• Wednesday, April 17, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Greatest Monarch’

FINAL JOURNEY: Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, speaks during the Queen’s funeral, held at Westminster Abbey on Monday (19) (Photo by Gareth Fuller – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

By: SARWAR ALAM

POLITICIANS, religious leaders and members of the public have spoken of their pride at attending the funeral of the Queen and laying to rest the “greatest monarch” ever.

The Queen’s funeral service took place on Monday (19) at Westminster Abbey, where hundreds of heads of states, foreign royalty and public figures were among the 2,000 guests.

The service, broadcast to millions around the world, showcased the UK as a multi-faith nation with religious leaders from the country’s Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Baha’i groups all in attendance.

Rajnish Kashyap (Photo: hinducounciluk.org)

“It was an honour to represent the Hindu faith at the Queen’s funeral and procession,” Rajnish Kashyap, secretary of the Hindu Council UK, told Eastern Eye.  “The experience was very sombre, very emotional. It was like saying goodbye to someone of your own, your Queen. I am in my late 50s and she’s the only monarch I have ever known, the greatest monarch ever.

“Everybody was emotional. Everybody was paying tribute to a remarkable woman who steadfastly took on her responsibility with commitment and with respect to humanity and came across as a wonderful figure. It was important for us, for world leaders, that she needed to be given full respect, and they gave it wholeheartedly by taking part in the service.”

Representing the Zoroastrian faith was Malcolm Deboo, president of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, a charity which runs Europe’s only Zoroastrian Centre, based in London.

It is estimated there are 100,000- 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide.

Malcolm Deboo (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Deboo told Eastern Eye his invitation reflected the respect that the Queen had for all faiths.

“It was very moving. It was a privilege and honour to be there for this historic, once in a lifetime moment,” said Deboo. “As a representative of my religious community, to show respect to a monarch who was a deeply committed Christian, but who also allowed space for us minority religions to practise our way of life with full freedom, was a honour.

“Within our communities, especially of Indian-origin or Asian origin, we have a multitude of festivals. There’ll be Diwali, for instance, coming along and all that goes with it – the poojas, fireworks – and because of the Queen, as the head of state, we can openly continue to practise our religions.

“This is one of the benefits we have in this country, especially for a religion like ours, as even in the 21st century today there are countries where we cannot really practise our religion freely or are treated like second-class people.

“We’ve never faced that in the UK, and we have been around now for more than 160 years.

“The Queen has created an environment for other faith communities, and, indeed, even people of no faith to live freely in the UK. And this is what was demonstrated today (at the funeral) by having a representation of the various faith communities in England.”

Faith leaders joined foreign dignitaries at Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s funeral on Monday (19) (Photo by Gareth Fuller – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Deboo provided an insight into the keen interest the royal family have for other religions and cultures by revealing that when the Queen was unable to attend an event to mark the faith’s 150-year centenary in the UK, the late Prince Philip asked if he could attend instead.

“This was quite remarkable. Just imagine, the second-most important royal actually asking you ‘is it okay if I come?’. We were just overjoyed at his humility. It wasn’t ‘I want to come’ but ‘may I come?’.”

Nemu Chandaria was in school when he first saw the Queen when she was in Kenya in 1952.

Since then, he met her on a number of occasions, including when he received his OBE from the Queen in 2003. Chandaria attended the funeral as a representative of the Jain community.

“I saw the Queen’s support for the Jain community many times, including in 1990. “I remember Her Majesty and Prince Philip hosted 21 Jain dignitaries at Buckingham Palace.”

Nemu Chandaria with the then Prince of Wales in 2015 (Photo by Ben Gurr – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Faith leaders told Eastern Eye of the respect they were shown at the funeral service where they were sat next to members of royalty from outside the UK and world leaders.

“It was very nice to be sitting next to some very important personalities. In front of me was the royal family of Japan (Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako). Then there were the King and Queen of the Netherlands (King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima) and Spain (King Felipe and his wife, Queen Letizia). We also had some dignitaries from the Middle East near us,” said Kashyap.

