First principal of the Muslim College and visionary Muslim scholar who helped British Islam make peace with modernity
Sheikh Mohammed Aboulkhair Zaki Badawi (الشيخ محمد أبو الخير زكي بدوي), was a prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar, community activist, and promoter of interfaith-dialogue. He was the first principal of the Muslim College in London, which the World Islamic Call Society founded in 1983. He also was a frequent writer and broadcaster on Islamic affairs.
Zaki Badawi spent nearly 30 years almost singlehandedly creating British Islamic institutions and setting out arguments in their favour. Thus he laid the intellectual and bureaucratic foundations for our community to make peace with modernity, and live as a minority in a western society.
Born in Egypt, Badawi trained at al-Azhar University in Cairo, gaining an undergraduate degree in Theology. He obtained subsequently a Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Literature in 1947 at the same university. He moved to the United Kingdom in 1951 and studied Psychology at University College London, obtaining his B.Sc. degree in 1954 and a Ph.D. degree in Modern Muslim Thought from the University of London.
In 1978, Badawi was appointed director of the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) and Chief Imam of the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park. In this period, he participated in establishing the Shariah Council as a facility to reconcile conflicts between Islamic law and the British civil code. Badawi was elected chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council by the National Conference of Imams and Mosque Officials of the UK in 1984.
In 1983, the World Islamic Call Society established the Muslim College in London and Badawi became its first principal. The college became a postgraduate school for the training of imams and Muslim leaders in the West. The curriculum includes the study of both Islam and Western society, and emphasizes interfaith dialogue.
Badawi was a co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, vice chairman of the World Congress of Faiths and director/trustee of the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR).
Historians will find in Badawi’s achievement a systematic approach to showing how Muslims can live at ease in a western liberal environment. For him, the mission was more than about Britain; his goal was to show how the gulf between east and west, ancient and modern, could be bridged peacefully and fruitfully.