Queen Elizabeth and Interfaith Activity

Queen with Sikhs

On this day – 22 September 2022 – when Australia pauses for the National Memorial Service to honour Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – we look to the activity of Queen Elizabeth and other faiths.

Based on her Christian faith, the Queen encouraged dialogue and tolerance among different Christian churches and with other religions as well. This is especially true of the two oldest faiths in Great Britain: Catholicism and Judaism.

Elizabeth’s job as Queen was imposed on her by an ancient constitution that required no qualification other than that she exist.

Having been appointed, and whatever her private thoughts, she performed her role over an extraordinarily long reign in near-faultless manner, leaving scant ammunition for personal attack from the fiercest opponents of hereditary principle.

As Britain hurtled through times of astonishing societal change, she faced many challenges in keeping the monarchy apace — and yet she succeeded in remaining a force for national cohesion. A constant: familiar in brightly coloured coat, brimmed hat and handbag, she glad-handed her way through “walkabouts”, garden parties, ship launches, plaque unveilings, tree plantings and building inaugurations with an inscrutable smile in place.

Becoming the Queen at such a young age meant the world knew little of her personality and views before her accession, and she continued to reveal little thereafter. She never uttered a controversial opinion in public, though supporters and critics would differ over whether this was simply because she held none, or whether she was a master of the art of political neutrality.

She once said: “Of course, in this existence, the job and the life go together — you can’t really divide it up.” To some extent the person and position were one and the same. Yet not entirely. She kept much back. Only those closest knew Elizabeth the wife, mother, grandmother and excellent mimic. Though the masses caught occasional glimpses of the private woman, she remained largely an enigma, and will do so until the diaries, which in royal tradition she wrote daily, are made public.

We have not spoken directly of the faith of Queen Elizabeth, except to note that there are many film and video of her attending Church services when in Windsor or Balmoral, singing of hymns, and of course, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That role, it is well known, the Queen took far more seriously than her predecessors. Elizabeth II was a person of faith, and profoundly private faith. She knew all her chaplains, and conversed with them often.

The Queen and other faiths

Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyib and Queen Elizabeth
Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyib and Queen Elizabeth had attended an honest and hope-filled interfaith dialogue during the First Emerging Peacemakers Forum in July 2018 in London. During her meeting with the Grand Imam, the Queen had indicated that the world strongly relies on religious leaders to enhance world peace and stability.

The Queen acknowledged and celebrated religious diversity and tolerance in the UK and the Commonwealth. This was reflected in Her Majesty’s Christmas and Commonwealth Day messages, which often address the theme of inter-faith harmony and tolerance.

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh met with and hosted the leaders of numerous faiths and denominations and visited many different places of worship in the UK and across the Commonwealth. The leaders of faiths and denominations are regularly invited to major Royal ceremonial events such as Royal weddings and Services of Thanksgiving.

To mark the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh attended a multi-faith reception at Lambeth Palace, which was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by the leaders of eight other faiths in the UK.

Faith plays a key role in the identity of millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves. The Queen at at an Inter-Faith Reception, Lambeth Palace, 15 February 2012

The Holocaust Survivors

Queen with Lord Sacks
Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth – Lord Sacks – presents a Menorah to Queen Elizabeth

Punctuality, said Louis XVIII of France, is the politeness of kings. Royalty arrives on time and leaves on time. So it is with Her Majesty the Queen, with one memorable exception.

The day was 27 January 2005, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the place St James’s Palace. The Queen was meeting a group of Holocaust survivors. When the time came for her to leave, she stayed. And stayed. One of her attendants said that he had never known her to linger so long after her scheduled departure. She gave each survivor — it was a large group — her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story.

It was an act of kindness that almost had me in tears. One after another, the survivors came to me in a kind of trance, saying: “Sixty years ago I did not know if I would be alive tomorrow, and here I am today talking to the Queen.” It brought a kind of blessed closure into deeply lacerated lives.

Sternberg Interfaith Gold Medallion
Sternberg Interfaith Gold Medallion
In 2007 The Queen received members of the Three-Faiths Forum, an organisation dedicated to building understanding and lasting relationships between people of all faiths and beliefs.

On this occasion Her Majesty was presented with the Sternberg Interfaith Gold Medallion. Established in 1986, it is awarded to individuals who have helped promote peace and tolerance between people of different faiths. Previous recipients include Pope John Paul II.


Visit to Sri Harmandir Sahib – the Golden Temple in Amritsar

Queen Elizabeth at Amritsar
The Queen after she visited the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

Five years after her trip to Amritsar, the Queen made her first visit to a British Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in 2002, as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. She was greeted by Gurjit Singh Samra at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Leicester.

Mr Samra, a senior librarian, recalls: “It was a momentous occasion and I was impressed how sensitive the Queen and her entourage were. Security for the day was led by some Punjabi girls and the Queen spent three hours at the temple.

“She bowed before our Holy Book. She was given an honorary Sikh dagger and some flowers and she was very thankful and pleased.”


Visit to Hindu Temple, London

Queen Elizabeth with Hindu Priests
In 2002, England’s Queen Elizabeth II was greeted by the priests of Highgate Hill Murugan Temple in London in the first-ever royal visit of a monarch to a Hindu temple.

LONDON, ENGLAND, June 6, 2002: Queen Elizabeth visited a Hindu temple for the first time in Britain and did so in her stocking feet. She removed her shoes as a sign of respect as she and the Duke of Edinburgh entered the Highgatehill Murugan Temple in Archway, north London. This temple was built by Tamil Hindus from Sri Lanka who immigrated to England. The UK press was apparently amazed she would remove her shoes, and the BBC even ran a photo of her stocking feet.

The Queen was in the capital on the latest leg of her Golden Jubilee tour of the UK. After being welcomed with garlands of yellow flowers, the royal couple were blessed with peace and long life by four high priests.

The visit was intended to show the inclusive nature of the monarchy and the Queen’s respect for all religions in Britain, not just the Church of England, of which she is head. She has previously visited Hindu temples in India but it is the first time she has been to one in this country. Temple leader Suganya Naveenan said: “It’s made people feel valued and we are honoured she chose to come here.”

Image Credits: Press Photo / CC PAImages, The Rabbi Sacks Legacy, PA Images via Getty Images, Himalayan Academy