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.


There were six Members in the delegation:-


  1. Lord Amir BHATIA – cross bench Peer.
  2. Lord Adam PATEL – Labour Peer
  3. Bashir KHANBHAI – Conservative Member of the European Parliament
  4. Khalid MAHMOOD – Labour Member of the Westminster Parliament
  5. Mohamed RIAZ  --  Advisor to the Conservative Party Leader
  6. Ashraf EISSA --        Advisor to Foreign Office




The 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.


The 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 Muslims.


Mr. 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.

The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


Ambassador 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.




The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.




Mr. 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.


Ambassador Sir Derek, Mr.Khanbhai and Mr. Mahmood left Riyadh together and were met by Mr.Henderson and his team in Jedda.


Lord 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.

The 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.


The 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.


Ambassador 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.


Thank 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.


Finally, 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.