Reviews | King Charles’ embrace of Islam, diversity sparks intrigue

Ben Judah, the author of “It’s London“, is a senior researcher at the European Center of the Atlantic Council.

King Charles III will surprise us. The man whose family has served as a physical symbol of colonialism has spent his life trying to free his mind from the calcified prejudices of empire. Britain’s new head of state is a great admirer of Islam, a critic of Western interventionism and a champion of multiculturalism who will win his country new friends – and some populist enemies – around the world.

The new king has sought for decades to break free from what he calls “Western materialism” by immersing himself in the world’s second largest religion. As Prince of Wales, he embarked on the study of Islamic textiles, gardens and architecture. But he didn’t stop there. The king also studied Arabic to understand the Quran.

We can only say that this passion inspired the new British monarch. In speeches as early as 1993, he warned that “the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds remains dangerously high” and “I wholeheartedly believe that the ties between these two worlds matter more today than ever”. Rejecting the popular narrative of a ‘clash of civilisations’ between the Muslim world and the West, the then Prince of Wales went on to say that Islam ‘is part of our past and our present, in all areas of human activity. He helped create modern Europe. It’s part of our own heritage, not a separate thing.

As bigotry and Islamophobia spread after 9/11, it doubled. “The survival of this planet will depend on your understanding that you can achieve unity through diversity,” he said in 2006 in Pakistan, going on to quote the Quran: “Only those with a heart pay heed; only those who believe (or see signs) have a heart. His views set him far from the mainstream: not only his opposition to France’s ban on face coverings for Muslims, but also his criticism of Danish cartoons that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

Charles’ admiration for Islam is visible in his personal life and work. He laid out a carpet garden at his beloved home in Highgrove, inspired by Islamic designs with plants mentioned in the Quran. He is patron of the Center for Islamic Studies, Oxford, and his Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts teaches a wide range of courses in Islamic traditions. He made visiting Muslim shrines, holy places and even the all-important Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo a part of his royal travels. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar called him a “correct Western voice” on Islam and celebrated their meeting. Britain’s new top royal diplomat – although he may not have said so explicitly – wants to heal the wounds left by the 9/11 era.

His efforts to establish cultural dialogues are not limited to Islam. He also built remarkable bridges with Jews, hosting a royal Hanukkah party in 2019 at Buckingham Palace and befriending leading rabbis and honoring Holocaust survivors by commissioning portraits of them. in the royal collections. When it comes to the legacy of empire and victims in other countries, he went further than his mother ever did, saying in 2021 that “slavery was an atrocity” and, oddly , that “the time has come” to face his legacy.

But it is the new king’s fascination with Islam that has the most obvious political implications. As Prince of Wales, he audibly opposed Western neo-colonialism. When Tony Blair’s government prepared to follow the American lead in Iraq, Charles made his opposition to the government known. “To march carrying a banner for Western-style democracy was both reckless and futile,” is how journalist Robert Jobson reported the exchange in a biography of Charles. The king is also a notorious supporter of the Palestinians, most recently and ostensibly wishing them “freedom, justice and equality” while repeatedly urging the British government to do more.

The king’s embrace of Islam came against a backdrop of rising Islamophobia across the West, a political backdrop he is well aware of. Speaking in 2016, he implicitly criticized newly elected US President Donald Trump and his policy of banning many visitors from Muslim-majority countries. Charles lamented the rise of “many populist groups around the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority religion. All of this has deeply unsettling echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.” This is what makes Charles’ stated ambivalence about his Defender of the Faith title, saying instead that he sees himself more as a “Defender of the Faith “, therefore. Britain’s new king is a man on a mission to prioritize multiculturalism – not nationalism.

Now, critics might wonder just how much Charles, who has multiple palates and a reputation for fickle indulgences, really abandoned Western materialism. He has also acknowledged, both before and since his accession to the throne, that as a ruler he is expected to be more circumspect about his opinions. It is unclear to what extent he will continue to express political statements and actions. He has already come under fire from the right for engaging in a call for the French president to keep working together, “starting with protecting the climate and the planet”.

As Charles III begins his reign, he will be keenly aware that the power of the monarchy is to use its symbolic power to put certain things above politics as a national mission – just as the Queen did with the commonwealth. “I have always viewed Britain as a community of communities,” he told church leaders last week. An outspoken king who carries an Eid message, champions diversity and loathes Islamophobia can make friends and heal wounds abroad. In the same way, it could also make enemies in the United States if Trump or his movement ever takes over the White House with the kind of supremacist politics that Charles rejected.

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