Your excellencies, Archbishop, Chief Rabbi, Lady Badawi – ladies and gentlemen. There are many people here today who are infinitely better qualified to speak about dear Zaki Badawi than I am and who can speak with far greater authority on the role he played within our Muslim community.
All I can contribute is the deep sense of affection and admiration which I felt for, first and foremost, a truly remarkable character whose genius lay in the way he could communicate the wisdom of the heart across so many boundaries – boundaries of culture, religion and ethnicity.
Zaki had come to play such a vital role in the life of our country and in the lives of so many people like myself that his sudden and unexpected departure from our midst has merely heightened our immense sense of real loss; the kind of loss we experience when a noble and veteran tree is uprooted from a much loved landscape.
It takes us a long time to become used to the terrible gap left behind; to the absence of the reassuring sound of the wind through its old, familiar branches. If we feel this sense of emptiness, then how much worse it must be for his devoted wife and family, to whom my heart goes out on this special occasion.
Thinking back, I must have come across Zaki Badawi quite some years ago – perhaps fifteen – at a time when I felt it was essential to establish a small group of people who could help advise me on issues surrounding the Muslim Community in this country and on wider Islamic matters elsewhere in the world.
I wanted to learn and understand as much as I could about the rich complexities within Islam; about the subtle nuances surrounding a whole framework for life; about the origins and history of one of the three great Abrahamic faiths founded, above all, on the profound mystery of divine revelation.
And, of course, it is divine revelation that forms the central tap-root from which the Abrahamic traditions draw their inspiration. Zaki understood this so well and taught me so much about the Islamic heritage – what he described to me in a letter prior to my visit to the Muslim College two years ago as “a common treasure from which we take its most precious jewels to enrich our life and advance our knowledge.”
He went on to say that “our programme realizes that the common language of faith is that of beauty and spiritualism.” He told me that he knew these aspects were close to my heart, along with a love of Islamic and traditional architecture. And why do I have a love of such things?
Because of an awareness that the beauty of form, pattern and colour (as manifested in Islamic and other traditional arts) is not simply aesthetically pleasing or demonstrative of good design, but is representative of a more profound universal order.
Likewise, that the intricate and subtle patterns of Nature transcend the purely decorative realm and embody a profound and timeless beauty. It is all to do with beauty, as Zaki so well knew – or with truth, goodness and beauty, as Plato should persistently remind us.
Have you noticed that the more we tear down the beauty around us which has sustained people's souls for generations, the uglier our souls become; the less courteous and considerate our surroundings are, the less courteous and considerate we are to one another; the more the ego predominates in everything, the more offensive we become to Nature herself, and then literally nothing is allowed to be sacred?
And yet to have any chance of repairing the bridges between our faiths and to restore the harmony that is surely God's greatest and most mysterious gift to the whole created universe and the essence of Man's relationship with the Divine, surely we have to try to understand and to respect what is sacred to each of us?
This, of course, was Zaki's great genius, as exemplified in his programme for the Muslim College which seeks to produce leaders who not only master Islamic subjects, but who also have a full appreciation of other faiths and cultures, especially British culture.
One of the main objects for my being here today is to pay tribute to Zaki's noble, compassionate and far-sighted vision – a vision that understood, above all, the crucial importance of a heart-centred, enlightened Muslim religious education that he believed so passionately would help Muslims to integrate into British Society without – and here is the crux of the matter – losing their identity.
I am also here today to beg you to ensure that his legacy is protected and nurtured – a legacy made manifest in the graduation of competent Imams, responsible journalists and enlightened political leaders such as the minister responsible for religious affairs in Malaysia, Dato' Abdul Hamid Zainal Abidin, and a member of the Afghan Constitution drafting Committee, Fatima Gailani.
Zaki understood so well that at the end of the day leadership is the key to everything. After all, it was Napoleon who said that there is “no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad officers.” You only have to look at so many of the disastrous conflicts around the world – such as in the Balkans – to see how people who had lived side by side for generations, and whose mosques, synagogues and churches had shared the centres of their towns and cities were suddenly inflamed by passionate hatred towards each other.
Distorted versions of divine revelation in the hands of distorted leadership inevitably engender appalling violence, hatred and destruction of other people's lives and most sacred shrines and treasured objects.
Zaki devoted so much of his life to an investment in enlightened leadership for the future because he knew that, ultimately, it was not the fault of the great religions themselves that so much death and destruction occurs, but the leadership that causes the misinterpretation of the original divine inspiration and the deliberate obfuscation of the profound truth that we are all following slightly different paths to the same ultimate, universal Truth that all the greatest mystics throughout human history have defined as residing in the divine attributes of mercy, love, compassion and, indeed, beauty. The great 14th century poet, Hafiz, wrote that
“Every edifice you see in the world is flawed subject to destruction,
Except the edifice of love, which is flawless and indestructible.”
Zaki knew that there could be no true peace between us all without peace in our own, individual hearts. His life's work was surely dedicated to nurturing that perception and realization of inner peace. We owe him a profound debt of gratitude for his heartfulness – a debt I am only too proud to owe to a man whose wise and sympathetic presence we miss so much. May God rest his dear, departed soul…