Ladies and Gentlemen, I greet you in the languages of the realm of New Zealand - English, Maori, CookIsland, Niue and Tokelau.
Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni
Assalaam Alaykum Wa RahmatullahiWa Barakatoh
(Peace and Blessings Be Upon You)
More specifically I greet you: Dr and Mrs Ashraf Choudhary, Member of Parliament, Your Worship Sir Barry Curtis (Mayor of Manukau), Dr and Mrs Bruce Hucker (Deputy Mayor Auckland), Mr and Mrs Javed Khan, President of FIANZ, Dr and Mrs Mustafa Farouk, Vice President of FIANZ, Mr Ahmed Bhamji (Chair of FIANZ business committee), Hanif Ali (Secretary of FIANZ), Sultan Eusoff (Chief Executive of FIANZ), Members of the Federation of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand, Members of the Muslim Community of Auckland and Hamilton, distinguished Guests otherwise, greetings to you all.
I am honoured that you have invited my wife Susan and myself here today. As you are leaders of our Muslim communities, I regard it as important to have made a formal connection with you early on in my tenure as Governor-General.
In every New Zealand setting, whoever speaks ought first to establish a place to stand before the audience. In that regard, I believe I have an affinity worth recording.
As may be known, I am of Fiji-Indian descent. My grandparents, all four, came to Fiji from India and made their lives there. My maternal grandparents were girmitya who came on the Berar in September 1882. In the time between then and 50 years when my parents migrated to New Zealand they had a not uncommon Fiji set of experiences so there are members of my mother's family with Muslim surnames as well as Hindu ones. My parents migrated to New Zealand where I was born. Here, whilst I had a Catholic upbringing, my ancestry and connections is that with a country with a significant Muslim population and all my life that I can remember our family has had Muslim friends.
Perhaps just as relevant however, is that I am a New Zealander. And being a New Zealander in 2006 means being part of a diverse and multicultural society, of which Islam is an increasingly significant component.
Moreover, as Governor-General of New Zealand, I have a responsibility to work closely with all parts of our society, of which our Muslim communities are an important part.
It is a responsibility with which I am happy to engage.
In that sense, then, my affinity with Islam feels just as strongly connected with the present, as in the past.
New Zealand's Muslim population reportedly stretches back to 1874, when the first Asian miners came to work in New Zealand. Then, in 1901, the first Census records only one Muslim living in New Zealand.
The population has grown slowly, but steadily. The most recent Census results, released just last week, put New Zealand's Muslim population at 36,150, an increase of 53 percent from 2001.
It may be a relatively small part of our total population, but that is all the more reason to celebrate Islam in New Zealand today.
I would be ignoring the elephant in the room today if I did not acknowledge that it has not been plain sailing for Muslim New Zealanders over the last five years.
There have been stresses placed on Islam across the world. And though we are far from the heart of the worst tensions, we still feel their icy breath.
This negativity is sprung of ignorance and New Zealand is no different from anywhere else in this regard. Human nature fears what it does not understand.
The logical conclusion, then, is that increasing understanding will cultivate harmony.
We have every opportunity to increase understanding of Islam in New Zealand and I have every confidence we can lead the world in building harmonious, fruitful inter-faith relationships.
Your strong leadership of Islam, and your ability to create a strong sense of identity and belonging within Muslim communities, is vital to achieving this end.
Firstly, by celebrating and promoting Islam, you give New Zealand Muslims a reason to hold their heads up and be proud of their faith and heritage.
Secondly, your leadership helps generate a wider understanding among all New Zealanders of the role of Islam, thus creating an environment which fosters inclusion.
If I may be so bold, I would say that as a country we are making great progress towards becoming a fully inclusive and tolerant society. As a nation, we increasingly diverse and we are celebrating this diversity more and more.
The following is a Maori proverb which I interpret to mean that people can live together harmoniously, whilst celebrating their differences:
E Koekoe te tui, e ketekete te Kaka e kuku te kereru.
This translated says that the tui sings, the kaka chatters, the pigeon coos.
This is where I believe most New Zealanders' attitudes lie today. Now more than ever, we recognise that people who retain their own distinct cultures, languages and faiths from their countries of origin are important members of New Zealand.
Just last week, we heard that our Asian population has experienced significant growth. Asian people now make up more than nine percent of our population - more than our PacificIsland population.
That one figure speaks volumes about New Zealand's changing identity. Further, it shows what kind of an opportunity we have now to shape our future identity, drawing on the various parts that make our whole.
We can do that by celebrating what it is that makes each of us different.
Your - and my - job is to ensure Islam is included in that celebration.
Islam is a profound and immensely peaceful religion. It is a way of life for many people around the world and it teaches its followers to be good, supportive members of their community.
You can be proud of your faith. Islam has much to offer in building New Zealand's national identity.
As I have said, I believe we are heading towards a positive time in this country for Islam, and for other faiths which are in the minority.
The challenge for the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand is two-fold. It is to continue building strong Islam communities from within, whilst at the same time, using that cohesion and strength to contribute to the developing sense of what it means to be a New Zealander today.
I look very much forward to supporting you in that challenge, in any way I can.
Wasalaam (greetings in the name of God)
No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, kia ora koutou katoa