Charles, The Princes of Wales, spoke out in a video released by his office that declaimed the “horrendous and heartbreaking” persecution of religious minorities around the world. Prince Charles made the remarks about religious freedom in a recorded video message to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, which has launched its Religious Freedom in the World Report for 2014.
In his message, played at the report’s launch at the House of Lords, Charles said: “The horrendous and heart-breaking events in Iraq and Syria have brought the subject of religious freedom and persecution to the forefront of the world’s news. We have learnt with mounting despair of the expulsion of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis from towns and cities that their ancestors have occupied for centuries."
“Sadly, incidents of violence in Iraq and Syria are not isolated. They are found throughout some, though not all, of the Middle East; in some African nations; and in many countries across Asia.” Prince Charles is one of the most high-profile names to speak out about the persecution of Christians. In December 2013, he held a reception in Clarence House in response “to the growing plight of Christians threatened by persecution in the Middle East. Having listened to their concerns, I did my best to highlight the gravity of the crisis.” He has travelled frequently to the Mideast and has had opportunities to speak with civil and religious leaders there.
Confirming the concerns of Christians and others horrified by the violence unleashed by the violent so-called Caliphate, a video emerged on November 7 in which Islamic State combatants are seen boasting of the enslavement of Yazidi women and girls for the purposes of their sexual satisfaction. Some of the men seen in that video are seen offering girls and women to each other. Far from being an anomaly, however, slavery has been a hallmark of many Muslim countries even in the 20th century. In Sudan, for instance, black African women and children have been either sold or abducted by Arab slave traders, prompting frequent denunciations by human rights groups in the West.
The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby rebuked President Barack Obama for being "sheepish" on the issue of the persecution of Christians. According to a statement on the archbishop's website, "But, unlike President Barack Obama, the ostensible leader of the free world, Prince Charles isn’t sheepish about apportioning blame to the core religious ideology which is intent on eradicating Christianity from the land of its birth; nor is he tight-lipped about the inexcusable silence of many Muslim leaders."
Transcript of Prince Charles's remarks:
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will forgive me not being with you in person as you gather together for the release of this most comprehensive report on religious freedom, compiled by the international charity Aid to the Church in Need. The horrendous and heartbreaking events in Iraq and Syria have brought the subject of religious freedom and persecution to the forefront of the world’s news.
We have learned with mounting despair of the expulsion of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis from towns and cities that their ancestors have occupied for centuries. Sadly, incidents of violence in Iraq and Syria are not isolated. They are found throughout some, though not all, of the Middle East; in some African nations; and in many countries across Asia.
Thankfully, despite this bleak picture, there are inspirational people of different faiths joining together to overcome division and hatred. And, if I might say so, it is a well established principle of interfaith dialogue that we judge each other by the best expression of our faith rather than the worst.
Over several decades, I have been working to encourage dialogue and greater understanding between different faith traditions. Indeed, last December, I hosted a reception at Clarence House in response to the growing plight of Christians threatened by persecution in the Middle East. Having listened to their concerns, I did my best to highlight the gravity of the crisis. In February, during a visit to the Middle East, I attended an inter-faith dialogue in Qatar which included key Christian and Muslim scholars and clergy during which we discussed the subject of the Christian-Muslim relationship.
It is an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East – an area where Christians have lived for 2,000 years and across which Islam spread in 700AD with people of different faiths living together peaceably for centuries.
It seems to me that our future as a free society – both here in Britain and throughout the world – depends on recognising the crucial role played by people of faith. And, of course, religious faith is all the more convincing to those outside the faith when it is expressed with humility and compassion, giving space to others whatever their beliefs.
With this in mind I would like to suggest several tangible courses of action that I believe might be helpful. First and foremost, rather than remaining silent, faith leaders have it seems to me a responsibility it seems to me to ensure people within their own tradition respect people from other faith traditions. We have yet to see the full potential of faith communities working together. However, to do this effectively, with a truly fraternal approach, requires not only maturity in one’s own faith but also an essential humility.
I believe that to speak to another faith tradition and to defend those who follow it, it is profoundly helpful to speak from the core of one’s own spiritual experience. My own Christian faith has enabled me to speak to and to listen to people from other traditions including Islam and, as Pope Francis has recently said, such interfaith dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world and should be seen as a duty for all Christians, as well as for believers from other religious communities.
Such efforts aimed at peace and mediation are possible. The report from Aid to the Church in Need highlights the example of a Muslim Imam, a Catholic Archbishop and a Protestant Minister coming together to form an inter-religious peace group in the Central African Republic. These seeds of hope can germinate even in nations and regions torn apart by war and violence.
Secondly, it is essential that governments honour their duty to uphold the right of people to practise their faith. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear in stating that this right includes the freedom to change one’s religion or belief. Yet even in the West this right is often challenged. Sadly, in many other countries, an absence of freedom to determine one’s own faith is woven into the laws and customs of the nation.
However, in seeking to persuade others of our point of view, it is essential that we all take steps to understand the values and beliefs of others. It is for this reason that I can only commend a recent initiative by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to establish an in-house training programme aimed at British diplomats on the subject of religion and foreign policy.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we are living in a world in which we are frequently presented with so many profoundly disheartening news stories, yet it is important that, on a personal level, we do not lose hope. And this is why I was encouraged to see the story of Meriam Ibrahim feature in this report. Imprisoned in Sudan, pregnant, and facing a death sentence for reportedly converting to Christianity, Meriam remained true to her beliefs.
It is cases such as that of Meriam, who was eventually released, that remind us of St Paul’s words, so relevant to all of those enduring persecution for their faith, that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us.
So, my heart goes out to all those around the world, but especially at this time in the East – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu – who are so brutally persecuted solely for the faith they profess. I pray, too, that all people in communities will engage in building respect and tolerance, for without these, the very freedom on which society is built is threatened with destruction.