My Lords, I was brought up in Uganda, where there were people of different racial and religious backgrounds. I learnt to speak several languages and developed an understanding of, as well as respect for, all religions. I am a patron of several organisations which include Muslims as well as groups of other religions.
I believe that there are more similarities than differences between people and we should highlight similarities in order to establish closer links between communities. I feel that the lack of understanding leads to suspicions and divisions between people. Islam teaches us to celebrate the difference and diversity that God has created in our world. Despite the image portrayed in some parts of the media, Islam has a long and proud history of tolerance of and respect for people of all faiths.
Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and, according to Islam, people of the book are Muslims, Jews and Christians. The books of Allah are the holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. I may add that in the holy Koran there is a whole chapter on Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are a number of similarities between Sikhism and Islam, and I would like to state that the foundation stone of the golden temple was laid by Mian Mir, a Muslim holy person.
I am chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and membership of the forum is open to everyone. At all our meetings, we invite persons of all faiths and racial origins. Our guests include members as well as non-members of the Conservative Party. The Conservative Muslim Forum is an active organisation and a substantial part of the work that we do is promoting harmony among various racial and religious groups.
We recently held a meeting at which the two main speakers were an Arab lady and a Jewish lady, both of whom talked about peace between people. The Arab lady was from Gaza and had lost several members of her family during the fighting in Gaza following the Israeli invasion. A book has been published which highlights cases where Muslims saved Jews from the atrocities of the Nazis in the Holocaust. I am in fact launching this book in the House of Lords next week.
Unfortunately, there is a demonisation of Islam in certain quarters, and it is important that the media act in a responsible manner in this regard and avoid use of inflammatory language. In regard to suicide bombings, Islam forbids suicide. In the holy Koran it is written that,
“whoever kills a human being … it as though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a human life, it is as though he saved all mankind”.
This saying is similar to what is written in the Talmud, where it is written,
“if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world”.
I am proud that this country has a longstanding respect for pluralism and tolerance, grounded in a firm respect for liberty. I am also pleased that we seem to have moved away from the concept of what was termed “state multi-culturalism”, whereby the Government decided what was good, and sought to impose their vision. That resulted in an unhealthy degree of intolerance in the name of tolerance: what we should be seeking to build is dialogue and understanding, not an imposed vision decided by Ministers. The best way to challenge extremism is to promote integration and cohesion. That is not something that Ministers or Parliament can impose from Whitehall or Westminster.
In his speech in Munich, I believe the Prime Minister was right to focus on eradicating the things that tear us apart. Separation can lead to extremism, and extremism can be a very unpleasant spectacle. That means that we need to focus on what brings us together, rather than obsessing about what makes us different. We need therefore to talk about integration, which was the real message underpinning the Prime Minister’s speech in Munich.
Finally, I am looking forward to receiving my noble friend the Minister’s comments as to the initiatives the Government will implement in strengthening interfaith dialogue.