Monday, 28 December 2009

Muslim respects all prophets including Prophet Jesus (PBUH)

Muslim respects all prophets sent by Allah
Including Prophet Jesus (pbuh)

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The believers in the Oneness of God who belong to the tradition of Abraham: Muslims, Christians and Jews are one community. The first foundation of belief held by all monotheistic believers is that there is but one God. No dissenting voice: all Muslims, Christians and Jews worship one and the same God. The second central belief is a common lineage of Prophets, sent by God with revealed message of Truth. God sent a guide, a messenger or a prophet who taught the same message, the need to believe in the Oneness of God. In the case of Jesus, he was undoubtedly a true prophet.

Islam is a religion of peace, understanding and tolerance. It has five pillars – the first pillar is Imaan. To belief in the Oneness of Allah, all the Prophets sent by Allah, all the Books revealed by Him, belief in Paradise and Hell and Life after Death is part of Imaan. So Muslims throughout the world believe in all the prophets sent by Allah, the Most High. Jesus, the son of Mary, is one of them.

The Virgin Mary and her son Jesus, may peace be upon them both, are mentioned often in the Qurán. In fact, there is a chapter of the Qurán named after her called Maryam. Jesus, referred to in the Qurán as Isa ibn Maryam – Jesus the Son of Mary- is one of the greatest of the prophets of God whom Muslims hold in very deep love and respect. The Qurán gives a greater number of honourable titles to Jesus than to any other figure of the past. The Qurán said: “And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous.” (Al-Qurán 5:46)

In fact, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that Jesus was one of one hundred and twenty-four thousand prophets, between whom there is no cause for conflict or argument. Allah tells His messenger in one passage of the Qurán: “Say: We have believed in Allah and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Descendants (Al-Asbat), and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims (submitting) to Him.” (Al-Qurán 3: 84).

Imam Bukhari, in his collection of the traditions, said that the Apostle of God said, “I am nearest of men to the Son of Mary. Between Jesus and me there has been no prophet.”

The Qur’an clearly says: “O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the Truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His Word which He directed to Mary and a soul (created at a command) from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers.” ( Al-Qur’an, 4:171)

The unedited nature of Noble Qurán gives Muslims confidence in their understanding of the nature of Jesus, which was as a servant of God, as Prophet.

In this connection, it must be said that Muslims not only belief in all the prophets sent by Allah the Almighty but also respect them. Muslim as a believer cannot disrespect and should not disrespect any prophet under any circumstances. So it is worthwhile to let you what the Qur’an said about Jesus, the son of Mary, peace be upon him.

Birth of Jesus (pbuh)
About his birth, in Sura 3, the Chapter Imran gives the longest version of the annunciation and birth of Jesus. (Al-Qurán 3:42-47) Surah Maryam gives the version of the birth thus, “Then We sent to her Our Angel (i.e., Gabriel), and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, (so leave me), if you should be fearing of Allah.” He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you (news of) a pure boy (i.e., son).” She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” He said, “Thus (it will be); your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter (already) decreed.’” (Al-Qurán 19:16-21)

The Qurán firmly refutes any suggestion of unchastity by Mary. Prophet Isa had a miraculous birth. He was born of the Virgin Maryam without a father, by Allah’s command. Allah can do anything He likes, Everything is possible for Him. When He wants to get something done, He only says, ‘BE’ and there it is (2:117). We know that Adam was created by Allah without a father and a mother. So, it was no wonder that Allah could create Isa without a father. According to the Qurán the birth of Jesus would be brought about by the plain but All-Powerful Word of Allah. ‘He simply said, ‘BE (kun)” and it is.” Surah Maryam then proceeds with an account of the nativity or birth of Jesus. (Al-Qurán 19: 22-26).

After the miraculous conception of the baby Jesus, Mary anticipated that the signs of the pregnancy would become noticeable. The virgin therefore decided to escape public notice and retreated from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which was a journey of considerable difficulty at the time.

The moment of birth arrived. The revelation tells that she was told to eat and drink, and to let her eyes be content with the grace of such a miracle. The Virgin returned to her family in Nazareth with her son in her arms. The Qurán then narrates, “Then she (Maryam) brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.” So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?” (Al-Qurán 19:27-29)

Miracles of Jesus (pbuh)
It is already narrated in the previous episodes that the Prophet Jesus was born in a miraculous fashion. As the child was the product of a miracle, consequently miraculous things began to happen. When Mary returned to her community carrying the child who was to be called Messiah, Jesus, the Son of Mary, the young woman with no husband had appeared suddenly with a babe in her arms and was face to face with her accusers.

The Qurán said, “So, Mary pointed to him (Jesus). They said, ‘’How can we speak to one who is in the cradle as a child?’”(Jesus) said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and Zakah as long as I remain alive.” (Al-Qurán, 19:29-31).

Thus Jesus (pbuh) defended his mother from the grave calumny and innuendoes of her enemies. This is the very first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Holy Qurán, that, he spoke as an infant from his mother’s arms.

Jesus (pbuh) performed many miracles. For example, he healed the sick, enheartened the distressed and revived the dead. A famous miracle of Jesus referred to in the Qurán was the moulding a figure of a bird from clay, into which he breathed life into it. A miracle of Jesus? No. The Prophet invoked God’s Power to accomplish this feat of fashioning from clay a living being of flesh and feather. This was the same God who created Jesus from a mother without a father.

The Qurán has mentioned about other miracles of Jesus (pbuh) thus: “(The Day) When Allah will say: O Jesus, Son of Mary! Remember My favour upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with Pure Spirit (i.e. the angel Gabriel) and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and (remember) when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay (what was) like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind (from birth) and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from (killing) you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.” (Al-Qurán 5:110)

These miracles performed by Jesus should best be understood in this fashion, as visible demonstration of God’s power for the believers and unbelievers, that they should all believe. All these things Jesus did with the permission of Allah, never taking credit for them himself.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Swiss Minaret ban: Response and Reaction

Swiss Minaret ban: Reaction and Response
from People of different colours

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The proposal to ban the building of minarets had been put forward by the Swiss People's Party, (SVP), the largest party in Parliament, which says minarets are a sign of Islamisation. More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons - or provinces - voted in favour of the ban.

“The last surveys suggested around 34% of the Swiss population would vote for this shocking initiative. Last Friday, in a meeting organised in Lausanne, more than 800 students, professors and citizens were in no doubt that the referendum would see the motion rejected, and instead were focused on how to turn this silly initiative into a more positive future,” tracing the background, Professor Dr. Tariq Ramadan wrote in The Guardian, London, on Sunday, 29 November, 2009.
Professor Ramadan observed, “Today that confidence was shattered, as 57% of the Swiss population did as the Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC) had urged them to – a worrying sign that this Populist Party may be closest to the people’s fears and expectations. For the first time since 1893 an initiative that singles out one community, with a clear discriminatory essence, has been approved in Switzerland. One can hope that the ban will be rejected at the European level, but that makes the result no less alarming. What is happening in Switzerland, the land of my birth?”

That is the opinion and observation of no less a person than the son of the soil, a renowned scholar and Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford. But, of course, he is a Muslim by religion and practice. But people of other religious faith also denounced the ban.

Religious leaders across the world have criticised Switzerland's referendum vote to ban the building of minarets. The Vatican has condemned the Swiss ban on the construction of Islamic minarets as a 'blow to freedom of religion'. The Vatican on Monday, 30 November, 2009, endorsed a statement by the conference of Swiss Bishops criticising the vote for heightening "the problems of cohabitation between religions and cultures". Muslim figureheads from Indonesia and Egypt, as well as Switzerland were denouncing the vote as a blow to religious freedom. Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa described the ban as an insult to the feelings of the Muslim community in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Not only the religious leaders of different faith groups have condemned the action, but political leaders of different countries distaste the action. The government opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland's image, particularly in the Muslim world. France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was "scandalised" by the Swiss decision and said it represented a "show of intolerance.” He said it was a "negative" move because banning the construction of Muslim mosque towers amounts to "oppressing a religion".
He told France's RTL radio: "I hope that the Swiss will go back on this decision rather quickly.”

The Amnesty International said, Swiss minaret ban would be discrimination against religion. A ban on the construction of minarets would breach Switzerland’s obligations to uphold freedom of religion, Amnesty International said ahead of a referendum on Sunday 29 November 2009 on a constitutional amendment. “Contrary to the claims of the initiators of the referendum, a general prohibition of the construction of minarets would violate the right of Muslims in Switzerland to manifest their religion,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. She also added: “A ban on the construction of minarets while, for example, allowing those of church spires would constitute discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets. After Christianity, Islam is the most widespread religion in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.

Response from Britons, Muslim and non-Muslim
Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as anti-Islamic. Irrespective of colour, ethnicity and religious affiliations, British people, from the Parliament to the leaders of the community and religious and non-religious groups and academic scholar, were united in their denunciation of the vote to ban the construction of minarets.

Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham
Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, Peer of the House of Lords of the British Parliament said, “The general consensus in the Muslim community is that the minaret ban in Switzerland is a radical, alarmist and deplorable act of Islamophobia.”

“I understand that Switzerland is party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the European Convention on Human Rights. In my view, the Minaret Ban is a blatant breach of the civil liberties set forth in these conventions and has placed Switzerland on a collision course with its international human rights obligations,” Lord Ahmed said.

Lord Ahmed argued, “The Muslim community of Switzerland should in no way be denied the rights and facilities to practice their faith; nor should the ban be used to pursue the Swiss government’s hidden avenue of frustration with Moammar Gaddafi and the Libyan crisis. The 300,000 ordinary, practicing Muslims of Switzerland should not be made victims of the political games being waged by Switzerland against Libya.”

