I'm greeted outside by three Muslim friends. I ask where the entrance is and one of them tells me, "Follow the straight path!" I reply, "Could anything be more Islamic?" Laughter all round.
Upon entering, I'm greeted warmly by Suleman Nagdi (Chair of MBCoL). As we shake hands, someone takes our photo (I've seen the result: Suleman looks as debonair as ever, I wear the pained expression of someone who's just banged his knee on the edge of a table.)
There's a pile of copies of the book on a talbe near the door and we're invited to take one - for free. Having spend much of my working life in book publishing, it can still come as a shock to be offered a nicely produced book free of charge: I take four.
When formal proceedings get under way, we hear words of welcome from Faisal Issat (Legal Advisor to MBCoL): Suleman Nagdi; Councillor Linda Hartley, Mayor of Oadby & Wigston; Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester; Councillor Manjula Sood, Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths; and Resham Singh Sandhu, High Sherriff of Leicestershire and Chair of the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershire. Guests of honour this evening include Lady Gretton, Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire; and His Honour Judge Simon Hammond.
Keynote speaker this evening is His Honour Judge Howard Morrison CBE QC. He is a judge at the Internaional Criminal Court in The Hague, where he currently sits on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia considering the case of Radovan Karadžić, accused of war crimes committed against Bosnians Muslims and Bosnian Croats during the Siege of Sarajevo, as well as ordering the Srebrenica massacre.
Judge Morrison expresses his hope that this new book (fro which he wrote the foreword) will not only be a source of accurate and up to date information, but will also be a catalyst for thought and relationships that will make us think about how we live out the rest of our years.
Following Judge Morrison's brief but thought-provoking address, Suleman Nagdi proposes a vote of thanks. then, as the last formal part of the evening, Faisal Issat made a presentation to Richard Welburn, Head of Bereavement Services at Leicester City Council. Richard is due to retire in October and MBCoL wished to mark this with a gift and some words of tribute.
I think that this event is a landmark in inter faith relations, not just for Leicester, but nationally. Definitely one for the history books. My only reservation is that there's no mention (either from any of the speakers or in the book itself) of the fact that significant portions of the book's content are the work of Leicester Council of Faiths. Sections in the book which serve as an introduction to each of the eight faith communities which are members of the Council of Faiths (single paragraphs in unified style, covering such topics as Definitions; Origins; Beliefs; Scripture; Worship, Prayer and Meditation; Spiritualityl Lifestyle; Community; and Festival) are reproduced, word-for-word, from the set of public information brochures that we published in 2008. The Muslim Burial Council bought the right to use these texts from us for an agreed (small) fee and, while they then had the rights to limited used of the texts, we did ask for a credit as the originator of the material. I'm not going to be the dog in the manger at this special and very positive occasion, but I was saddened that we didn't get any mention for this contribution to the book. Even if it were done from the platform, it would have been nice to have heard it said in such distinguished company. Still, I won;t let anything take the shine off such a good occasion.