The passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)
Having experienced a glorious summer, and as we were getting back into the swing of school runs and work, the news of Her Majesty the Queen passing away on Thursday the 8th September 2022 came as a bit of bombshell. At the grand age of 96, it was of course always a matter of when, that, much like Charles, we would have to face up to the “dreaded news of her death.” But alas, that solemn reminder, inna lil-laahi wa innaa i-laihi raji’oon, that, “To God we belong and to Him we return” was to be uttered on our sovereign of 70 years. Echoing Liz Truss’s description of the Queen being “a bedrock of our nation,” Emmanuel Macron observed from afar, the Queen “embodied the British nation’s continuity and unity for over 70 years.” She might have been “our queen” but to people around the world she was, quite frankly, “The Queen.” Though as we know, “every soul shall taste death” (Qur’an, 21:35), talking about her in the past tense might have probably choked us up, as it did Boris Johnson.
Service, sacrifice, duty, intelligence, wit, transcending, kindness, dignity, decency, godliness – these words have been common descriptions of her. From the start of her reign at the age of 25, in 1952, 15 Prime Ministers later, over 100 visits to other countries, having lived through an era that saw giants figures like Malcolm X, Gandhi, Mohammad Ali and Mandela and others, countless world events, and having observed the transition to a new modern age from the telegram to Instagram, hers’ was, as Charles noted “a life well-lived,” not least as the longest serving monarch in British history. Reflecting on her life, it is easy to contemplate how God “tests humanity with good and evil as a trial,” at the end of which “to God we will all be returned” (Qur’an 21:35). The Queen will be dearly missed by so many of us. Even though we didn’t really know her intimately or ever meet her, her reign was all that we knew.
King Charles III – as a protectorate of believers
There was a time at primary school I recall hearing other children name-calling Charles as “big ears.” As if to juxtapose Charles as the diminutive figure compared to the Queen who commanded absolute respect, even to us primary school kids back then. Childishness aside, now, at age 73, Charles is the oldest monarch to be crowned, and has endured the longest wait to ascend the throne of any heir in British history. What better tutelage can there be than Her Majesty the Queen? During this time, a far cry from the “big ears,” Charles has indeed grown into a moral figure. As a champion of environmental conservation, education, diplomacy, multicultural Britain and religious teachings. As Prince of Wales he’s been the Patron or President of more than 400 organisations spanning these areas. Of these, notably, since 1993, he has been patron of The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. The founding chairman in 1985 was the great shaykh Abul Hasan Ali al-Nadwi (1913-1991), who was one the most famous teachers of one of my teachers, shaykh Akram Nadwi. Charles noted, “The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies has done so much to promote and improve our understanding of the Islamic world. That mission has great importance in our increasingly interdependent world. The relationships between Islam and the West matter more today than ever before.”
It is here that we ought to focus on what Charles is really about. He is, succinctly, a highly literate, highly concerned, champion of bettering human civilisation, and has the rare knack of foresight. Whether that’s dealing with division between people, or better understanding of people or protecting nature, it’s somehow always about making this world a better place. And he’s been doing this for decades, well-before modern movements.
For people of faith, the new king is indeed a friend. Well-educated in world religions, he possesses, what certainly looks like, a life-long desire to acquaint himself with the social and cultural mores of peoples of the world. Charles, for example, has been known to learn Arabic so that he could, in his own words, “understand the Qur’an better.” In a speech in 1993, he gave a scintillatingly-articulated advocacy of Islam in the West, which I welcome everyone to read: Prince of Wales speech “Islam and the West” at the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies.
He has interests in Middle Eastern art, and has been to Arab and other Muslim countries countless of times. In 2010, in a speech tiled “Islam and the Environment” he argued the important role of Islam in protecting the environment. Effectively this was his way of showcasing how Islam, through its own paradigm of environmentalism, can be renewed in modernity, which is admittedly, something most Muslims struggle to even contemplate. I have no doubt that Charles recognises that, God’s mercy aside, it is the connection to God that will help preserve humanity from an environmental catastrophe as a result of human gluttony and wantonness.
