In a 1997 Middle East Quarterly article titled "Prince Charles of Arabia," Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman looked at evidence that Britain's Prince Charles might be a secret convert to Islam. They shifted through his public statements (defending Islamic law, praising the status of Muslim women, seeing in Islam a solution for Britain's ailments) and actions (setting up a panel of twelve "wise men" to advise him on Islamic religion and culture), then concluded that, "should Charles persist in his admiration of Islam and defamation of his own culture," his accession to the throne will indeed usher in a "different kind of monarchy."
All this comes to mind on reading an article titled "Charles Breaks Fast with the Faithful in Muscat" in today's Dubai-based Gulf News, which reports on some of Charles' activities during his current five-day visit to Oman:
- He toured the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque for almost two hours and "took keen interest in studying various sections at the mosque, including the main prayer hall." As his spokesman put it, "The Prince was particularly keen to come to the mosque today to see the fantastic building and remarkable architecture which Prince was fascinated with. The Prince has a great love for Islamic architecture and I can't think of finer example than this mosque."
- He "spent a considerable time at an exhibition of Islamic calligraphy and held meetings with Sheikha Aisha Al Siaby, Head of Public Authority for Craft Industries and Taha Al Kisri, the Head of Omani Society for Fine Arts to discuss various aspects of Islamic art."
- He "broke fast with a large congregation of people from different nationalities as he sat with folded legs on the floor in the open. He ate date and drank juice at the call of Iftar."
Charles with worry beads, Camilla with shawl.
None of this, of course, is evidence that the Heir to the British Throne has changed religions, but his actions most certainly would be consistent with such a move, and especially the implication that he had kept the Ramadan fast. (November 9, 2003)
June 21, 2004 update: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei will award Prince Charles a $50,000 prize chosen by an international jury set up by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies for his contribution to understanding Islam in the West during a London ceremony on June 24. He is the first non-Muslim to receive the prize established in 1992. Other winners have included Youssef Al-Qaradawi, Abdul Fattah Abu Ghudda, and Adnan Mohd Zarzar.
Dec. 18, 2004 update: Prince Charles put himself in the middle of an Islamic theological issue that again could suggest his conversion to Islam – for if that is not the case, then on what basis does he opine on the Islamic law requiring that apostates from Islam be executed? Jonathan Petre of London's Daily Telegraph reports on a private summit of Christian and Muslim leaders at Clarence House on this topic sponsored earlier in December by the prince. Apparently, however, he did not get the results he hoped for, with one Christian participant indicating that Charles was "very, very unhappy" about its outcome. That may have been because the Muslims at the meeting resented his public involvement in this topic.
July 14, 2005 update: And what does the good prince have to say about the murder by Islamists of 55 in London a week ago? He put fingers to keyboard and produced "True Muslims Must Root Out The Extremists" for the Mirror:
some deeply evil influence has been brought to bear on these impressionable young minds. … Some may think this cause is Islam. It is anything but. It is a perversion of traditional Islam. As I understand it, Islam preaches humanity, tolerance and a sense of community. … these acts have nothing to do with any true faith. … it is vital that everyone resists the temptation to condemn the Muslim community for the actions of such a tiny and evil minority. If we succumb to that temptation, the bombers will have achieved their aim. Likewise, in my view, it is the duty of every true Muslim to condemn these atrocities and root out those among them who preach and practise such hatred and bitterness.
Comment: This sounds to me like the same apologetics churned out by the Muslim Council of Britain and other Islamist bodies.
Aug. 2, 2005 update: At the funeral of King Fahd in Riyadh, the Associated Press reports, "Non-Muslims were not allowed at the ceremonies." So far as I can tell, Charles did not attend the ceremonies. (There surely would have been a press uproar if he had.) We can conclude that whatever his inner faith, he is not presenting himself as a Muslim in public. In brief, he is not a Muslim at this time.
Sep. 4, 2005 update: Prince Charles revealed in a letter leaked to the Daily Telegraph that he had strained relations with George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury, over his attitude toward Islam. Particularly contentious was his expressed intent, on becoming king and supreme governor of the Church of England, to ditch the centuries' old defender of the faith title and replace it with defender of faith and defender of the Divine. The letter reveals the archbishop's reaction.
