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

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


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

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower