Muslim leaders have urged Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities, to support Islamic family law in Britain to stop youths joining Islamic extremists.
Following three hours of meeting with Muslim groups in Whitehall, Ms Kelly said: "There is a battle of hearts and minds to be won within the Muslim community, working with the Muslim community to take on the terrorist and extremist elements that are sometimes found within it, not just in the Muslim community, but elsewhere as well."
John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who was also at the meeting, is today expected to meet Muslim Labour MPs who have demanded a change in Government foreign policy on the Middle East.
Mr Prescott and Ms Kelly made it clear that the threat of terrorism could not be used to force a change of policy abroad. Ms Kelly said she did not accept that British foreign policy should be dictated by a small group of people.
"What I do accept is that there is a lot of anger and frustration out there in the community that needs to be properly expressed and vented through the democratic process," she said.
Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary general of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the UK and Ireland, said he had asked for holidays to mark Muslim festivals and Islamic laws to cover family affairs which would apply only to Muslims.
Dr Pasha said he was not seeking sharia law for criminal offences but he said Muslim communities in Britain should be able to operate Islamic codes for marriage and family life. "In Scotland, they have a separate law. It doesn't mean they are not part of the UK. We are asking for Islamic law which covers marriage and family life. We are willing to co-operate but there should be a partnership. They should understand our problems then we will understand their problems."
He said that Ms Kelly had said she would "look sympathetically at all the suggestions" that had been made. He added: "She agreed with my suggestion [that] it should be a partnership approach."
The meeting was the latest in a series aimed at showing the Government is listening to the Muslim community. The role of co-ordinating the meetings was switched from the Home Office to the Communities department to move the focus from law and order to a wider agenda.
Yousif al-Khoei, of the Al-Khoei Foundation, said they had discussed with the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board "how we could channel some of the frustrations of the youth into peaceful channels". He said: "It's a question of working at local level as well as national solutions.
"The main message for me is that nobody is taking the problems lightly and the time for talking is over. We need to have a co-ordinated attempt to tackle the problems. If we don't, we may regret this for generations to come."
Labour MPs with large Muslim communities in their constituencies have expressed concern about the pressure for sharia in Britain.Reuse content