I am writing this on 6 May 2023, a few hours after the magnificent and Christ- centred coronation of King Charles III in London’s Westminster Abbey.
Many years ago, when he was still Prince of Wales, he responded to a suggestion I gave him and convened a meeting at Clarence House, his official London residence, bringing together senior British Muslim and Christian leaders. The subject for discussion was the apostasy law in Islam.
I had told His Royal Highness how classical Islam demands the death penalty for all sane adult males who leave Islam. In some schools of sharia (Islamic law) it is the same penalty for sane adult females. Prince Charles was aghast. At the meeting, he asked the Muslim delegates whether this could possibly be true. As the apostasy law is well known to all Muslims, they were unable to deny it.
The Prince then challenged those present to find a solution.
The Muslim delegates were open to this, and it was left with the church leaders to follow up. Prince Charles had created an open door for positive change and a hugely significant advance in religious liberty, which could have benefitted countless thousands of Christian converts from Islam.
Although there has been only one known state execution for apostasy in modern times (Rev. Hossein Soodmand, hanged in Iran in 1990), many converts are murdered by zealous Muslims following sharia – for example, Lawan Andimi, a Nigerian convert, who survived at least three attempts on his life before his kidnap and murder in 2020.
Thankfully, the number who are actually killed because of their allegiance to Christ is relatively small, but the possibility hangs over all who leave Islam. Furthermore, the vast majority of such converts suffer persecution, often severe and often including violence, which is supported, in the minds of many Muslims, by the existence of the apostasy law.
However, the church leaders who had gathered at Clarence House evidently had other priorities. The wellbeing and even the survival of their Christian brothers and sisters from a Muslim background was not important enough to them and the opportunity was missed. The booklet the church leaders eventually produced spoke only of the need for Christians and Muslims to negotiate “sharing the space”; the concrete issue of the apostasy law was not mentioned.
One of the main messages of the coronation service today was about serving others. This theme appeared repeatedly, not only in the ancient and traditional ceremonial words but also in new words added by King Charles himself.
One of the King’s innovations came right at the beginning of the service, with the first spoken words being from a child who welcomed the King “in the name of the King of kings”. To this His Majesty replied, “In his name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.” (He was referencing Mark 10:45.)
Later in the service many items of regalia were presented to him, the first being a pair of spurs representing the values of knightly chivalry of old. The use of spurs in coronations dates back to the coronation of Richard I in 1189 but the words spoken today were revised to focus on the defence of the vulnerable:
Receive these spurs, symbols of military honour and chivalry, that you may be a brave advocate for those in need.
King Charles needs no telling, for he already has a track record of half a century of brave advocacy for those facing a wide variety of needs, including converts from Islam.
Let us, like King Charles, seek to model ourselves on our servant King, the Lord Jesus, King of kings, remembering the words of His parable:
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director, Barnabas Aid