As part of his current lecture and film screening tour, Ambassador Ahmed visited Nottingham, England, where he spent several days meeting the local Muslim community and giving several lectures at the University of Nottingham. Nottingham, a city of around 300,000 people, has about 25,000 Muslims.
Ambassador Ahmed’s visit was co-sponsored by the University of Nottingham and the Karimia Institute, a large Muslim organization and charity based in Nottingham. When Ambassador Ahmed and his team arrived at the train station, they were received by a delegation of the Muslim community, including Dr. Musharraf Hussain, a prominent Islamic scholar and Chief Executive Officer of the Karimia Institute. Ambassador Ahmed and his team were welcomed by the Muslim community in an unending series of dinners and warm hospitality. There was also a tremendous amount of goodwill between the Muslim community and the faculty and students of the University of Nottingham, which was remarkable, and a great spirit of enthusiasm and excitement among the many people brought together by these events to meet and have dialogue with each other.
For most of the world, Nottingham means Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest, and Dr. Hussain drove Ambassador Ahmed and his team to Sherwood Forest to see the famous “Major Oak” tree associated with Robin Hood. At the tree, which is believed to be as many as a thousand years old, Dr. Hussain said that Robin Hood represented the “human desire for fairness and justice” and called him “the protector, savior, and helper of the poor people.”
Dr. Hussain also expressed his desire for interfaith dialogue and friendship in his discussion of the initiative he and other top British imams are taking to celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II this year on June 10, which falls on a Friday during Ramadan, by saying a prayer for the Queen during Friday prayers. Dr. Hussain called the Queen “a great role model” and “a wonderful lady in every sense” with “64 years of incredible service to humanity and to this country.” “We as Muslims who live in her wonderful realm,” he said, “appreciate her service and her work and this will be a way of thanking her for what she has done for us.”
On May 24, Ambassador Ahmed delivered a lecture titled “Muslims in Europe: Opportunities and Challenges” to a packed hall of around 400 people at the University of Nottingham. The event was opened by Professor Jon Hoover, who teaches Islamic studies at the university and helped arrange and coordinate Ambassador Ahmed’s visit. Ambassador Ahmed was introduced by Professor Katharine Adeney, the Director of the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies at the university, who said in her introduction that in the 1990s when she was working on her PhD she was inspired by Ambassador Ahmed’s Jinnah book and film and said she couldn’t believe she was now meeting him.Professor Adeney also said that she had been at the university for many years and had never seen an audience as large as it was that evening. There were many distinguished guests present, including the pro-vice-chancellor of the university, who welcomed guests to the lecture, senior professors, and Colonel Stuart Williams, the deputy commander of the famous “Desert Rats” 7th Armoured Brigade who the next day bestowed the honor of “honorary Desert Rat” on Ambassador Ahmed.
On May 25th Ambassador Ahmed, who stayed in the huge and stately Hugh Stewart Hall on the beautiful University of Nottingham campus, considered the “greenest” in the world, spent much of the day at the Karimia Institute with the Nottingham Muslim community. Ambassador Ahmed spoke at a press conference in the institute convened to launch Dr. Hussain’s new Trust Building Project, in which trained “ambassadors” from the Muslim community will go out into the wider community in order to forge relationships with non-Muslims and dispel myths about Islam. The event was well-attended by local media and the Muslim community. Ambassador Ahmed was also interviewed for over one hour in Urdu on Radio Dawn, a station serving the local Pakistani community that broadcasts from the Karimia Institute.
At the formal farewell dinner for Ambassador Ahmed held in the grand council chamber of the University of Nottingham hosted by another pro-vice-chancellor, Ambassador Ahmed delivered a speech about trust and shared stories as examples of how to build trust between different communities. The pro-vice-chancellor enthusiastically called the speech “superb.”
The infectious optimism and hospitality of the Muslim community of Nottingham cheered Ambassador Ahmed and the team greatly. The South Asian community knew Ambassador Ahmed through his films Living Islam and Jinnah and they constantly took selfies and photos with him. Everywhere Ambassador Ahmed and his team went they were honored, given gifts, and looked after as very special guests. Members of the Muslim community frequently said to Ambassador Ahmed and his team that they were excited and inspired to have a major Muslim figure in Nottingham and at a perfect time with the launch of the new Trust Building Project dedicated to improving relations between Muslims and the local community, which had been planned for over a year.
There was a feeling that this trip was a catalyst. The visit had accomplished something that had never existed before, bringing the university and the Muslim community very close together. Ambassador Ahmed’s message of promoting interfaith dialogue and friendship resonated with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As a final gesture of appreciation, an electrical engineer of Pakistani background living in Nottingham personally drove Ambassador Ahmed and his team in his Mercedes to their next stop, Bradford, England, a three hour trip, and refused to accept any payment, repeating that it was an honor for him to drive Ambassador Ahmed. It was a remarkable conclusion to a wonderful and hopeful few days.