A leading Muslim cleric has called for total co-operation across Bradford to combat the “evil of child exploitation” by street-grooming gangs.

Muhammad Mustaqueem Shah, general secretary of Bradford Imams’ Forum, said he and all Muslims condemned such abuse of vulnerable girls, highlighted by recent prosecutions and the arrest of 54 suspects by police investigating predatory paedophiles.

“The whole community is detemined to oppose this behaviour,” said Mr Shah, of the Al Mustaqueem mosque on Central Avenue, Bradford.

Shazad Rehman and Bilal Hussain who cruised Keighley streets to pick up young girls who they drugged and raped were jailed last week.

“Those who do these things are perverts and paedophiles and it has nothing to do with religious background,” said father-of-four Mr Shah, 39, a religious teacher.

“A lot of perceptions are to do with the way news is covered. Scandals involving Jimmy Savile or the Catholic Church are seen as separate from the issue of street grooming.

“But those two examples alone demonstrate paedophilia has got nothing to do with a particular race or religion. Indeed every religion in the world is against such things.

“It is not the case that young men in Bradford or Keighley are without control – the usual complaint from Muslim boys is their parents are too strict. It is imbedded in the teachings of the Koran that if you do anything bad in life you will be answerable for it in the after life.

“In his last, farewell sermon, the Prophet said: “I urge you to be extremely kind to women.”

Mr Shah said tackling a situation which saw vulnerable girls being preyed on aneeded a holistic approach.

“The problem is also a two-way thing,” he said.

“We have to take care of those children in the first place to protect them from harm.

Mr Shah also warned against prejudice against the Muslim community: “It needs to be looked at beyond stereotypes otherwise a community already tarnished by accusations of links with terrorism is going to be further isolated.

“Prejudice could hijack all the good work that’s being done,” he said.