Muhammad Exhibition

Opening Speech at Muhammad Exhibition, 16 June 2011, Islamic Cultural Centre, London (this is an extract)

Salaam alaikum and good afternoon

It is an honour to be asked to say a few words to open this exhibition. I believe that this exhibition is very important as it will enable people to get closer to the man, the life and the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). I hope that it will draw more people into your centre who know little about the Prophet and Islam and that they will leave with a better understanding.

It has been my great privilege, through the Christian Muslim Forum, both personally and professionally, to learn more and more about the Prophet Muhammad and the esteem in which he is held.

In some ways the best exhibition of all is not a collection of exhibits, and I compliment you on what you have here, but their meaning and impact on us to this day. Just as Muhammad was described, I believe, as a ‘walking Qur’an’, so those who follow the message which Muhammad brought are living exhibitions of God’s ‘mercy to humankind’. Of course, this is an act of daw’ah, ‘invitation’, welcoming others to engage and learn.

But when done in the best possible way and with the best of intentions, ‘beautifully’ as the Qur’an says, or ‘with gentleness and respect’ as we read in the Bible it is a wonderful thing. ‘A Mercy to Humankind’ is exactly what we need to be hearing when so often our society seems very lacking in mercy, a message which is at the heart of Christianity when we chant in our worship ‘kyrie eleison, christe eleison’, ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy’ (not forgetting that the message of mercy is central to the other religions too). Part of the joy of working for the Christian Muslim Forum is being able to share and reflect on our similarities and differences.

Muhammad’s legacy gives some fascinating examples of how he engaged with others, one that is especially notable is his letter, kept to this day at St Catherine’s monastery in Egypt, promising the protection and safe treatment of the People of the Book until the Last Day. It has been my privilege over the last 10 years or so to engage very deeply with Muslim friends and colleagues as they live out Muhammad’s legacy, as they follow in his footsteps, his Sunnah. These are some words I shared with another group: ‘For Muslims who follow the Sunnah they live according to the gracious example of their Prophet and I can only assume that following in the way of the Prophet, with God’s grace, has had a transforming effect on their lives, which I appreciate so much. My hope is that through sharing together and expressing appreciation of each others’ ‘Prophet’, and not denying differences, we become able to recognise the grace of God and the workings of the Spirit in all who seek to serve God and that God is not limited to one religion and has many Prophets.’

So, in closing, I commend your efforts in organising and hosting this important exhibition. I truly hope that more people will come to know the true Muhammad rather than some of the distortions that are all too prevalent and that you will have the joy of being able to share news of a merciful God.

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