The Prince of Wales will try to persuade George W Bush and Americans of the merits of Islam this week because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since September 11.
The Prince, who leaves on Tuesday for an eight-day tour of the US, has voiced private concerns over America’s “confrontational” approach to Muslim countries and its failure to appreciate Islam’s strengths.
The Duchess of Cornwall will accompany her husband
The Prince raised his concerns when he met senior Muslims in London in November 2001. The gathering took place just two months after the attacks on New York and Washington. “I find the language and rhetoric coming from America too confrontational,” the Prince said, according to one leader at the meeting.
It is understood that Prince Charles did not – and does not – believe that the actions of 19 hijackers should tarnish the reputation of hundreds of millions of law-abiding Muslims around the world.
Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, was also at the meeting at St James’s Palace. “His criticism of America was a general one of the Americans not having the appreciation we have for Islam and its culture,” he said.
Mr Mahmood and other Muslims present stressed that Prince Charles did not go so far as to criticise the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. More recently, he has been careful not to express his views on Iraq.
The Prince also spoke of his sympathy for America after the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people. He said he wanted to promote better relations between the different religions of the world.
Those present at the meeting in 2001 included Sir Iqbal Sacrani, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, and Hashir Faruqi, the chief editor of Impact International, an Islamic affairs magazine.
Prince Charles, who is about to embark on his first official foreign tour since his marriage to the Duchess of Cornwall, wants Americans – including Mr Bush – to share his fondness for Islam. He has agreed to attend a seminar on religions at Georgetown University, Washington, on Thursday: the only event where he will not be accompanied by the Duchess.
“The seminar will look at how faith groups can alleviate social problems in their community,” a royal aide said.
The Prince and Duchess will attend a lunch and dinner with President Bush and his wife, Laura, at the White House on Wednesday.
Prince Charles has done more than any other member of the Royal Family in history to understand Islam. He said in 1994 that when he became Supreme Governor of the Church of England, he would rather be “defender of faiths” than “defender of the faith”.
A year earlier Prince Charles made a speech, acclaimed throughout the Arab world, on relations between Islam and the West. He urged the West to overcome its “unthinkable prejudices” about Islam and its customs and laws.
He spoke warmly of the West’s debt to the culture of Islam and distanced moderate Muslims from misguided militants. “Extremism is no more the monopoly of Islam than it is the monopoly of other religions, including Christianity,” he said.
A senior aide to Prince Charles said yesterday: “The Prince has never promoted political messages around religion. He has simply said that he wants a greater tolerance and understanding of each other religions which will, in turn, promote better relations between faiths.”
A spokesman for Clarence House declined to discuss the Prince’s comments four years ago. “We never discuss private conversations,” he said.
Prince Charles has been wooing the US media ahead of next week’s tour when he will visit New York, Washington and San Francisco. It is considered a risky venture because Diana, Princess of Wales, who died eight years ago, was so revered in the US.
In an interview to be shown on CBS’s 60 Minutes today, he speaks of his desire to enrich people’s lives through his work. “I only hope that when I am dead and gone they might appreciate it a little more,” he jokes.