KEBABBLE Prince Charles, defender of Islam
By Fazile Zahir
FETHIYE, Turkey - The recent visit by Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince
Phillip to Turkey was hailed as a great success. The 82-year-old British
monarch won favor with the local people by describing Turkey as a "confident
and dynamic democracy" and praising close ties between Ankara and London.
She underlined British support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union,
showed respect for the past by visiting the tomb of modern Turkey's secularist
founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara and for the present government by
covering her hair when she visited an ancient mosque in Bursa and listened to a
from the Koran.
The Turkish press on the whole recounted the visit as the queen's second to
Turkey, the first having taken place 37 years ago in 1971. At that time, too,
the public response was positive and excited crowds surged past protective
barriers and swarmed the royal party's open-top cars. Back then, she took the
opportunity to present a trophy to the winner of a horse race held in her
honor. On this visit she was surprised and pleased to discover that the Queen
Elizabeth Cup Race has continued annually ever since.
Some members of the press speculated that this was actually her third visit - a
secret visit allegedly having taken place in 1961 to plead for clemency towards
some Democratic Party politicians sentenced for execution. Apparently, she was
turned down and left having seen no more than the airport. Despite odd rumors
like this one, Turkey and Britain have on the whole a cordial friendship, with
the British having at times been Turkey's only supporter for EU accession.
One particular member of the royal family, the queen's eldest son, Prince
Charles, has come under suspicion of having his own particularly strong
connection to Turkey.
In October 1996, London's
Evening Standard newspaper quoted the Grand Mufti
of Cyprus, who claimed that the prince had
converted to Islam. "It happened in Turkey. Oh,
he converted all right," the Grand Mufti was quoted as saying. "When
you get home, check on how often he travels to Turkey. You'll find
that your future king is a Muslim." This was one of several reports linking
Prince Charles and Islam highlighted by authors Ronni L Gordon and David M Stillman in
The Middle East Quarterly in 1997.
There have been various alleged proofs offered for the conversion myth.
Numerous times over the past three decades, Charles has spoken to support both
Muslims and Islam. In 1989, when the Iranian ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued
a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, Charles reacted to the death decree by
reflecting on the positive features that Islam has to offer the spiritually
empty lives of his countrymen.
In 1993, speaking at Oxford University, he said, "Our judgement of Islam has
been grossly distorted by taking the extremes to the norm. The truth is, of
course, different and always more complex. My own understanding is that
extremes, like the cutting off of hands, are rarely practiced. The guiding
principle and spirit of Islamic law, taken straight from the Koran, should be
those of equity and compassion. Islam can teach us today a way of understanding
and living in the world which Christianity itself is poorer for having lost."
In a June 1994 television documentary, he declared his preference to be known
as "Defender of Faith" rather than "Defender of the Faith", prompting then
prime minister John Major to comment, "It would be a little odd if Prince
Charles was defender of faiths of which he was not a member."
In a speech at the Foreign Office Conference Center on December 13, 1996, he
called on Islamic pedagogy and philosophy to help young Britons develop a
healthier view of the world. "There is much we can learn from that Islamic
world view in this respect. Everywhere in the world people want to learn
English. But in the West, in turn, we need to be taught by Islamic teachers how
to learn with our hearts, as well as our heads."
In 1997, the Daily Mail of London reported that he had set up a panel of 12
"wise men" (in fact, 11 men and one woman) to advise him on Islamic religion
and culture. No comparable body was established to advise him on any other
faith in his future realm.
He is vice patron of the Center for Islamic Studies at Oxford University, a
center built by a US$33 million Saudi gift with the stated aim of putting Islam
at the heart of the British education system.
In 2003, Prince Charles went to America for an eight-day tour. His mission was
to persuade President George W Bush and the Americans of the merits of Islam.
He has voiced private concerns over America's confrontational approach to
Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate Islam's strengths. He thinks the
United States has been too intolerant of the religion.
Charles's most recent visits to Turkey were in 2005 to mark the 90th
anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and again in 2007 with Camilla, Duchess
of Cornwall, for a four-day tour.
Whether or not he has converted, which is of course strongly denied by
Buckingham Palace spokesmen, he is an immensely popular figure throughout the
Middle East. The Saudis regard him as a candid friend of the Islamic world.
British academic John Casey, of Cambridge University, says the Prince of Wales'
hero status in the Arab world (for his pro Islamic comments and actions) is
permanent and "No other Western figure commands this sort of admiration."
Cynics claim his friendship is based on upper-class hobnobbing with the Dubai
polo set. Others believe that the UK Foreign Office capitalizes on his
popularity and uses him as a point man for British business interests in Muslim
countries. Casey commented in the London Daily Telegraph, "The Charles of
Arabia phenomenon is here to stay, for it helps assure British commerce with
the Muslim world."
Whether or not a conversion did take place in Turkey will probably never be
known, Charles is unlikely to give up his claim for the British throne by
making a full disclosure. He may even encourage the image of himself as a
spiritual dilettante flitting from faith to faith to hide an special leaning
Fazile Zahir is of Turkish descent, born and brought up in London. She
moved to live in Turkey in 2005 and has been writing full time since then.