“After the funeral, there was a reception where I met people from Zimbabwe, India, Japan and other Commonwealth nations and everybody felt the same because everyone was treated with the same respect.”

The Queen’s coffin was on display from last Wednesday (14) to early Monday (19) inside parliament’s cavernous Westminster Hall, with a long waiting time for public mourners.

Michelle Donelan (Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

Culture secretary Michelle Donelan said her government department was still “crunching the numbers”, but believed that around 250,000 people had passed through the hall in total.

“The monarch was someone we loved and admired,” Lord Naren Patel, who met the Queen on a number of occasions and was at the funeral service, told Eastern Eye. “What the Queen represented to the nation was seen by the public response and how people were willing to queue for hours and hours to pay their respects.

“She was loved by her subjects, no matter who or what their background. She was loved by the nations to whom she was the Queen, and she was loved by the world, which was seen by the people who came (to the funeral) – heads of state and other royal family members and even ordinary people.”

Lord Naren Patel with the Queen in 2010 (Photo by Dominic Lipinski – WPA/Getty Images)

Aliya Azam, interfaith co-ordinator at Al Khoei Foundation, noted the diversity of the people who came to pay their respects to the Queen. “The numbers show how she had lived a remarkable life. Her resilience was a source of strength for the nation,” Azam told Eastern Eye.

“She visited many places of worship, including mosques, gurdwaras and temples, and was a testament to the significance and importance of sacred spaces.”

Azam said her own attendance at the funeral was significant for her community as she was a woman representing Islam. “I think it so important. I was there representing the Shia perspective of Islam, while we had an imam, Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf, representing the Sunni perspective. “It was great to have a male and a female representation of Islam.”

Mrs Aliya Azam MBE with HM King Charles at Buckingham Palace in September 20, 2022 (Photo: Twitter/@alkhoei_org)

Around 500 heads of state and foreign dignitaries, along with their partners, were also present at the funeral.

Uganda’s high commissioner to the UK, Nimisha Madhvani, attended the funeral alongside the country’s minister for foreign affairs, Jeje Odongo, to pay her respects to a monarch who had been ‘a friend’ to Uganda.

“When we were at the service, you could feel the deep emotion of everybody in the abbey. It showed the grief the nation felt – people queuing to pay their last respects, to ensure their children also remember this great monarch, this great lady, this great mother of the nation of the Commonwealth,” Madhvani said.

“In 1972 when Idi Amin expelled all the Asians from Uganda, we have to give credit to Her Majesty the Queen along with Sir Edward Heath and Lord David Hunt who stood steadfast and said, ‘we must help and take in these people who are suffering as a result of an unjust leadership’. I think this shows very clearly how the Queen valued that people who had a problem and were suffering would be welcome to the United Kingdom.”

Nimisha Madhvani and Jeje Odongo write in the condolences book

The Queen’s death also prompted reflection about the Britain she reigned over, the legacy of its past, its present state and what the future might hold.

Questions have been asked if the King will play the same role his mother did in unifying the nation’s different cultures and religions. The new monarch gave an insight into his future leadership by inviting the heads of UK’s different religions to Buckingham Palace last Friday (16).

“When I met new King Charles, he said he was really touched and emotional with the messages of condolences and prayers, which everybody, including people from different faiths, were expressing and it was important for him to come and show his appreciation,” said Kashyap.

“He said he believed in inclusivity and had full respect for different communities and religions. He wanted to serve with the same gratitude as his mother and believes everyone is the same, and he, as the head of the monarchy, has same regard and firmness towards all.”

Deboo, who also attended the gathering, added: “King Charles said he wanted to continue the policy of her majesty, on Britain being an interfaith country, a multicultural country, which will continue under his reign.

“This is something very positive. By allowing that to happen, it in fact works in the favour of the country, because then we don’t have to be worried about are we going to be persecuted? Which will allow us to contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of the country.

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