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

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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 been seeking for decades to free himself from what he calls “Western materialism” by immersing himself in the second largest faith in the world. 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 state 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, continuing by quoting the Koran: “Only those who have a heart pay attention; only those who believe (or see signs) have a heart. His opinions set him far from the mainstream: not only his opposition to France’s bans on covering the faces of Muslims but also to its critical Danish cartoons that made fun of 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 I called him a “fair 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 to jewsthrowing a royal Hanukkah party in 2019 at Buckingham Palace and befriending rabbis and honor the Holocaust survivors by commissioning portraits of them from the royal collections. Regarding the legacy of the empire and the victims in other countries, he went further than his mother ever did, saying in 2021 that “slavery was an atrocity» and, curiously, that the «the time has cometo confront 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 objected Western neocolonialism. 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,” said journalist Robert Jobson. reported the exchange in a biography of Charles. The king is also a notorious supporter of the Palestinians, more recently and ostensibly wishing them “freedom, justice and equality” while repeatedly urging the UK 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 been criticized from the right for engaging in an appeal to the French president to continue to work together, “starting with the protection of 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 seen Britain as a community of communities,” he said religious leaders last week. An outspoken king who gives a Eid message, champions diversity and hates 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.