Few of the world’s population today are those who witnessed the coronation of the late Queen Elizabeth II of Britain in the early fifties of the last century, and therefore the ascension of a new king to the throne of the United Kingdom draws the attention of new generations with its symbols and religious loads that remind the country of its heritage and church traditions, and raise questions about the meanings of All this in the present and the future of secular Britain.

And when it comes time for her son, King Charles III, to be crowned - in a ceremony that has not yet been announced because the mourning period may last a few months - then, as dictated by royal tradition, the Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to anoint the king with "holy oil" and bless him.

This takes place in a special ceremony inside Westminster Abbey, which witnessed the coronation of all the kings of Britain since 1066 AD in a religious ceremony that confers holiness on the new king, who bears the titles of "protector of faith" and "supreme ruler of the Church of England."

Among the duties of the King is to appoint, after the advice of the Prime Minister, the new priests of the Church of England as well as the bishops and archbishops, who swear an oath of allegiance to him.

The secular National Assembly, which was founded in 1866 in Britain, says that the United Kingdom is the only democracy that holds such an explicit Christian ceremony at the inauguration of the head of state, where the king pledges to implement "the laws of God."

The association adds - via its website - that these ceremonies contain "anti-Catholic sectarian overtones", in addition to the fact that the kingdom's laws expressly prohibit Catholics from ascending the throne.

The current formulation of the relationship between the king and the church dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when Anglicanism arose as a major branch of the Protestant Reformation, and at the same time a special version of Christianity that combined characteristics of Protestantism and Catholicism at the same time.

The Church of England is the mother church of Anglican denominations around the world, which have branched out and diversified their curricula and rites, but they share in maintaining its independence and distinction from the Catholic Church.

Secular activists during a previous demonstration in London to protest the visit of the Pope of the Vatican (European)

Secular Britain

The paradox is clear between this ecclesiastical heritage and the religious traditions that the monarchy is keen to follow, and the secular reality in a country classified as among the "least religious countries in the world", according to a survey conducted by the American Gallup Institute in 2014.

According to the latest data available from the Church of England in 2019, the average number of participants in Sunday prayers in the churches of the country was about 600,000 adults, or less than 1% of the total population, and a third of those participants were 70 years or older.

permanent sparring

Despite the secularism enshrined in Britain, where there is no effective role for religion in the public sphere, the debate does not stop on the limits of the relationship between religion and the state, and on the impact of religion in various aspects of life for the British.

Over the past years, religion has been repeatedly invoked in public and political discussions, sometimes in the context of talking about the country’s identity and the “danger” that beset it as a result of migrations, and sometimes when talking about religious institutions and schools and their independence, and at other times to provide justifications for major decisions that affected the lives of millions of people.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair - who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism after leaving Downing Street - hinted that he felt inspired by God when making his decision to send British forces to participate in its American ally in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in his statements during a television interview in March / March 2006.

In his published memoir "A Journey", Blair, who was a leader of the Labor Party, spoke of his religious upbringing, and said that in the past he was more interested in religion than politics.

The British press also quoted one of his closest allies as saying that Blair saw his decisions to go to war in Iraq and Kosovo as part of a "Christian battle."

Blair left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism (European-Archive)

The religion and identity debate was renewed again in 2014, when then-Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in an article that UK citizens "must be more confident in our position as a Christian country".

Cameron - who was the leader of the Conservative Party - said that he would like to see a greater role for religion in Britain as a Christian country, statements that came in the context of improving the relationship between his ruling coalition at the time and the Church after several differences over the reduction of social funds and decisions aimed at authorizing gay marriage.

On the other hand, atheist politician Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Cameron's partner in the ruling coalition, asserted that the Church would be in a better position to serve its interests and the interests of the country if it separated from the state institution.

Also in the midst of this controversy, a group of 50 public figures published an open letter asserting that British society was "non-religious".

Attitudes towards Islam

This debate extends to other components of British society, including Muslims, who number more than 3.3 million people in England and Wales and make up about 5.7% of the total population there, according to the latest census published by the Office for National Statistics and dating back to 2019.