I wish you'd been there for the archbishop! Didn't really appreciate what I was getting at by talking about "the Divine" and felt that I had said far more about Islam than I did about Christianity - and was therefore worried about my development as a Christian.
According to royal aides, Charles did not much respect Lord Carey's views and the feelings were reciprocated.
Oct. 29, 2005 update: "Prince Charles to plead Islam's cause to Bush" reads the Sunday Telegraph headline. The text by Andrew Alderson tells how the prince of Wales
will try to persuade George W Bush and Americans of the merits of Islam this week because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since September 11. The Prince, who leaves on Tuesday for an eight-day tour of the US, has voiced private concerns over America's "confrontational" approach to Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate Islam's strengths.
Apparently, he "wants Americans - including Mr Bush - to share his fondness for Islam."
Nov. 2, 2005 update: That Daily Telegraph article cited in the previous update made the rounds, perhaps even to the White House. In any case, George W. Bush had a little zinger ready for the good prince in his welcome for him and Camilla at the state dinner:
In the first part of the 20th century, our nations stood together to ensure that fascism did not prevail in Europe. In the second half of the 20th century, we worked tirelessly to defeat the totalitarian ideology of communism. And today we're fighting side by side against an ideology of hatred and intolerance to ensure that the 21st century will be one of liberty and hope.
Charles did not reply to this comment, limiting his response to projects for the underprivileged and fond memories of Winston Churchill.
"The prince comes calling" (drawing by Roman Gann, National Review, Nov. 21, 2005).
Nov. 3, 2005 update: Ali Sina proposes a reason for Charles' attraction to Islam, suggesting that he may be tired of democracy: "Does he secretly envy the Islamic system of government where the rulers have absolute power and can even impose morality on their subjects?"
Nov. 5, 2005 update: Sharp-tongued Julie Burchill asks in "What's not to like about Islam if you're the Prince of Wales,"
I wonder why Prince Charles seeks to big up powerful, theocratic Islam — which already controls so much land and wealth and yet will kill and kill to gain more — and not vulnerable, pluralistic Israel? Why doesn't he invest as much energy in defence of the persecuted and murdered Christians who suffer for their beliefs under Islamic regimes?
She then answers her own questions, much as Ali Sina does:
Well, I think I know why; because cleaving to Islam is the one way that men who wish to appear liberal and enlightened can promote reactionary ideas. Monarch-worshipping, woman-oppressing, non-democratic — what's there not for Charles to like!
Nov. 13, 2005 update: Charles' efforts to promote Islam does his mother no good in Al-Qaeda's eyes. In a just-reviewed videotape, the organization's number two, Ayman al- Zawahiri, calls Queen Elizabeth II "one of the severest enemies of Islam" and blames her for what he calls Britain's "crusader laws." In addition, he criticizes British Muslims who "work for the pleasure of Elizabeth, the head of the Church of England" and ridicules them for saying (his words, not theirs): "We are British citizens, subject to Britain's crusader laws, and we are proud of our submission . . . to Elizabeth, head of the Church of England."
Jan. 19, 2006 update: As patron of the Festival of Muslim Cultures, which its website describes as a national celebration of "the rich cultural and artistic expressions of the Muslim peoples," Charles will be visiting Sheffield soon. He will tour an exhibition there, "Palace and Mosque: Islamic Treasures of the Middle East," that launches the festival. The prince is said to be keen to see the exhibition. He will also meet school and community groups and watch a performance by a group of Muslim women and girls.
Jan. 26, 2006 update: The Prince of Wales expressed his pleasure today at the progress in the UK of Shar'i banking products at a conference in London to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Development Bank: "I am certain that with the support of the Islamic Development Bank my charities will be able to increase their efforts to address the challenges we face in Britain's cities and help those younger British Muslims who feel they have little or no stake in society to play a fuller part in the country's affairs by promoting community and entrepreneurial development."
Mar. 21, 2006 update: Charles weighed in on the Muhammad cartoon controversy, telling an audience of more than 800 Islamic scholars at Cairo's Al-Azhar University in what the Times (London) called a "serious, impassioned 30-minute speech" that "The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others. In my view, the true mark of a civilised society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers."
