Raheel Ahmad, Missionary, History Department UK
“For that which binds our two worlds together is so much more powerful than that which divides us,” said the then Prince of Wales in his famous speech at Oxford in 1993.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is well aware of and cherishes the religious liberty provided by the British government headed by the monarch of the time. For this purpose, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah on numerous occasions praised the British for their religious freedom. He also conveyed the true message of Islam to the empress Queen Victoria in form of two books: A Gift for the Queen and The Star of the Empress – which invited the queen to accept Islam.
As King Charles III is now officially proclaimed the king, I wondered whether the new king is aware of true Islamic teachings in a time where the negative portrayal of Islam is unprecedented. Especially the rise of misinformation and hatred towards the Muslim community after the 9/11 attacks, the 21st commemoration of which was held days ago in New York.
While researching King Charles III’s views on Islam, I was astonished to find that our current king is very well versed with deep Islamic insight which is apparent from the lectures that he has delivered on Islam.
His lectures such as Islam and the West were delivered as an inaugural address in October 1993 at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, of which he is still a patron, and he delivered the speech A Sense of the Sacred: Building Bridges Between Islam and the West in December 1996 at The Wilton Park Seminar, Wilton Park, West Sussex while celebrating 50 years of its existence. His most recent address on the topic of Islam and the environment was delivered in 2010 on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
Having read and studied his speeches, one is astonished at the remarkable appreciation that he has for Islam and more importantly his insight and knowledge of Islamic teachings and not only its historical contribution to Western society but what it can contribute to the world today. Though some of these speeches were delivered some time ago, their significance in the world is ever more relevant in this day and age.
Prior to discussing his addresses, it is also important to note that the former Prince of Wales and current King has always held a positive view of Islam and strove for peace and stability in Muslim nations. In the biography, Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes and Dreams, the author Robert Jobson revealed that Charles had opposed the Iraq war (Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes & Dreams, p. 291) and disagreed with the niqab bans in European nations especially France seeing it as “an infringement of human rights”. (Ibid, p. 302)
He studies the Holy Quran and has also been a student of the Arabic language for many years.(Ibid, p. 285) This is apparent from some of his speeches on the relevant topic where he often quotes Quranic references and traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.
Islam and the West 1993
He began his speech, Islam and the West by describing the increasing misunderstanding between Islam and the Western world yet he feels that genuine efforts of understanding one another will help bridge this gap because “when all is said and done, it is worth recalling another Arab proverb: ‘What comes from the lips reaches the ears. What comes from the heart reaches the heart.’”
After mentioning various conflicts around the world, he explained that despite all of the material advancements in technology and mass communication and travel and intermingling of races, the misunderstanding between Islam and the West continues to grow, and the reason cannot be due to ignorance anymore because of interactions that exist with millions of Muslims in the UK and in the Commonwealth, but rather it is due to the inability to understand each other.
“Conflict, of course, comes about because of the misuse of power and the clash of ideals, not to mention the inflammatory activities of unscrupulous and bigoted leaders. But it also arises, tragically, from an inability to understand, and from the powerful emotions which, out of misunderstanding, lead to distrust and fear.” (A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales titled ‘Islam and the West’ at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speech/speech-hrh-prince-wales-titled-islam-and-west-oxford-centre-islamic-studies-sheldonian)
“It is odd, in many ways, that misunderstandings between Islam and the West should persist. 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’. 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.” (Ibid)
He explains the contradictory understanding of the hostile religious history of the past 14 centuries by the two worlds to be the root of the problem which has consequently intensified traditions of fear and distrust.
He says to a western child, “the 200 years of the Crusades are traditionally seen as a series of heroic, chivalrous exploits in which the kings, knights, princes – and children – of Europe tried to wrest Jerusalem from the wicked Muslim infidel’. Whereas the same incident for a Muslim ‘is an episode of great cruelty and terrible plunder’. He adds: The point, I think, is not that one or other picture is more true or has a monopoly of truth. It is that misunderstandings arise when we fail to appreciate how others look at the world, its history, and our respective roles in it[…] Our judgement of Islam has been grossly distorted by taking the extremes to be the norm. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a serious mistake. It is like judging the quality of life in Britain by the existence of murder and rape, child abuse and drug addiction. The extremes exist, and they must be dealt with. But when used as a basis to judge a society, they lead to distortion and unfairness.” (Ibid)
The current king and former prince of Wales further highlighted and praised the status given to women in Islam before any Western nation:
“Another obvious Western prejudice is to judge the position of women in Islamic society by the extreme cases. Yet Islam is not a monolith, and the picture is not simple[…] The rights of Muslim women to property and inheritance, to some protection if divorced, and to the conducting of business, were rights prescribed by the Qur’an 1,400 years ago, even if they were not everywhere translated into practice. In Britain at least, some of these rights were novel even to my grandmother’s generation!” (Ibid)
He further warned of emotive labelling and equating Islam to fundamentalism. He said there needs to be a distinction between those who devoutly practice their religion and fanatics or extremists who garb this devotion for their political ends.
