The Islamic community on the mainland has taken the unusual step of publicly denouncing the invasion of Iraq by American and British troops. The Chinese Islamic Association, which represents about 20 million Muslims across the nation and usually keeps a low profile, issued a public statement at the weekend calling for an immediate end to the invasion. 'We strongly condemn the [United States] and its allies for attacking Iraq and not turning to diplomacy to resolve this conflict,' said Chen Guangyuan, the association's president. 'We side with the war protesters in the US and elsewhere around the world. We strongly urge the US to stop its campaign and to return to the negotiating tables to resolve this issue. War is wrong.' Often stuck between Beijing's need to control religious activities and Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, the association has traditionally kept itself to strictly religious activities. Its statement shows the depth of anti-war feeling among mainland Muslims. Ma Liangji, whose Arabic name is Mahammad You NouSi, the vice-president of the association, told the South China Morning Post that mainland Muslims felt a strong kinship with their brethren in the Middle East. 'Though we don't go to the Middle East that often, we are all part of the same brotherhood,' said Mr Ma, who is also the Imam of the Great Mosque of Xian, which has 70,000 members. 'Mr Bush's invasion of Iraq is an incursion of Iraq's sovereignty. Islam is a religion of peace and the US shouldn't do this. No one in the world agrees with this and we in the Muslim community in China absolutely object to this.' Although the association and its members have not taken to the streets, members are finding themselves talking about nothing else but the Iraq conflict before and after prayer services in mosques around the nation. Many Chinese Muslims find themselves siding with Osama bin Laden and are strongly critical of US President George W. Bush said Mr Ma, who is also the president of the Islamic Association of both Shaanxi province and Xian city and a national delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. However, Mr Ma said he and other mainland Muslims were appalled by the September 11 terrorist attack on the US. 'Osama bin Laden is a terrorist, but you see he really has nothing to do with Islam, which preaches peace and love,' he said. 'But it is Mr Bush who is forcing those of us who otherwise didn't have a strong feeling about Osama one way or another to side resolutely against the US. September 11 was wrong, but Mr Bush's use of violence . . . is absolutely wrong.' Though the mainland Muslim community has come out strongly against the US, the rest of the mainland is split. While the government urges peace through negotiations, some mainland media are denouncing the US for its hegemony. Others write cautiously about how a quick US victory would mean cheaper oil for mainland enterprises. 'We, too, pray for a quick end to the war,' said Mr. Ma. 'We hope Mr Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair will stop this tragedy right away and pay respect to world opinion.'