AAs King Charles III takes the British throne as the sovereign, many will focus on the symbolism and political power that the monarch has, which is lacking in his executive power. But the sovereign also holds another title: “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” How the King interprets the responsibilities that go along with that religious role may surprise some—particularly when it comes to Islam.
Almost 30 years ago, then-Prince Charles declared that he wanted to be a “defender of faith,” rather than simply “Defender of the Faith,” to reflect Britain’s growing religious diversity. This caused quite a stir as it was clear that Charles did not intend to change the tradition but rather add to it. This new King represents a special type of Anglican. One side is tied deeply to tradition. The other is open-minded and has a lot of affection for Eastern Orthodox Christianity (Orthodox Christianity) and Islam.
When it comes to tradition, the King has over the years repeatedly mentioned Rene Guenon, who inspired several different (if often contradictory) movements critical of modernity’s excesses, seeking to rediscover metaphysics in a secular age. Guenon converted to Islam from France, but much of his work was taken up philosophically by non-Muslims seeking an assessment of modernity grounded in metaphysics.
These esoteric issues aside, the King is open about his love for Islam and Muslim communities in Britain as well as abroad.
King Charles III is seated next to Jordan’s Prince Ghazi (R), as he speaks to religious leaders of Jordan’s Christian and Muslim communities during his second day in the country’s royal visit. This was taken on March 12, 2013 in Amman, Jordan.
Ali Jarekji—Pool/Getty Images
Although it’s not unusual that a tolerant monarch would be polite and respectful about all the faiths practiced in their country—one could argue that’s simply good politics— the new King has gone much further than that in an era of all-too-common Islamophobia. When it came to Muslim communities worldwide, he stated clearly at a famous speech in 1993, “For that which binds our two worlds together is so much more powerful than that which divides us. Muslims, Christians—and Jews—are all ‘peoples of the Book’.”
Privately, he’s shown a lot of sympathy for where Muslims are in difficult political situations, both in Europe and further afield. Robert Jobson’s recent Charles SeventyIt is claimed that King Abdullah has strong sympathies with the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. It’s also claimed that he disagreed with dress restrictions imposed on Muslim women in various European countries.
What’s more, in 2007 he founded Mosaic, which provides mentoring programs for young Muslims across the U.K. He also became patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, where he gave his most famous speech, “Islam and the West” in 1993. As prince he also praised the likes of Martin Lings, an English Muslim convert and expert on Shakespeare, for his work on Islam, writing a foreword to one of Lings’ books. He is very interested in British Muslim communities.
This interest can also be seen in his opinions about Muslim communities from the past and their contribution to Western civilisation. In that 1993 Oxonian speech, he noted, “Córdoba in the 10th century was by far the most civilised city of Europe,” referring to the Spanish city then under Muslim rule. “It is said that the 400,000 volumes in its ruler’s library amounted to more books than all the libraries of the rest of Europe put together… If there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilization owed to the Islamic world.”
King Charles III (center) speaks with Mohammed Mahmoud, a Muslim leader, as he visited the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park to meet local residents and learn about community responses to the terrorist attacks on London.
When Charles spoke at Egypt’s Al-Azhar—the leading university for Islamic learning— in 2006, he noted, “we in the West are in debt to the scholars of Islam, for it was thanks to them that during the Dark Ages in Europe the treasures of classical learning were kept alive.”
Many of these statements are not typical for Western politicians, whether they be from the West or Europe. But Charles is more atypical in one further way—his insistence that Islam, as a religion, has something to offer the West today. In one speech, he noted, “Islam can teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is the poorer for having lost. At the heart of Islam is its preservation of an integral view of the Universe.”
In a world where Islam and Muslims are often denigrated in Western societies, the British monarch does more than respect and empower Muslim communities. He speaks politely, courteously, and even argues for the West’s acceptance of their religion. NeedsIslam, in the present and future This seems to have no parallels in Western politicians.
It is clear that what a prince may say and what the King can do are not two different things. As Britain adjusts to the new sovereign, the rest of the world will too. A Western head of State may see Islam in a completely different way than the populism waves across Europe and North America. This will make for some interesting reading.
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