God in the 21st Century Dignitaries & Leading World ActivistsNo Comments | June 2014
Overview of Speakers
- Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP
- HE Prof. Kwaku Danso-Boafo
- Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett
- Baroness Berridge
- Rt Hon Baroness Warsi
Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP
The Attorney General for England and Wales
The Right Honourable Dominic Grieve QC MP became a Member of Parliament (MP) from Beaconsfield in 1997 and currently serves as the Attorney General for England and Whales, thereby serving as the Chief Legal Advisor of the Crown and its’ government. He is currently President of the Franco-British Society, Vice-Chairman of the Franco-British Council, and he is also a Deputy Church Warden. He is a staunch defender of human rights and freedom of religion.
“Your Holiness, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, Assalamo Alaikum! It gives me great pleasure to come here this evening. I don’t think I can think of a more apt location for this interfaith conference looking forward to the 21st century, then we should meet in a great hall of merchants – the very people who took Britain, England and then Britain, outwardly looking towards the rest of the world, and have had the miraculous consequence of bringing all of you together in this place again this evening.
It’s a tribute to them; in a sense that they were people of broad vision even if we have no doubt that they were also in part motivated by materialist instincts. But also that in promoting their ideas they were broad minded and intended towards inclusion. It is after all a City of London which in the 19th century became the great place where Jews – some of my Jewish forebears and after them others of other religious groups other than Christian – were able to find their feet to succeed in British society and to take themselves forwards and their families in participating in our national life.
Here we are this evening discussing faith and on an interfaith basis. I have no doubt in my mind that that’s a very important thing for us to do. One thing I discovered a long time ago as a person of Christian faith is that it always seemed to me that it is very much easier for somebody who has faith to understand people of other faiths, than it is for those who have no faith at all. So the dialogue on which we are going to embark this evening strikes me as being an especially important one. We also have to recognise, of course, that we live in a society where people may choose to have no faith at all. Indeed, the right of individual conscience lies at the very fundamental base of everything which I think identifies which we would now call British values – a right to manifest your religion, or your lack of it, in peace, and to do so by personal choice without coercion of any kind. And that of course is one of the duties which the state has in upholding, and one which the present government and its predecessors put at the very heart of their government agenda. So for those reasons I would like once again, and I have done it on many occasions before, to thank your Holiness and the Ahmadi community for the astonishing contribution which you make to our national life, because as I know in my own constituency and all of you in this hall this evening know irrespective of your faith background, the dialogue which has been so persistently and constantly engaged by the community has provided an environment in which we can meet and talk and discuss these matters. Secure in the knowledge for those of us who do have faith, that the faith that we promote may be a benefit to all, and for those who do not, the realisation that those of faith have something to contribute as well.
So, on that note, I will bring my remarks to an end. But I am conscious that the Prime Minister, in the knowledge that this was taking place this evening, sent a message to you all as delegates, which he has asked me to read out and which I will do. He said:
“I send my sincere greetings to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as you come together with faiths from around the world to unite for social and international peace. I recognise the great work you do here in Britain – from interfaith events across the country to helping communities who have been affected by the recent floods. And, today highlights the significant work you do for interfaith relations and peace overseas.
I’m delighted that the British Government is represented today and will join His Holiness and faith leaders and politicians from around the world to discuss how faiths can come together to help bring about peace.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my wish as well. Thank you very much!”
HE Prof. Kwaku Danso-Boafo
Ghanaian High Commissioner to UK
His Excellency, Professor Kwaku Danso-Boafo, Ghanaian High Commissioner, read a special message from the President of Ghana, His Excellency, John Dramani Mahama. Ghana is a country of inspirational tolerance and respect in matters of faith and is a leading light in Africa on the promotion of religious peace.
“His Holiness, honourable leaders in Government and Politics, Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Court, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am honoured to bring you greetings from His Excellency, John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana who also sends His sincere apologies for his inability to join you at this timely and relevant Conference of World Religions. Here is the President’s brief message:
“Just this past September, the people of my nation Ghana, were badly shaken, when one of our most distinguished citizens was killed during the terrorists siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Professor Kofi Ayuno, a renowned poet, diplomat, academic statesman had his life cut short by religious fanatics. These killers discarded Islam’s abiding message of peace and went on a daily rampage that claimed the lives of several people including Muslims. This event and occasion brought home to Ghanaians and indeed people all around the world the sad reality of the devastating impact of the religious intolerance, fanaticism and terrorism in our world today. But this should not be the case.
We are all indeed reminded that Almighty Allah has been sending his noble prophets and messengers into the world, with messages promoting peace, orderliness, mutual respect, and harmonious co-existence among people of all races, creeds, and religions.
