Justine Greening, Member of Parliament for Putney and host of the event
Good afternoon everyone. I very much like to welcome you all here to Parliament. It’s a very special day for us to have his Holiness here and my local Ahmadiyya community, not just from my own constituency of Putney, but I know from the whole of London and actually from the whole of the United Kingdom. It’s a very special day and a privilege for us to welcome you here to Parliament. Obviously it’s part of the very important celebrations that are going on around the world in fact, but particularly here in Britain celebrating a hundred years of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat. Being here in the United Kingdom I am particularly proud to be able to say that the very first mosque was in Gressenhall Road right in Southfields which is part of the Putney community. And since that time it has played a key, vital and positive role in the Southfields community. And the motto of ‘Love for All Hatred for None’ I think is one that actually our whole community can live by, which is why it is such a privilege for us to be able to play our role and for me as the local MP to be able to play my role in hosting this event here in Parliament.
I would like to thank all of you for coming here today, and particularly all the MPs. Wednesdays are a very busy day in Parliament and I know that it’s a sign of the respect that we have for the Ahmadiyya community and its contribution to our country that has led to the large number of MPs, and Peers in fact, to come here today to pay their respect. We have got a very busy day ahead of us actually. After the reception there will be a number of meetings going on and I will get the chance to show his Holiness around Parliament so that he can perhaps see where so many of us spend a lot of our time. But in the mean time I will hand over to Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron who has very kindly come to be able to speak to us today. We are very grateful for the work that the Foreign Office does on behalf of the community in challenging the persecution that takes place across the world against the Ahmadiyya community. The role of the Foreign Office in supporting human rights and freedoms is absolutely vital and we are really pleased that the Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron has been able to join us so I will quicky hand over to you Gillian. Thank you.
The Right Honourable Gillian Merron, MP for Lincoln, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It is a great honour to meet your holiness and to be marking the Caliphate Centenary with fellow Parliamentarians and members of the Ahmadiyya community today, who are indeed represented both around the world but of course around the United Kingdom. And I know many members of your community are important and valued members of the constituencies of parliamentary colleagues here today.
I would share Justine’s view that the reason you have so many Parliamentarians is because of the importance of the community to us.
I would like to start by saying just how important the work of the Ahmadiyya community is. It deepens others understanding and view on faith and gives a voice to those who are marginalised in their own societies.
In that context, I have been particularly concerned and I know that many of you today are also concerned about reports of the difficulties that the community faces around the world including in Pakistan and in Indonesia and I would like to give my assurance today that this government is raising these issues with the authorities in those countries and we will not falter in pressing for better human rights for minority groups, no matter, where they are.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of International Development, The Ministry of Defence, we all work together with the aim of improving peoples’ lot wherever they are in the world. Promoting tolerance, inclusion and respect for human rights is a central part of what we do and we are committed to continuing that work. Just last week I concluded the debate in the House of Commons regarding Human Rights and democracy around the world. And I said that we have a mission, a mission to promote human rights, not just because it is in our interests, but because it is the clever thing to do as well as the right thing to do. I also pay tribute to the work of groups and individuals who make a stand for Human Rights in difficult and often dangerous conditions, the like of which many of us could not even begin to dream of. And I place a great deal of importance on the work that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does with such groups including the Ahmadiyya Community and its individual members.
Your Holiness, friends and colleagues, today we see a unique perspective brought to our work on human rights particularly on freedom of religion. I believe through your contribution, our Human Rights policy is stronger and better and I very much hope that we will continue such close co-operation in the future. It is something that I look forward to.
The Right Honourable Hazel Blears, MP for Salford, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Thank you very much and I can say genuinely that I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to listen to that address and I think many of us in this room could have listened to this for a considerable period longer, because I think the things you had to say were pertinent, contemporary, really quite moving and also quite challenging I think, and they were the best kind of addresses, not very often something that politicians always do. But an absolute pleasure to listen to you.
My name is Hazel Blears and I am Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I am here today, I think for two reasons. One is in my own capacity as the Minister responsible for bringing communities right across the country from every faith and from every background together to share the things to unite us and to celebrate that fact. But I suppose more importantly today I am here to bring you the best wishes of the Prime Minister (Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown). He would love to be here but he specifically asked me to come along and to welcome you to the House of Commons and also to welcome many many Parliamen-tarians that I can see in the audience. It is a pleasure for all of us I think to have the opportunity to come together.
I have a very brief message, I suppose today, and that is really to say that your basis of your values I think is tremendously important to all of us. And it is ‘Love for All Hatred for None’. I think that is a very simple way having captured something that is incredibly special and very, very important. In all the work I do with all the different faith communities, all the people who make up a wonderful and diverse United Kingdom.
I think there are certain things that do unite us about the values of this country and it is about peace. it is about compassion, it is about equality and it is about mutual respect. And those are easy words to say but they are actually quite difficult ideals to live up to. And I think every single one of us in our life strives to meet that challenge. We do not always succeed and occasionally we stumble and I think the words you said about supporting the transgressors sometimes set them back on the right path are tremendously uplifting and optimistic. Because I do believe that people are able to change. People are able to take these very complex messages to heart, people are able to embrace new values.
