Riots in Birmingham and the response of communities across the city highlighted the importance of faith in building a stronger society, according to city council leader Mike Whitby.

Speaking during the Tory conference, Coun Whitby said Birmingham was a “faith city”.

But he said it was not a Christian city, nor a Muslim city or a city of any one religion.

He highlighted the importance of religion and religious leaders in keeping the peace following the death of three young men during August’s riots.

Coun Whitby was speaking at a fringe event in the Manchester conference centre on the topic of Birmingham and the Big Society.

He said the city had put the Big Society into practice as long ago as the 18th century, as industrialists and scientists in Birmingham’s Lunar Society, many of them nonconformists, met to discuss developments in technology, medicine and democratic politics.

Coun Whitby told Conservative activists: “If I was to fast forward to what recently happened during the riots, something else that needs to be bought in to the debate around politics is the importance of faith.”

He highlighted the deaths during the riots of Shazad Ali, aged 30, Abdul Musavir, aged 31, and Haroon Jahan, aged 21.

“All the faith leaders as well as all our community leaders, the secular leaders, we had our faith leaders coming together,” he said.

“I would proffer the fact that now Birmingham is a faith city. It is not a Christian city, it is not an Islamic city, it is not a Sikh city, it’s not a Jewish city.”

And he paid tribute to Tariq Jahan, the father of Haroon Jahan, whose dignified appeal for calm was broadcast across the world.

“When Tariq Jahan said what he said, which has now resonated around the world – ‘I have lost a son. Step forward all of you who want to lose a son, if not let’s go home and let’s work this out together’ – that was the Big Society at its best.

“The churches, the gurdwaras, the mosques are all working towards understanding each other and resecting our differences.”

The event was attended by influential academic Phillip Blond, the thinker behind the “red Toryism” philosophy which is said to have influenced David Cameron, who praised Birmingham Council and said: “What Mike has done is remarkable.”