Queen to pay first visit to UK mosque
LONDON, Apr 21, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Queen Elizabeth II, the Church of England's supreme governor, will visit a British mosque for the first time as part of this summer's golden jubilee celebrations of her 50 years on the British throne, royal officials said Sunday.
The monarch's stopover at the Islamic Center in Scunthorpe, England, during her nationwide tour is one of a series of "goodwill gestures" that members of the royal family will make to non-Christian groups ranging from Baha'is to Zoroastrians during the jubilee festivities.
One source close to Buckingham Palace described the visits as part of a royal effort "to celebrate religious and cultural diversity" in the land that she came to rule 50 years ago on the death of her father, King George VI.
Queen Elizabeth herself, who celebrated her 76th birthday Sunday, is beginning to resume her monarchial duties with the end of official mourning for the deaths of her sister, Princess Margaret, in February and her 101-year-old mother, also Queen Elizabeth, last Easter eve.
Royal officials said a formal announcement is planned for this week detailing the monarch's visit to the mosque as well as to a Jewish museum, a Hindu temple in London and a Sikh gurdwara.
The queenly entourage to non-Christian sites was expected to draw criticism from some British Christians, particularly traditionalists who believe such visits serve to undermine her role as the head of the Anglican church and its "defender of the faith" -- a title that dates from King Henry VIII's break from the Roman Catholic Church.
The Rev. David Phillips, general secretary of the Church Society, which represents Anglican evangelicals, told journalists that such visits risked giving out "misleading signals."
"These groups are only a small percentage of the population," Phillips said, "and there is a danger that the message given out will be that all faiths are equally valid, which is contrary to what the queen is sworn to uphold as monarch."
The visits will be spread across the royal family. The Duke of York will attend a reception by the Baha'is, whose religion was founded in Iran in the 19th century and which now counts some 6,000 members in Britain.
The queen's youngest son, the earl of Wessex, and the earl's wife, Sophie Countess of Wessex, will visit a Jain temple and a Zoroastrian thanksgiving service, and another senior royal will drop in on a Buddhist gathering.
The Jains, who trace their religious history back to the sixth century BC, number about 25,000 in Britain, and Zoroastrianism, which dates from about 1500 BC, counts about 5,000 adherents. The number of Buddhists in the UK is estimated at between 30,000 and 130,000.
By AL WEBB, United Press International
©Copyright 2002, United Press International