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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

February 13, 2003

Charles in charge, alhamdolillah.

I must come to the defense of the Prince of Wales. Via Glenn Reynolds, we see a brief mention of Prince Charles' supposed "Arabophilia" on Punditwatch:

Tony Snow, on Fox, revealed that Britain’s Prince Charles wears Arab robes and reportedly opposes war with Iraq. Snow called him a “Windsor Cat Stevens.”

The mere suggestion that Prince Charles could be interested in Arab culture has of course raised all sorts of alarm bells. Note that Snow deliberately invoked Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) - a noted convert to Islam. It's unsurprising that already some in the blogsphere are chattering about Prince Charles' supposed conversion to the faith. Glenn updated his post with a photo of Charles wearing what looks to be (gasp!) Arab robes and headcovering (at left). The photo is from a breathless article in the UK ragsheet News of the World, which reveals that Charles actually reads the Qur'an daily and sometimes wears Islamic dress at home. I can imagine the consternation among the neocons already: The Windsors are Wahabis! UK to embrace the Sauds as dynastic brethren!

First, it is important to understand that Charles - recognizing that Muslims are a large and growing segment of his subjects - has done groundbreaking work in reaching out ot Islamic communities across Britain, fostering bonds and always emphasising loyalty and patriotism to the Crown. Apart from the vocal fools on the news, the vast majority of Britain's muslims are fiercely loyal to their nation and this is in large part to Charles' untiring efforts at recognizing them as valued contributors to the culture and diversity of Great Britain. Note that France makes no such outreach, seeing its Muslims as just nother pool of cheap labor. This may account for the lack of fraternite´ among French muslims for the tricolor.

Second, if Charles chooses to read the Qur'an, and wear Islamic dress in the privacy of his home, that is his business, just as his views on the impending Iraq war are. Drawing a causal link between these facts is unfair. What's next, demonizing the Shriners? But I have to doubt these claims anyway, given their source. The News of the World is just another weekly royal-bashing rag, and they are always looking for an interesting angle.

Third, the photo of Charles above is actually of the Prince wearing the topi, the headgear of my own community of Shi'a muslims, the Dawoodi Bohras. The "robes" in this photo are a ceremonial shawl draped around his shoulders (and over the Prince's immaculate tailored suit) by the head of the Bohra congregation in London - both topi and shawl were gifts to the Prince, on the occasion of his visit to the Bohra community's Masjid Al-Husainy complex in Northholt (a suburb of London) in 1996. You can see another photo of Charles in topi and shawl here (keep in mind that this was seven years ago).

On the occassion of the Prince's visit to the masjid complex, he planted a "unity tree" (an oak sapling) with the leaders of the community, to represent the loyalty and pride that the London Bohras take in being citizens of the United Kingdom. The tree also symbolizes the unity of Britain, with all its diversity. The Prince said during the ceremony:

What I really wanted to do today is offer my heartfelt congratulations for what you have all managed to achieve here with your community in building this great complex here. Your commitment to building this very special place of worship and something that is of such beauty is I think a credit to community.
I want to congratulate the Dawoodi Bohra Community on the contribution you make to the economic well-being and cultural diversity of the wider community here in the country. And having met a large number of you as I’ve been going round the mosque and having seen how many different businesses you have all started and grown, I am impressed by what you have managed to achieve. And if I may say so, you are a splendid example of the way I believe different cultures can learn to understand one another much better."

There are more details and photos of the Prince's visit in this special edition of the Asian Age newspaper, published for the occassion. In the same issue, there is a discussion of how the community has integrated into the UK and the ongoing commitment that the Bohras have to being citizens of Britain without sacrificing our beliefs and practices.

The Bohras are described in much more detail in the book Mullahs on the Mainframe by Jonah Blank. I also recommend this entry in the Oxford University Encyclopedia of Islam for a brief overview.

Just to clarify - I am not accusing Glenn Reynolds of defaming Charles. I am defending Charles from News of the World's insinuation that his anti-war opinions (which reflect the general public opinion in Britain) are caused by his secret Arab (implied: Wahabi) sympathies. Since the photo is 1. seven years old, and 2. shows him wearing Bohra (Shi'a muslims ethnically from Gujarat, India) headgear and shawl, this is an unfair, out of context, and factually incorrect characterization. News of the World chose that photo - which is really a symbol of Charles' outreach and vision - and used it to imply the exact opposite.

UPDATE: Glenn posted again, pointing to another article dating from 1997, which also raises alarmist fears about Charles' conversion. The idea is not new. If anything it underlies how reactionary the idea is. The article is a joke - it invokes the Grand Mufti of Cyprus as an authority - that sound you hear is the collective shrug of a thousand muslim shoulders. Who? I find the "Charles is a secret convert to Islam" meme so absurd, I can't let it go. Several others have tried to justify this obsessive attention to Charles by virtue of his position in the monarchy:

But it is the Prince of Wales, and the man will presumably someday become Defender of the Faith -- the Faith in question being the Anglican Church. I'm not Anglican, but if I were, I would certainly have a strong interest in seeing that the titular head of my church actually believed in the tenets of the sect. Hence the perfectly valid speculation about Charles's personal beliefs.

But I find this singularly unconvincing. It's not clear to me if Anglican Britons actually pray towards Charles and Elizabeth or not, but presumably the monarchy wouldn't bat an eyelid about this, given that being Muslim is no less being Anglican than being a playboy or an adulterer is. Presumably the presence of Camilla Parker Bowles at King Charles' side won't faze Anglicans, will it matter if she is wearing a burka? Hey, Elizabeth can dissolve Parliament, technically. Britain has a monarchy with all sorts of rules and powers on paper, but Charles the man actually lives in the real world. This is why I admire his outreach efforts to Muslims, Jews, and other minorities, because he is dedicated to building loyalty and patriotism to Britain (and this is the best use of a monarchy in the modern age - aimed at strengthening the fabric of the nation. Leave the laws and the foreign policy to the Ministers).

What the News of the World is trying to do is take a number of Charles' reasonable comments about what embracing diversity can do to enrich the social and political fabric of Britain, and twists them into wild accusations about "defamation of his own culture" and "denigration of the West". Overall it's just another attempt to smear Charles efforts at recognizing that the face of Britain is multicultural and diverse into some kind of broadly implied treason.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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