Lord Ahmed also observed, “The mere idea of a minaret leading to extremism reveals the clearly discriminatory bias that underpins this decision. Rather than pose a security threat, religious monuments enrich society and promote a collective identity. In contrast, the minaret ban shows the Swiss Government utilizing scare mongering tactics and playing the ‘Muslim card’ in populist political point scoring. This fans the fires of hatred and creates a needless clash of civilizations.”

“Switzerland’s actions will fundamentally influence its reputation in the eyes of Muslims around the globe. As a member of the UK Parliament and Muslim community, I stand by any decisions the greater Muslim community might make concerning withdrawal from business and banking in Switzerland,” maintained Lord Ahmed and urged the “Swiss government to review their decision as this could have long lasting consequences on your country’s relations with the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.”

Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London
Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, said: "The ban on minarets in Switzerland, a country that only has four minarets, is an attack not only on Muslims, but on the most basic freedoms in society.” “Let this referendum be a rallying call for all democrats - we must challenge Islamophobia and racism if we are to stop the far right,” he added.

Dr Edie Friedman, Jewish Council for Racial Equality
Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality said: “It is a very sad day when such an important religious symbol is put to the vote. That anyone should even consider this is unbelievable. This could have very dangerous consequences, sending out the wrong message to the rest of the world. Far from cementing positive relations between people, this can only sew division and disharmony. I hope that common sense prevails, this decision is reversed and building a cohesive society in Switzerland is taken up with renewed vigour.”
Bruce Kent, Vice President of Pax Christi
Bruce Kent, Vice President of Pax Christi, said: “I am dismayed at this decision which is manifestly discriminatory. As a Christian, I live in an area where we have a beautiful mosque and minaret which cause no offence to anybody and contribute to the beauty of the environment.”

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, Muslim Council of Britain
Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, said in a statement, “The Swiss referendum results show how far and how quickly Europe is moving in the wrong direction in its attitudes and policies towards Muslims and other minority groups in Europe.”
“Mosques and minarets in our European cities are manifestations of the proudly indigenous nature of Islam in Europe. It is tragic that the far right is stripping away at our illustrious heritage of coexistence between different faiths and cultures in Europe and replacing it with their warped and xenophobic outlook,” he said and added, “This is no less than a battle of ideas for the future of a plural and progressive Europe.”

Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, Union of Muslim Organisations
Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, General Secretary of the Union of Muslim Organisations (UMO) of UK & Eire, said, “The British Muslims are shocked to learn that the Swiss people has expressed their hostility for such a measure. Either it is sheer ignorance or Islamophobia that the whole affair is a disgusting phenomenon. It is difficult to understand in the modern liberal atmosphere which is prevailing in the West.”

“The Swiss government should ignore this decision because it contravenes the provision of the European Convention of Human Rights to which it is a signatory,” Dr. Pasha said and added, “Succinctly; it is in the interest of Switzerland not to antagonize the religious sensibilities of 1.5 billion Muslims throughout the world.”

“The Swiss people must understand that the minarets of the Mosques are symbols of Sovereignty of Allah and the brotherhood of all human beings as enunciated in the Qur’an,” Dr. Pasha argued.

Swiss-born Professor Tariq Ramadan
Writing in The Guardian, Swiss born Professor Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, said, “Every European country has its specific symbols or topics through which European Muslims are targeted. In France it is the headscarf or burka; in Germany, mosques; in Britain, violence; cartoons in Denmark; homosexuality in the Netherlands – and so on. It is important to look beyond these symbols and understand what is really happening in Europe in general and in Switzerland in particular: while European countries and citizens are going through a real and deep identity crisis, the new visibility of Muslims is problematic – and it is scary.”
Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, is professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, maintained, “Over the last two decades Islam has become connected to so many controversial debates – violence, extremism, freedom of speech, gender discrimination, forced marriage, to name a few – it is difficult for ordinary citizens to embrace this new Muslim presence as a positive factor. There is a great deal of fear and a palpable mistrust. Who are they? What do they want? And the questions are charged with further suspicion as the idea of Islam being an expansionist religion is intoned. Do these people want to Islamise our country?”

According to Tariq Ramadan, the solution lies in the following, “I have been repeating for years to Muslim people that they have to be positively visible, active and proactive within their respective western societies. In Switzerland, over the past few months, Muslims have striven to remain hidden in order to avoid a clash. It would have been more useful to create new alliances with all these Swiss organisations and political parties that were clearly against the initiative.”

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, is professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. His most recent book is What I Believe

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Shahid Malik-First West European Minister Performs Hajj

Shahid Malik: The First West European
Government Minister Performs Hajj this year

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Shahid Malik, the first West European Government Minister, who, along with his parents, wife and little brother went this year to perform Hajj. He left for Makkah on 22nd and returned back after performing Hajj on 30th of November, 2009. While he was in Saudi Arabia, Minister Shahid Malik, the Minister for Communities and Local Government was Saudi Government guest. Minister Shahid was telling me his experience of First Hajj after returning back from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the 8th of December 2009 at his office.

Makah becomes the most diverse place
Speaking about Makkah and the surrounding areas, the Minister said, “It was very crowded; Hajj is obviously much more demanding. The Umrah gave a very good idea of what you expect with three million-plus people there of all different colours, all different backgrounds, different persuasions, different languages, different races, different ethnicities and different nationalities etc. Makkah becomes the most diverse place anywhere in the world for that one week. So it is amazing to see that diverse community that the world Muslim community is.”

Lots of spaces and wheel chairs
Speaking about Saie between Safa and Marwah, the Minister said, “To be honest, the Saudi authorities make it much lot easier, each year there are improvements and developments, different new layers now. So there are lots of spaces between safa and Marwah and there are much more friendly people with wheel chairs. I took my mum, dad, wife and little brother.”

Walking through the camps just like
going around the world

In Mina, Minister Shahid stayed in the Government Guest House. Speaking about his experience in Mina, the Minister said,. “Saudi government looked after me while I was in the Guest House. I walked many hours in the camps looking for the European camps and the British camps. On the first day I went out and after four hours I gave up. I could not find the camp after four hours of walking. I thought, it may be, I cannot speak Arabic; so the next day I took two Arabic speakers with me. Still it took three and half hours to get there. It is a long way from where we were. Mina is a very small place but very congested with three million-plus pilgrims. So you cannot walk quickly. Again in the camps there are distinctively people of different countries with Indian flag, Bangladeshi flag, Pakistani flag, Indonesian flag, Malaysian flag, Nigerian flag etc. While you are walking through the camps with different flags it is almost like you are going around the world.”

“In Mina, there was rain and also Stoning rain in Jeddah. The weather was unbelievably good. I don’t mind warm weather. It was particularly warm; suddenly it became cold. That was certainly perfect. I walked quite a bit with Mohamed Ali from Islam Channel. We had eight hours walk I think. I visited some of the British camps in Mina,” mentioned Minister Shahid.

Stoning in Jamarat safe and painless
Speaking about the stoning in Jamarat, the Minister Shahid said, “We did the stoning on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is very safe now. It used to be very dangerous. Now there are different levels. It is actually painless.”

While appreciating the improvements done in Mina, the Minister said, “Camp facilities are getting better year after year. Credit to be attributed to the Saudi Government: to be able to manage over three million people moving around the very short time and in the very small space and putting on all facilities, whether it is medical facilities, whether it is camp facilities, tents facilities, the transport facilities were required. Each year these are getting better.”

Monorail system to be introduced in Mina
Speaking about the Monorail system to be introduced in Mina, the Minister Shahid mentioned, “Now when I was there, they were developing a monorail system which will link Mina with Muzdalifah, with Arafah. So people will actually be able to go on the sky on the monorail which will help Hajjis tremendously. Transport is very big challenge. It’s a monorail system on the sky; it’s nothing comparable with the UK system. I think in Japan they have got this system. They are developing that system; they got all pillars in place; they will now put on truck there and then concrete.”

Undoubtedly life-changing experience
Speaking about his impression of Hajj, the Minister Shahid said, “Well, it’s very very powerful I think. For me and for the whole family it’s a very powerful experience. It is undoubtedly a life-changing experience for one who goes and performs Hajj. It was an honour and privilege for me to be able to stay with mum and dad and obviously my wife and brother also. It is an experience shared with those who are nearest and dearest to me. It’s very very powerful.”

Translate lesson into practice
“First time I saw the Ka’aba. Obviously that is something, which you are in awe about long long time. It’s a very powerful, very striking and many people quite emotional as well. All those things I think but one thing which struck me that one point of time the Makkah was the most diverse place in the world. But this diversity which united by virtue of performing Hajj. I saw it would be nice when they will go back to their countries of origin, and the countries they live, if they just think about being united in those countries and also think about being harmonious of those countries as well,” said Minister Shahid.

Saudis committed to improving facilities
Speaking about the facilities Saudi government is providing during Hajj, Minister Shahid mentioned, “By all accounts each year the facilities get better; Saudis are really committed to improving the facilities to offer to the Hajiis. It’s lot easier than it used to be. It’s a lot safer than it used to be. They feel that it is lot of respect for them to serve Hajjis.”

