Prince Charles on Tuesday criticized the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as well as the “ghastly” violence that followed their publication, and he called on all to respect the religion of others.
The prince toured Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the foremost Islamic institution in the Sunni Muslim world, on the second day of his visit to Egypt. He was accompanied by his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who donned a headscarf as she went through the mosque.
“The true mark of a civilized society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers,” the Prince of Wales told about 800 people at Al-Azhar.
Charles and Camilla were hosted by the grand sheik of Al-Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the top Islamic cleric in Egypt, who awarded the prince an honorary doctorate in recognition of his work to promote the understanding of Islam.
Some Al-Azhar clerics had criticized the decision to bestow the degree, arguing the prince had not done enough to deserve it. As if to answer these critics, Sheik Tantawi went out of his way to quote Charles’ views of Islam and Muslims, repeatedly citing a speech he gave in Oxford in 1993, and adding that the prince’s ideas were the fruit of “serious study.”
Need to 'restore mutual respect'
When Charles received the doctorate after his speech, there was a surge of applause from the audience, which included at least 150 Muslim clerics in gray robes and white turbans topped with red. Clearly moved, the prince bowed slightly to the crowd and waved in thanks.
“Responsible men and women must work to restore mutual respect between faiths,” Charles said in his speech, which referred to Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars and quoted the holy books of the three religions.
“The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others,” he said, referring to the cartoons first published in Denmark and later reprinted in several European nations that provoked riots in many Muslim countries.
Some of the caricatures depicted the seventh century Prophet Muhammad as a man of violence, including one that showed him wearing a turban that looks like a bomb.
The prince deplored the sectarian nature of the violence in Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories. “Images of communities torn apart by religious conflict are deeply harrowing,” he said.
Egyptian tolerance urged
He also criticized what he said was the prejudice shown to people of other faiths.
“I think of the experience of Muslims living in Europe who are subject to varied and continuous expressions of Islamophobia by fellow Europeans. I think of Christians living within some Muslim nations, who find themselves fettered by harsh and degrading restrictions, or subject to abuse by some of their fellow citizens,” he said.
His words have particular resonance in Egypt, where Coptic Christians — an estimated 10 percent of the population of 73 million — complain of restrictions on building churches and of discrimination in getting jobs.
The prince noted that Islam, Christianity and Judaism share the same origin in the Prophet Abraham.
“There are differences, and we should celebrate them. But in the things that matter most, we have a common root,” he said.
Charles and Camilla arrived Monday in Egypt for a five-day visit. He is expected to inaugurate the British University in Cairo, visit the western desert oasis of Siwa, and lay a wreath at the Commonwealth cemetery at El Alamein, the site of a 1942 battle that was a turning point in World War II.
They leave Friday for Saudi Arabia.