The Baraka Khan Foundation, in partnership with the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre, welcomed back Sir Michael Barber for an event to discuss the current ‘State of the World’ on 23 February 2022.
Ahead of the programme, Iqbal Khan from the Baraka Khan Foundation hosted a discussion on current affairs with Sir Michael and community and third sector leaders, in the Baraka Khan Visitor’s Gallery. Sir Michael commented, “It’s fantastic that the Baraka Khan Visitor’s Gallery, based at the East London Mosque in memory of a very inspiring individual, generates dialogue that is very important.
The event opened with recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Shaykh Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Imam of the East London Mosque.
Dr Abdul-Hayee Murshad, Honorary Secretary and Trustee of the East London Mosque, welcomed guests, adding, “It is the people who make this Mosque and Centre special and vibrant, and we provide a wide range of services for everyone, from the cradle to the grave. Our services are not restricted, and reach out to the wider communities. We seek to engage with and contribute to wider society through interfaith work, and cooperate with others on issues of social justice and improving understanding and respect between communities.”
Iqbal Khan, chairing the event, said, “It’s a privilege and honour to have Sir Michael Barber back to visit us. There is a Qur’anic commandment that instructs us to do ‘good’, and Sir Michael’s whole life has been dedicated to doing good, not only in Britain but across the world in sixty countries.”
State of the World Keynote Speech
If every one of us each day set out to leave things better than we found them, imagine how wonderful the world would be.
In his opening remarks, Sir Michael said, “I’m in awe of what you’ve achieved here in this community and mosque over the decades. I think it’s a fantastic achievement, the contribution you make to the Muslim community in this part of the world, but also in Britain more generally, and indeed beyond Britain.”
Rekindling a thirst for knowledge and learning
Sir Michael recounted the history of eighth-century Baghdad and the ‘House of Wisdom’, a focal point of knowledge, dialogue, diversity, and discussion. He cited the need for Houses of Wisdom in the modern age. He said, “We need places where people can be educated, where young people can grow, build from experts, scholars across a whole range of disciplines and go out into the world knowledgeable, with humility, with wisdom.” He added, “We never should lose the value of knowledge and the importance of houses of wisdom.”
Stewardship & COP26
Speaking about stewardship in the political sphere, Sir Michael mentioned that there “is this lack of stewardship, the lack of thinking ahead.” He said, “If every one of us each day set out to leave things better than we found them, imagine how wonderful the world would be. Imagine if every government said, well, yeah, we’ve got our manifesto, and we’re going to do all that stuff. But above all, we’ve got to leave this country better than we found it.”
On COP26, Sir Michael Barber recalled world leaders making pledges to counter climate change and make the world a better place. However, using anecdotal references to the story of Prophet Yusuf in the Qur’an, Sir Michael explained, “You’ll remember in November in Glasgow we had COP26, all the countries in the world came to Britain to set targets for net-zero. Now, that is a stewardship perspective, and it’s great that the countries have done that, but nobody yet has appointed a Yusuf to make that happen.”
Muslims have a positive impact in Britain
On the topic of Muslims facing increasing challenges in society, Sir Michael highlighted the positive contributions of Muslim sports personalities who have started to change how wider society perceives Muslims. He said, “There are some fantastic Muslim role models in this country right now. I’m a big fan of sport.”
Sharing his love of football, Sir Michael said, “I was born and bred in Liverpool, every weekend I’m thinking, will they win? For the last three, four years, two Muslims have scored 40 goals for Liverpool, Mo Salah and Sadio Mané. These are brilliant footballers who live their lives in accordance with Islam, and they’ve changed the way a Liverpool football club thinks about alcohol.”
Sir Michael stated that in sports, Muslims are having a positive impact: “There’s academic research which shows that in that part of the country [Liverpool], negative images of Islam and hate speech have reduced because of those two role models. Think about that for a minute, and I hope we could go on. We could talk about Moeen Ali, the cricketer and so on, but what’s important about them is that they’re having an impact on images of Islam and perspectives on Islam, but they’re also having an impact above and beyond that on the way people live their lives.”
Closing Remarks: Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Sir Michael switched his focus to the potential war simmering between Russia and Ukraine in his closing remarks. He drew from his own experiences of having friends in Russia and some of the challenges Russian citizens face from their government.
Sir Michael posed a question: “What can we do to remove the causes of war?” And on that, he said, “You have to think what the causes of war are; they’re sometimes economic, they’re sometimes religious. And they’re sometimes geopolitical. But then you think, well, what could I do in my life to remove the causes of war? And as it happens, we’re here gathered with religion, a religion that is dedicated to peace, debating this as a very substantial conflict is starting in our own continent.
“So, it’s not a bad question to ask. What do you do in your life to remove the cause of war? And I reminded myself of this as by coincidence, actually last week. So, I’m going to leave you with that thought. Think about stewardship and Yusuf. Think about the Houses of Wisdom. Think about Mary Fisher and the ‘Divine Inner Light’.”
The event concluded with a book signing by Sir Michael of his new book, Accomplishment: How to Achieve Ambitious and Challenging Things.