The liberal Islamic theologian, Sheikh Dr Muhammad Yusuf, has been pressured to pull out of a lecture he was due to give tonight in London to raise funds for the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, following protests and warnings by Muslim leaders.

Dr Yusuf was due to call for an “Islamic Reformation” to an audience primarily made up of gay men and women. The engagement has allegedly provoked the wrath of senior Islamic clerics, who warned they could not guarantee his safety if the lecture went ahead.

Dr Yusuf was due to argue that “the moment has come for the development of an authentically British and European Islam. We need an Islamic Reformation that reconciles Islam with democracy and human rights, including human rights for women and gay people. A progressive Islam can and should be part of a liberal, humanitarian reawakening of British society and culture.”

In place of Dr Yusuf, the guest lecture at tonight’s annual Peter Tatchell Human Rights Fund (PTHRF) event will be delivered by exiled Iranian feminist and human rights campaigner, Maryam Namazie. She will highlight the danger posed by to democracy and human rights by the rise of “political Islam”.

Looking forward to Dr Yusuf’s lecture, Peter Tatchell had previously told PinkNews.co.uk: “Support for a liberal, progressive Islam is an urgent priority. It is the most effective way to counter the fundamentalist attitudes towards women and gay people that characterise many supposedly moderate, mainstream Muslim organisations. I hope Sheikh Yusuf’s lecture will demonstrate and encourage the possibility of an Islamic Enlightenment, whereby Muslims and non-Muslims can work together in the defence of universal social justice and human rights.”

Expressing his disappointment at the fact that Dr Yusuf was unable to attend, Mr Tatchell said:

“I deeply regret that extreme pressure from some Muslim leaders has forced Sheikh Yusuf to pull out of this evening’s fund-raiser. We were looking forward to welcoming him as an honoured guest.”

Adrian Gillan, spokesman for the PTHRF, said: “Peter’s human rights campaigns have gone global. His successes mean he is deluged with requests for help from activists all over the world. To meet these demands, he is working 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Such a huge workload is damaging his health and is unsustainable. We need to raise enough money to get Peter a fully equipped office and full-time staff support. The 20th March reception will help raise some of the extra funds we need.”

The event will be held tonight (20th March 2006) in central London. For information and tickets visit www.tatchellrightsfund.org