Row as ancient Arab university honours CharlesFrom Caroline Davies in Cairo(Filed: 21/03/2006)
The Prince of Wales flew to Egypt and into controversy yesterday as Cairo's ancient and celebrated Al-Azhar mosque and university, one of the Arab world's most venerated Islamic institutions, prepared to honour him for his promotion of inter-faith tolerance.
As the prince, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall was due to receive an honorary doctorate today, some directors of the 1,000-year-old university have questioned whether the award from such a famed seat of Sunni Islam is appropriate.
The honour is to mark the prince's conciliatory messages about Islam, especially after September 11 and the world-wide demonstrations caused by the cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.
But, behind the scenes, some of those associated with the university believe despite his efforts they do not justify the bestowing on him of one of the highest tributes the Islamic world can offer.
"All that Prince Charles did is to say that Islam is the most widespread religion in the world and that's a reality, not a discovery made by the prince," said Abdel Azim al-Mataanni, an Al-Azhar lecturer in Arab literature.
However, Abdel Sabur Shahin, another university director, said the prince had adopted "positions close to Islam and Muslims, something no one else of his importance has done".
The honorary doctorate was supposed to "encourage him to befriend Muslims in Great Britain and to support Islam against the obstacles it faces in Europe", he added.
Al-Azhar, the world's oldest university for both religious and secular studies, attracts more than 40,000 students of Islam annually from around the world. It has long promoted inter-faith dialogue, even with crusaders during the Crusades.
The prince's visit to the mosque is one of the highlights of his five-day visit to Egypt, which began yesterday at Cairo's Al-Azhar Park, which has been transformed from a rubbish dump into gardens by the Aga Khan, the leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims.
In an interview with Egyptian television, the prince said he would use his speech at Al-Azhar University to relay his personal experience of terrorism.
"I know so well from having experienced the horror of terrorism myself, in losing my beloved great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, back in 1979 when he was blown up in a terrorist bomb," he told Nile TV.
He added: "It is tolerance, it is understanding of what other people hold sacred, which I think is so vital - the old wisdom that is contained within the scriptures of 'do unto others as you would have them do to you'."
Security is extremely tight as the Foreign Office general advice warns of a high risk of terrorism in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia which the Royal couple will also visit.