Birmingham's top Muslim leader urged his followers to "vent their feelings" against anti-Islamic protesters during a weekend rally that ended in violence and dozens of arrests, The Times can reveal.

Muslims were encouraged by the Birmingham Central Mosque to counter-demonstrate during Saturday's protest in the city, which was organised by the right-wing English Defence League (EDL). It is understood that Muslims were encouraged to confront the protest against the advice given by the West Midlands Police to community leaders to stop their followers from attending.

Mohammad Naseem, Birmingham Central Mosque's chairman, considered to be the most senior community leader in the West Midlands region, told The Times yesterday that he encouraged members of his congregation to attend the rally, at which about 80 people were arrested, to express the Islamic community's solidarity.

Dr Naseem's advice came less than a month after Muslims of predominantly Asian heritage clashed with the EDL in Birmingham at another antiIslamic rally that led to 35 arrests.

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