And so, as the reign of King Charles III begins, I am hopeful, and supplicate, that we’re entering an era that emboldens people of faith and godliness to give back to society a renewed connection to God, for greater meaning and a better world.
Reflections on post-colonial and restrictive religious reactions
Now, I want to touch upon another area in this blog. I’m sure like me you may have encountered an upsurge in scepticism, perhaps down-right imbecilic race-baiting or colonial-bashing in the wake of the Queen’s death. Whether one is a monarchist or not is completely up to individuals to choose and in the Islamic paradigm it is left to personal choice and judgement. God doesn’t mandate anything in this regard. And in fact we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that in Islamic civilization leadership swiftly moved to a hereditary monarchy/sultanate soon after the first four leaders, the khulafa al-rashidun. What God does command is uprightness, truthfulness, good manner, and good relations between people etc. at all times.
Part of this is to offer words of condolences to people who have lost their loved ones, including non-Muslims, and praying for their ease at a time of grief. Britain losing her sovereign is of course a matter of grief. So uttering condolences is a completely normal and human thing to do and is strongly emphasised in the Islamic paradigm, even if one isn’t politically in favour of a monarchy. Equally, part of this is not to hesitate saying inna lil-laahi wa innaa i-laihi raji’oon when hearing the death of non-Muslims. It’s an utterance which has the purpose of reminding our own selves of our own relation to God through news of events that we receive, and can be uttered upon hearing any news of strife or calamity; it certainly isn’t a prayer for the deceased. Unfortunately, even on this basic point, identarian and over-restrictive religious discourses have imprinted in many Muslims a discomforting religion that fails them in modernity. On the question of whether Muslims can pray for God’s forgiveness for the non-Muslim deceased, the general theological consensus is that this isn’t correct to do so. However, theologically that isn’t an indictment of deceased non-Muslims being condemned to hell. That’s a judgement which is solely for God, and deferring to him is the correct way, not least because theologically it’s a complicated picture. Similarly, when many Muslims say “RIP” (“Rest in peace”), others should not assume this is a prayer for salvation. Instead, it should be seen as a cultural expression of grief, and showing kindness to the deceased.
Another cluster of Muslims took up the banner of anti-colonialism, and went some way to degrade the Queen and the monarchy accusing them of being bastions of colonial indignity. How the Queen herself could be seen to be a tyrannical or greedy coloniser is beyond historical facts. Many display a general weariness towards any establishment, which sometimes turns to quite nasty, hate-peddling rhetoric. They will, for example, almost always engage in Tory-bashing, too. Contrast to the believer who seeks generosity, balanced judgements, and engages introspection to seek out biases or unfairness in their own approach to things. No intelligent person could deny the havoc colonialism wrought on disparate peoples around the world and its lacerating consequences can still be felt today. However, that is history, we can’t turn the clock back, and ought to therefore see that there are far more positive and productive ways of solving today’s problems than forever engaging in blaming today’s Britons or Westerners for what Britons and Westerners of the past did. As Muslims we ought to remember that God explains to us that he judges us on our own merits, capacities and relative circumstances, not those of others.
Lastly, I noted that in early response to the Queen’s death, news articles often contained the condolence messages from religious leaders. It was often the archbishop for Christians, the chief rabbi for Jewish people, but instead of an imam for Muslims, it was the MCB. However, the MCB does not have any religious authority. For me this is reflective of the gutter place Islamic authority and leadership is in the UK. That said, many scholars did later come out to say a few things and I must congratulate shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad for his Friday khutbah at the Eco Mosque in Cambridge on “Kings and Queens” which I thought was a very balanced and commemorative sermon.
A note of prayer
We pray for God’s blessings and guidance for King Charles III. We pray for those who bear the Queen’s legacy to remain strong so that they can carry on the good works. We pray for the UK to remain strong and to bring relief to those in hardship or suffering in any way.
It is with God’s grace that, as Liz Truss said, “The crown endures … our Nation endures.” God save the king.