I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be with you today, to celebrate the great festival of Eid, and to meet so many representatives of the UK's thriving Muslim community. It has been a pleasure – as it always is – to have the chance to talk to people from so many traditions and different parts of the world.
I have had the most interesting tour of this remarkable College. I am struck by the high standard of scholarship it demands; and the lively, open debate about so many issues which it seems to encourage. This openness is, I think, the key to better understanding and dialogue. We need to celebrate the differences and diversity of each others' traditions and faiths – not strait-jacket ourselves into discussing only the common ground.
I believe very strongly that celebrating another's faith can give a better, wider, deeper understanding of one's own. Too often, those who pursue a narrow or sectarian agenda try to pretend that interest in someone else's religion indicates ambivalence about one's own – as if one's faith were a dwindling flame, which needs to be sheltered from the draughts of openness. It is no such thing: in my experience, faith is made ever more robust by seeing and trying to understand its many manifestations around the world.
There is an urgent need for all people who confess a faith in the Divine; in the principle of the sacred in universal terms and in a mysterious, spiritual power beyond ourselves and beyond the pure material, to unite together to provide a more balanced approach to that offered by the sometimes less balanced modern secular world view.
So I am delighted to be celebrating with you today, in some small way, the importance of the contribution which Islam has made, over the centuries, to art and architecture, medicine and mysticism, scholarship and science – to all the wonderful ways in which this great religion has enriched civilisation and society throughout the world.
I am delighted, too, to share Zaki's vision – as represented by this College – for a more open engagement between those who have charge of teaching Islam – the imams – and wider society. Dialogue, debate, engagement and education – these are key themes which the College stands for, and I applaud this. I see Muslim Religious education as a key factor in helping Muslims integrate into British and western society without losing their identity – and am particularly encouraged by the success the College has had in producing successful imams with responsibility for spreading this message in countries as different as Afghanistan and Malaysia.
I hope that the College's message – that you can encourage debate within faiths and between faiths while being true to your own - will resonate across the United Kingdom and the world. It will do much to enhance co-operation between communities and within communities: in the confusion of today's world, I see few vocations as important as this one. I wish you every success with your studies – and to everyone a Happy Eid Festival.