Mar. 25, 2006 update: As the first Westerner ever to address the Al Imam Mohammad Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Charles (as was the case in December 2004 – see the update above) chose to give Muslims some advice about modernizing their religion. Note the "we" in the following quote: "I think we need to recover the depth, the subtlety, the generosity of imagination, the respect for wisdom that so marked Islam in its great ages." He also said Jews and Christians should learn from Islamic teachings:
What is so distinctive of the great ages of faith surely was that they understood, as well as sacred texts ... the meaning of God's word for all time and its meaning for this time. … it was Islam's greatness to understand this in its full depth and challenge. This is what you ... can give not only to Islam but by example to all the other children of Abraham.
Prince Charles meets the children at Yusuf Islam's Islamia Primary School, London.
Speaking of Islamic education, here is a remedial news item: back in March 2000, Prince Charles visited the Islamia Primary School
in North-West London. This, Britain's first state-funded Muslim school, was founded and is headed by Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens), an Islamist who threatened Salman Rushdie's life during the Satanic Verses
controversy and has since been banned from entering the United States. The Prince told the children: "You are ambassadors for a sometimes much misunderstood faith. I believe that Islam has much to teach increasingly secular societies like ours in Britain."
Oct. 31, 2006 update: There's been a strong reaction to a Kuwait News Agency report that "Prince Charles Tuesday said that the world problems could be resolve by following Islamic teachings, as Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood." But a look at the speech in question, to the Fatima Jinnah Women University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, finds no such statement. All Charles did was to quote the Koran in a favorable way in the context of a new-agey-style discussion of the Planet Earth:
This planet's survival will depend on you understanding that you can achieve unity through diversity; that you can in fact build on living, timeless traditions that are a part of your unique culture and still be "modern". It will also depend on you realizing that the planetary crisis we face is so profound in its rapidly developing consequences that we simply cannot afford to go on squabbling amongst ourselves while we destroy the world around us at a truly terrifying rate. As it says in the Qu'ran – "Only they pay attention who have hearts; only they believe (or see signs) who have hearts." Have you seen the signs? Will you trust in what your hearts are telling you?
Nov. 6, 2006 update: Umree Khan reports in the Guardian, "Why Muslims love the royals," on the Muslim response to Charles and his family:
In the wake of Prince Charles's visit to Pakistan, now is an apt time to reflect on the strange hold that royals, and he in particular, have over Muslims.
It may sound paradoxical, but it's not surprising that when Labour ministers queue up to tell modest women to take their veils off, there is a special affection for a prince whose public utterances on the subject have been marked by a sort of bumbling Islamophilia.
Charles and Camilla's visit to Pakistan was a really important trip for my mum. She is obsessed with the royal family. Lots of mums are but, really, you have no idea how big the royals are with Bangladeshi women. My friend Koruna will tell me, "You think your mum is obsessed, but I bet she doesn't have a showcase filled with royal-family china like my aunts." Of course she does - we had entire commemorative sets of Diana and Charles plates, eggcups, the works, in our living room. "Yeah," Koruna replies, "but a whole showcase in a mud-shack village in Bangladesh?"
Thousands of households in the subcontinent give pride of place to royal kitsch, and that is as much the case in the volatile Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh as it is in India. A survey of my Asian mates confirms this grim predicament - the royal cult, and in particular the icon that is Diana, is being propped up by Muslim women all over the world.
Kenny Gamble, Bennett and Vivian Levin, and Prince Charles chat about urban renewal.
May 13, 2007 update: The American Trains Magazine carries an article in today's issue, "Truly special guests ride the rails," about Charles and Camilla training from Philadelphia to New York City on the special cars belonging to Bennett Levin. On board, the article informs us, "Charles hosted a roundtable discussion with six Philadelphia experts on the subject of urban renewal." And who should one of those "experts" be but the notorious Kenny Gamble (aka Luqman Abdul-Haqq), seen prominently talking to the prince?
May 26, 2007 update: The BBC has announced a forthcoming world premier performance. Sir John Tavener's major new work, The Beautiful Names will be introduced on June 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Westminster Cathedral. The BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bĕlohlávek will join forces with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Westminster Cathedral Choir.
The Beautiful Names sets the 99 names for Allah as culled from the Qu'ran, sung in Arabic. "Inspiration for the piece came to me as a vision," says Tavener, "and the music just came to me immediately I saw the Arabic word." He has worked closely with the Arabist Michael Macdonald to ensure correct pronunciation and stress – "the sound actually does help create the music." The 70-minute work is divided into eleven groups of nine "tonal zones" and the start of each new section is prefaced by a magisterial calling out of Allah. Making his strongest reference yet to Islam, Tavener also calls upon Sufism, Hinduism and Buddhism in his choice of structure, instrumentation and tonality.