In Ghana, this harmonious co-existence is demonstrated in many aspects of life including within my own extended family, where both Muslims and Christian relatives live together in love and peace. Journey efforts deep in religious tolerance and harmony have also resulted in parliament passing an act establishing a National Peace Council, which is an umbrella organisation of eminent religious leaders from various faiths. The National Peace Council has been instrumental in promoting mutual respect and peaceful co-existence amongst all our citizens. In fact, the stature and importance of this council became most evident when the results of the last elections were challenged in court, and tensions rose high. It played a key role in reducing tensions and keeping Ghanaians of different religions and political groups united in peace.
However, we are all aware that all around the world, religious bigotry, intolerance and hatred, are causing major problems for millions of people. This is why I consider this Conference of World Religions to be so important, so timely, and truly relevant, especially as we seek to mobilise all the world religions to say no to intolerance, fanaticism and terrorism in the name of religion.
The conference is a worthy effort that will surely bring people of different religions together, and promote peace in our world today. I wish to congratulate the world leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for his wisdom in organising such a worthy conference. I wish you every success in your deliberations. Thank you so much!””
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett
Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett is the Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Dr. Lantos Swett established the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice in 2008 and served as its’ President and Chief Executive Officer. The Foundation is a distinguished and respected voice on many key human rights concerns. As Vice Chair of USCIRF, an independent bipartisan of US federal government commission, Dr. Lantos Swett governs the organisation which is the first of its’ kind in the world dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief. USCIRF analyses issues of freedom of religion violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State and Congress.
“Good evening! I must say that this is the third opportunity I have had to be with a gathering of the Ahmadiyya Community, and each time I feel uplifted and moved by the marvellous, marvellous spirit amongst this people, and I sense that same spirit here today, and I am so delighted to be here.
I want to thank you for that kind introduction. It truly is an honour and privilege to be here with all of you this evening, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the presence of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United Kingdom.
A little more than seven months ago I was privileged to receive a humanitarian award at your annual convention in America, in Pennsylvania’s capital city. And a year before that, I had the great honour of meeting His Holiness for the first time in America’s capital city, and now tonight, I am truly grateful and delighted to have the opportunity once again to join you in Great Britain’s capital, in a joyful celebration of tolerance and freedom, which is the hallmark of your community and its people. Simply stated, you, the Ahmadiyya Community, are living proof that religion can indeed be a true friend of peace, understanding, and liberty.
Yes, it is true that in all too many times and places, religion has been used to fuel humanity’s darkest impulses. We can just think of the wars raged right here on this continent centuries ago in the name of religion. Or we can think of the witch-hunts of early America, or the excuses the forces of religion offered for racial oppression, and we can think of the horrors of modern terrorism that violent practitioners of religious extremism have unleashed. But this undeniable record of violence and repression in religion’s name is no excuse for driving religion from society. And yet, nearly a century ago when the Ahmadiyya Community arrived here in London, parts of the world began to do exactly that. In many countries a terrible experiment was unleashed on humanity – the silencing of religion as a truly autonomous voice of conscience, independent of government; it was replaced with the brute force of all-powerful governments. Regimes like Nazi Germany, despotisms like Soviet Russia, driven by ruthless ideologies like Fascism and Communism that recognised no limits of any kind on the power of the state and its rulers. As a result, during the last century, more people died at the hands of these brutal systems than at the hands of all the religions combined in centuries past.
But, at the same time, looking back at the 20th century we also see something beautiful and precious. We see brave human beings imbued by their religious teachings rising up and becoming a light in the darkness, and a witness for human rights and dignity. We see in America in the mid-20th century, a mighty civil rights movement, rising from the country’s churches, challenging racial tyranny and its supporters, including those within the church. It was these churches that empowered Martin Luther King Jr. and his generation to press on and achieve justice and equality, under the law. We see in India, right before America’s civil rights revolution, the Hindu philosophy of Satyagraha, or non-violent civil disobedience, galvanising Mahatma Ghandi to bring independence to his country. We see across eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire, starting in the 1980s, Pope John Paul II and the Roman Catholic Church, sowing the seeds for rending the iron curtain, tearing down the Berlin wall, dissolving the Soviet Union, and helping free hundreds of millions of people. We see in South Africa the collapse of its apartheid system, thanks not only to Nelson Mandela, but to a generation of church leaders who spoke truth to their society including to other church leaders. And when apartheid fell, it was people of faith who helped lead the drive for national reconciliation, and embrace and receive forgiveness for the misdeeds of the past. And yes, looking back on the 20th century, we see you, the Ahmadiyya Community, standing not just for yourselves, but for all of humanity, against humanity’s oppressors.
My colleague from USCIRF who is here with me tonight, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, shared with me a remarkable story about the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights, which enshrines the international community’s commitment to freedom of religion. The nation of Pakistan, which was an original signatory, was represented by Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, an Ahmadiyya Muslim, who signed the universal declaration on behalf of Pakistan. Sadly, one cannot help but wonder what Mr Khan’s fate would be if he were alive and living in Pakistan today.
