Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 35: A Meeting with the Prince of Wales
On 13th December 1996, the Almighty afforded me an opportunity to meet the Prince of Wales and also some Muslim and non-Muslim dignitaries and scholars. The Foreign Office of the British Government arranged a seminar named
‘A Sense of the Sacred- Building Bridges between Islam and the West’.
The Prince of Wales was invited to participate and speak, an invitation that he kindly accepted. There were about 30 participants in the seminar. Amongst them were Ambassadors of some Muslim countries, senior officials in the Foreign Office and some intellectuals. Participants sat around a very large Round Table. As I had also been invited to attend the conference, on 13th December I reached Wilton Park Station by train, where along with other participants I was met. We were all given distinctive badges to wear. At 10 o’clock, a Helicopter carrying the Prince of Wales landed in the Park. All participants stood in a row. The Prince shook hands with every one. Each participant introduced himself. The participants stood around the Prince for a short while when some Islamic subjects came under discussion. The Prince said he was happy that the Islamic teachings were now beginning to be better understood and that the old prejudices were subsiding. In an informal manner, all participants sat around the Round Table. Alongside the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan, I sat opposite the Prince. On the other side sat the Saudi Ambassador.
The proceedings of the meeting commenced with a speech delivered by the Prince. Only those participants who had already been nominated were allowed to take part in the discussions.
Then Bishop Michael Nazir Ali of Rochester, who is of Pakistan descent, presented his paper on ‘Tolerance Amongst Religions’. In his speech, the Bishop quoted English version of some verses by the poet Iqbal. In them, there was a prominent mention of the relationship between God and man. Here is the English translation of the verses:
“You made the night, and I the lamp. You the clay and I the cup You – desert, mountain-peak and vale I – flowered, Park and Orchard.”
In his speech, the Bishop laid great emphasis on the fact that both Islam and Christianity believe in the same God and both lay great stress on the need for mutual respect. Therefore, he said, there was no reason why the followers of the two faiths should not live together with mutual love and respect. In his support, he quoted several examples from the Islamic and Christian history. Some other speeches were also delivered.
The meeting continued until midday and after that, participants were given an opportunity to intermingle with each other. Apart from discussing various matters with other participants, I had a lengthy conversation with Bishop Michael Nazir Ali. For the atrocities being perpetrated on their members in Pakistan, he sympathized with the Ahmadiyya Jamaat. He stressed the need for followers of all major religions to use their best endeavors to create an atmosphere of tolerance so that no one should be persecuted merely because of his dissimilar beliefs.
At 1 o’clock, at the dining table, all participants sat around the Prince. Arrangements had been made for a group photograph with the Prince. Since I also appeared in the photograph, I was sent a copy. I was extremely surprised to see that amongst the participants, I was the only one wearing a hat – all others were bare headed. After the photograph had been taken the Prince once again shook hands with everyone and left in a motorcar. I regarded this occasion as a blessed one as I was enabled to convey the message of Islam to them.