Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based imam who is banned from USA was praised by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone (pictured), as a leading Islamic scholar who should be treated in the same way as the late Pope, John XXIII who led the Catholic Church between 1958 and 1963.

Mr Livingstone caused a major row last year when he invited the Islamic cleric to London as his guest of honour. The invitation sparked protests from gay rights campaigners and Jewish leaders.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi is known to have supported suicide bombings in Israel, the oppression of women’s rights and has argued in the past that gay men should be put to death.

The Mayor, responding to questions posed by the Home Affairs Select Committee, claimed that al-Qaradawi’s views concerning the death penalty for gays is a “a series of questions of a philosophical nature. We are clearly not going to see Dr Qaradawi on a gay rights march – but you wouldn’t see the Pope on a gay rights march and I would meet him.”

Mr Livingstone further claimed, “Of all the Muslim leaders in the world today, Sheikh Qaradawi is the most powerfully progressive force for change and for engaging Islam with western values. I think his is very similar to the position of Pope John XXIII.”