Need to clamp down on some of the abuses
Speaking about some missellng of goods in this country, Minister Shahid mentioned, “There are some misselling of goods going on in this country. I think this kind of abuse is taking place for a long time. We tried to clamp down on some of the abuses through my friend and colleague Garrard Thomas, Consumers Welfare Minister. Hajj or Umrah tour operators promise the earth and when people arrived there, it’s not what is expected. One thing I noticed that lots of people when they get there; they are grateful to be there. They think we are for Hajj, we just forgive and forget and move on. I can understand that. But I would rather prefer they come back and complain so that we can put the tour operators straight. But the majority of them are doing good job but some of them are pretty unscrupulous, I think.”

British Hajj Delegation Brilliant
Speaking about the British Hajj Delegation in Makkah, Minister Shahid said, “The British Hajj Delegation is very good. When I was there, some one from Birmingham rank me; his mother was very ill; she was in hospital there. So I rang Lord Patel and I think the British Hajj Delegation gave the support which is required there. I think it’s brilliant. You know the only government in Europe that provides this Hajj Delegation is the UK government which is a great comfort, I think, to the British Hajjis. We are very proud of this support we give. We recognize the people, our citizens, came from all different backgrounds and our job is to make each one of them, the Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs.”

Meeting with King Abdullah
Speaking about the lunch in Mina, Minister Shahid said, “I had the chance to meet King Abdullah. There was a big lunch in Mina. I met King Abdullah, had a few words and shook hands. He looks to be in good health.”.

Live interview by Islam Channel from Mina
Minister Shahid was interviewed Live on Islam Channel from Mina by Barrister Rizwan. Shahid mentioned a story about Barrister Rizwan. Minister said, “When I went to Bangladesh in June 2008; a little earlier Barrister Rizwan was beaten very badly there in airport. So when I met General Moin; who was factually running the country at that time, I raised the issue of Barrister Rizwan as well as the democratic elections. He promised me two things: we will have democratic elections by December and those people who are responsible I will find them and I will put them in jail. Barrister Rizwan said to me that you know those people they are still in jail today. So I have established a very good news story from that perspective.”

Concluding remarks
Concluding his interview, Minister Shahid said, “Saudis are working on their side. For me, the main frustration is still the way the tour operators work here; the way the visas work through these tour operators here; the kind of packages they sale and the people not being clear about what they are buying some times, that’s the things that need to be improved. The Minister for Consumer Welfare Service, Garrard Thomas, is very much interested to make it sure that the Hajjis get the honest service.”

About Minister Shahid Malik
On 9 June 2009 Shahid Malik was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Shahid was elected as the Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, West Yorkshire at the 2005 General Election. Within a year, Shahid was the only newly elected Labour MP to be appointed to the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee. At the 2005 Parliamentary Oscars, the House Magazine Awards, his Maiden Speech was judged to be the best among the new MPs of 2005 and he received the prestigious House Magazine 'Best Maiden Speech' Award. In February 2006 he was runner-up in the Channel Four News awards in the 'Rising Star' category.

He also served on the Environmental Audit Committee until the Government reshuffle in May 2006 when he was appointed as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Schools Minister Jim Knight MP, a position he held till Gordon Brown appointed him as Britain's first Muslim Minister, at the Department for International Development in June 2007.

In October 2008, Shahid was promoted to serve as Minister for Justice and in March 2009 he was subsequently appointed into a dual role as a Home Office Minister.

Prior to entering Parliament he held a number of significant national roles. Following the 'Good Friday' Peace Agreement he was appointed by Mo Mowlam as the only ever Great British Commissioner to the Northern Ireland Equality Commission (1999-2002).

His other main area of work has been in regeneration and the voluntary sector. He was National Chair of the Voluntary Sector body Urban Forum (1999-2002) and was Chief Executive of Haringey Regeneration Agency managing £150 million of programmes.

From 1998-2002 he served as a Commissioner for Racial Equality covering Great Britain and also served as Vice-Chair of UK UNESCO.

He has also been a Fellow of the Institute of Management (FIMgt) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).

Shahid Malik was born and raised in Burnley in one of the most deprived areas in Britain, ranked 8th most deprived out of more than 8,000 wards in the country.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Conference on Islam and the West - A Partnership for the Future in Brussels

Conference on Islam and the West: A
Partnership for the Future in Brussels

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The three-day International Conference on Islam and the West: A Partnership for the Future, was organized by the Paris-based Organization, “Islam and the West” headed by Dr. Francis Lamand in Brussels from 10-12th of November, 2009. The theme of the Conference was "Islam and the West: a Partnership for the Future." The Conference was supported by the European Commission, the Pontifical Council for the Inter-religious Dialogue, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Muslim World League (MWL), the World Muslim Congress (WMC) (Karachi), the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Islamic Institute of the Paris Mosque, the Al-Azhar University (Cairo), the Oxford Center of Islamic Studies and the Jeddah-based International Islamic Forum for Dialogue.

Dr. Lamand also mentioned about the focus of the Conference: “Our conference in Brussels will focus on the common inheritance of shared Abrahamic foundations, the convergent social values, the challenges of the new world order for Islam and the West, the economic stakes for the two entities and the spiritual dimensions," said Dr. Lamand.

Representatives of the international Muslim community and of Western Countries participated in the Conference. The Three-day conference has three parts: such as a).Two worlds reaching out for an interchange; b) Towards renewed solidarity between Islam and the West and c) Rekindled partnership opportunities. Thus the three days were devoted to three Rs: Reaching out; Renewed solidarity and Rekindled Partnership opportunities.

On the first day on Tuesday, the 10th of November, under the broad topic on “Two worlds reaching out for an interchange,” the following subjects were discussed: i) A common inheritance of shared Abrahamic foundations; ii) Evolution of the Islam and the West dialogue since 1965; iii) Convergent societal values and iv) Towards a multi-polar better understanding.

On the second day on Wednesday, the 11th of November, under the broad topic of "Towards renewed solidarity between Islam and the West," the following subjects were discussed: i) Complementarity and interdependence; ii) Western and Islamic legal systems interface; iii) Economic stakes: Islam and the West facing the new world order; and iv) The spiritual dimension: shared pathways.

On the third day on Thursday, the 12th of November, under the broad heading of “Rekindled partnership opportunities,” the following subjects were discussed: i) Mediterranean space and Islamic value; ii) Globalization and inter-civilizational rapprochement; iii) Neutrality of the media: current status and perspectives; and iv) The new bilateral pedagogy of societal values.

No doubt, it is an ambitious goal, but Dr. Lamand and his organization have accomplished much in the last three decades. During that time "Islam and the West" has played important roles in representing the interest of European mosques and creating an atmosphere in which the European Muslim community could have its own religious television programming. The organization also helped to organize the first tête-à-tête at the Vatican between Pope John Paul II and Dr Abdullah Omar Nasseef, the then Secretary-General of the Muslim World League.

The organization has also sought to re-establish the historical presence of Islam in Cordova, Spain, hosting the first world conference there in 1991 on Pakistani philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal and organizing the first Islamic art exhibition there in centuries. Dr. Lamand also played a leading role in the initiative to re-open the "mihrab" of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova.

An Interview with Dr. Naseef
I had the privilege to meet Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, President of Karachi-based World Muslim Congress and Secretary General of the Cairo-based International Islamic Council of Dawah and Relief (IICDR) at the Heathrow airport while he was passing through London to Saudi Arabia after attending the Conference on Islam and the West: A Partnership for the Future in Brussels.

“Islam and the West headed by Dr. Francis Lamand held the conference on how to create a new alliance between West and the Islam. There is no point that we should continue to fight. Creation of such cooperation is very very important for everybody. The world has become very small and we have to do that,” said Dr. Naseef and added, “Dr. Francis Lamand organized this conference Islam and the West. There were four sessions everyday: i) economic, ii) social; iii) interfaith and dialogue and iv) Media. Forty papers were presented.”

Dr. Naseef also gave his point of view. He mentioned that he gave some short hints. Dr. Naseef said, “There was an alliance between Islam and the West; between The Muslim World and the West during the Cold War period when there was Communist domination on some part of the world; because it was convenient for them to have an alliance with Muslims so that they can fight against Communism and they succeeded in toppling Communism and disintegrating the Soviet Union. And the Jihad in Afghanistan during that period was successful. That cooperation was very ideal. But after the disintegration of Soviet Union and the fall of Communism, they broke the alliance and turned the guns toward Muslims. There are many writers who claim that Islam is the enemy. But they don’t have any foundation nor any proof.”

“Those participants who attended the conference in Brussels said that we have to appeal and to strive hard to create a new alliance which is for everybody’s interest; not to benefit one side and not to other. Everybody will benefit from it; because the common factor which combines us is much greater than the differences. The differences are there historically. But the cooperation between the Muslims and the West has been proved successful before; we have to regenerate it.”

Dr. Naseef also mentioned that there are many misunderstanding. "There needs to be a sustained campaign to remove these misunderstandings,” said Dr. Naseef

Historical background
The “Islam and the West” is a non -governmental, non profit-making institution set up in Paris on 6th of February, 1980, with the aim of developing cultural, social and economic relations between the Islamic and Western worlds, both in France and overseas.

Since the formation of this Organization, it is managed by Dr Francis Lamand, an international lawyer, a scholar, a former French diplomat in the Arab States of the Gulf and a professor of the Islamic Law Faculty at the University of Kuwait (1970 - 1975).

”Islam and the West” is the only organization of its kind in a country with more than 6 million Muslims the largest Muslim community in Western Europe, trying to encourage communication and exchange to bridge the gap between the two communities as a whole. This is a pioneer movement in 1977 to establish a multipolar dialogue and a better understanding between the two worlds. Thus, “Islam and the West” is thus a platform for communication and exchange between the two communities.

