My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating this timely debate on the persecution of people of faith in this century.
There are a number of national and international treaties on this subject; I will not repeat them because the noble Lord has already referred to them. Despite that, these treaties continue to be violated.
When I was introduced to the House of Lords, I took my oath with a Holy Koran and quietly started with the word “Bismillah”, meaning, “In the name of Allah, most beneficent and most merciful”. I have never differentiated between faiths. As a Muslim, my closest friends have been Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jews and those of no faith. The Holy Koran, in surah 2, says: “The Apostle believeth in what hath been revealed to him from the Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one of them believeth in God, His angels, His books and His apostles. ‘We make no distinction (they say) between one or another of His apostles’”.
As an ex-trustee of Oxfam, I met another trustee, Ansel Harris, and we became very good friends; our children and spouses became good friend as well. We travelled together to Israel, India and the Middle East. We learnt about the practice of each other’s faiths and shared each other’s jokes and stories. Ansel and his wife Lea were to attend my introduction to the House of Lords—but Ansel had another appointment, with his maker.
I attended the funeral and saw very little difference between Muslim and Jewish rituals. A few weeks later, there was a memorial service in Hampstead Town Hall. I was asked to speak and made my speech. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was present, and after a few days he wrote an article in the Times. I have deposited the full article in the Library, but will quote a few sentences:
“At the memorial service recently, one of the speakers was Lord Bhatia, whom he had come to know through his work for Oxfam. It was clear from the tone of his tribute that the two men shared a moral vision and had been close friends …
What held them together, one a passionate Jew, the other a no less committed Muslim? The short answer is that they cared for something larger than their respective faith communities … When they saw disease, poverty and despair, they didn’t stop to ask who was suffering; they acted.
They knew that tears are a universal language, and help a universal command. They saw faith not as a secluded castle but as a window onto a wider world. They saw God’s image in the face of a stranger, and heard His call in the cry of a starving child.
Does faith make us great or does it make us small? On this question, much of the future of our world depends. Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together in friendship, so long as we never forget those things that transcend religious differences – of which human suffering is one.
When we focus, not on ourselves, but on those who need help, our separate journeys converge and we become joint builders of a more gracious world”.
To conclude, whenever someone attacks Christians, I feel that they have attacked my faith. This is my contribution to this important debate. The world will be a better place if attacks on any faith are dealt with by the full force of the law. These attacks on faith are made by a small number of people who, in the name of their faiths or for political or personal gain, attack other faiths.