In a hushed atmosphere, a dozen Muslims of all ages wait to sign a book of condolences for Queen Elizabeth II, during an inter-religious ceremony in the huge Baitul Futuh mosque, in south London.
“I am a first generation Muslim in this country” and “we can practice our religion there under the protection of our” monarch, explains Danial Saeed, 19. In the United Kingdom, the sovereign is not only head of the Anglican Church, but also “defender of the faith”.
While this title was originally directed to Christianity, Charles had argued in the past that when he came to the throne he would feel the responsibility to defend all faiths.
A commitment he reiterated on Friday by receiving representatives of the main religions of the United Kingdom at Buckingham Palace in London.
Charles III insisted on his “duty to protect the diversity of our country”, including in faith: as an Anglican and sovereign, “I feel bound to respect those who follow other spiritual paths, such as those who seek to live their lives in accordance with their age-old ideals,” he said, according to the palace.
During the evening at the mosque, during which a prayer was held, Rafiq Hayat, president of the British Muslim Ahamdiyya community, assured that “our loyalty to King” Charles III will be “as strong as that which we we were showing to Her Majesty the Queen”.
“We live in a country where freedom of religion is real (…). The monarch like the government perpetuates this freedom of speech, of belief”, he said, questioned by AFP.
During his inaugural speech, Charles III did not fail to note that during the 70 years of his mother’s reign, “we have seen our society become multicultural and multi-religious”.
For Ian Bradley, the British monarch therefore plays the role of “spiritual heart” of the nation
The British monarchy has its roots in Christianity, a religious character symbolized by the coronation where Charles III will be anointed with “sacred” oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But for Ian Bradley, professor of theology at the University of St Andrews interviewed by AFP, “the role of the monarch is to maintain the unity of the nation in all kinds of ways, and in particular in terms of faith”.
Rami Ranger, president of the British Association of Sikhs, believes that as a monarch above the political parties, religions or origins of her subjects, Queen Elizabeth, very religious, gave them all “an immense security feeling”.
For Ian Bradley, the British monarch therefore plays the role of “spiritual heart” of the nation, and this “slightly unconscious” spiritual link was manifested according to him by “the religious terms often chosen by many to express their feelings towards the queen”.
“It’s very different from France, which is very clearly a secular country,” he admits.
Britain may have become “largely a secular post-Christian nation, but many people still appreciate that the monarch has a religious aura,” he adds.
“Some of the staunchest supporters of the monarchy are members of religious minorities, including Jews, Sikhs, Hindus,” he says.
This attraction to religions in general could make Charles III a monarch in tune with today’s United Kingdom
He argues that while King Charles is a devout Christian who “goes to church every Sunday”, he “is interested in Islam, in spirituality in general”.
Just as his positions for the defense of the environment resonate with the concerns of youth, this attraction for religions in general could make Charles III a monarch in tune with the United Kingdom of today.
Among Christians, he notably showed his taste for the Orthodox religion, and made several retreats in the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece.
He moved British Jewry by visiting Israel – something his mother never did – even though it was not on an official visit. He also commissioned portraits of Holocaust survivors, a commemorative gesture that was also appreciated.
King Charles, observes for his part Rafiq Hayat, had as a prince “a formidable relationship with the Muslim world, he praised the teachings of Islam and made numerous references to Koranic verses”.
“We think he will be a very good leader for Muslims and that he will bring together the different beliefs”, in particular because given his stature “when he speaks, people listen”, and “it will have a lot of weight in relations between the Muslim world, the Christian world and the Jewish world”.