Dr. Francis Lamand, the President of the organization, has a mission. His mission is to promote understanding between Islam and the Western world. Since the organization's inception in 1980, the former French diplomat has sought to develop cultural, social and economic relations between the Islamic and Western worlds, both in France and overseas.

"Today, the West and Islam are two wounded worlds in need of each other's comfort, before they resume their common and long, onward march on a shared path of humanism," Dr. Lamand said.

Eid-ul-Adha Greetings 2009 from Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg

Eid-ul-Adha greetings from the British Prime
Minister and the Leader of the Opposition

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Eid-ul-Adha, the festival of Sacrifice was celebrated by the Muslim community on the same day, on Friday, the 27th of November, 2009 all over the United Kingdom. On this auspicious occasion, The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom as well as the leader of the Opposition and the leader of the another political party, Liberal Democrat wishes the Happy Eid to the British Muslim community.

While sending his best wishes to all Muslims in the United Kingdom and those around the world for the occasion of Eid ul Adha, which remembers the sacrifice of Abraham, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, M.P. said, “Marking the end of the Hajj, this most holy occasion commemorates our common humanity and reminds us of the importance of devotion, fairness and the equality of all human beings before God.”

“It allows those of us of other faiths, and none, to reflect on the unique Islamic contribution to Britain and to share with you in celebration of all that has been achieved by British Muslims across so many walks of life. Today Muslims around the United Kingdom and the world will be reflecting on many challenges that face us and the deep moral issues like conflict, poverty and climate change,” said Brown, the Leader of the Labour Party and added, “Together we can stand up to these challenges and move forward to a better world. Eid Mubarak to you all.”

While sending his best wishes on the occasion of Eid-ul-Adha, the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, M.P. said, “This is an important time for fellowship and for reflecting on our responsibilities to others – our friends, families and wider society – in line with the origins of the festival as a time of sacrifice. It is also an occasion to consider all those involved in the Hajj, an important event for the whole community.”

“Britain’s Muslim communities have enriched our society immensely, and I would like to extend my warmest wishes to you and your families at this time,” Cameron, the Conservative Party leader said.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrat , Nick Clegg, M.P. also send his warmest wishes on this occasion and said, “Eid Al-Adha is preceded by the day of ‘Arafah and is one of the most important days of Hajj. Eid Al-Adha is a joyous time and reminds us of all of the importance of hard work, togetherness and family.”

“I send my warmest wishes at this very special time,” added Lib Dem leader.

British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, M.P. also send his good wishes to the Muslim communities all over the world on this occasion and said, “I am delighted to send my good wishes to Muslim communities in Britain and around the world for Eid al-Adha. Thousands of British Muslims have taken part in the Hajj. I am proud of the Consular support that we have offered them in Makkah.”

“This is an important moment of reflection for Muslims the world over, though the message of Eid - of sacrifice, of charity, and of concern for others - is universal. I send my warmest regards to you and your families on this important occasion. Eid Mubarak,” the British Foreign Secretary added.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Training of Imams and Islamic Preachers of the Balkan Region

Training of Imams and
Islamic Preachers of the Balkan Region

Dr. Mozammel Haque

TIRANA, ALBANIA: After attending the International Conference on Foreign Investments in Albania which was held at the Tirana International Hotel at Tirana from 3rd to 5th of November, I was also invited to a Seminar on the Training of Imams and Islamic Preaches of the Balkan regions. This Seminar was held at the Hotel Chateau Linza, Tirana from 5th of November until 8th of November, 2009.

For the first time in Albania, a Seminar on the Training of Imams and Islamic Preachers of the Balkan region with the theme: Presentation of the values of dialogue and moderation, organized by the Islamic Organization for Education , Science and Culture (ISESCO), in cooperation with the Ministry of the Temples and Islamic Affairs of the State of Kuwait, was held under the auspices of the Albanian Islamic Institute of Thought and Civilization (AIITC) and the Muslim Community of Albania, in the Hotel Chateau Linza, Tirana from 5 November until 8th November, 2009.

Deputy Chairman of Albanian Muslim Community, Mr. Bujar Spahiu, Prof. Dr. Abduselam Muhammad Al-Ahmer, ISESCO's representative, Advocate Rasim Hasanaj, Chairman of State Committee on Cults took part at the opening ceremony of the Seminar and representatives of the diplomatic corps of Arab and Islamic countries accredited in Tirana, representatives of humanitarian and cultural organizations active in Albania and abroad attended the ceremony. The activity was also attended by a large number of Muslim religious leaders and Islamic intellectual elite from Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Sandzak, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Croatia etc.

This Seminar was part of the ISESCO’s projects and strategies for the benefit of education and presentation of Islamic culture in the West and all over the globe in general. They give priority to the building of Mosque and the role of worship that takes place there. Some of the goals of this activity are also the recognition of religious staff, their education with higher standards which are required from them to manage the contemporary challenges.

In this Training Seminar, 35 Imams were given training for 4 days with the best and the most efficient methods ordered by Islam, already incorporated in the modern methodologies, including the respect for different opinions, the worthy dialogue about these important religious topics and their balanced relations with the public whether Muslims or non-Muslims. Participants in the seminar was given practical lessons on how to prepare the religious lectures, by clarifying the basic principles of a public lecture and a selection of appropriate topics that should be treated for the societies where they live. Theoretical lectures were also given to the participants how a religious leader could fulfil his holy mission.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Dr. Ramiz Zekaj, Director General of the Albanian Institute stressed that the role of Imams and Muslim scholars educated in Islamic capitals, especially in Istanbul and Cairo, has been very crucial in the presentation of the values of Islam in the population of the Balkan areas in general and Albania in particular. Dr. Ramiz also mentioned that Muslim scholars were not only engaged in their personal contributions to their mission as presenters of Islam, but they also paid special attention to the good cultures and local traditions. These values of Islamic culture and also those of local cultures would later serve for the next generations as the basis on which to build their modern civilization that we live in today.

Prof. Dr. Abduselam Al-Ahmer, representative of ISESCO for this Training Seminar, said that ISESCO has a wide experience in events for education, science and culture. It has dedicated a significance to the mission of the Islamic religious leadership and its importance in the monitoring of Islam in the everyday lives of Muslims around the world.

Prof..Ahmer also mentioned that with recent global developments and with the expanding phenomenon of globalization, many questions and challenges arise about modern Muslim societies, especially outside the Islamic world. Thus there is a need for training the imams and religious leaders to face these challenges, to present the fair presentation of Islam in the societies where they operate, as well as to clear any extremist ideas which, in fact, are not in the nature of Islam, to avoid them from the Muslim societies. This Training Seminar aims precisely at this mission, he added.

Prof. Ahmer also mentioned that today, more than ever, it is important to give evidence to the role of the institution called Mosque and also to the importance of worship and the selection of the Imams and religious leaders, as well as their training in the highest standards as educators and leaders for their societies.

Prof. Ahmer said that we can mention that Imam should not only be a leader of religious rituals in the Mosque but he should even be the educator of the society. He should be the reference-epicenter in the Muslim society. He must take care of the general interest of society where it operates. The imam should also be the main activist in favour of issues relating to this society.

The imam should convey the message of evaluation of reality in a balanced way and operate with the highest principles of moral, being thus an example fir the public with whom he lives. In this way, he applies the Word of God in the Qur’an where it is ordered: “Call in the way of your God with wisdom and beautiful advice and discuss with them in the best way,” Prof. Ahmer added.

Hafiz Shaban Salihaj on behalf of the Albanian Muslim Community thanked the organizers and stressed the enormous need of the choice of the middle way in the daily practice, without extremism of any kind. He also stressed the great importance for the creation of opportunity “for our Imams to be trained about the ways of preaching and the techniques to be used by them in relation to the masses.

While Mr. Rasim Hasanaj, Chairman of the State Committee on Cults, in his speech highlighted the very good interfaith relations and the mutual respect and tolerance among religions in Albania, being this an example to be taken as a model for the rest of the Balkans and Europe. He also stressed the excellent reports of the state regarding the religion in general and that of Islam in particular.

ISESCO has devoted a special importance to the issue of Islamic call and the awareness by implementing a clear strategy for the Islamic cultural and educational work outside the Muslim world. In the ninth session of the Supreme Council for Education, Science and Culture of ISESCO, which took place in Moscow in June 2008, it resolved to appoint a special programme for training and education of Imams and religious leadership.

ISESCO presented the same project before the Council of Heads of Islamic Centres in Latin America and the Caribbean in their Seventh session held in Venezuela in the same year. In October, 2008, it was carried out into effect its first training workshop for Imams of the East Asia and the Pacific Ocean held in Singapore in which I had the privilege to participate and present a paper entitled “British Muslim Community: An Overview”. The same workshop was also held in the town of Essen in Germany last month, i.e., October, 2009.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sixth Biennial Conference on The Qur'an

Three-day Sixth Biennial Conference on the
Qur’an at the Brunei Gallery in London

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Three-day Sixth Biennial Conference on the Qur’an convened by Professor MAS Abdel Haleem and Dr. Ayman Shihadeh from the Centre of Islamic Studies, SOAS, was held from Thursday, the 12th of November 2009, at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London, London.

Besides the opening address and closing remarks which was delivered by Professor MAS Abdel Haleem of the Centre of Islamic Studies, there were twelve sessions, four sessions everyday and every session had three papers..

