On Monday I was sitting in my office with a group of long-standing friends. Sarfraz Ali from the Pakistan Centre; Dr Shiv Pande from the Hindu Centre; Ben Quartey from the Ghanaian Association and Chief Angus Chukemega from the Nigerian Association. We were meeting to consider the establishment of a Liverpool Commonwealth Association to further trade, education and cultural links between Commonwealth diaspora communities within the city region and their countries origin.
As we talked we chatted about someone who would have loved to have been there – Akbar Ali. I enquired of Sarfraz how he was and Sarfraz said that he had been to see him at the weekend and that he had returned to his own home from a care home. Little did we know as we talked that Akbar had just died. Or perhaps his spirit had in truth joined us because what we were doing was so close to his heart.
When I got home and heard the news I reflected on the role that Akbar, Ben, Angus, Sarfraz and Shiv had played in making Liverpool one of the Cities with the most harmonious race and cultural relationships in the Country if not the world. I thought of those like Dorothy Kuya, Syeed Safirudin and Herbie Higgins and reflected on what they had in common. I decided that there were three things:
Firstly, they had all decided that Liverpool was to be their home in future and wanted to make a contribution to it.
Secondly, they had in no way forgotten their countries of origin but had resolved to leave behind political and cultural struggles back there in favour of political and cultural struggles here.
Thirdly they were all inclusive in the way they worked and behaved. Of course they were and are proud of their backgrounds and origins but not to the exclusivity of other beliefs and backgrounds.
This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I attended a Dinner at the Pakistan Centre to honour the Pakistani roots of the High Sheriff of Merseyside Mrs Abi Poynting. The guest speaker from the Pakistan Consulate said that in the past 18 months he had attended many meetings throughout the North West but that the event in Liverpool was unique. Firstly because it had many women there who were not just the caterers and secondly because they had people from all faiths and none there to recognise the fact that the Pakistani community in Liverpool is now part of mainstream Liverpool life.
I was surprised when I heard this because right from the start when I first visited the Hindu Centre and similar places 40 years ago there has always been this mixture. I could not imagine a major event in the life of any of our ethnic groups which did not involve them sharing that event with others.
I have no doubt at all that it is the attitude of the people mentioned above and countless others that have led to our good community relations. That is not of course the only reason. People of varying ethnicities and beliefs have been with us for a very long time. We have become used to people with ways that area little different from our own. An inevitability perhaps for a major sea port. In fact one of the proofs of this has just reopened its doors. The Quilliam Centre has recently re-opened the first ever Mosque in the UK at Brougham Terrace. This Mosque was founded by a convert from Christianity and will now serve to honour the way that the Moslem Community has become part of our City and Country. The re-opening of the Mosque as a visitor centre was instigated and championed by Akbar Ali. I am really delighted that it opened and he knew that it had opened just before he died.
I am not going to pretend that there are not challenges with ethnic relationships in this City. I know that there are some who denigrate those of different faiths and backgrounds. I know that people from some ethnic groups are discriminated against. But I can see in my own Ward how this is being beaten with time. My ward is one of the wealthiest in the City and has relatively high levels of people from ethnic minorities. In practice, however, they are not minorities at all. They have the same education, professions and general beliefs as their neighbours but retain that something different which is the background that their families and religious beliefs have endowed on them.
Akbar broyght His beliefs with him into my political life. For many years he was an active Liberal then Liberal Democrat. He chaired the Constituency Party of (Lord) David Alton and stood for Parliament himself.
At our meeting on Monday we resolved to seek to establish a Commonwealth Association in Liverpool. I vow to redouble my efforts in this regard in tribute to Akbar. Some see the Commonwealth as an anachronism. Other, however see it as a force for good. It is not only former British colonies who are members. Rwanda and the Cameroons with a Francophone background are in as is Mozambique with a Lusophone background. When it is at its best the Commonwealth works to enhance all sorts of links between Countries with massively varying faiths and ethnicities. Just the sort of thing that Akbar believed in all his life. Working together, sharing together, caring together for a common good for the common wealth.
The fact that we are at peace in our City is because of the dedication of people like Akbar, the others I have mentioned here and countless others who have committed themselves to this great City of ours. May Akbar be assisted by his God and his Prophet to have the same peace at the end of his life of service to Liverpool as he has helped us all to achieve.
Akbar Ali – Rest In Peace