A popular Egyptian preacher Amer Khaled called for greater understanding between different faiths at the start of the conference, saying: "We feel there are forces of extremism which are aiming to light fires and transform Denmark from a peaceful country to a country which will suffer from conflicts."

He said moderate forces on both sides must come together to build bridges and stop the "clash and conflict" that erupted after the cartoons were published in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and reprinted by other Western media.

"We have come to say that Islam is a giving religion, and Denmark can benefit from this religion," he said at the conference of Muslim and Christian religious leaders and scholars in Copenhagen on Friday.

He suggested a boycott against Danish goods in Arab countries would stop if Danish people and its government showed a gesture of goodwill toward the Muslim world.

Popular voice

"We feel there are forces of extremism which are aiming to light fires and transform Denmark from a peaceful country to a country which will suffer from conflicts"

Amer Khaled,
Egyptian preacher
 

Khaled, 38, has become wildly popular among young Muslims and women for his youthful style and his sermons applying Islam to day-to-day modern life. He has been criticised for heading to Denmark by some Muslim leaders who said there should be no dialogue before the Nordic country's government apologises for the cartoons.

But other Muslim panelists at the conference in Copenhagen struck a harsher note, saying Western countries had underestimated how insulted Muslims were by the 12 cartoons of the Prophet.

"We request an official apology from your government to the Muslim nation and to the Muslims in Denmark," said Tariq al-Suweidan, an Islamic scholar from Kuwait. He also demanded that the European Union enact a law "that forbids the insult to religious figures".

Curbs sought

Another Islamic scholar Habib al-Jaffry from Yemen, noting that many European countries don't allow anti-semitic speeches, said: "Freedom of speech shouldn't be absolute. We must come to an understanding of rules governing freedom of expression."

The Danish government has refused to apologise, saying it cannot be held responsible for the actions of an independent newspaper.

The drawings were seen as an insult to Islam's Prophet, depicting him as violent and primitive. Sunni Muslim tradition bans any image of the prophet, since depicting him risks insulting him or encouraging idolatry.