On the first day, there were four sessions. The first session was on Structure and Composition. In this session, besides other papers, a paper on “From the Chaotic to the Chaordic: Rethinking Chaos and Quran”.was presented. In the second session, there was Presentation. In the third session on The Qur’an and Medieval Philosophy, besides other papers, a paper on “Aby Bakr al-Razi on Prophecy” was presented. In the fourth session on Theological Approaches to the Qur’an, besides other papers, a paper on “God created Adam in His image” was presented. .

On the second day, Friday, the 13th of November, there was four sessions again and each session had three papers. The first session was on Tafsir. In this session, besides other papers, a paper on “Reading the Qur’an with the Bible in Mind” was presented. In the second session on Tafsir, besides other papers, a paper on “Al-Sharif Al-Radi’s Contribution to Qur’anic Exegesis: An Analysis of Talkhis Al-Bayan fi Majaz Al-Qur’an” was presented. In the third session on Ethics in the Qur’an; besides other papers, a paper on “Defining Good in the Qur’an: A Semantic Inquiry in Qur’anic Ethics” was presented. In the fourth session on The Qur’an in the Contemporary World, besides other papers, a paper on “Whither Averrorism: Does Ibn Ruhd’s Interpretation of the Qur’an Provide the Basis for a Modernist Rereading of Islamic Law?” was presented.

On the third day on Saturday, 14th of November, besides the closing remarks, there was four sessions and each session had three papers. In the first session on Early Manuscripts, besides other papers, a paper on “On Chronology and Provenance in Early Qur’ans” was presented. In the second session on Early Qur’anic Text, besides other papers, a paper on “A Neglected Aspect of the History of the Qur’an: The Wakf Rules and the Redaction of the Qur’anic Text” was presented. In the third session on Cultural Expressions, besides other papers, a paper on “The Early American Qur’an: Islamic Scripture and U.S. Canon” was presented. In the fourth session on Literary Perspectives, besides other papers, a paper on “The Fantastic in the Qur’an: A Structural Approach to Study the Story of Moses and al-Khidr (18:60-82)” was presented.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Foreign Secretary David Miliband launches 10th Hajj Delegation 2009

Foreign Secretary David Miliband Launches
Tenth Hajj Delegation 2009

Dr. Mozammel Haque

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has launched this year’s UK Hajj Delegation to Saudi Arabia, yesterday, Tuesday, the 27th of October 2009 from the Blue Room of the Foreign Secretary’s Residence, London, in the presence of Saudi Ambassador Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, Lord Adam Patel and diplomats and other members of the Hajj Delegation, guests and community leaders. Twenty-five thousand UK Muslims will go this year to perform the annual pilgrimage in Makkah with the British government offering advice, support and medical care to its citizens going there. British Hajj Delegation is a team that will provide on the ground medical and consular support for British pilgrims attending the Hajj later next month.

Referring to recently held Eid Reception at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Foreign Secretary said three messages came through for the non-Muslims to understand better some of the importance of the Hajj; “one is the message of empathy for others that was brought home to me by the various conversations I had. The second is the Islamic belief in the interconnectiveness of all people, which I think is a very important theme. And thirdly the values of Islam of compassion, of equality, of sacrifice, that are an important part of this important time of the year. And I think these are very important messages for all of us, whether or not we’re Muslim or non Muslim, and the chance for the whole of Britain to be educated about the faith and commitments of two million of our fellow citizens is I think an important wider message that comes through this Hajj Delegation that is now such an important part of British Muslim life,” mentioned Foreign Secretary.

Referring to French Hajj Delegation, Miliband, M.P. said, “I gather that our French friends have now copied us and now have a French Hajj Delegation. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and so we should welcome the fact, in a funny way, that Britain is not now the only European country with a Government sponsored Hajj Delegation, but it certainly gives me great pleasure that ours is the first and the best Hajj Delegation. And I’m confident that this year’s Hajj Delegation will live up to the enormously high standard of its predecessors and make the contribution to British society as well as more broadly, that I think is very, very important.”

Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Ireland, said, “During Hajj, millions of Muslims from all over the world gather in the same spots to perform the same rituals at the same times, standing together on equal footing and dressed as one.”

Speaking about the importance of Hajj, Prince Mohammad said, “Hajj is a true reflection of the exalted principles of equality, modesty and human brotherhood that are at the heart of Islam. This also makes Hajj the most impressive manifestation of Islam’s ability to cross borders and cultures and unite nations.”

Speaking about the recent development of the Haramain for the convenience of the Pilgrims, the Saudi Ambassador mentioned the massive expansion programme and new projects have been implemented. He said, “Those who will perform Hajj this year will see stunning developments.”

“The huge expansion of the Mas’a, the extensive development of the Mena area and the expansion of the open courtyard around the Holy Mosque are just a few examples of such accomplishments,” mentioned the Saudi Ambassador.

Prince Mohammad also spoke about the Swine Flu and the medical preparation that the Government of Saudi Arabia has undertaken. As regards the vaccination against HINI Flu, the Saudi Ambassador said, “This year, however, the Saudi Health Authorities have taken additional measures to deal with any adverse effects of this new strain of flu.”

“The Kingdom has taken additional precautions by stockpiling sufficient quantities of anti-viral drugs. There will be three laboratories in Makkah and a fourth at the Holy places of Mina and Muzdalifah, specially dedicated to conducting tests on anyone displaying symptoms of the HINI flu Virus. Moreover an additional 15,000 medical personnel have been recruited to serve the needs of the pilgrims in Makkah, Madinah and the other Holy places,” mentioned the Saudi Ambassador.

Prince Mohammad also added, “In addition the Saudi Health authorities have launched a system for the automated tracking of epidemics during the Hajj season which will create a centralised database, which will assist the development of health services for pilgrims this year and beyond.,”

The Saudi Ambassador also informed, “Out of approximately two million British Muslims in the United Kingdom, about 50,000 on average, performed Hajj or Umrah last year and the year before. A similar or a larger number is expected this year. Mentioning about the British Hujjaj, the Saudi Ambassador assured that the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques will do everything it can to ensure that this year’s pilgrimage begins and concludes safely and peacefully, that the mission of the British Hajj Delegation is a successful one, and that the British Pilgrims’ journey to the Holy places in Saudi Arabia is a safe and fulfilling one.”

Praising the British Hajj Delegation, the Saudi Ambassador expressed his “sincere thanks and appreciation firstly to the Foreign Secretary and secondly to the Hajj Desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – for the invaluable support they extend annually to the British Hajj Delegation, said Prince Mohammad and also thanked the chairman and all members of the British Hajj Delegation “for their contribution to the success of the Hajj pilgrimage.”

The Saudi Ambassador concluded his speech by “wishing the British Hajj Delegation and all British Muslims who are performing Hajj this year, a safe journey, a blissful visit to the Holy Places, an accepted Hajj and a safe return to their homes and loved ones.”

The British Hajj Delegation teams will leave for Jeddah on 11 November and is scheduled to return on 5 December.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Launch of Hajj Awareness Week at House of Lords

Launch of National Hajj Awareness
Week at House of Lords

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, Patron of the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) launched the National Hajj Awareness Week at the House of Lords on Wednesday, the 21 October 2008. While launching the Hajj Awareness Week, Lord Ahmed mentioned some of the achievements of the ABH: 25,000 British Muslims go for Hajj every year and many thousands do Umrah and there was a need for British Muslims facilities not only consular advice but more important health advice and other kind of advice which is now available in Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat and particularly in Makkah.

The purpose of this national event was to raise awareness of the Health & Safety issues amongst the 25000 prospective British Hajj & Umrah pilgrims who will start travelling from next week to join over 2 million other pilgrims in Makkah to perform Hajj. Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, Steve McCabe MP, Roger Godsiff MP, Hazza Al Hasher from Saudi Embassy (London) and officials from various Government departments were present to support this event.

The British Pilgrims are at greater risk of accidents and contracting infectious diseases such as meningitis, hepatitis, influenza etc. “It is particularly important that pilgrims must be aware of the precautionary measures towards the recent Swine flu threat and that they must get vaccinated before their departure to Saudi”, said Lord Ahmed of Rotherham.

I had the opportunity to interview Lord Ahmed, the patron of the Association of British Hujjaj. Speaking about the importance of launching this event, Lord Ahmed said, “Every year the ABH launches the Hajj Awareness Week. It is important that we raise awareness because hundreds and thousands Muslims from the United Kingdom go for Hajj and Umrah every year 25, 000 of them for Hajj. We are unique in the sense that Government provides facilities in Makkah, Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafah through the Hajj Delegation which was established ten years ago.”

Lord Ahmed also congratulated the efforts of the Saudi Government saying, “the Saudi Government has been very kind in supporting this effort too.”

Lord Ahmed advised to take Meningitis and Swine Flu jab. “Sometime health and safety issues are not the priority of our community; we want to make sure that people are aware that Meningitis is a killer and people should be protected against the Meningitis jab. Secondly, Swine Flu is also a killer now and the government expects thousands of people are contracting it, so therefore it is important that people have a flu jab against that,.” advised Lord Ahmed.

Lord Ahmed also mentioned about fraud tour operators. “There are great majority of the tour operators they provide an excellent service and they do very hard work; but occasionally we get total fraud like last year in East London a Bengali gentleman who committed a fraud; he called himself a Kibla Hajj Services. That man, rightly so, Thank God, he was sentenced for six years. And I hope that the money he transferred to Bangladesh should be returned. 350 people were stunned with 2500 pounds per head. This is a lot of money and these are poor people and they had lost their passports. They saved the money for their life time. Unfortunately these types of things happened. And that should not be allowed.”

