Islamophobia - would appear on their T-shirts and placards.

We have the right to be angry... and we have to respect the rights of others
Doctor Azam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought

Protests held in London last week sparked outrage when demonstrators carried placards with strong messages - the Metropolitan Police said some protesters could be charged with "incitement to murder".

Doctor Azam Tamimi, who is the director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, said before the rally he believed it would be peaceful.

"The main purpose of the rally today is to object to what has been going on in a civilised manner.

"We have the right to be angry, but we have to do it within the remits of the law, and we have to respect the rights of others," he said.

See Muslims demonstrating in Trafalgar Square

In pictures: Pro-Islam protests
11 Feb 06 |  In Pictures

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