Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Zia Chaudhry for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.
Zia Chaudhry MBE is a British-born Muslim, criminal barrister and author. Born in Burnley, Lancashire to parents raised in Pakistan, Zia moved to Liverpool at the age of seven and is a life-long Liverpool FC supporter. That is the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding CV. He was a pupil at the Liverpool Bluecoat School and went on to graduate from the University of Manchester. He was called to the Bar in 1991 and thereafter returned to Liverpool to practise as a barrister, where he has specialised with success and distinction in criminal law ever since.
Aside from his legal practice, he has been involved in inter-faith dialogue for nearly two decades, during which time he has addressed a variety of audiences, including the judiciary, school pupils, offenders who are seeking to rehabilitate themselves within the community, undergraduates at the University of Cambridge, and assorted church groups.
He was the Chair of the Merseyside Council of Faiths from 2005-2008 and in 2006 he became a founding member of the North West Forum of Faiths. He is also involved in other inter-faith groups and has had numerous TV and radio appearances discussing Islam and related issues.
In 2007, with the support of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, he founded the Spirit of Cordoba, a charity seeking to rekindle the spirit of co-operation which was so evident between the 3 Abrahamic faiths in Spain. He has also spoken at Christian-Muslim seminars at the EU with the aim of further expanding inter-faith dialogue.
In Her Majesty's Birthday Honours List of 2015, Zia was appointed to be a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to interfaith relations and on receiving the honour, he commented: “I've done nothing more than try to be a good Muslim, which as it happens is pretty much the same as being a good British citizen. To then get rewarded for it is a pleasant surprise and also very inspiring. There is a nice lesson for my children and others reminding them that if you just keep on working away at something good, it can still be recognised and rewarded.”
In 2013, Zia published his book ‘Just Your Average Muslim’, a timely story of his personal journey growing up as a Muslim in the United Kingdom. It was originally intended to serve as a guide for his own children but quickly developed to address wider issues concerning Islam and Muslims. Zia and his book gained international recognition when he was invited to the Dubai Literary Festival in 2015.
The book is a personal attempt to put Islam into context in a modern society, providing fascinating insights into history that a British-born Muslim will never learn in school. Speaking about the book’s contents, Zia commented: “I’m very much against the idea that Islam is a bunch of rules administered by the religious authorities and it’s our job to follow the rules. The Koran directs itself to people of understanding.”
He adds that extremists have "missed" the many Islamic lessons that preach harmony and says Britain is like "heaven on earth."
Despite the many professional demands on his time, while also raising a family of three children, Zia says he is never going to "rest on his laurels" in relation to his work to bridge interfaith relations and he says this is now "more important than ever."
As an active member of the Jewish community, I consider it a great honour that I should have been asked to make this presentation today – and I hope that the significance of this classic example of interfaith cooperation and respect will not be lost on those who constantly seek to stoke the fires upon which religious hatred and intolerance thrives, and whose agendas are ill-suited by such cooperation and respect.
For his sustained, outstanding contribution to community and interfaith relations, it is with great pleasure that I present Zia Chaudry for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University. Salaam and Shalom.