“Is the caliph a queen?” asked the headline of an article in The Economist last month. The article was in response to a Moroccon newspaper report in March that traced the lineage of Queen Elizabeth II to Prophet Muhammad. “According to reports from Casablanca to Karachi, the British monarch is descended from the Prophet Muhammad, making her a cousin of the kings of Morocco and Jordan, not to mention of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader,” it said.
This not a new claim. The claim was first published in 1986 by Burke’s Peerage, a British authority on royal pedigrees. Ali Gomaa, the former grand mufti of Egypt, too had verified her link to Muhammad. According to these claims, queen’s lineage goes back 43 generations to Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter through the Earl of Cambridge, in the 14th century amd across medieval Muslim Spain.
In a letter to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986, Burke’s Peerage wrote: “It is little known by the British people that the blood of Mohammed flows in the veins of the queen. However, all Moslem religious leaders are proud of this fact.” However, it cautioned that the royal family’s direct descent from the Mohammed could not be relied upon to protect the royal family forever from terrorists.
According to the study by Burke’s Peerage, the queen descended from a Muslim princess called Zaida, who fled her home town of Seville in the 11th century before converting to Christianity. However, historians contest Zaida’s origins, some claiming she was the daughter of a wine-drinking caliph descended from the Prophet, while others say she married into his family.
“Much hinges on a Muslim princess called Zaida, who fled a Berber assault on her home town of Seville in the 11th century and wound up in the Christian court of Alfonso VI of Castille. She changed her name to Isabella, converted to Christianity and bore Alfonso a son, Sancho, one of whose descendants later married the Earl of Cambridge,” wrote The Economist.
An article in Al Arabiya wondered why the theories linking Queen Elizabeth to Prophet Muhammad had surfaced now. Many thought since BBC’s Arab channel ran the story it could be a plot by the royalty to subjugate Muslims. However, Abdelhamid Al-Aouni, author of the article in the Moroccon newspaper, said, “It builds a bridge between our two religions and kingdoms.”
Lesley Hazleton, a British-American journalist and author of several books on Islam including ‘The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad’ was quoted as saying that the link is a “well-meaning interfaith spin”. It is “a reaction to the demonization of Islam in the West, especially in the United States.”
The Economist suggested that Prince Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth II, already inclines towards Islam. “Charles is a patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, where he greets audiences with the Muslim salutation, as-salamu alaykum (peace be upon you). He is said to want a multi-faith coronation and to be ordained as “defender of faith”, not “the [Christian] faith”. He might try amir al-mumineen (commander of the faithful), an honorific favoured by Muslim rulers,”
However, the genealogist who first made this claim did not have a reputation for accuracy. When he died in 2005, The Daily Telegraph wrote this about him: “His great advantage for journalists was that he was always available to make an arresting comment. His disadvantage was that he was often wrong.”
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