LONDON: In November, the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, embarked on the first overseas tour by any member of the British royal family since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which had brought a temporary halt to such trips two years earlier.
To those familiar with the interests closest to the prince’s heart, the choice of the Middle East as the destination came as no surprise.
Visiting Jordan and Egypt, the prince was honoring his lifelong commitment to the building of bridges between different faiths and cultures, and exercising his fascination with, and love of, a region with which he has always been deeply engaged.
On his visit to Jordan, the prince was keen to express his admiration for the work being done in the country on behalf of refugees, many of whom had been displaced by the war in Syria.
He has been particularly concerned with the plight of refugees throughout the region. In January 2020 he was announced as the first UK patron of the International Rescue Committee, the organization working in 40 countries “to help people to survive, recover, and gain control of their futures.”
In Jordan, he met and spoke to some of the 750,000 people being hosted by the country, many of whom rely on support from donor countries, including the UK and Saudi Arabia.
The prince’s sense of the history of the region, which in many cases is linked inextricably with that of his own country, is keen. While in Jordan, he planted a tree to symbolize the UK-Jordanian partnership, and to mark the centenary of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — a product of the allied defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and which was finally granted independence from the British mandate in 1946.
In Cairo, the prince and the duchess were welcomed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. It was the prince’s second trip to Egypt. He had visited previously in 2006, as part of a tour that also included Saudi Arabia and which had been carried out to promote better understanding and tolerance between religions, and in support of environmental initiatives and the promotion of sustainable job opportunities and training for young people.
After visiting Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque, the prince underlined his commitment to interfaith harmony in a speech at Al-Azhar University.
He said: “I believe with all my heart, that responsible men and women should work to restore mutual respect between religions, and we must do everything in our power to overcome the mistrust that poisons the lives of many people.”
Similar to his mother, who passed away on Thursday, Charles has always been devoted to ecumenism and the promotion of harmony between faiths.
As King Charles III, he now inherits Queen Elizabeth II’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the title Defender of the Faith — and, like her before him, he has always made clear that he sees this role as being better defined as defender of all faiths.
During a BBC interview in 2015, he said: “It has always seemed to me that, while at the same time being Defender of the Faith, you can also be protector of faiths.
“The Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
With more than 3 million Muslims in the UK, Islam is the second-largest religion in the country, and Charles’ interest in the religion is well known.
In 2015, during a Middle East tour that took him to Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, it emerged that the prince had spent the previous six months learning Arabic with a private tutor, in order to be able to read the Qur’an in its original language, and to be better able to decipher inscriptions in museums and other institutions during his many trips to the region.
A royal aide revealed that the prince was “enormously interested in the region.”
Known for his passion for Islamic history, art, and culture — at the University of Cambridge in the 1960s, the prince read archaeology, anthropology, and history at Trinity College — Charles has always taken a close interest in the heritage of the Middle East.
In particular, he has followed closely and several times has visited the extensive archaeological work taking place in and around AlUla and the ancient Nabataean city of Hegra, inscribed in 2008 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.