I think the steadfastness and the depth of your commitment in the Ahmadiyya Community is something that should be an inspiration to every single one of us. I know sometimes in the work that I do it is difficult, it is challenging, and I think all of our Parliamentarians and our Civic leaders would say the same. When we have the kinds of inspiration and spiritual leadership from people whose depth of belief is literally inspiring to all of us. I think then we have the energy to carry on doing the things which are important to us and some of the values that have been expressed in very tangible terms in trying to ensure that certainly in the current economic conditions we help people as much as we can who are struggling with their homes, and their jobs, their businesses and the ability to make differences in our communities.
But it is those values that will take us forward in the right direction and if we lose touch with our values then we can get ourselves into some very very difficult situations.
And I also wanted to thank Justine for organising today’s event. And I am delighted that there are people from every political party and I think values are underpinned in political ideology and many of those values we certainly share. And I also just wanted to say that I know that many of you remember Tony Coleman, a Local MP previously who is held in high regards by many members of the community as well.
So, I am delighted you are here, delighted you have got the opportunity to celebrate, very pleased to be with my colleague Gillian Merron who is a new Foreign Office Minister but I am sure will be a fabulous champion on behalf of the many communities in this country and as well as making great relationships right across the world.
You are very welcome here to the heart of the democracy and I wanted just to pay a personal tribute to all the things you do in your community and the value you bring. Most of all I think it was the idea that I just have the pleasure of hearing you, to take time out in a very busy place, in a place where sometimes things get confused, where people sometime don’t just argue for the sake of it, do we Justine? We have good, strong, vigorous contested debates, but to be able to take time out of some of that conflict to have a moment of peace and consideration and the ability just to think a little bit more deeply about what it is that motivates every single one of us is extremely precious.
Mr. Alan Keen, MP for Feltham and Heston.
Thank you for giving me the privilege that I have been part of your event this afternoon and I do hope that you all have enjoyed the opportunity to be here in Parliament.
I was quite alarmed this morning, I thought I must have done something wrong, because I got an e-mail from the Prime Minister, that said ‘Dear Alan’, I thought he wanted me to be Chancellor of the Exchequer to punish me for something I had obviously done but it was not that, it was for the very very best reason it could be. He wrote:
“Dear Allan, I wanted to send you a note to say how sorry I am that I cannot be with you at the event today as you gather with friends from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. I know that you and Hazel, and Hazel has been here, will convey my best wishes and those of the whole Labour movement on this auspicious occasion of the Khalifat Centenary.
Please do extend a warm welcome to His Holiness Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, with fellow worshippers in over a hundred and seventy six countries, our British Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will continue to work for peace and tolerance and to strengthen inter-faith dialogue both here and abroad. I know that both you and Hazel will continue to keep me up to date with the many successes of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Britain. Please do pass on my appreciation and thanks to everybody gathered with you today and through them to many Ahmadiyya Muslims making such a contribution to the country.
Best Wishes. Gordon”
If I could just say a couple of words, I think this gathering today puts our relatively minor political differences into perspective. I know why so many politicians are here. They are here because they understand the commitment to peace throughout the world by the Ahmadiyya community. They are all here because they have met people in their own communities from the Ahmadiyya communities and that is why we all pledge our support and thank you for what you do. And just to prove that political differences are very minor. I have already shown his holiness that she (Justine Greening MP) is one of my favourites, even though she is in a different party.
I can also add that when Her Majesty required me to join her armed services, I tried to persuade that it would be better for the armed services if I did not join, but in the end they made me. And I was based in central London but I lived in Orpington and way back in the early sixties I voted Liberal Democrat for Lord Avebury and helped get him into Parliament and he has done so much over the years.
So, thank you your Holiness and thank you Justine for helping to organise this great event and this is very humbling to come here amongst you all.
The Right Honourable Mr. Dominic Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield, and the Shadow Home Secretary
Well thank you very much Justine, and it’s a great pleasure for once to be hosting an event for the Ahmadiyya community rather than, as tends to happen, to be a guest of the Ahmadiyya community at so many of your functions. Yours are always indeed a very remarkable group of people. To go to the annual convention down in Hampshire on the Hampshire/Sussex borders is to witness something which is probably rather unique in British life, which is to see something around seventy five or eighty percent of the total population who are practising Ahmadi Muslims in this country together in one venue. Now this would be a politician’s dream if we could organise it for ourselves, but it has always impressed itself on me as being one of the remarkable attributes of yourselves.
Your contribution to our national life has also been tremendous. I only have to look around the room to see some very familiar faces and the knowledge that in public life, politics, in the civil service, the armed forces, the professions and in business Ahmadis are well represented and that of course comes because of a policy of engagement process by which we can debate issues of importance and moderate each other’s ideas by the exchange of views and as your holiness yourself said in your speech today that of course is the essence of the Islam that you practice and indeed is compatible with the interfaith dialogue which I know has been enormously productive for all of us.
So I would just like to thank you very much for the invitation, for the pleasure of being able to be collectively hosts here at the House of Commons and for the fact that this is the hundredth anniversary of the movement which has had profound consequences I think in building interfaith harmony and is a model of its kind in terms of the ability of people to integrate into our national life.
