UK Muslims hold rally against extremism

Associated Press
Representatives from various religions are seated on the stage during an Islamic peace conferencen in London, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011.   The conference attended by thousands of British and European Muslims is aimed at tackling extremists and promoting peace, tolerance and community cohesion in wake of recent riots and 9/11 anniversary. (AP Photo/Akira Suemori)
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LONDON (AP) — Thousands of Muslims held a rally in London on Saturday to fight extremism and promote a moderate, inclusive version of Islam.

The event in Wembley arena was led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a respected Pakistan-born Islamic scholar, who gained recognition outside the Muslim world after he published a detailed fatwa — or religious ruling — against terrorism and suicide bombings last year.

"I want to address those who are lost, who have a total misconception of jihad — I want to send them a message — come back to normal life. Whatever you're doing is totally against Islam," he told the audience, which included families with young children and students.

Some Islamic scholars, including Tahir-ul-Qadri, have warned that a power vacuum in North Africa and the Middle East could lead to militant and extremist groups gaining ground in upcoming elections caused by the so-called Arab Spring.

"If these elements come into power, it will be a big disaster," Tahir-ul-Qadri told The Associated Press.

He said his message is primarily aimed at people who are on the edge of being radicalized — not those who had already been "brainwashed."

Tahir-ul-Qadri's organization, Minhaj-ul-Quran International, said the event was attended by some 12,000 people and was broadcast to several countries.

Members of the audience told the AP there is no easy way to persuade terrorist groups such as al-Qaida to give up violence.

"People are looking for a cause, and the path of violence is the easiest one to take," said Memoona Naushahi, a 20-year-old university student from Bradford in northern England. The message of the conference "may reach only people who want to hear it," she added.

But Naushahi and others participants said that promoting a uniting voice such as Tahir-ul-Qadri's is a step in the right direction and can spread the right message.

Britain has been involved in some large international terror plots. On July 7, 2005, four suicide bombers killed 52 people in synchronized attacks on London's subway system.

The men behind the 2006 trans-Atlantic liquid bomb plot began their plan in Britain. A Nigerian man who tried to smuggle explosives onto a plane in his underwear studied in London.

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Paisley Dodds contributed to this report from London.

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