Lord Ahmed advised people to be vigilant and also to obtain a receipt from tour operators. “People need to be vigilant and they should report this matter if this happens to the police and also to the Trading Standard offices. But the most important thing is we know some people do not use credit cards or cheque books. Any money you give you must obtain a receipt from the tour operators.”

Lord Ahmed also mentioned that the people should make sure that these tour operators are ATOL registered, they should have some certification from the BIS and the Aviation Authority. “They should have government approval as well as a company which is responsible for looking after their things,” said Lord Ahmed.

Lord Ahmed also said that cheapest is not necessarily the best. “I think people should look at this year packages which are being offered. Cheapest is not necessarily the best. We know every body should go for cost effective but they should go for quality,” advised Lord Ahmed.

Another aspect which Lord Ahmed emphasized is about the religiosity of Hajj itself. “Hajj does not mean suffering; it does not mean hardship, it means worship. This is not an option, this is not going for holiday, this is part of Islam and people should be looking for the fulfilment of that spirituality,” mentioned Lord Ahmed.

Lord Ahmed would like to see more mosques to hold seminars and training programme so people should be mentally prepared. “We need to make sure that we should have host these events in regions. Next Sunday, in Midland, they are launching this event and then in Yorkshire and Scotland. So people become more aware. We would like more mosques to hold seminars and training programmes so people should be mentally prepared,” said Lord Ahmed.

Officials from Business, Innovation & Skills Department (BIS) and Metropolitan police also highlighted the issue of exploitation of the pilgrims by some tour operators. Members of Parliament Steve McCabe and Roger Godsiff commended the hard work of the ABH, UK towards the welfare and well being of the pilgrims. They strongly urged the British Muslim community that they should be aware of the illegal activities of some unscrupulous and rogue Hajj tour operators who are causing tremendous hardship and difficulties to the British Hajj & Umrah pilgrims and they also expressed their full support to ensure that the Hajj & Umrah travel industry is regulated.

“The Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (A.B.H) the National Hajj specific organisation is organising high profile publicity campaign during this week through press and electronic media, and also organising seminars and educational training programs to raise awareness of pre-travel Health & Safety issues amongst prospective Hajj pilgrims to prevent such tragic incidents in future”, said Khalid Pervez, General Secretary of the Association of British Hujjaj.

Recent Expansion of Haramain

This is the season of Hajj. It is necessary to write something about the developments and expansion of the Haramain, The Masjid al-Haram in Makkah and the Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah al-Munawwarah.

Expansion of Masjid al-Haram
In 1988 King Fahd laid the foundation stone for the third Saudi expansion of the Sacred Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. The prime aim of the multi-million dollar programme was to make the places of Hajj more safely accessible to ever greater numbers. The development incorporated an expansion of the western wing of the existing Masjid al-Haram and a subsequent enlargement of the building to hold more than a million worshippers. The expansion included over 60,000 square metre of prayer area on the enlarged roof, in addition to another almost 86,000 square metre in the surrounding plaza. An elaborate new entrance and 18 smaller entranceways have also been built.

The safety and comfort of the Hajjis has become a major concern for the authorities. The newly laid floor titles are made of specially developed heat-resistant marble and the whole structure is cooled by one of the world’s largest air-conditioning units. To facilitate the movement of the worshippers to the newly developed of area of the Masjid al-Haram during the busiest seasons, additional escalators are incorporated along side a number of fixed stairways in the northern and southern sides of the building.

In November 2004, King Abdullah announced the launching of the giant development projects in Makkah al-Mukarramah at a total cost of more than 35 billion Saudi Riyals. The seven projects include Jabal Omar Development Project, Parallel Road Development Project, Jabal Khandamah Development Project, Shi’b Amir Development Project, Northern Haram (Al-Shamiyah) Development Project and Ajyad Hospital Development Project. In April 2007, the Makkah Development Authority, the Makkah Municipality and the Presidency of the Haramain Affairs announced a further expansion project, to be completed by 2020. The master plan for the development of the city’s central district aims at accommodating three million residents and eight million pilgrims. Further expansion of the Masaa will reduce overcrowding and will be completed before the next Hajj season. Plans are also under way to air-condition the entire built-up area of the Masjid al-Haram.

The 55-year old Ajyad Hospital in Makkah which is located close to the Grand Masjid has been demolished. The 3,000 square meter space where the hospital was located will be added to the Masjid al-Haram’s courtyard, creating prayer space for some 7,000 worshippers. A modern high-tech hospital is being built on a 110,000 square foot plot to the south east of the Masjid to satisfy the needs of pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors of the Holy Haram.

Expansion of Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah
Work on the Prophet’s Mosque began in 1985 and was completed in 1994. It increased the total area of the Mosque almost five-fold. A unique feature of the expansion project was the development of the 27 main plazas. Each plaza is now capped by a state-of-the-art sliding dome, which can be rapidly opened or closed according to the weather and can be used in unison or separately as required. The project also necessitated the building of six additional minarets, the most powerful visual sign of the Mosque, each 105 metre high construction being crowned with a 4 ton gold-plated crescent.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah laid the foundation stone for a SR. 4.7 billion ($1.25 billion) expansion project at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. The expansion project includes the installation of 182 sunshades in the Mosque’s courtyards which will give shade to more than 200,000 worshippers visiting the Mosque at any time. The development project also includes the expansion of the Mosque’s eastern courtyard by a further 37,000 square metres creating additional prayer space for 70,000 worshippers.

First Hajj flights arrived in Jeddah
More than 3,000 foreign pilgrims on 19 flights arrived at the King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) on Tuesday, 20th of October, the first day for the arrival of Hajj flights in the present Hajj season. Director General of King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA) Mazen Khashoggi told reporters that this year’s Hajj would witness a qualitative shift in pilgrim services. Pilgrims are being received at 13 gates. Eight new air bridges will be ready for serving them shortly, the official said.

Regarding the new arrangement for the smooth arrival and departure of pilgrim aircraft, the director said, “The peak season of arrivals and departures of pilgrims this year has been extended to 21 days instead of 10 days as in the past. The number of inbound flights each hour at the beginning of Hajj will be limited to six for arrival and five for departure at the end.”

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Key principles of Islam are universal - Home Secretary

Key principles of Islam are Universal - Alan Johnson

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The key principles of Islam – the right to life, the right to worship, justice, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity – are universal. They apply to every nation, every faith group and every race. More fundamentally, we are celebrating common values which are a product of centuries of co-operation and collaboration,” said the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, M.P., while delivering his speech at the Eid-ul-Fitr reception at the Durbar Hall of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, on Monday, the 12th of October 2009 in the presence of other three Cabinet Ministers; Saudi, Syrian, Sudanese, Turkish and other diplomats, community leaders, businessmen and media people.

While giving the historical background of deep relationship between Britain and Islam, after saying Eid Mubarak and thanking the Muslim community, the Home Secretary, said, “In the British Museum, there is a gold coin, minted in England in the 8th Century. On the front, it bears the name of King Offa of Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon king, whose dyke remains a tourist attraction. Inscribed in Arabic on the other side, by a Kentish coin maker, are a few phrases from the Qu’ran. So this is in the 8th century. Historians will long debate the coins’ significance. But at the very least, it serves as a reminder that the links between this country and Islam have very deep roots.”

Speaking about the British Muslim contribution, the Home Secretary said, “Tonight we are celebrating a relationship that’s exemplified by the contribution that Muslims make to every aspect of British life – in politics, academia, law, sport, the arts, healthcare, humanitarian aid, the military, business and finance. Islamic Relief received £6million during Ramadan thanks to UK Muslim communities. I think that’s a tremendous achievement that we should all applaud.”

Home Secretary also mentioned about the threat from the far right racist. “The threat from the far right racist it affects us all and it requires a united response,” Johnson said.

Home Secretary also mentioned, “There is a responsibility on government to tackle social exclusion, deprivation and discrimination in all its forms – we know that in our schools and universities, only a fraction of the potential of young Pakistanis and Bangladeshis is realised, despite significant improvements in recent years. And we know that there are Muslim communities in the UK which are disproportionately affected by poverty and unemployment, or face discrimination and harassment because of their faith or race.”

We celebrate the values of Ramadan-David Miliband Foreign Secretary

We celebrate the values of Ramadan:
Social Justice, compassion - Miliband

Dr. Mozammel Haque

If I understand rightly the values of Ramadan, the values that we celebrate tonight, the values of responsibility, the values of social justice, the values of compassion, the values that say something more important than ourselves - and those are important values that we should celebrate as a country and not just as a community here tonight, said the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, M.P., while inaugurating the Eid-ul-Fitr reception at the Durbar Hall of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, yesterday, Monday, 12th of October 2009 in the presence of other three Cabinet Ministers; Saudi, Syrian, Sudanese, Turkish and other diplomats, community leaders, businessmen and media people.

Miliband said, “those of you who are British citizens, each and every one of you is an ambassador for the best of what Britain can be. And I’ve spoken tonight who’ve on Foreign Office Missions to Bangladesh, people who are passionately engaged on issues of Darfur, people who care deeply about the plight of the Palestinians, people who are concerned about human rights in Sri Lanka. All of you are ambassadors for the sort of world we want to see, not just sort of Britain we want to see.”

“I think it’s important to say very clearly and very loudly that the sort of engagement we are beginning to develop from Britain’s Muslim communities to Muslim communities around the world, talking about the sort of Britain we want to see as well as the sort of world that we want to see, that is a huge new dimension to our diplomacy and one that I think gives us the potential to be even stronger diplomatic power in the years ahead,” said the British Foreign Secretary.

