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Prince Charles Calls for Understanding Between Islam and West

Britain's Prince Charles has called for greater understanding between the Muslim world and the West.

The heir to the British throne came to Egypt with a message of cultural understanding.

In a speech at Al-Azhar University, the oldest Islamic university in the world, Prince Charles criticized the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that ran in a Danish newspaper, and also condemned the violent response to them.

"The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others," he said. "In my view, the true mark of a civilized society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers."

Prince Charles is highly regarded by many Islamic scholars in Egypt, partly because of a speech he gave at Oxford University 12 years ago. In 1993, he called attention to growing mistrust and lack of understanding between Islam and the West. On his visit to Al-Azhar, the university awarded him an honorary doctoral degree - a mark of respect that has rarely been given to a non-Muslim, and a decision that was criticized by some of the university's scholars.

A visibly moved Prince Charles accepted the diploma after delivering a carefully worded speech with strong messages for both the Islamic world and the West. He urged not just a mutual understanding across religious and cultural divides, but also called for moderation and solid religious scholarship, to combat the rise of extremism in all faiths.

"We must foster, encourage and act upon that which embodies the divine attributes of mercy and compassion," he said. "That calls for calmness and the exercise of restraint. And, if I may say so, it requires all those who are in positions of authority in our different faiths to preach clearly and consistently to others the eternal value of these divine attributes."

Citing religious conflicts that have caused misery and pain around the world, the prince urged Muslims, Christians and Jews to stop fighting one another and unite to face what he called "the immense environmental crisis threatening our entire planet."

"I believe with all my heart that responsible men and women must work to restore mutual respect between faiths, and that we should do all we can to overcome the distrust that poisons so many people's lives," noted Prince Charles.

His call for mutual understanding was well-received by the roughly 1,000 Muslim scholars and students who filled the lecture hall. Professor Ibrahim Lotfy El-Sayed traveled from Al-Azhar's outpost in Port Said, more than 200 kilometers away.

"Today, God willing, with Prince Charles' speech and his meeting with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, it will show to the world that there is understanding between civilizations - Islamic, Western or otherwise," he said. "There can be understanding and friendship, and attacks against Islam or other religions are best responded to with dialogue like today's."

Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will be in Egypt until Friday. The prince will inaugurate the new British university in Cairo, and also lay wreaths at the graves of British and Commonwealth soldiers from World War II, who are buried on the Mediterranean coast at El-Alamein.

They will also travel to Saudi Arabia and India.