DUP leader Peter Robinson says he would never “want to insult or cause distress” to Muslims in Northern Ireland as a race row engulfs him.
The First Minister has already backed evangelical Paster James McConnell after he told his north Belfast congregation that Islam was a “satanic” religion “born in hell”.
Mr Robinson told the Irish News on Wednesday that he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or devotees of Sharia law.
However, the east Belfast MLA said he would “trust them to go to the shops” for him.
Now he says that his comments were “misinterpreted”.
The former east Belfast MP said his remarks had been “given a meaning that was never intended”.
On Thursday, the First Minister said: “For the avoidance of any doubt, I make it clear that I welcome the contribution made by all communities in Northern Ireland, and in the particular circumstances, the Muslim community.
“I very much value their contribution at every level to our society and I will take the opportunity to meet with local Muslim leaders to demonstrate my ongoing support for them as integral law abiding citizens in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Robinson’s remarks to the Irish News have been widely condemned by the Muslim community across the UK and by many Northern Ireland politicians.
The first minister had told the paper that he would not trust Muslims either, particularly with regard to those who had been involved in violence, or those who are “fully devoted to Sharia law, I wouldn’t trust them for spiritual guidance”.
However, Mr Robinson said he would trust Muslims to “go down to the shops” for him or to deal with a number of other “day to day issues”.
Police said they were investigating “a hate crime motive” after complaints about Mr Pastor McConnell’s remarks which were posted on YouTube.
On Wednesday night, Pastor McConnell appeared on the Nolan television show to defend his sermon.
He claimed one man rang him and said: “Jim, I have heard you say a lot worse.”
In his statement on Wednesday, Mr Robinson said: “I strongly believe that Pastor James McConnell has the right to freedom of speech.
“I will defend his right just as I defend the right of others to express views with which I disagree.
“People have the right to express their differing views and indeed the essence of democracy is the ability to do so in a way that is free from fear and intimidation.”
Mr Robinson added: “No part of me would want to insult or cause distress to local Muslims.
“I can assure members of the Islamic community I respect their contribution to our society.
“I believe in building a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland and have always endeavoured to work for the betterment of all the people of Northern Ireland.
“I look forward to meeting with representatives of the Muslim community as soon as it can be arranged.”