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Religious leaders united in quest for peace

 Christian and Muslim leaders gathered in Rome yesterday, to seek ways of preventing terrorist attacks through better mutual understanding. The meeting was set up by the Sant'Egidio community, which specialises in mediation work. It brought Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox priests together with prominent Muslims from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. Among those taking part were the Grand Mufti of Egypt and the President of the World Muslim Council from Saudi Arabia. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Islamic theologian and director of the Sunna Research Centre in Qatar, said that in the wake of the attacks, the world had to avoid what he called "a return to the old crusades". "We will not accept that a great religion, practised in a great nation, is branded as the religion of violence and terrorism because of the actions of a few people," he said. Mr Al-Qaradawi said that those who carried out the attacks in New York and Washington were the products of a "deformation" of Islam. Speaking at the meeting, the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said it was important not to identify members of other religions as evil. He said: "We must avoid going after scapegoats. Terrorists must be identified and disarmed, but that cannot be done if an entire culture, or religion or nation is held responsible... We must be on guard against all simplifications and never identify one religion as the source of evil and violence," he said. Yesterday, Pope John Paul II spoke on the same theme at his weekly audience. He said: "Christians and Muslims, together with the believers of all religions, are called to firmly repudiate violence and build a world that loves life and grows in justice and solidarity." Tomorrow (Friday) the Archbishop of Canterbury will be leading the country in prayers for peace and reconciliation. Dr George Carey has invited representatives from all Christian denominations to pray with him at Lambeth Palace. A spokesman said it was expected that many hundreds of smaller, private events would be taking place around the United Kingdom. He said the Archbishop would in particular call for prayers for greater understanding between Christian and Moslem communities.