Indeed one of the reasons I think why you have chosen to have your national headquarters here is because Britain has had in that context so much to offer, that something which I think we all feel very proud about is having the Ahmadiyya community based here with all its worldwide connections. And looking ahead it seems to me that what you have achieved are things that we can all build on. But we can all go forward in engaging together because we have so much to learn from each other.
And in a world which is often as you say difficult, often has manifest unfairness in it and indeed in which our human frailties are often too apparent, The opportunity of having friends with whom to discuss these issues and to try and make progress for the benefit of our children and grandchildren is one that can make us all optimistic.
The Right Honourable Mr. Simon Hughes, MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, President of the Liberal Democratic Party and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons.
Your Holiness, Secretary of State and friends, I guess we are here to show the breadth of the welcome that is given to you all and that is only fair, because your holiness you have been very good at welcoming so many of us to your headquarters and as Dominic Grieve said a moment ago to your great celebration in the summer the gathering of the thousands, all there to be taught and to share but also to welcome. And I just want to reflect very quickly three things which have impressed me over that.
One is that you have been extremely welcoming here. Yes, Britain has welcomed the headquarters of the Ahmadis in this country but it has not become something that has become as it were a closed sect in Britain.
It has become a community that has sought to reach out to all of us across parties, in parties, outside parties, in the community where you are based in South West London, and elsewhere. And that is very important because the best way to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice is for that contact to happen and I thank you for that and for all your colleagues.
Secondly, as a London MP, I am very proud like Allan and others. I am very proud that you have your base with us. We are the most cosmopolitan city in Europe, probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world. It is very important to us that all the great faiths of the world are represented here because it is very important that we learn to live as we want the rest of the world to live in places that are much less tolerant than here. We have to exemplify. We have to show what is the best practice in learning from each other. There are many people of faith here and many people of different faiths and beliefs and the best communities in the world are where there is absolutely complete respect for those different faiths and beliefs, and support for people’s rights that follow from that, to associate freely, to worship freely, to preach, to teach and to engage people and so we are very privileged about that too.
But thirdly, I hope we are here as we celebrate your centenary to remember that the work of arguing for religious tolerance and religious freedom is not yet completed. Every time I have been with your colleagues, we have been reminded how both in Pakistan but also in other places of the world people are not free always to practise the faith of their choice and we have to make sure that we go on working internationally. Gillian and now the Minister for Europe, but other ministers in the Foreign Office, to challenge regularly places where people do not have the same freedom as we enjoy here. I think collectively the fact that there is such a broad cross section of colleagues from both Houses indicates that there is a commitment to continue to argue that case and to work for that world, wherein every single country’s people can be free to practise the faith of their choice, and follow the beliefs that they believe are right for them. That work is not yet done, but we pledge ourselves on your centenary to do it increasingly vigorously, so, there are many many more places in the world where Ahmadis can live in peace and in freedom, and be equal citizens.
Lord Eric Avebury, Spokesperson in the Lords on Africa and Civil Liberties has long championed the cause of freedom of faith and conscience on behalf of the Ahmadiyya community.
Your Holiness! Brothers and sisters. Assalam-o-Alaikum.
It is my immense privilege to be asked to propose the vote of thanks to His Holiness for the wonderful address that he gave us earlier on which has already been welcomed by others, but may I say how impressive it was at underlining the moral dimension of what we are all trying to do.
What Gillian Merron spoke of as the objectives of the Foreign Office promoting inclusion, respect for Human Rights and that includes particularly freedom of religion, which is denied to Ahmadis in so many parts of the world. Your Holiness spoke about conflict prevention, conflict solution which are also vitally important tasks of the Foreign Office: the promotion of conflict prevention we are engaged in many parts of the world in trying to solve the disputes that occur between people, some of which have a basis in denial of Human Rights. And we all know which they are as concerns the Ahmadis mentions made particularly of Pakistan and the infamous blasphemy laws that were introduced by Zia ul Haq and which are still perpetuated in spite of the fact that they have returned now to democracy.
In Bangladesh, there have been problems, suspended at the moment, but never utterly guaranteed that they will not return. When you have an organisation there and in other parts of the world called Khatam-e-Nabuwwat which wants to deny the Ahmadis their freedom to practise their religion, as they see, the work of Islam and we heard that explained to us by Your Holiness.
Many of the values which we share, and it is difficult for us to understand, why anybody would object to the promotion of these values, as part of the multi-cultural and multi-religious society, and yet we see in many parts of the world of where this Khatam-e-Nabuwwat flourishes that people want to deny the Ahmadis the freedom that we all enjoy here, and that we try to promote through the Foreign Office and to the rest of the world.
So, we are grateful as has been said for the presence of the Ahmadiyya community in this country, always to remind us of the obligations that we have to other peoples in the world to promote their freedoms and to prevent the conflicts that frequently do arise. So, thank you very much Your Holiness, for your wise words of wisdom, and I am hoping that we will all take them into consideration and apply them in our own lives.
Thank you so much.