British Muslims visit Cairo and Riyadh Jan02
The UK Government Foreign
Office sponsored a Delegation of British Muslims who visited Cairo, Riyadh
and Jeddah. The purpose of the Mission was to convey greetings to our
hosts and highlight the role British Muslims play in the social, civic and
political life of Britain. The Delegation was well briefed before
departure by Rt .Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs, and his team at the Foreign Office. An excellent pack of
documents was presented to each Member of the delegation before departure.
were six Members in the delegation:-
Delegation met the British Ambassador, Mr. John Sawers, and his team. The
Ambassador briefed the Delegation about issues and personalities. This was
very informative and valuable.
Delegation attended the Inter-Faith Seminar at the People’s Assembly,
presided jointly by the Speaker of the People’s Assembly, the Chief Imam
of Al-Azhar and the Pope of the Coptic Church. The Seminar was attended by
the leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Coptic Churches in Egypt,
Members of Egypt’s People’s Assembly as well as the Shura Council,
Members of the Press and invited guests including Mr. John Sawers, the
British Ambassador to Egypt, and the visiting delegation of British
Bashir Khanbhai MEP addressed this distinguished Assembly on behalf of the
visiting British Delegation. Bashir equated the Christian and Muslim
faiths and civilisations, depicting them as two wheels of a bicycle bound
by a single chain of monotheistic belief, common philosophy and shared
values. He stressed that it was essential for Christians and Muslims to
recognise this common heritage and pedal in the same direction to move
forward so that all our people could live in peace and prosperity.
Delegation visited the Chief Imam of Al-Azhar and his cabinet and
exchanged views on the life and aspirations of British Muslims. The Imam
was pleased to hear that there are about 3 million Muslims and over 1500
mosques in the UK. Mr.Khanbhai emphasised that the British Muslim
population is not only large but also diverse and it reflects numerous
ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences. He expressed his concern that
far too often the western media portrayed Islamic clerics, lacking in
linguistic fluency, as representative of Islam. He stressed the importance
of encouraging eloquent Egyptian scholars to appear on European television
programmes to enlighten and inform the public that is fearful of and
ignorant about Islam. Mr. Mahmood expressed his concern that Muslim
children in Britain did not generally understand Arabic and he felt that
there was a need to recruit Arabic teachers in Muslim community schools.
Mr.Khanbhai disagreed with this view and expressed his fear of alienation
resulting from recruiting Islamic clerics unfamiliar with Britain and
lacking in fluency of the English language.
Delegation met a number of prominent Egyptians from all walks of life at a
dinner arranged by the British Ambassador at his residence. The informal
discussions covered terrorism, bombing of Afghanistan, western media’s
portrayal of Islam and the life of Muslims in Europe, especially in
Britain pre and post 11th September, 02.
Delegation visited Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Church and discussed the
situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt as well as the Muslims in
Britain. The Pope pointed out that until recently there was discrimination
against Coptic Christians and some Churches had been burnt. Fortunately,
over the last two years the situation has improved such that the Copts are
able to participate in the civic and political life of Egypt and the
Church has no difficulty in securing permission to build new churches. He
wished to see more investment in rural areas, as many Copts living in the
south of Egypt are still very poor.
Delegation visited Hon. Dr. Mustafa Kamal Helmy, the Speaker of the Shura
Council, and leading Members of this Council as well as Hon. Dr. Fathy
Surour, the Speaker of the People’s Assembly and its leading Members.
The exchange of views was frank and covered terrorism, the bombing of
Afghanistan, western media portrayal of Islam as a violent religion,
injustice against and deprivation of the Palestinians and discrimination
against Muslims in Europe and America. The British Delegation stressed
that Mr. Blair, the British Prime Minister, had repeatedly declared in
Parliament and on national and global television that terrorism must be
de-linked from Islam. He had also declared Britain’s commitment to the
Palestinian homeland a just and fair settlement in that area. The
Delegation confirmed that the British Muslims are not only free to live,
work and worship in Britain but they have equal opportunity to take an
active part in the social, civic and political life of Britain.
John Sawers and his team were very helpful in guiding the Delegation and
offered generous hospitality to all Members throughout their stay in
Cairo. Thank you to the Ambassador, Mrs. Sawers and all Members of the
Embassy staff for their kindness.
Delegation met the Ambassador, Sir Derek Plumbly, and his team.
The Ambassador briefed the Delegation about issues and
personalities. This was very informative and valuable.
Delegation visited Shaikh Salih bin Abdul Aziz Al al-Shaikh, Minister For
Religious Affairs and conveyed the good wishes of British Muslims
in particular and the British people at large. Lord Patel highlighted the
size and diversity of British Muslims living in Britain and confirmed that
there were over 1500 mosques of which some had been built by the Saudi
Government or private Saudi donors. Mr.Khanbhai thanked the Minister for
being generous in supporting the establishment of the Centre for Islamic
Studies in Oxford that will be opened on 25th January, 2002 by
The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, the Secretary of State.
Delegation visited Shaikh Muhammed bin Ibrahim bin Jubair, Chairman of the
Majlis al-Shura together with his leading Members. The Speaker explained
how the al-Shura Council was constituted, its powers, its responsibilities
and its role in advising the King in matters of State. The Speaker and his
Members expressed concern about the strained Saudi-US relations since 11th
September and their desire to see a fair and just settlement of the Middle
East Peace Process (MEPP). Members of the British Delegations expressed
their views on terrorism, Islam, role of Britain and British Muslims.
