Your Royal Highnesses, Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen, Al-Salaam Alaikum.
Having been Patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies for the past eighteen years, I can only say what a great pleasure it is to mark the grant of a Royal Charter to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. This is a truly historic award – the first Islamic organization to be so honoured in the long history of this country. The tradition of the Royal Charter stretches back to the thirteenth century. O.C.I.S. now joins an august family of Charter holders which includes distinguished livery companies, centres of academic excellence including our ancient Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and charitable organizations.
And at this point being an old Cambridge man can I just mention that Cambridge got its Royal Charter 10 years before Oxford.
Many of you here this evening were far-sighted enough to see the importance - and potential - of the Centre in its very early days in the mid-1980s. I can only offer my heartfelt thanks to each of you for your support, especially the Centre’s Trustees, past and present, and the University of Oxford itself which has worked so closely and effectively with the Centre.
Much has changed since the Centre began its life in a wooden hut on St. Cross Road! If I may say so, that hut is a very far cry from the magnificent new building which has risen off the end of The High, behind Magdalen College, which so harmoniously recalls Matthew Arnold’s “Dreaming Spires” together with classical Islamic styles. But, while the building has changed quite a bit, the academic principles on which the Centre was founded – excellence in scholarship, dialogue, discussion and mutual respect – have remained constant.
It seems to me absolutely right that, here in the United Kingdom, we should do all we can to nurture an institution which not only promotes a better informed understanding of Islamic culture and civilization, and the challenges facing Muslim communities, but which can also remind both the Islamic world and the West of those timeless, universal principles of harmony enshrined within Islam that the world needs so urgently to re-discover in the battle to preserve the future for our descendants. Only from such understanding can we increase the dialogue, respect and tolerance which underpin our national values. This is something I have been trying to do for more than two decades. Indeed, it was under the aegis of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in 1993 – and standing next to a strikingly young-looking Farhan Nizami! – that I set out my thoughts in a speech called “Islam and the West”. Interestingly, it is still the only speech which brings in a bit of an income each year!
I have a feeling that many of the potential problems I spoke about then have come to pass… But that simply underscores even more firmly the importance of institutions like the Centre in promoting the sort of dialogue and mutual understanding which are sorely needed in the modern world.
Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, in concluding may I say once again how delighted I am that so many of the Centre’s supporters have been able to come to St. James’s Palace this evening, especially those of you who have travelled from afar. I hope that you will all join me in congratulating the Centre on a truly remarkable achievement.