Dr. Hany el Banna, Ladies and Gentlemen, Can I just begin by saying what a great privilege and, more importantly perhaps, what a great pleasure it is to have been invited to join you all here this evening. I cannot tell you how fascinated I have been by the personal anecdotes I have been hearing from so many of Islamic Relief’s supporters over the past hour or so. Each of these stories speaks volumes about Islamic Relief’s outstanding work in providing humanitarian aid to literally millions of the most vulnerable people over the past quarter of a century. I hesitate to single out any one story… But, if I may say so, I did just want to mention how pleased I was to hear about Islamic Relief’s very first donor Dr. Bassem Hassan who, at the age of only fifteen, donated twenty pence of his savings. With that simple but noble act, Dr. Hassan initiated twenty-five years of generous giving.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot quite claim a twenty-five year association with Islamic Relief. But I can say that I have followed your remarkable achievements with the closest interest during much of that period, including visiting your offices in Park Road. It is in the midst of humanitarian crises that we see your work at its most compelling – and its most difficult. Three years ago, and after nearly sixty years of delay, my wife and I had the great joy of visiting Pakistan, exactly one year after that devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of so many and caused so much destruction and disruption. Visiting Pattika, we were able to see for ourselves the terrible aftermath and, at Gundi Pira Girls Secondary School, could not have been more impressed by the way in which Islamic Relief was ensuring that life returned to normal as quickly as possible by providing tents in which classes could take place while the classrooms themselves rose again within that shattered community.
This, of course, is just one example of the crucial assistance you bring to communities from among the staggering three million whom your relief work reached last year alone. While it is disaster relief which may stick most readily and most clearly in our minds, we must not overlook Islamic Relief’s equally important commitment to the wider development agenda with, for example, programmes that include drug-users overcoming their addiction in Afghanistan and support to female victims of domestic violence in Iraq.
Nor, indeed, must we forget the outstanding way in which Islamic Relief works as part of a network of international N.G.O.’s, including the United Nations, the British Red Cross (of which I am enormously proud to be President), Christian Aid and C.A.F.O.D., to name but a few. In this work, you are not merely crossing the boundaries of faith and community but, in fact, building durable bridges between different groups. I know that only last year, for example, Islamic Relief united with Christian Aid and World Jewish Relief in Cambridge to discuss how British faith-based communities could collaborate to tackle poverty. It is hard to overstate the importance of such contacts. As long ago as 1993, in a speech entitled “Islam and the West” which I gave at that other great seat of learning, Oxford University, I recall observing that: “the links between these two worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater”. I can only salute those who work so tirelessly to build such bridges.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Islamic Relief’s fine achievements bear witness to the energy, dynamism and selflessness of our British Muslim community. We hear rather too much misleading information about a small minority of your community and not nearly enough about the vastly more numerous acts of compassion and commitment which characterize the work of Islamic Relief and its supporters. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why I was so happy and proud to come here this evening, to celebrate these achievements with you… And it is why, in 2008, I was so delighted when Islamic Relief received the annual International Award from “Mosaic” – an organization I founded a little over two years ago to provide mentoring for younger, disadvantaged members of our Muslim community and which has now reached a remarkable 10,000 young people. I can only say how delighted I would be if we could find further synergies with the work of my Prince’s Charities and look forward to discussing this further with Mr. Saleh Saeed and others…
I, for one, am acutely conscious that none of Islamic Relief’s achievements would have been possible without the vision, passion, and sheer dedication of a truly extraordinary and remarkable man, Dr. Hany El Banna. Dr. Hany, having witnessed at first hand the devastating humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa in 1984, continues to deploy his unique ability to mobilize people, ensuring that the singular importance of humanitarian work remains high on the agenda of world leaders twenty-five years on… I can only offer my boundless and most heartfelt admiration for all Dr. Hany’s work.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in closing, and recognizing that we have recently celebrated the festival of Eid, let me recall – if I may – a passage from the Holy Qu’ran which seems particularly appropriate to Islamic Relief’s work and which says, in verse thirty-two of Al Ma’idah Surah:
“Whoever saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for saving and transforming so many lives over the past 25 years and may there be many blessings in shallah on your work during the next quarter of a century.