“The vast majority of Muslims, though personally pious, are moderate in their politics. Theirs is the ‘religion of the middle way’. The Prophet himself always disliked and feared extremism.” (Ibid)
Again, highlighting the importance of understanding the other and emphasising the past of prosperous Islamic societies, he said:
“Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, 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 civilisation owe to the Islamic world. It is a failure which stems, I think, from the straitjacket of history which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic world, from Central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic, was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished. But because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great relevance to our own history.” (Ibid)
He mentioned the example of the 800 years of Islamic rule in Spain which contributed to the “preservation of classical learning during the Dark Ages”. This golden age made vital contributions to many fields such as “science, astronomy, mathematics, algebra (itself an Arabic word), law, history, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology, music.” (Ibid)
He praised the remarkable tolerance of the Islamic faith for granting Jews and Christians the religious liberty to practice their religion.” (Ibid)
“Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians the right to practise their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West.”
The former Prince of Wales further criticises the West for losing a comprehensive philosophy of nature which served as a means to embrace and understand the deeper meaning of our world in the name of the scientific revolution which has paved the way for an “increasing tendency in the West to live on the surface of our surroundings, where we study our world in order to manipulate and dominate it, turning harmony and beauty into disequilibrium and chaos […] If the ways of thought found in Islam and other religions can help us in that search, then there are things for us to learn from this system of belief which I suggest we ignore at our peril.” (Ibid)
On the topic of “Islam and the West”, the Fifth Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa delivered a profound and historic address in the heart of Berlin, entitled Islam and Europe: A clash of civilisations? Theaudience comprised more than 80 dignitaries and influential guests, including members of the Bundestag (German parliament), diplomats, academics, faith leaders and representatives of the media.
His Holiness addressed the common allegation that the presence of Islam and Muslims was a threat to Western civilisation and culture. In a powerful defence of Islam and religion itself, His Holiness stated that “atheism and “Godlessness”were the real threat to Western heritage and civilisation, and they were leading to centuries-old customs and values being suddenly abandoned without pause for thought.
King Charles III, in his second speech on the topic A Sense of the Sacred: Building Bridges Between Islam and the West, describes this as a “battle for preserving sacred values’ the purpose of which is to restore an understanding of the spiritual integrity of our lives, and for reintegrating what the modern world has fragmented.” (A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales titled ‘A Sense of the Sacred: Building Bridges Between Islam and the West’, The Wilton Park Seminar, Wilton Park, West Sussex, www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speech/speech-hrh-prince-wales-titled-sense-sacred-building-bridges-between-islam-and-west-wilton)
He further regards modern materialism to be unstable and increasingly damaging in its long-term consequences whereas he feels that a fundamental view of the sanctity of the world exists in nearly all the great religions of the world.
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa referred to this sense of the sacred as a culture which is“rooted in morality and the religious values and traditions of a nation”. His Holiness further differentiated between the strength of a civilisation which is often understood as economic progress, technological innovation and other factors related to advancement in travel, communication, or the intellectual progress of the society from its culture which is rooted in its morality and religious values.
“Separate and distinct from civilisation is a nation’s ‘culture’. Culture is a manifestation of the views of a people, their attitudes towards social issues and their practices and, instead of being based on material progress, culture is rooted in morality and the religious values and traditions of a nation.” (www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2019/10/talk-clash-civilisations-islam-west-extremely-dangerous-irresponsible-head-ahmadiyya-muslim-community/
On the difference between civilisation and culture, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa cited the historical example of the Roman Empire and the early period of Christianity to explain what distinguished a civilisation from a culture. He said:
“Due to their material prosperity, urbanisation and the way its territories were governed, the Romans were considered to be tremendously civilised and educated. However, their sophistication did not equate to higher standards of morality.” (Ibid)
“Rather, it was during the early period of Christianity that their people were infused with a progressive culture. Christianity gave people guiding principles based on religion and morality, whilst the Romans prescribed worldly laws and limits[…] Hence, the progress and advancement of the Romans reflected their great civilisation, whereas Christianity gave the people a laudable culture.” (Ibid)
His Holiness explained that it was when the Romans accepted Christianity that their great civilisation fused together with a great culture and that period laid the foundation for the values that continued to underpin Western society.
In a formidable defence of religion and Islam, His Holiness stated that religion was the basis of Western culture and so it was the continued ascent of atheism and disbelief that was changing society, rather than the immigration of Muslims:
“In Western countries, whenever a census is conducted it shows that people are less and less inclined towards religion or belief in God. Given this, I believe that the rapid increase of atheism is a far greater threat to Western culture than Islam[…] Western values are centuries-old and are based upon its religious traditions and especially on its Christian and Jewish heritage. However, these religious values and cultural norms are under attack from those who oppose all forms of religion and faith.” (Ibid)
King Charles III also mentions that this sense of the sacred is inherent in all of us yet due to the fear of ridicule and abuse most of us are “terrified to admit its existence”, he adds “This fear of ridicule, even to the extent of mentioning the name of God, is a classic indication of the loss of meaning in so-called Western civilisation.”( www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speech/speech-hrh-prince-wales-titled-sense-sacred-building-bridges-between-islam-and-west-wilton)
One cannot help but admire King Charles III’s deep insight and understanding of Islamic teachings, traditions and history.
I believe that if only a percentage of this insight that the King has about Islam is conveyed honestly and wholeheartedly by the media to the British public, it can effectively serve as a means of removing misunderstanding about Islam and more importantly will help heal divisions that currently exist in society.
This grand task of conveying the true teachings of Islam has been part and parcel of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community since its inception. For almost two decades, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa has continued to bear this beacon and has travelled wide and far, throughout his leadership, to convey the true message of Islam to the world and also provide – through Islamic teachings – the solutions to world problems.