Assalamu Alaikum,

And although it’s a little late, Eid Mubarak

You are all very welcome to this celebration of Eid-al-Fitr. I’m glad that so many people from the Muslim communities – and it is plural – are present here today. I’m just sorry that it is so cold. I hope that there has been enough conversation to keep everyone warm.

This, your festival, celebrates two things. First, and foremost, it is one of the great Muslim festivals of the year. But second it is also a celebration of the multi-cultural society which is the United Kingdom. Our country has its problems but we should be proud of the hard work we have done to build a society which has not assimilated, but integrated people with widely different ways of live and religion. A society which has been built on mutual respect.

I believe that in this we have benefited greatly from our shared history. When the fathers and grandfathers of many of those in this room first came to the United Kingdom, because of the links of the Commonwealth, they were given the vote – at every level of government from local to national – as soon as they became resident here. It didn’t matter whether you came from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh – everyone from the Commonwealth got that vote. It is, I think, a factor which made all the difference to our ability to build a working model of multi-cultural citizenship, compared to some other countries.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time which the Muslim community in this country and across the world uses for contemplation and prayer. The rituals of fasting are a reminder for all of us of the importance of self-sacrifice and our duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

And it was with characteristic charity and compassion that British Muslim communities reacted to the earthquake which hit Kashmir only a few days after Ramadan had begun. I saw in my own parliamentary constituency of Blackburn just how this catastrophe has touched the lives of so many British Asians. And not only British Asians – but many other British people as well. Indeed it is striking the extent to which this was not a case of speople helping out their immediate family. The epicentre of the earthquake was away from those areas in which the British Kashmiri community have traditionally lived. So, in fact, among the many thousands of casualties, relatively few had immediate relatives in the United Kingdom. It was the wider ties of family and friendship, a broader sense of brotherhood and sisterhood which prompted so many in the British Muslim communities to offer what help they could.

Of course all of us can do more. But I am proud that the United Kingdom is the second largest donor, after the United States, to the relief effort, having committed a total so far of £33 million. And last Saturday, my colleague Hilary Benn committed a further £70 million for long-term reconstruction. As I have said to members of the Pakistani government, it is our duty to help and we will.

The collective spirit across all parts of British society which we saw after the earthquake was the same as we saw after the terrible atrocities on 7 July. People of all faiths were murdered and maimed. People of all faiths responded to this attempt to provoke fear and hatred with kindness and bravery. The young Muslim tube-worker, Imran Chaudhuri, who went down into the tunnels at King Cross to give First Aid to the injured and dying, was one of many heroes that day.

All British people are united against terror and steadfast in defending our way of life. We live in a country which is tolerant, diverse and compassionate. It is a democracy in which freedom of speech and differences of opinion are valued – and frequently and passionately expressed – and in which, as I said earlier, different cultures and faiths are embraced.

And we will not tolerate those who use violence to attack these freedoms and values which we all hold dear. I saw a delegation from the Muslim communities earlier today and held a two-hour meeting with them. At that meeting I heard again the same message which I have heard many times from my own constituents – that Muslims in Britain have exactly the same feelings as everyone else about what happened that day. The attacks were indiscriminate and killed Christians, Muslims and people of other faith.

On July 7th the terrorists sought to divide us. I’m proud that, in fact, we’re stronger as a result. The way people pulled together showed the depth of our mutual understanding. Far from whipping up racism – something which I feared – the spirit of tolerance and respect in this country has only grown stronger. One reason, I am sure, was the way in which the British Muslim communities responded to this atrocity.

I had to think about whether to talk about those attacks – it’s some months ago now – but I decided to do so as I knew it would be on everyone’s mind.

But if I can finish on a happier note – the one with which I began – I want to thank you for helping to create an upright, decent and diverse society; and for all you are doing to contribute to this society.

May I then, once again, belatedly, wish you Eid Mubarak.