Doha: Participants in a forum on religious dialogue said here yesterday that Islamic countries should grant equal rights to worshippers of other faiths.

Muslims, Jews and Christians, who participated in The Doha's Fourth Conference for Religious Dialogue, provided a grim picture about freedom of religion in the Muslim world and said that unless reciprocity of religious rights is accomplished between Western and Muslim countries, frictions between religions will be difficult to overcome.

"We want citizens in the Muslim world to be free to build a church, a mosque or a temple without any kind of restrictions. Religion and state should be separate in the Muslim world as in the West," Sayyed Diya Al Musawi, imam and member of the Supreme Islamic Council of Bahrain, told Gulf News.

"I have proposed the creation of a council of religions, including Muslims, Jews and Christians to address the problem of religious freedoms in our region and across the world."

According to Al Musawi there is a radicalisation of Islam is some countries due to fanatic preachers that is affecting religious freedoms of others.

Syrian expert of Islamic Studies and history, Adnan Zarzour, said reciprocity of religious freedom is a major issue of concern for other faiths in the region. He said what hinders dialogue among faiths is a literal or incorrect interpretation of the Holy Scriptures by some preachers. A representative of US-based Muslims, Sa'ad Khan, said protection of civil liberties and religious freedom is a major issue to be addressed also in the US and by all religious leaders in a collective effort. Reverend Munir Anees of the Episcopal Diocese of Egypt said there is a urgent need for reciprocity between Western and Islamic countries with regard to freedom of religion. "There are 1,500 mosques in the UK, but not a church in some countries of this region," he told Gulf News.

Jacob Bender, an American Jew and project director of Reason and Revelation, said reciprocity is an important issue that should be addressed everywhere.

INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE
13 Jewish rabbis attend Doha conference

The fourth edition of an inter-faith dialogue opened in Qatar on Tuesday in the presence of 13 Jewish rabbis and scores of Christian and Muslim clerics.

None of the rabbis was listed as coming from Israel. Some came from the United States to attend the annual conference for the second time.

Some 140 participants debated themes revolving around religion, including "freedom of expression and religious sanctities."

The latter theme sparked a lively debate in light of the controversy sparked by the publication of cartoons of Islam's Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in European papers, which infuriated Muslims around the world.

Qatar, a close US ally, has played host to an Israeli trade mission since 1996 and visits by Israeli officials are relatively frequent.