By Jane Perlez LONDON: As part of his series of farewells, Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday addressed a government-organized conference on Islam and declared that the “authentic voices” of the religion should be given a stage over the voices of extremism. Blair, who has said he will take a special interest in interfaith affairs when he leaves office at the end of the month, said that the true meaning of Islam had been hijacked by extremists. “The voices of extremism are no more representative of Islam than the use, in times gone by, of torture – to force conversion to Christianity – represents the true teaching of Christ,” he said. Muslim leaders from Egypt, Indonesia, Bosnia, Western Europe and the United States joined a carefully selected group of British Muslims at Lancaster House in London for a two-day program that was organized by the government in conjunction with Cambridge University.
There has been a mixed response inside and outside Muslim circles in Britain to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s call for educationists and the media to recognise the _true face’ of Islam, and for Muslims themselves to speak out against extremism. Mr Blair, as part of his _farewell tour’, was on the programme alongside senior academic and faith leaders at a conference organised by the University of Cambridge (and held at Lancaster House, London) on the global role of Islam. The gathering opened with a video message from the Prince of Wales, and included a reception hosted by Gordon Brown. Tory leader David Cameron also spoke, having been asked to do so by Mr Blair, and so did the Anglican Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres. Also involved were Shaykh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and Mufti Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, along with Mona Siddiqui, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Glasgow, and Communities minister (and prominent Roman Catholic laywoman) Ruth Kelly.