Ken Livingstone defended his decision to share a platform with a homophobic Islamic preacher as he and his challenger, Boris Johnson, were neck and neck in the race for the capital yesterday.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi has described homosexuality as an "unnatural and evil practice" and said the Koran permitted wife-beating in certain circumstances.

The Qatar-based Egyptian cleric has also advocated the use of Palestinian children as suicide bombers and once claimed that Asian tsunami victims were punished by Allah because their countries were centres of perversion.

But speaking on BBC1's Politics Show yesterday, the London Mayor insisted he was right to welcome the cleric to City Hall as an "honoured guest" in July 2004. He said that while he did not agree with some of his views, al-Qaradawi did not support terrorism against the West. "He is a man who is prepared to say al-Qa'eda is wrong and to be very strong in that condemnation," he said.

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