Mr.Khanbhai reiterated his views on the need for eloquent scholars
communicating well with Europeans on Islam whilst Mr. Mahmood expressed
his view that there was a need for Islamic clerics who could teach Arabic
to Muslim community children in Britain. Lord Bhatia expressed the need to
de-link terrorism from Islam. Lord Patel emphasised that British Muslims
can and should be proud to be both Muslims and British.
Delegation was honoured to meet HRH Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the
Governor of Riyadh. The Prince expressed concern about the strained
Saudi-US relations and the media linking terrorism with Islam. Members of
the delegation assured the Prince that the British Prime Minister had done
his best to publicly dissociate terrorism and violence from Islam. Also,
Britain has an historic relationship with Saudi Arabia supported by the
excellent rapport and friendship between the two Royal families. The
British Muslims, proud to be both British and Muslims, will do their best
to promote good relations between Britain and Saudi Arabia.
Delegation was honoured to meet the HRH Prince Saud Al Faisal, the
Minister For Foreign Affairs. The Delegation assured the Prince that
Britain is conscious of the strained relations between Saudi Arabia and
the USA and that it would make every effort to help in this respect.
Mr.Khanbhai pointed out that the European Parliament will be holding for
the first time in its history a major International Conference on Islam
this year and it would be an honour for European Parliamentarians if the
HRH Prince Saud Al Faisal could address this Conference.
Delegation met a number of Saudi intellectuals, businessmen and leading
members of the Al-Shura over dinner at the Ambassador’s residence. There
was a lively discussion on terrorism, violence and Islam, bombing of
Afghanistan, Saudi-US relations and the role of Muslims in Britain and
Europe, The Ambassador, Hon Dominic Asquith, Mr.Khanbhai and Mr. Mahmood
met Dr. Ahmad bin Uthman al-Tuwaijri, Dr. Abdul Rahman Shubaily and
Dr.Salah Al-Hejailan at a breakfast hosted by Dr.Ahmad bin Uthman al-Tuwaijri.
There was a vigorous discussion on a wide range of issues including the
usefulness and viability of an Arab Policy Think Tank that is being
established. The Saudi members, analytical and highly intelligent,
expressed with confidence their concern about Saudi-US relations and
Britain’s role in the MEPP.
Andrew Henderson, the British Consul General, and his team met Lord Patel,
Lord Bhatia and Mr. Mohamed Riaz on
arrival in Jedda and arranged for them to perform UMRAH.
Sir Derek, Mr.Khanbhai and Mr. Mahmood left Riyadh together and were met
by Mr.Henderson and his team in Jedda.
Patel, Lord Bhatia and Mr. Mohamed Riaz joined the rest of the Delegation
and lunched with Shaikh Dr.
Iyad Madani, Minister For Hajj, and his team. Lord Patel, as Chairman of
the British Hajj Committee, expressed gratitude for improving
substantially the facilities for Muslim pilgrims and extending special
help to British Muslims in travelling to Saudi Arabia.
Delegation visited the offices of OKAZ NEWSPAPERS and met the Chief editor
Dr.Hashim Abdu Hashim and his team. There was a lively debate on
terrorism, western media portrayal of Islam, the bombing of Afghanistan,
the treatment of prisoners, US-Saudi relations, MEPP and Muslims in
Britain and Europe. Mr.Khanbhai drew the distinction between Saudi Arabia
and Afghanistan and stated that: “Afghanistan is a country that has been
unruly for over a century whilst Saudi Arabia has enjoyed security and
peace since King Abdul Aziz founded the Kingdom in 1902. Afghanistan,
occupied by external powers, impoverished by civil war, plagued by the
hazards of drug trade, overwhelmed by arms and ammunition held by
virtually every citizen cannot be compared with the stability, security,
affluence and regularity of Saudi Arabia. There were almost 6 million
foreigners in Saudi Arabia whilst there were virtually none in Afghanistan
– except terrorists. Mr.Khanbhai stated that the world, especially, the
USA must recognise these important differences and should not equate the
Taliban regime with that of Saudi Arabia.
Ambassador and Consul-General arranged a dinner where the delegation met a
distinguished number of Saudi citizens from academia, business,
professions and politics. There was an excellent and lively discussion and
debate. All Members of the delegation assured the Saudis that Britain was
serious in playing its part in resolving problems in the Middle East.
British people – both Muslims and Christians – extended a hand of
friendship to the people of Saudi Arabia.
Sir Derek Plumbly and his team were very helpful in guiding the Delegation
and offered generous hospitality to all Members throughout their stay in
Riyadh and Jedda. Thank you to Ambassador Sir Derek Plumbly and and all
Members of his staff for their kindness.
you to Mr. Ashraf Eissa who travelled with the delegation, took care of
travel in transit and acted as the interpreter and guide at all times –
his assistance was invaluable.
thank you to the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, the Secretary of State, and all
Members of his team for initiating and arranging for this group of Muslims
to represent the British Muslims on a goodwill mission to Egypt and Saudi
Arabia. It was a successful mission.