In a peaceful atmosphere, around ten Muslims of all ages wait to sign a book of condolence for Queen Elizabeth II during a multi-faith ceremony at the Great Baitul Futuh Mosque in south London.
A few children run among the adults, but the atmosphere is respectful.
“I’m a first-generation Muslim in this country,” said 19-year-old Daniel Saeed, “and here we can practice our faith under the protection of our king.”
In England, the King is not only the head of the Anglican Church, but also the “Guardian of the Faith”.
The title originally addressed Christianity, but Charles III, who was crowned king on Saturday, had already said he would protect all religions in the United Kingdom, which became more multicultural during his mother’s reign, by taking the throne.
“The loyalty we show to the king” is “as strong as the loyalty we show to the queen,” says Rafiq Hayat, head of the British Muslim community Ahmadiyya, which includes a prayer.
“We live in a country where freedom of religion is real. (…) Both the king and the government uphold this freedom of expression, faith,” he later told AFP.
During Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign, “we have seen our society become multicultural and multi-confessional,” Charles III said in his first speech on Sept. 9, the day after his mother’s death.
– Buckingham Welcome –
This Friday, the monarch will host representatives of England’s major religions at Buckingham Palace.
The British monarchy has its roots in Christianity. This religious character is strongly represented in the coronation ceremony – the date of which has not yet been fixed – in which the King is anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
However, Ian Bradley, professor of theology at the University of St Andrews, told AFP that “the king’s role is to hold the nation together in every way possible, especially in terms of faith”.
Rami Ranger, head of the British Sikh Association, believes that as a monarch, Queen Elizabeth provided an “enormous sense of security” to all of her subjects, regardless of their political parties, religions or backgrounds.
The British monarch has a role as the “spiritual heart” of the country and, according to Bradley, this “somewhat unconscious” spiritual bond manifested itself “in the religious terms that many often choose to express their feelings to the Queen”.
England “may have become a very secular post-Christian nation, but many still appreciate that sovereignty has a religious aura,” he adds.
– Orthodox, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus –
“Some of the strongest supporters of the monarchy are members of religious minorities such as Jews, Sikhs, Hindus,” Bradley asserts. Remember that while Charles III was a practicing Christian who “went to church every Sunday”, he was also “interested in Islam and spirituality in general”.
This interest in religions may connect Charles III to Britain today, as does his advocacy for the environment with the concerns of younger people.
Among Christians, he showed a special preference for Orthodoxy, making several retreats to monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece. He visited Israel and moved the British Jewish community – something his mother never did – even if it wasn’t on an official visit.
Hayat says that he “had a wonderful relationship with the Muslim world as a prince who extolled the teachings of Islam and quoted verses from the Qur’an.”
“We believe that he will be a very good leader for Muslims and that he will bring together the different confessions. Between the Muslim world, the Christian world and the Jewish world”, he concludes.
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