At an international conference of Muslim scholars in Jakarta on Tuesday, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Malaysian prime minister, urged Muslims to unite.

"For a start, we must resolve to put an end to all the sectarian conflicts that divide us," said Badawi, who is also chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, said in an opening speech that the "Muslim world must be firmly united in the global fight against terrorism," and spoke out against rising Islamophobia in non-Islamic countries.

"The spectre of terrorism still threatens many of our communities. There is still a lengthy list of conflicts within the Muslim community and even between Muslim communities and non-Muslims," said Susilo.

Susilo (L) invoked the glory days
of Islam in the first millennium 

Susilo invoked the glory days of Islam in the first millennium, when Muslims were at the forefront of scientific and cultural advancement, and told participants to put forward moderate views. 

He said Muslims had been facing insults and ignorant behaviour from other groups, but the response should be the will to understand each other.

"We also can do more to fight the wave of Islamophobia that seemingly is on the rise. It is as important to ensure that we tell our non-Muslim fellows what we want them to understand as it is to ensure we listen to what they want us to understand."

Media confusion

Malaysia's Badawi in his conference speech suggested that the media were to blame for some of the misunderstanding of Islam.

Badawi urged a ceasefire in Iraq
and departure of foreign troops

"The international media might have fallen prey to the plottings of the international terrorists who orchestrate their cruelty in order to capture the attention of the widest possible audience."

"Al-Qaeda which preaches hate and intolerance has been very incorrectly presumed as speaking on behalf of Muslims," Badawi said, urging the media to promote "voices of conciliation and rapprochement".

He also said: "We must cease to confuse military occupation with the fight against terrorism," calling for a ceasefire in Iraq and Afghanistan and the departure of foreign troops.

Badawi said the military deployment there had been falsely justified under the umbrella of the fight against terrorism.

Hopes

The conference was attended by scholars and politicians from 53 countries, many of them Muslim and including the United States, Australia, Canada, Turkey, Germany, France and Japan.

Participants at the conference
represent 53 countries

The conference hopes to find new ways to reconcile differences between Islamic groups and Muslim and non-Muslim nations, said organiser Hasyim Muzadi, leader of Indonesia's biggest Muslim organisation with an estimated 40 million members.

Delegates also discussed the roots of terrorism and challenges facing Muslim followers in Western societies.

About 50% of the population of Islamic countries live on less than $2 a day.

More than 4.3 million children under five, living in 56 Muslim countries, die each year from preventable disease and malnutrition, the UN Children's Fund, known as Unicef, has said.

About 300 delegates joined prayers at the start of three days of talks.