“So tonight is a chance to say, to say thank you to those of you who’ve engaged in our work but also to encourage more of you to be part of the honest, critical outward looking dialogue that I think is the heart of modern foreign policy,” said Miliband and added, “That we have Muslim communities who are immensely proud of their faith but are also immensely proud of being British and that is I think an important point of unity tonight.”

Miliband also mentioned, “Maybe I feel it especially because I am the first generation in my family to have been born in Britain, but I know this is a country that welcomes people, that brings the best out of people and that brings people together. And if tonight can be part of that process of bringing people together, of sharing what we have in common and debating where we have differences, and of committing together to be an outward looking force for our country; then we will not just be celebrating marking an important part of our holy calendar, we will also be contributing to the strength of this country.”

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Geneva Conference calls for International Dialogue Centre

Geneva Conference calls for setting up an International Dialogue Centre

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Geneva Interfaith Conference affirmed its support for the establishment of an international dialogue centre that would pursue the Kng Abdullah’s historic initiative at the conclusion of the Two-day International conference on Interfaith dialogue, organised by the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL), held at the Inter.Continental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, from 30 September to 1st October, 2009.

The main theme of the conference was ‘The Impact of King Abdullah’s Inter-Religious Dialogue Initiative in Disseminating Human Values’. Other topics for discussion in the conference were: King Abdullah’s Initiative and the Scope of Coexistence Among the Various Civilisations; the Role of Religion and Culture in Promoting Dialogue; the Impact of Religious Values in Reforming Societies; and the Role of Media in Strengthening Dialogue and Human Values.

The conference, organised by Muslim World League, was opened in Geneva on Wednesday, 30th of September 2009 under the patronage of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and was participated by 150 religious and academic figures representing different religions and cultures from nearly 40 countries, including the US, the UK, China, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan and the Philippines. Among them, besides others, were Bandar Al-Eiban, President of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia; William Baker, President of Christians and Muslims for Peace in the US; Rev. Xue Cheng, Vice Chairman of Buddhist Association of China; Faisal bin Muammar, Saudi Deputy Minister of Education; Sri Ravi Shankar, a renowned scholar on Hinduism; and Mohammad Ali Al-Taskhiri, General-Secretary of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Iran.

The conference was opened by Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, represented by Mrs. Muriel Berst, councillor of the Swiss delegation at the United Nations’ European headquarters in Geneva. She pledged Switzerland’s all-out support for the Saudi King’s initiative and praised the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. She commended the impact of religions in promoting a utopian ideal.

In the opening session, Dr. Bandar Al-Eiban, President of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia, who delivered the Kingdom’s speech, emphasized the importance of focusing on values shared by all religions. “The focus on differences by followers of different faiths and cultures had led to fanaticism and destructive wars,” he said and noted that the conference will provide a good opportunity to enhance cooperation among representatives of beliefs and cultures and to encourage dialogue as well as enhance the pillars of international cooperation for realizing coexistence.

The aims and objectives of the conference
At the very beginning of the conference, the Secretary General of the MWL, Dr. Abdullah Mohsin Al-Turki spelled out the objectives of the conference. He said that the Geneva meeting would generate global and popular support for the King’s initiative to promote a culture of dialogue among nations, organisations and individuals. “The main objectives of the king’s initiative are to uphold human values, establish justice, promote cooperation, protect human rights, preserve the family and end conflicts.” “King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative aims at disseminating human values, promoting coexistence of the people of different faiths, spreading the values of peace and security, fighting evil in the world and promoting cooperation between communities,” Dr. Al-Turki said.

The other objective of the conference, according to Dr. Al-Turki, was to spread human values that are shared by all religions. “This will encourage them to work jointly to solve pressing humanitarian problems, such as poverty, family violence, drug abuse and terrorism and violation of human rights,” he said.

Deliberations of the Conference
During the two-day conference, the delegates and participants asked the Geneva conference to give a clear vision and plan for the future and also to give a clear direction for future interfaith dialogue. Three important directions came out from the deliberations of the conference: one was a call for the establishment of an international research institute for training of the younger generations; another was to nurture the culture of dialogue among the younger generations to make the historic initiative launched by the Custodian of the Holy Mosques King Abdullah and also the role of the media in the interfaith dialogue and the role of the international media. .

1. Establishment of an International Dialogue Centre
Bava Jain, Secretary General of the World Council of Religious Leaders told reporters: “His Majesty King Abdullah has done his part in paving the foundation for this historic initiative by visiting the Vatican, meeting the Pope, organizing the Madrid conference and bringing together world leaders at the UN General Assembly to discuss the initiative. Now it is our duty to build upon this initiative to make it a big success.”

Mr. Jain called for the establishment of an international training and research institute to educate young religious leaders on the importance of dialogue among people of different faiths. Earlier on the eve of the Geneva Conference, Dr. Al-Turki, Secretary General of the Muslim World League also spoke about plans to establish an international centre to promote King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative. There was also a plan to set up an international committee on interfaith dialogue including prominent personalities from across the world. “We want to give a message to the world that Islam and Muslims stand for peace, and Saudi Arabia, its leadership and people want to make their contributions to world peace by promoting dialogue among the followers of different faiths,” he said, hoping that these efforts would help stop the smear campaigns against Islam and Muslims.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Kol Tikvah in the US while presiding over a session titled “The Initiative and the Scope of Coexistence among Civilizations,” said, “Let’s work hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart in this long journey,” and asked the participants to join him in prayer for the success of the initiative.

The Geneva Conference affirmed its support for the establishment of an international dialogue centre that would pursue the king’s historic initiative. It also supported the formation of a Global Islamic Commission involving major organizations concerned with dialogue.

2. Promoting the spirit of culture of dialogue
So far as to promote the culture of dialogue is concerned, MWL Secretary General said, this international forum would create greater understanding among the followers of different religions, promote goodwill within the human family, consolidate the foundations of peace and friendships among nations and to encourage them to work together for the welfare and betterment of all mankind. Shantilal Somaiya, who runs several educational institutions in Mumbai, India, said he was ready to provide every support to organize a similar conference in India.

President of Christians and Muslims for Peace, William Baker, wanted more discussions on major issues and said, “I am happy that this dialogue is being initiated by Saudis. It will help remove the misconceptions about Saudi Arabia and its people in this part of the world,” Baker said. “We need to move forward now by taking the dialogue initiative to the public and discuss issues such as poverty, occupation of homeland and human rights violation.”

Senator Adil Akhmetov of Kazakhstan emphasized the need to develop the culture of dialogue in families and children.” If we teach our children the importance of dialogue and coexistence and about the unity of religions it will make them world citizens and ambassadors of peace,” Senator Akhmetov said.

The final communiqué said the participants would appreciate the inclusion of more women and youths in future dialogue forums. They also called for greater cooperation between faith communities in fighting poverty, ignorance, diseases and disasters.

Secretary-General of the MWL told reporters at the conclusion of the two-day international interfaith conference in Geneva that his organisations is ready to participate in conferences and forums organized by any other institution to promote interfaith dialogue initiated by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and also indicated that the next conference would be held in Southeast Asia next year.

International media and the spread of culture of dialogue
Father Econos Nabeel Haddad, Executive Director of the Jordanian Centre for Religious Coexistence Research said, “Dialogue is an essential choice for societies to make progress and achieve peace” and urged the media to play an important role to spread the spirit of dialogue and coexistence all over the world.

The Geneva Conference urged the Muslim World League to convene a world conference on the “Mission of the International Media in Promoting Interfaith Dialogue”. The conference also urged international media to spread the culture of dialogue and prevent the culture of violence, stopping publication of violent art productions. It also rejected racial discrimination and racial superiority. “Differences in human beings and diversity of ethnicities and religions are realities permitted by God.”

This is the fourth international conference was held in connection with promoting interfaith dialogue at the initiative of the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. The first was held in Makkah, the second in Madrid and the third at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah initiated an interfaith dialogue as a way to boost tolerance and understanding, in particular between the Muslim, Christian and Hindu cultures to strengthening world peace and stability.

King Abdullah’s Journey to Interfaith Dialogue
King Abdullah began this journey of his interfaith dialogue three years ago in the Holy City of Makkah, when he called on all 57 Muslim heads of state to meet in Islam’s holiest city to ponder the issues of extremism and call for a Muslim renaissance. The King traveled to Vatican and met Pope Benedict offering him peace and friendship on behalf of the Muslim world. The visit heralded a new era in the relations between two Abrahamic faiths that have so much in common yet have seldom been at peace with each other.

King Abdullah hosted the first historic interfaith dialogue conference in Makkah in June 2008. The Makkah conference, which was held on 4 June, 2008, brought together about 500 Muslim leaders from around the world in order to set an agenda for the building of better relations between Muslims and followers of other faiths. Kind Abdullah said, “It is therefore incumbent upon us to declare to the world that difference must not lead to conflict and confrontation, and to state that the tragedies that have occurred in human history were not attributable to religion, but were the result of extremism with which some adherents of every divinely revealed religion, and of every political ideology, have been afflicted.”

The second conference on Dialogue was held in Madrid on 16 July, 2008, which was attended by around 300 eminent personalities and representatives from among the followers of the three revealed religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as by representatives of Oriental philosophies, cultures and civilizations. “If we want this historic encounter to succeed, we must look to the things that unite us: Our profound faith in God, the noble principles and elevated ethics that represent the foundation of religions,” the king told the Madrid conference.

