The re-election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London is in the best interests of Muslims, according to 63 leading Islamic figures.

Imams and community leaders have signed a statement pledging support for his campaign for a third term in office.

They cited the Mayor’s support for the Palestinian people and opposition to UK policy in Iraq as key reasons to back him.

Ihtisham Hibatullah from the British Muslim Initiative, told The Guardian:

“He supports religious freedom.

“He’s committed to developing the skills of alienated communities and he’s doing great work on social cohesion.

“These signatories are major players; they have reach and come the elections there will be a huge mobilisation of the Muslim vote.”

Mayor Livingstone faced protests from gay activists in 2004 when he invited the Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London as his guest of honour.

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

The Mayor later claimed that al-Qaradawi’s views concerning the death penalty for homosexuals 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.”

Campaigner Peter Tatchell withdrew his support for Mr Livingstone over the issue and along with an LGBT Muslim group, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Hindu and Sikh groups and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, wrote to the Mayor expressing their anger at the meeting.

However, many other gay rights advocates, among them Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill, the Lesbian and Gay Coalition Against Racism and activist Linda Bellos supported him, citing his “proud record” on human rights and social justice for lesbians and gay men.

The arguments raged for nearly a year, with Mr Livingstone insisting that as the Mayor of the most diverse city in the world it was right for him to meet with members of faith groups even if he disagreed with their views.

Today he said he was pleased to be endorsed by so many Islamic leaders.

“The fundamental basis of London’s openness and choice is that every Londoner should be able to live their life as they freely choose with the sole condition that they do not prevent others doing the same,” he said.

Londoners will vote for their next Mayor on May 1st.

Brian Paddick, formerly the most senior out gay policeman in the UK, is the Lib Dem candidate. Sian Berry is standing for the Greens.

Henley MP Boris Johnson, the Conservative candidate, told The Guardian that he took the endorsement of “so-called community leaders” with a pinch of salt.

“My grandfather was a Muslim and so was my great-grandfather,” he added.

“I am proud of my Muslim ancestry. But I want to talk about the interests of Londoners. I don’t care what religion they are. I want to look after people from all communities.”