In a powerful sign of interfaith cooperation, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and three leading Muslim clerics today joined together to launch a new Muslim certificate in religious studies and open a new prayer room at St Mary's University, Twickenham.
The launch is the latest result of a long-standing dialogue between the religious leaders and takes place on the site of a notable address at the university delivered by Pope Benedict on faith relations in 2010.
Cardinal Nichols, who is the chancellor of St Mary's University, said: 'I am delighted to welcome our distinguished guests to St Mary's and pleased that they can join us in celebrating our continued commitment to promoting interfaith dialogue in the UK and ensuring that our university provides the most welcoming environment for students of all faiths.'
The new certificate is aimed at supporting the religious literacy of teachers and enhance the contribution that religion can make to the formation of British values as referenced in the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status.
It will be aimed at those teaching religious education in Muslim schools and will support a cohesive approach to teaching in line with the National Curriculum and contemporary teaching practices.
The imams Moulana Raza, Moulana Rizvi, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra and Sayed Razawi have been in discussions to develop the concept and the University is now working in consultation with academics from universities across the UK to develop the programme in more detail. The certificate will complement the University's Catholic certificate in religious studies.
Speaking at the event this afternoon, Razawi, a Shia imam and one of the four imams who the Cardinal took to Rome for an audience with the Pope, said: 'We are extremely happy that St Mary's has taken up our call. We are walking shoulder to shoulder, working together. Today here at St Mary's, there is no longer the 'other'; there is an 'us'. This certificate is a partnership, a first and truly authentic as it is ratified by four senior imams. When we talk about integration this is a wonderful way of doing this through education.'
Sheikh Mogra, a Sunni imam and another of those who had an audience with the Pope, said: 'Those of us involved in interfaith dialogue are often challenged about outcomes. To see the fruits of this dialogue is wonderful and shows what can be done. Thank you to the Cardinal for his leadership which has led to this Muslim certificate which will help understanding of Islam in this country from the perspective of believers' for the benefit of all in society.'
Cardinal Nichols added: 'I would like to thank the imams for deepening this dialogue. Living as a religious minority in this country, as Catholics, we know the importance of education; helping us to understand ourselves and in our aim to serve society as a whole.'
The vice-chancellor of St Mary's University, Francis Campbell said: 'St Mary's has a strong record in developing outstanding teachers who go on to teach in faith and non-faith schools and we are pleased to be able to extend this experience to other faiths. It is as important as ever to ensure that there is open and inclusive dialogue around faith in the UK and this Certificate is a crucial contribution.'