Then King Abdullah took his battle of hearts and minds to the global centre-stage at the UN. A Two-day interfaith conference titled “High-Level Meeting on Culture of Peace” was held at the UN headquarters from 12-13 November 2008 to promote the culture of peace and dialogue among the followers of various faiths. UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann invited leaders of 192 member countries and observers, including the Vatican, to attend the conference. Many world leaders including US President George W. Bush, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Israeli President Shimon Peres, King Abdallah of Jordan, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan attended at the conference.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

King Abdullah's Vision of World Peace and Stability

King Abdullah’s Vision of
World Peace and Stability

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Saudi Arabia marks its 79th National Day on Wednesday, 23 September 2009, not only to remember the country’s unification at the hands of King Abdul Aziz to bring peace to the region and to restore the true faith of Islam but also to celebrate the dramatic development in the educational, health and economic sectors. “The National Day of Saudi Arabia is different from other countries. It is not an occasion to remember liberation from colonialists but rather an occasion to celebrate the unity of our people,” said Prince Abdul Rahman, Deputy Minister of Defence and Aviation.

King Abdullah’s vision of world peace and stability was demonstrated in the field of education, international politics and religion. His quest for world peace drives him to establish a university which will bring world scholars and scientists in a platform to bring world peace and solidarity. Similarly, in order to bring conflict-free world, King Abdullah gave an Arab Peace Initiative which can be basis to bring peace and permanent solution to the Middle East conflict. Thirdly, King Abdullah’s first historic initiative to bring world peace through interfaith dialogue and understanding makes the Saudi National Day something which makes the country can feel proud of.

King Abdullah’s gift to the nation: KAUST
On Wednesday, Saudis are celebrating the double booms: because of National day, a day to commemorate the unification and establishment of Saudi Arabia and the second is the inauguration of a high tech multi-billion King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) outside of Jeddah in September 2009. A dream came true when the Custodian of the Two Holy mosques inaugurated the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). “I have been thinking and dreaming about it for the last 25 years,” the king has said many times. The new university is King Abdullah’s dream project.

King Abdullah said, “Undoubtedly, scientific centres that embrace all peoples are the first line of defence against extremism. And today this university will become a House of Wisdom.”

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the establishment of the SR10 billion university on Oct. 21, 2007, King Abdullah said, “As a new Bait Al-Hikma, KAUST will be a beacon for peace, hope and reconciliation, and shall serve the people of the Kingdom and benefit all the peoples of the world in keeping with the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, which explains that God created mankind in order for us to come to know each other.”

He added, “Throughout history power has attached itself after God to science. And the Islamic nation knows too well that it will not be powerful unless it depends on after God, science. For science and faith cannot compete except in unhealthy souls and God has graced us with our minds, which we use to understand and recognise God’s laws of nature.”

“We hope that the university carries out its noble humanitarian message in a pure and clean atmosphere, taking the help of God and then that of enlightened intellectuals all over the world, without any bias or discrimination,” he added, desiring that the new university serves as a bridge between cultures and nations.

The launching of KAUST was nothing short of historic. It will serve as a lighthouse of knowledge for all mankind. The new university has been described as the King’s gift to the nation, but it develops and sets out as an international centre of research excellence where students and their professors have been selected purely for academic qualities and potential. Thus it will also be the King’s gift to the world.

The establishment of the new university with a $10 billion endowment has created huge excitement in the world academic community. The university received more than 7,400 applications from potential students. To date, KAUST has registered 817 students representing 61 countries; of this group, 374 postgraduate students began classes this month (September), while the rest will enrol at the beginning of 2010. Incoming students in the inaugural class represent 116 undergraduate institutions from many regions of the world including China (14 percent), Mexico (12 percent), Saudi Arabia (11 percent) and the US (8 percent). The university’s aim is to expand to 2,000 students within eight to 10 years.

Consider another fact: KAUST personnel represent 45 countries. These accomplished research scientists and educators hail from around the world. The top countries of origin are the US (14), Germany (7), Canada (6) and China (6). By all accounts, KAUST is a unique graduate research university that has brought the world to Saudi Arabia — and Saudi Arabia to the world.

King Abdullah’s Arab Peace Initiative
The other source of pride for the Saudi nation is King Abdullah’s contribution in the field of international politics to bring fair, comprehensive and permanent solution of the the Middle East conflict. King Abdullah’s Arab Peace Initiative remains the foundation of all efforts to bring justice to the Palestinian people.

In 2002, King Abdullah proposed Arab Peace Initiative, considered by many as a promising Saudi attempt to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah during a 2002 Summit in Beirut, was adopted in Beirut in 2002 and reconfirmed by other Arab Summits, including the 2006 and 2007 Arab Summits in Riyadh. The plan offers full normalization of relations in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all Arab Territories occupied during the 1967 War, including Jerusalem.

Recently, Abdullah has visited Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in what the Saudi Arabian government calls “an attempt to restart the stalled Middle East peace process and promote Arab unity and cooperation.’ Saudi Arabian efforts, including the hosting of Palestinians factions at a meeting in Makkah in February 2007 played a pivotal role in the stabilization of internal politics in the country and the commitment to form a national unity government.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal held bilateral talks with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington to emphasize the Kingdom’s determination to move forward with the Middle East peace process. “A bold and historic step is required to end this conflict and divert the resources of the region from war and destruction to peace and development,” Prince Saud said.

Prince Saud called for a “comprehensive approach” addressing final status issues during the negotiating phase. “The whole world knows what a settlement should look like –n withdrawal from all the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, a just settlement for the refugees, and an equitable settlement of issues such as water and security.” Prince Saud stressed the necessity of Israel doing its fair share by agreeing to a complete settlement freeze and providing necessities for Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Clinton reiterated the need for the Kingdom to take a leadership role facilitating peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. Saudi leadership is “absolutely vital to achieving ....lasting peace,” she said.

King Abdullah’s Interfaith Dialogue
In the field of religion, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah initiated an interfaith dialogue as a way to boost tolerance and understanding, in particular between the Muslim, Christian and Hindu cultures to strengthening world peace and stability.

On the occasion of the fourth interfaith conference, which opens in Geneva, Switzerland on 30 September 2009 with the participation of as many as 166 religious leaders and intellectuals from several countries, the Secretary General of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, Dr. Abdullah Mohsin Al-Turki, said the Geneva conference is a continuation of efforts that began in Makkah to promote interfaith dialogue. “King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative aims at disseminating human values, promoting coexistence of the people of different faiths, spreading the values of peace and security, fighting evil in the world and promoting cooperation between communities,” Al-Turki said.

The two-day conference at Geneva InterContinental would discuss a number of papers under the banner “The Impact of King Abdullah’s Initiative in Disseminating Human Values.” Religious leaders, academics and other prominent personalities from around the world, including the US, the UK, China, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Japan and the Philippines, take part in the event, which is scheduled to be opened by the President of Switzerland on Wednesday, 30 September, 2009.

King Abdullah began this journey of his interfaith dialogue three years ago in the Holy City of Makkah, when he called on all 57 Muslim heads of state to meet in Islam’s holiest city to ponder the issues of extremism and call for a Muslim renaissance. The King traveled to Vatican and met Pope Benedict offering him peace and friendship on behalf of the Muslim world. The visit heralded a new era in the relations between two Abrahamic faiths that have so much in common yet have seldom been at peace with each other.

King Abdullah hosted the first historic interfaith dialogue conference in Makkah in June 2008. The Makkah conference, which was held on 4 June, 2008, brought together about 500 Muslim leaders from around the world in order to set an agenda for the building of better relations between Muslims and followers of other faiths.“We are the voice of justice and moral values, we are the voice of rational and just co-existence and dialogue, the voice of wisdom and admonition, and dialogue with the best way possible as Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, ‘Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and discuss with them in ways that are best’,” the King said.

Kind Abdullah also said, “It is therefore incumbent upon us to declare to the world that difference must not lead to conflict and confrontation, and to state that the tragedies that have occurred in human history were not attributable to religion, but were the result of extremism with which some adherents of every divinely revealed religion, and of every political ideology, have been afflicted.”

The second conference on Dialogue was held in Madrid on 16 July, 2008, which was attended by around 300 eminent personalities and representatives from among the followers of the three revealed religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as by representatives of Oriental philosophies, cultures and civilizations. Among the attendees were the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress Michael Schneider and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, in charge of dialogue between the Vatican and Muslims and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “If we want this historic encounter to succeed, we must look to the things that unite us: Our profound faith in God, the noble principles and elevated ethics that represent the foundation of religions,” the king told the Madrid conference.

Then King Abdullah took his battle of hearts and minds to the global centre-stage at the UN. A Two-day interfaith conference titled “High-Level Meeting on Culture of Peace” was held at the UN headquarters from 12-13 November 2008 to promote the culture of peace and dialogue among the followers of various faiths. UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann invited leaders of 192 member countries and observers, including the Vatican, to attend the conference. Many world leaders including US President George W. Bush, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Israeli President Shimon Peres, King Abdallah of Jordan, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan attended at the conference.

I would like to conclude with a quote from King Abdullah who points out the core values established by his father three-quarters of a century ago:

“The late King Abdul Aziz founded and united this state on the basis of Islamic Shari’ah. Consequently, unity replaced division; love replaced enmity and cooperation replaced antagonism. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a peace-loving country that respects human rights and works to utilise its wealth to achieve the aspirations of its own people as well as those of Arab and Islamic countries within a joint humanitarian concept, just as all the world’s peace-loving countries do. In conclusion, let me appeal to Allah Almighty to preserve our country and let it continue to enjoy security and stability.”