He understands our faith
- 6 May 2023, 10:48am
Britain today celebrates the crowning of a new king, but the coronation will be watched and celebrated by millions across the Commonwealth. To an extent that is often not appreciated abroad, the Queen – who was Defender of the Faith – was revered by her subjects of all faiths. In our often sectarian world, she exerted a unifying force: one that her son recognised and exemplifies.
King Charles is deeply informed of Muslim beliefs, culture and mores
Muslims in Britain and the world over will recognise, in King Charles, a monarch who is deeply Islamophilic. He has spoken about his attempts to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran in its original script. He served as vice-patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and has spoken eloquently about Islam and the West, saying the links ‘matter more today than ever before’. He is deeply familiar with the Middle East region and is particularly interested in the archaeological work around the ancient Nabatean site Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia, a country he has visited a dozen times – more often than any other nation in the region.
My mother, who grew up in British India, loves to say that Charles III is essentially Muslim – her logic being one must first be a good Christian before one can be a good Muslim. It’s an axiom she remembers from the days of empire before we were being told that we are all engaged in a ‘clash of civilizations’. As Charles himself put it, ‘that which binds our two worlds together is so much more powerful than that which divides us’. And the Queen, my family often observed, conducted herself with the same ideals that any Muslim would admire: deeply religious, self-effacing, modest, unwaveringly dignified and God-centred. What could be more Islamic than her devoutly God-fearing conduct?
Last week, I dined with my friend (and fellow Muslim) Amra Sabic El-Rayess, at the Metropolitan Club in New York City: a Bosnian genocide survivor and now a professor at Columbia University. She reminded me that King Charles was one of the few voices speaking up for the Bosnian Muslims during the 1992 to 1995 genocide at a time when the world failed to come to their defence. Standing up for Muslims is not always a sure-fire path to popularity: Charles III didn’t seem to mind. His intervention and compassion has never been forgotten by the then-abandoned people.
At Highgrove, the carpet garden, inspired by a Turkish carpet the King treasures, is planted with many of the 54 plants mentioned in the Quran – a remarkably touching expression of regard for my religion. Middle East scholar Diana Darke has identified the decorative border on the invitation card for the Coronation includes a symbol of the folklore green man to represent renewal: to her, the green man bears parallels with the mystical Islamic figure of Al Khidr ‘the green one’, green being the favoured colour of Islam.
Al Khidr was a well-known mystical figure most likely encountered by Norman crusaders in the Holy Land where he was integral to the Sufi faith and eventually conflated with St George the patron saint not only of England but also Lebanese, Palestinian and Syriac Christians. Sufism is known to be a particular passion of the King. In today’s coronation, Charles has made sure of a role for Muslim leaders. As he once put it:
Islam and Christianity share a common monotheistic vision: a belief in one divine God, in the transience of our earthly life, in our accountability for our actions, and in the assurance of life to come. We share many key values in common: respect for knowledge, for justice, compassion towards the poor and underprivileged, the importance of family life, respect for parents. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ is a Quranic precept too. Our history has been closely bound up together.
King Charles is deeply informed of Muslim beliefs, culture and mores. He may be one of the few minds today that understands the ‘fetishised abstractions’ and ‘dangerous binary’ of ‘Islam and The West’ – so often deployed as a vehicle for hostility, as writer Hamid Dabashi argues in The End of Two Illusions.
As we witness the 40th monarch to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, Muslims recognise in Charles III a profoundly Christian monarch who knows our book, is revered by pluralist Islamic leaders and understands our faith better than many of us ourselves. As Muslims, we regularly pray for those who rule or govern over us – including during Ramadan. The Islamic Hadith reminds us we follow our prophet’s example in the prayer for whoever is ‘given charge over my nation’ that may God ‘treat the ruler as he reigns’. On today’s coronation, Muslims will have ample cause to join in saying the anthem and the prayer: God Save Our King.
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Dr Qanta Ahmed is a British American Muslim physician and journalist, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.
Categories: Europe, Europe and Australia, UK
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