Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here, which is all Mr Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin’s fault! He kept saying to me that I must come and see the Foundation at Markfield and here I am at last.
A little over a year ago, Mr Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin welcomed Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal and me to East London Mosque with the remark that royal princes are like London buses: you wait for ages for one to come along, then two turn up at once. All I can say is that this particular one has been very much looking forward to this visit here today.
The Islamic Foundation is pioneering institution in many ways and is well known for its scholarly work, its publications and its research. The Foundation has also, for many years, been at the forefront of dialogue between the Muslims of Britain and their non-Muslim fellow citizens, and has sought to make the tenets of the faith of Islam accessible to everyone through active participation in inter-faith dialogue and education.
For example, cultural awareness courses held in this very hall as part of the education and training unit, further the education of local authority employees, social workers, police officers, and others whose work brings them into daily contact with our Muslim fellow-citizens.
So the Foundation plays a very practical role. But this is, above all, a scholarly institution, and the legacy of Muslim scholarship is vast, ranging from mathematics to astrology, science, medicine, geography and the arts.
For example, anyone who doubts the contribution of Islam and Muslims to the European Renaissance should, as an exercise, try to do some simple arithmetic using Roman numerals. Thank goodness for Arabic numerals and the concept of Zero introduced into European thought by Muslim mathematicians!
Generations of school children have Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi to thank for introducing Europe to the joys of Algebra, which I remember only too well, when his 9th century book on the subject was translated into Latin in 1145.
It might even be questioned whether Columbus would ever have found his New World without the experience and skills of his Muslim navigators, some of whom, it is claimed, had actually crossed the Atlantic on previous occasions.
In more recent times, as Muslims began to make this island their home, we saw the establishment in the early nineteenth century of “Mahomed’s Baths and Shampooing Establishment” in once-fashionable Brighton. Mr Mahomed’s son Frederick Akbar Mahomed went on to qualify as a doctor of medicine and was instrumental, if you pardon the appalling pun, in developing the sphygmomanometer, the first “Blood pressure measuring instrument”, at Guy’s Hospital in the 1870s.
Liverpool solicitor and noted traveller William Henry Quilliam established the country’s first Muslim school and orphanage in his home city, as well as a mosque and Islamic library. My own family benefitted from Islamic wisdom too – Queen Victoria, my great, great, great grandmother, was taught Hindustani using Persian script by Hafez Abdul Karim, one of several Indian staff in her household.
When Lord Ahmed of Rotherham was elevated to the peerage in the 1990s, it was hailed as a breakthrough for the Muslim community. However, Muslim convert Lord Stanley of Adderley beat him into the upper house by more than a hundred years, as did Lord Headley, who announced his conversion to the faith of Islam in 1913.
The presence of Muslims in academia, public office and the higher echelons of our society is thus not something new, but it is something to be celebrated. And we might also pause, perhaps, to remember the hundreds of Muslims who died in the service of the Crown in two world wars. The Merchant Navy Memorials on Tower Hill in London, for example, provide ample evidence of those brave Muslim men who gave their lives on board British ships.
Given such a heritage, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here at the official opening of the new Markfield Institute of Higher Education building. The prime focus for the Islamic Foundation is the promotion of first-rate scholarship and learning, embodying the vision of the founder, the current Chairman and our host today, Professor Kurshid Ahmad.
I believe that this whole complex here at Markfield, including the excellent library, has the potential to develop into one of Europe’s leading centres for post-graduate study of Islam and the Muslim world.
Leicester has every reason to be proud to have such an impressive range of facilities in its own back yard. The need for access to information about the study of Islam has arguably never been greater. I am confident, therefore, that the Islamic Foundation and the Markfield Institute of Higher Education will come to represent all that is to be admired about Islamic scholarship in the West and set a fine example for others to follow.
So, chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is with enormous pleasure that I declare the new building open…