Rabbi Nicky Lees will not watch the coronation of King Charles III. He will do something that he considers more important. pray for the monarch on the Jewish Sabbath.
On Saturday, he will join British rabbis to read a prayer in English and Hebrew thanking the new king, “the one God who made us all”.
Lees, the rabbi of North London’s Highgate Synagogue, said British Jews appreciated Charles’ pledge to promote the coexistence of all faiths and his work to support a multi-faith society during his long apprenticeship as heir to the throne.
“When he says he wants to be a defender of the faith, it means the world, because our history has not always been so simple, and we have not always lived free. we couldn’t practice our religion,” Lees told The Associated Press. “But to know that King Charles acts like this and talks like this is hugely comforting.”
At a time when religion is fueling tensions around the world, from Indian nationalists in India to Jewish settlers in the Jordan River to fundamentalist Christians in the United States, Charles tries to bridge the differences between the religious groups that make up Britain’s increasingly diverse society. .
Achieving that goal is crucial to the new king’s efforts to show that the monarchy, a 1,000-year-old institution with Christian roots, can still represent the people of modern, multicultural Britain.
But Charles, supreme ruler of the Church of England, faces a very different country than the one that adoringly celebrated his mother’s coronation in 1953.
Seventy years ago, over 80% of England’s population was Christian, and the mass migration that would change the face of the nation was just beginning. That figure has now halved, with 37% saying they have no religion, 6.5% calling themselves Muslim and 1.7% Hindu, according to the latest census. The change is even more pronounced in London, where more than a quarter of the population is of a non-Christian faith.
Charles recognized the change long before he became king last September.
As far back as the 1990s, Charles suggested he would like to be recognized as a “defender of the faith,” a slight but highly symbolic change from the monarch’s traditional title of “defender of the faith,” which stands for Christianity. This is an important distinction for a man who believes in the healing power of yoga and once called Islam “one of the greatest repositories of accumulated wisdom and spiritual knowledge available to mankind.”
The king’s commitment to diversity will be on display at his coronation, when religious leaders from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions will play an active role in the ceremonies for the first time.
“I have always thought of Britain as a ‘community of communities,'” Charles told faith leaders in September.
“It made me realize that the Sovereign has an additional duty, less officially recognized, but no less diligently performed. It is a duty to protect the diversity of our country, including protecting the space of faith and its practice through the religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs to which our hearts and minds guide us as individuals.”
That’s no easy task in a country where religious and cultural differences sometimes boil over.
Just last summer Muslim and Hindu youths clashed in the city of Leicester. The main opposition Labor Party has struggled to rid itself of anti-Semitism, and the government’s counter-terrorism strategy has been criticized for focusing on Muslims. Then there are the sectarian differences that still divide Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Such tensions highlight the critical need for Britain to have a head of state who will personally work to promote inclusivity, said Farhan Nizami, director of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies.
Charles has been the patron of the center for 30 years, giving his stature to Mr. Nizami’s efforts to establish an academic center for the study of all aspects of the Islamic world, including history, science and literature, as well as religion. During those years, the center moved from a nondescript wooden structure to a complex that has its own library, conference facilities and a mosque, complete with dome and minaret.
“It’s very important that we have a king who has been consistently committed to this [inclusivity]”, Mr. Nizami said: “It is so relevant in the modern era, with all the mobility, difference and diversity that exists, that this head of state must unite people both by example and by deed.”
These actions are sometimes small. But they resonate with people like Balwinder Shukra, who saw the king a few months ago when he officially opened Guru Nanak Gurdwara, the Sikh house of worship, in Luton, an ethnically diverse city of almost 300,000 north of London.
Mrs. Shukra took a bite out of the flatbreads known as chapatis for the communal meal the gurdwara serves to all visitors, adjusted her floral shawl and expressed her admiration for Charles’ decision to sit on the floor with the other members of the congregation.
Referring to the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, Ms. Shukra said that “all people [are] is equal: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a king,” he added.
Some British newspapers have suggested that Charles’ desire to include other faiths in the coronation has met with resistance from the Church of England, and a conservative religious commentator recently warned that a multi-faith ceremony could weaken the monarchy’s “royal roots”.
But George Gross, who studies the relationship between religion and the monarchy, dismissed those concerns.
Crowning monarchs is a tradition that goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans, so there is nothing inherently Christian about it, said Mr. Gross, a visiting researcher at King’s College London. In addition, all central religious elements of the service will be conducted by Church of England clergy.
Representatives of other faiths have already attended other major public events in Britain, such as Remembrance Day services.
“These things are not unusual in more modern environments,” he said, “So I think about it differently. If there were no other representatives, it would look very strange.”
Charles’ commitment to a multi-faith society is also a symbol of the progress made in ending the schism in Christian tradition that began in 1534 when Henry VIII left the Catholic Church and declared himself head of the Church of England.
That split sparked hundreds of years of tension between Catholics and Anglicans that finally subsided under the queen, said Cardinal Vincent Nichols, England’s most senior Catholic cleric. Nicholls will be at the Abbey when Charles is crowned on Saturday.
“I get a lot of privileges,” he said happily. “But this, I think, will be one of the biggest coronations of a monarch.”
This is reported by the Associated Press.