The Queen’s relationship with British Muslims

Image credit: Michael Garnett CCLicense2.0

By Rukshana Choudhury

The Queen’s relationship with British Muslims is regarded as long and fruitful.

Imam Qari Asim, who chairs of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, believes her influence has been positive. “The Queen has a long-term relationship with the Muslim community and the majority of that has been a fruitful one,” he said.

“Her Majesty has been a wonderful beacon of hope, integrity, stability and unity for our country and beyond.”

He believes the Queen has promoted an understanding between communities: “I have had the privilege of meeting the Queen a number of times when she’s hosting interreligious dialogues, promoting harmony and cohesion between faith groups despite saying Christianity is her anchor.”

British Muslims, from footballers to captains of industry, have been included in the Queen’s honours list. Muslim leaders are regularly invited to royal ceremonial events such as weddings and services of thanksgiving.

In 2012, the Queen gave a speech at Lambeth Palace, saying faith provided a sense of belonging and religious groups had a proud track record in helping people in need and “remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves”.

The Queen’s Christmas and Commonwealth Day messages have often addressed interfaith harmony and tolerance. For Christmas 2006, the message featured images of Muslims praying in a mosque. She told the nation: “People of different faiths are bound together by the need to help the younger generation to become considerate and active citizens.”

Dr Abdul-Azim Ahmed, deputy director at the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, said there was an inter-generational difference among British Muslims in their regard for the Queen. “The first-generation Muslim migrants tend to see the Queen in a much more traditional sense as a figurehead and someone of importance and great respect,” he said. “The younger Muslim generation are much more critical of the monarchy as a concept and are much less reverent to the Queen.”

He observed that while the Queen remained neutral and tended to concentrate on interfaith dialogue, Prince Charles praised Muslims and recognised their contributions.

“The Queen is very careful, I think, in her self-presentation and this obviously extends not just from her faith and her relationship with religion and religious communities but also in terms of her politics and private life. I think it’s very carefully curated. However, Prince Charles, has had a very strong and very prominent role with Muslim communities in the UK.’’

This year, Charles sent good wishes to all those observing the holy month of Ramadan, saying the generosity of spirit and kind-hearted hospitality of Muslims did not cease to astound him.

During a 2010 speech at Oxford University, Charles urged the world to follow Islamic “spiritual principles” to protect the environment. The Prince’s Trust Mosaic programme creates opportunities for young people, with a focus on those from deprived Muslim communities. 

As an aside, there are historical roots to a close Elizabethan association between the British monarchy and Islam, with historian Jerry Brotton asserting that Elizabeth I believed Islam and Protestantism had more in common with each other than with Catholicism.

And in an astonishing twist, some historians have claimed that Queen Elizabeth II is the 43rd granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, a descendant of the Muslim princess Zaida from Seville. The story is put in context by Imam Qari Asim. “Islam teaches us to not necessarily take pride in your lineage rather than your actions,” he said.

Rukshana Choudhury is a freelance broadcast journalist based in London and Europe Editor for The Muslim Vibe

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