In standing up for peace and embracing the dictum of Love For All, Hatred For None, the Ahmadiyya community was right, and is right; yes, religion can assume toxic forms, but the way to defeat religious ideas that harm, is not by shutting down all religious ideas, but by embracing those that heal. The way to combat expressions of faith that dishonour some people is by affirming those that honour all people, and the way to counter the religious extremism of some is by affirming religious freedom for all.
And as we move through the 21st century, this affirmation is the job of the commission on which I serve. Our job is to stand for the right of every person and a group, to choose what to believe or not to believe, and practise their beliefs openly, peacefully, and in accordance with their conscience. And this precious birth right, this precious liberty is the birth right of everyone in this room. You, who stand for tolerance and freedom for others must have someone standing for you, and speaking for myself and for my colleagues on the commission, we continue to stand with you and for you today. We stand against any person or government, anywhere in the world, from Pakistan to Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, who refuses to recognise your sacred right to be Ahmadi Muslims. We, like you, stand for tolerance, and freedom. We, like you, stand for a world where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can come together and learn from each other. To learn implies listening, and to listen implies respect and tolerance. I am grateful indeed that the Ahmadiyya Community is about respect for our fellow human beings, and toleration of their right to express their views openly and candidly, and to see those views discussed in a civil and fair-minded way.
Today, in the 21st century, thanks to the internet, more people than ever are being confronted by the full range of thought and opinion which characterises the human family. In this new world, respect and tolerance are not optional, but critical. The alternative is more conflict and strife, more violence and war, and more disruption and despair. In other words, if we want a more peaceful, prosperous, stable world, we must stand for freedom. To supress freedom in the name of stability is to create the conditions that make stability impossible. Indeed, countries like Pakistan, which suppress or tolerate the suppression of groups like the Ahmadiyya, provide fertile ground for more poverty and insecurity, more war and terror, and more radical movements and activities. Clearly the struggle for religious freedom remains an uphill one.
But the good news is that you and I are not alone. Around the world, the calls for the protection of this right are being amplified as never before, they are being heard across countries and continents, the message they send is clear: religious freedom matters and must be protected. It is time for governments around the world to hear and heed this message.
I would like to close my remarks today with an anecdote that I think illustrates the profound possibility that religion has to transform not only our lives individually, but the world around us. A hundred and fifty years ago, a beleaguered American president seeing his country torn apart by a dreadful civil war, delivered an unforgettable speech that we call the Gettysburg Address. And if you ask any American school child where the phrase ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ comes from, they will eagerly say ‘but of course, Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.’ But, in fact, this famous phrase has a much older patrimony. John Wycliffe, a Catholic priest in England, many, many hundreds of years ago, undertook and was inspired to undertake the translation of the Bible from its original Latin Vulgate into the common vernacular of the people, believing call to make the word of God available to each and every person. When he had finished this great task for which he was persecuted and hounded, he wrote something very interesting in the flyleaf of that first translation. He wrote the following: ‘The translation is complete and shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ Now, I can’t be completely sure what he meant by that, but I like to think that what he meant when he wrote those words, is that when individuals are empowered, to connect to the divine and the transcendent for themselves, it not only has the power to transform their lives spiritually, but that higher vision of who they are and what they may become, imbues them also with the desire to improve and to ennoble the present world in which we live. May we all redouble our efforts to do just that. Thank you!”
Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for International Religious Freedom
Baroness Berridge is the Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group in the United Kingdom on International Religious Freedom. Baroness Berridge of the Vale of Catmose in the county of Rutland, joined the House of Lords in 2011 and she has a keen interest in foreign affairs and multiculturalism. She has served as a trustee and an Executive Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF) and as part of the advisory council of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. In July 2013, Baroness Berridge was elected as Chair of the new All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, which works to raise awareness and the profile of international religious freedom issues as a human right.
“Good evening your Holiness, ladies and gentlemen. I bring just brief thanks this evening to the Ahmadiyya Community. When we founded this All Party Parliamentary Group, just nearly two years ago now, I knew very little of your community. But when we were founding a group like this we needed parliamentarians, who are in the House of Commons and House of Lords, from all the different political parties. But, of course, to run a group like this we need the support of those who are in the World Council of Religions, and those who hold no religion at all. We felt very much that as we founded the group, that if we use just the services of one particular religious group who were keen to support us, we would look and seem as if we were only representing that one group. So we set about meeting the different religious communities in the UK and the more difficult task of seeking to persuade them to resource and finance a group within parliament that would raise awareness of this human right.
But I’m incredibly thankful that the Ahmadiyya Community has indeed come on board with this work and works alongside Sikhs, Hindus, other Muslims, Christians and the British Humanist Association in order for us to raise the profile of this human right.