Program notes by Tavener spell this vision out in greater detail. Tickets are on sale for £24, £20, £16, £12, £8. Oh, and the work was commissioned by HRH The Prince Of Wales."
July 11, 2007 update: From a speech at the opening of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture's "Spirit & Life" Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre in London:
So much attention is paid to the outward differences between Faiths. Almost reflexively, this becomes translated into seemingly impenetrable divisions between people; people who – if they did but know it – are in fact linked by much and separated by rather little. How refreshing it is, then, to be reminded by this marvellous exhibition of the spirituality from which our Faiths draw their real strength, and of the heritage and traditions which we share.
The prince and Camilla watch the Whirling Dervishes.
Nov. 27, 2007 update: Two points of note in a Times (London) article by Alan Hamilton, "Whirling dervishes' star turn caps Prince's homage to Islamic mystic."
Writing from Konya, Turkey, about Prince Charles' visit there to the shrine of Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi during the 800th year of Rumi's birth, Hamilton mentions as an aside that "The Prince disclosed yesterday that he had paid a private visit in 1992 to the shrine."
After watching ten whirling dervishes perform at a cultural center, Charles stated in a speech: "Whatever it is, it seems to me that Western life has become deconstructed and partial." The East, on the other hand, he went on, had given us "parables of the soul." He also cited the Koran and Hadith.
Dec. 16, 2007 update: Princess Diana was also close to conversion to Islam. Of course, there was Dodi Fayad, about whom great debate exists. But before him, she was involved for two years with Dr. Hasnat Khan, in what appears to have been a more substantial and serious relationship. Here is how Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman characterized it in 1997 in "ce Charles of Arabia":
It bears noting that Charles is not the royal family's only link to the Muslim world, for Princess Diana, Charles's ex-wife, has often been linked to Hasnat Khan, a London-based cardiac surgeon. Just as Charles donned a Muslim prayer shawl, Di wore a traditional shalwar kameez during her visit to Khan's family in Pakistan. London's Sunday Mirror reports that Khan's family has approved a possible marriage of the divorced 35-year-old princess and their son, then quoted the princess (via a "friend") to the effect that she hoped Khan would father a half-sister to her two sons, princes William and Harry. While Diana's divorce from the heir to the British throne removes her personally from the royal family, her sons could be the first heirs to the British throne with a Muslim stepfather.
More details have just emerged about her possible conversion to Islam, via an interview with Khan's father, Abdul Rasheed Khan. Some excerpts from an article in the Sunday Telegraph by Massoud Ansari and Andrew Alderson:
Dr Hasnat Khan, a Muslim, ended his relationship with the Princess only months before her death after concluding that a marriage between them would be doomed to failure. Dr Khan told his family: "If I married her, our marriage would not last for more than a year. We are culturally so different from each other. She is from Venus and I am from Mars. If it ever happened, it would be like a marriage from two different planets." … Mr Khan said his son had explained to him that Diana was "independent" and "outgoing". But, added to their different faiths, it meant that his son - despite considering asking her to marry him - could not envisage their relationship lasting.
The inquest into the Princess's death heard evidence last week from one of her closest friends, Rosa Monckton, that Diana had no plans to marry her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, who died with her in a Paris car crash 10 years ago, and that she was still infatuated with Dr Khan. Ms Monckton said the Princess had been "deeply upset and hurt" when Dr Khan broke off their relationship in the summer of 1997. "She was very much in love with him. She hoped that they would be able to have a future together. She wanted to marry him," she told the hearing. … It is understood that at one point the Princess was willing to convert to Islam in order to marry him but abandoned the idea when he took the decision that their relationship could not work in the long term.
According to Monckton, she and Diana
held long discussions about the Princess's love life during a holiday they shared in the Greek Islands two weeks before Diana died. The Princess spent far more time talking about Hasnat Khan than she did about Dodi, the inquest heard. Ms Monckton said: "It was clear to me she was really missing Hasnat and I think Dodi was a distraction from the hurt she felt from the break-up."
Comment: It seems that William and Harry were quite close to becoming "the first heirs to the British throne with a Muslim stepfather."
