El Hassan bin Talal: A man who lived the multicultural message

For Zaki Badawi, one's multiple identities were a cause for celebration

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In a world where divisions seem to multiply by the month, it is very difficult to face the passing of one who unifies. As a globalising planet appears ironically bent on polarisation of its people, tags of person, place, colour and creed have rarely been more visible. Yet the only label one could apply to my late friend Zaki Badawi, who died on Tuesday, is that of the best of men.

Much has already been written of Zaki's great qualities. His blend of spirituality and understanding was a rare and precious thing in Britain and the world at large. He brought his belief in pluralism to the very centre of the country's civic stage. His work touched and educated a generation of Britons, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. But Zaki's greatest gift to us all has not passed with him. He leaves behind a legacy of hope for us and for generations unborn.

Zaki and I first met some 30 years ago, soon after he had been appointed director of the Islamic Cultural Centre in London. What a different world that seems now. Zaki's message then was well formed and constant, ready to weather the terrible storms that few could have foreseen.

Here was a man who carried an array of identities in a powerfully human embrace. An Egyptian by birth, this graduate of Cairo's al-Azhar had formed his compassionate core while studying the language and literature of his forefathers. Yet a new life at University College London, where Zaki obtained his doctorate in Modern Muslim Thought, was lived to the full. Over the years, Zaki became a part of British life without compromising his resolute character.

This message of integration without loss was elegantly conveyed by Zaki through his words and his actions. His was a life lived in glorious Technicolor, bathed in patterns of culture and community, faith and friendship. Difference disavowed discord, in the man and in the message, and for Zaki, one's multiple identities were cause for celebration, not self-castigation.

Zaki Badawi's message has never been more relevant than today. If we allow those drab ideologues who sometimes seem dominant to shout above the true men of value, then all is lost. Throughout the world, lines are being drawn that can only divide us. Sometimes it seems easier to listen to a message of hatred and division, but Zaki showed that thoughtful conversation brings the most abundant rewards.

My involvement with the Interfaith Foundation allowed me to work with Zaki in an area where his talents shone. Together with men of vision from all three Abrahamic faiths, including the Bishop of London and Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, we sought to work together under one God, without comprising our beliefs as men.

At the very first meeting to include rabbis in 1995, Zaki was instrumental in bringing the meeting back together when Muslims and Jews cried an unwillingness to sit together. A fear of how their congregations would react seemed more powerful than any inherent antithesis. Zaki's constant calls for dialogue gave him the moral strength to address his reluctant peers. His humour and charm and the power of his intellect persuaded them to listen.

Through her executive role at the Interfaith Foundation, my youngest daughter Badiya came to know Zaki as a colleague and friend. It was Zaki who performed the marriage ceremony for Badiya and my son-in-law Edward in Amman last summer.

We all remember the event as one of faith and togetherness. Zaki took care to involve the entire congregation in the ceremony and to explain the significance of the loving ritual that marked the most important day in the lives of two young people. It was fitting that Zaki stood under God as the man who joined together two of his children who had grown up in very different cultures and faiths.

Zaki's pride in his own culture and traditions was undiminished by the acts of those who sought to hijack his faith and to commandeer his God. He spoke with pride and insight on Islam's Golden Age. He reminded Britain's Muslims that such feelings were not incompatible with a pride in being British.

I hope that when I speak to my grandchildren about the man I loved and respected, that I will not be speaking of a golden age that has passed. It is up to all of us to carry on the legacy of Zaki Badawi.

We must begin by educating ourselves and our children to feel the strength of our own varied identities before we can engage freely with others. Zaki the scholar, the cleric, the husband, the father and the friend - and still this was just the beginning of his story. Zaki Badawi will be sorely missed in a troubled world. His message lives on.

The writer is the brother of the late King Hussain of Jordan

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