In an article on the Middle East Eye website, writers Peter Oborne and Imran Mulla point out that Charles' ascension to the throne of Britain coincided with Liz Terrace assuming her duties as Prime Minister in a government that may be considered one of the most anti-Islam governments in the country's history.

The authors added that this government refuses to deal with the largest entity representing British Muslims, and is also accused of treating Muslims as second-class citizens, the same government that dismissed a minister because "being a Muslim among the members of the government caused a feeling of unease among her colleagues."

It is therefore no surprise that more than half of the ruling Conservative Party members believe in conspiracy theories about Islam in Britain, according to the article.

Dean Charles

While comparisons are made between the role of the late Queen and her influence on British conscience and the expected share of her heir - especially amid concerns about the future of the monarchy and the survival of the Commonwealth - Charles is seen as a unique figure among Britain's kings.

British journalists and writers have hinted at King Charles' special nature, and how he may be less keen than his predecessors to cherish church traditions to the full, and more interested in opening up to other cultures and presenting himself as a custodian of "diversity", a word he has been repeating in his speeches and interviews with the media.

In his first address to the nation the day after the Queen's death, Charles III spoke of his personal faith and how it inspires him to take his leadership role, as well as his responsibility for the Church of England in which he said his faith is rooted.

But one week after this speech and before the Queen's funeral, Charles received at Buckingham Palace about 30 leaders and representatives of the various religious communities in Britain, expressing to them his eagerness to perform an "additional duty" of the monarchy that does not have the same degree of official recognition, he said. .

It is the duty to "protect the diversity of our country, by protecting the space of faith itself and its practice in various religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs," as he put it.

In this context, reports in the British press recalled Charles's views and previous positions, as he has long refused to accept the "clash of civilizations", and called for building bridges between the West and Islam, and accepted to learn the Arabic language in order to better understand the Holy Qur'an.

Charles spoke of the West's need to understand Islam deeply, particularly in a speech he gave in October 1993 at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies.

He said that "if there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance of what our culture and civilization owe to the Muslim world."

He described this case as "a failure that stems, I believe, from the limitations of history that we have inherited."

He said that Islam "preserved a metaphysical view that composes between ourselves and the world around us", which is what the West lost after the scientific revolution, according to his opinion.

During the past decades, Charles has expressed on many occasions gratitude for the contributions of Muslims to human civilization and the European renaissance, as well as revealing his knowledge of various aspects of Islamic law, calling for benefiting from its provisions in the fields of economy, environmental protection and others.

Charles said Islam possessed "one of the greatest treasures of accumulated wisdom and spiritual knowledge available to mankind", a legacy he said had been obscured by a trend toward "Western materialism".

The late Queen Elizabeth with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (Getty Images)

The religion of the late queen

Thus, the new king differs from his late mother in the way he expresses his religious vision.

Although he matches his mother's perseverance in prayer in the church and in his pride in his Christian affiliation, he has always spoken in a different tone about the relationship of property with the church.

An article in The Washington Post referred to Charles saying - during an interview he gave in 2015 - that the king, while being a "protector of faith," can also be a "protector of faith."

With these words, Charles was clarifying controversial statements he made in 1994 in which he seemed to encourage religious diversity in Britain and reject the tendency to present one religious vision over others, saying that people "wrestled to the death over such matters... and this is a strange waste of human energies."

His mother, Queen Elizabeth, was conservative in expressing her Christian faith, and was sometimes described as "the last true believer," as veteran British journalist Stephen Bates said in an interview with the Washington Post, as he believes that Elizabeth was the most religious monarch since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

When she was crowned in 1953 and anointed with "holy oil" by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the late queen vowed to rule not only by British laws but also by "the laws of God" as "guardian of faith" and "supreme ruler of the Church of England".

But such words that show adherence to ecclesiastical traditions in the Kingdom may not find an echo among groups of the British today, who have either broken with religion in all its manifestations and requirements, or are seeking to abolish the constitutional monarchy and declare a purely secular republic.