Podium: A defender of tolerance and faith

Prince Charles From the address given by the Prince of Wales at the memorial service for King Hussein of Jordan at St Paul's Cathedral, London
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The Independent Culture
KING HUSSEIN was a noble spirit and a true and honoured friend of Britain. The King was a wonderful combination of a bedouin Arab and an English gentleman. In a secular age, men of faith should follow King Hussein's example of tolerance and magnanimity. In Jordan, Christians and Muslims respect each other's holy sites and festivals. The conduct of King Hussein should be a model for others to follow when nationalism has led to brutality, genocide and ethnic cleansing. I approach this task with great humility.

We have come today to this house of God, people of different faiths, myself as a Christian, to remember in our hearts - for that is where his memory truly lies - a faithful follower of Islam, a man amongst men and a King amongst Kings.

In an age of secularism and cynicism it seems to me essential that all men of faith - those who acknowledge the existence of a higher dimension beyond the narrow, destructive confines of the egocentric world view - should come together in recognition of a common understanding of what is sacred and enduring in the human experience.

As it says in the Koran, "whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and doeth right - surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve". King Hussein was a man of faith who recognised in his turn the faith of others in a life beyond the illusory nature of this physical existence.

How wonderful it would be if our great sense of loss for a man of such tolerance and understanding could serve to remind us all that prior to modern times, despite many cases of strife among the followers of various religions, there were also many instances of remarkable accord and harmony as each religious community realised in its heart the religious nature of the life of the other.

It is sometimes difficult for us to appreciate this in an age when secularism has, on the one hand, weakened religions and, on the other, hardened them in the face of external threat, and turned many followers away from the inner, spiritual dimensions of their own religions, where alone real peace and accord reside.

It is important for us in the West to be reminded of such notable instances of peace and harmony as occurred, for example, in the case of Spain before the Reconquista where, during almost eight centuries, Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in remarkable peace - for this is what we must all have the vision, understanding and tolerance to strive for. King Hussein was just such a visionary; his Jordan is a country rich in the venerated sites of other religions. Christ preached in this ancient land. It is a Muslim state in which Christians are safe, respected and valued. In Jordan, Muslims and Christians respect each other's holy places and take part in each other's festivals, the Eid al Fitr and Christmas.

We forget too easily that the veneration of the Virgin is shared in the Middle East to this day by Christians and Muslims alike; that the mysterious prophet of the Muslims, Al Khidir, was identified with the Jewish Elias and the Christian St George; and that Mount Sinai remains sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. What better expression of harmony and understanding can be found, as I know from my own experience, than in the Monastery of Saint Catherine, a mosque built into its walls, in a place where Moses met God?

King Hussein had the kind of enlightened spirit which was in harmony with those who, in earlier periods of history, were able instinctively to respect the followers of other faiths for their piety and moral character, even if they did not accept them theologically. I feel sure that he would want us to recognise that in former times this tolerance often transcended tribal, linguistic and ethnic factors - factors which have become the hallmark of modern nationalism in whose name we witness appalling acts of brutality, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

In The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poet exhorts us to: "Think, in this battered caravanserei,/ Whose doorways are alternate night and day,/ How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp/ Abode his hour or two, and went his way." This is perhaps sound advice for all in public life. But it is good sometimes, too, to think of those who by virtue of their personalities made a more lasting mark.

I am proud to have known a man whose qualities always reminded me of those words at the end of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "His life was gentle, and the elements/ So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up/ And say to all the world, `This was a man!'"

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