But, during this time when I have looked at the Ahmadiyya Community, I would like to say that they have known persecution, but in fact it is all too true to say that they know persecution. The situation from Masud Ahmad arrested in November in Pakistan, the situation not long ago for Ummad Farooq who was shot in Pakistan and was a student actually here in Sunderland in the UK, and although we are proud in the UK to offer asylum to those who have to flee religious persecution, our work is aimed at ensuring that you can reside in the countries that you choose to reside in, and freely practise your beliefs. I am incredibly grateful for the support the community gives to the work; we are parliamentarians and we are seeking to work alongside the government to be that helpful pressure to prick the conscience of governments and we are looking to work, not only in the UK, but to build links with politicians in all jurisdictions who wish to fight for that freedom, and I do hope that one day your support will mean that your community can live in the country of your choice. Thank you so much for your hospitality.”
Rt Hon Baroness Warsi
Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Baroness Warsi is a conservative member of the House of Lords. Prior to her ministerial appointment she was Co-Chair of the Conservative party (2010-2012) and Minister without Portfolio. She is the first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet. Baroness Warsi is passionate advocate of religious freedom and the role religion can play within societies and in an address to Anglican Bishops’ Conference in 2010, she famously declared that governments should “do God”. Baroness Warsi remains a keen advocate for interfaith peace and has spoken regularly in favour of religion as a powerful driver for social cohesion.
“Your Holiness, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, good evening, and Assalamo Alaikum. It is an honour to speak before such an illustrious audience in such prestigious surroundings here at the Conference of World Religions, and it is a testament to the openness and the pragmatism and the humility of the Ahmadiyya Community that your flagship global event today is not just about celebrating your own faith but about celebrating all faiths, and you only have to look around Britain to see the huge contribution the Ahmadiyya Community is making in all walks of life, especially in relation to charity, and especially in relation to social action.
And ladies and gentlemen, politics, if done sincerely, if it is done with commitment, is one of the highest forms of public service, and I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a politician from your community. You refer to him as Lord Tariq Ahmad, I refer to him as Tariq Bhai. He is a huge ambassador, not just for your community, but for so many other faiths in this country and, Tariq Bhai, your loyalty and commitment is something that I value very dearly, thank you very much.
I think in my introduction it was said that I famously once said that this government would do God, and I think what prompted me to say that were the famous words of the last Archbishop of Canterbury when he said that unfortunately religion and faith was being seen as the preserve of minorities, foreigners, and oddities. Now I am not sure whether I could describe people in this room as minorities, foreigners, or oddities, but I certainly felt that faith was not being given its proper place in the public sphere. Some of you may recall those famous words of Alistair Campbell when he said we do not do God, and I therefore felt that we needed to show a step change in that direction and say that we did do God, and that this government would do God. And what I meant by that ladies and gentlemen, is that we would do things differently in three ways; that first of all we would support people in their right to follow a faith, and remember that nearly, even in the last census, that nearly 70 percent of people in Britain said that they had an affiliation with a faith, with a religion. That secondly, we would harness the good deeds that faith groups do exemplify, by the selfless contribution of the Ahmadi Community, and, as I have said on numerous occasions, people who do God inevitably then do good, and you only have to look at the number of volunteering hours and the amount of charitable giving within faith communities to see how true that is. And thirdly, that we would tackle the intolerance, the unacceptable intolerance that people of faith face both in this country but also overseas, and therefore in my international role as minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I made freedom of religion and belief a personal priority in the human rights brief.
But I felt that we needed to go further than that, and when we talk about freedom of religion and belief, I felt that we needed to explain what that meant; it meant people having the freedom to have a faith, to be able to manifest that faith, to be able to change that faith, to be able to show that they can have no faith and to be protected and promoted in that belief. So I think that I was reminded of that just a few weeks ago when I met the Ahmadiyya Community at their Keighley mosque, who said that they wanted the government to continue to endeavour in that area.
Ladies and gentlemen, as a politician, I define myself by what I stand for, rather than what I stand against, and in faith it is also more powerful if you define yourself by the expression of your religion rather than the expression of which religion you are against. If we define ourselves by what we stand for and the values in all faiths will stand with us, because they are universal, and if we define our faiths in a matter which is open and tolerant and non-judgmental, and one in which celebrates the space for others and not just demanding the space for oneself, and if we define ourselves in that positive way, in the way that so many people here are defining themselves, then it is actually the kind of celebration that we are seeing here tonight, that we will be able to see in so many parts around the world.
It has clearly been an important moment for so many different faiths to be able to come up here and express their solidarity to each other, and their solidarity and commitment to interfaith work, and it’s been a privilege, ladies and gentlemen, for me to be a part of that. Thank You!”