Jan. 14, 2008 update: Lots of news from the inquest into Princess Diana's death where Paul Burrell, Diana's butler, is in the witness box.
First, Diana's mother, Frances Shand Kydd, had harsh words for her daughter's relationships with Muslim men, and Diana in turn intended to break with her over this, a British court was informed. Burrell reported on a conversation between the two six months before Diana's death. Kydd "called the Princess a whore. She said she was messing around with effing Muslim men and she was disgraceful and she said other nasty things." Diana responded by vowing never to speak to her mother again.
Second, Burrell told about Diana's plans to marry Hasnat Khan.
Mr Burrell said he was asked to look into arranging a private marriage between Diana and Mr Khan and went as far as consulting a Catholic priest about the possibility He had also begun preparing rooms at Diana's Kensington Palace home for Mr Khan. The couple split up a few weeks before her relationship with Dodi Fayed began. But Mr Burrell told the inquest he believed Diana still "held a candle" for Mr Khan and her new relationship was a way of making him jealous.
In contrast, he did not have "the impression that Dodi Fayed was 'the one' in her life although he described the relationship as an 'exciting time' for Diana."
Mar. 4, 2008 update: Hasnat Khan has spoken up and, as paraphrased by the Daily Telegraph, indicated that he was introduced Diana's two sons, Princes William and Harry. Khan said that if he and Diana "had married he would not have expected her to have converted to Islam. His only concern would have been which religion to bring up any children they had."
Feb. 9, 2010 update: "Prince Charles wowed by whirling dervishes at celebration sponsored by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani" reads the title in the Asian News. Some details:
Prince Charles was guest of honour at a celebration of Sufi Muslim culture at Manchester United's Old Trafford ground where he was entertained by whirlers in traditional dress. Greeted by artists, religious leaders and musicians, he made his way into a hushed hall at the stadium where he enjoyed a musical recitation of the Holy Quran accompanied by a whirling dervishes dressed in traditional costumes.
Not all of the audience at the Sheldonian Theatre was riveted by Prince Charles' speech on environmentalism.
June 10, 2010 update: Charles says the West must learn environmental policies from Islam. In an hour-long speech on "Islam and the Environment" at Oxford University's Sheldonian Theatre on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, reports Rebecca English of the Daily Mail, "the heir to the throne argued that man's destruction of the world was contrary to the scriptures of all religions - but particularly those of Islam." He "spoke in depth about his own study of the Koran which, he said, tells its followers that there is 'no separation between man and nature' and says we must always live within our environment's limits." He also said:
The inconvenient truth is that we share this planet with the rest of creation for a very good reason - and that is, we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us. Islam has always taught this and to ignore that lesson is to default on our contract with creation.
Mar. 14, 2013 update: Prince Charles has been taking Arabic lessons, he acknowledged on a trip to Qatar. The Daily Telegraph (London) tells the story:
The Prince was in Doha attending the launch of the Qatar-UK Alumni Network, for Qataris who have attended British universities, when he told a group of guests: "You all speak such good English."
Dr Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, chairman of the association and Qatar's energy minister, asked the Prince if he spoke any Arabic, and the Prince said: "I tried to learn it once but I gave up. It goes in one ear and out the other." Dr Al-Sada told him: "It's never too late to learn."
Later, one of the Prince's aides confirmed that he has been having lessons in Arabic recently, adding: "He is enormously interested in the region." The Prince speaks good French, some German, and has also had lessons in Welsh.
The newspaper story, by Gordon Rayner, adds a touch of local color: "All of the women at the reception were dressed head to toe in black, wearing a traditional shaila on their head and an abayya covering their body. … All of the men in the room wore a traditional white thobe from neck to foot, with a ghitra on their head secured by a band called an igul."
Prince Charles meets with Qataris who attended British universities.
Comments: (1) Curious that the prince would travel the whole way to Qatar for something as minuscule as the launch of the Qatar-UK Alumni Network; that he did would seem to confirm either Qatar's prowess in Great Britain or Charles' affection for the Middle East, or both. (2) To see the connection between learning Arabic and conversion to Islam, see my lengthy blog at "The Arabist and Islamist Baggage of Arabic Language Instruction."
Related Topics: Converts to Islam, Muslims in the United Kingdom, Persian Gulf & Yemen
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