Al-Azhar University, part of the foremost Islamic institution in the Sunni Muslim world, has decided to give Prince Charles the award in appreciation of his interest in Islam and his promotion of a greater understanding of Islam in the West.
 
However, several top lecturers at the university have questioned the decision, arguing that the heir to the British throne does not merit such a high award.

"All that Prince Charles did is to say that Islam is the most widespread religion in the world, and that is a reality, not a discovery by the prince," said Abdel Azim el-Mataani, a lecturer in Arabic literature. "That is not enough for him to receive such a reward from the prestigious Al-Azhar University."

But a director at the university, Abdel Sabur Shahin, supported the award, saying Prince Charles has adopted "positions close to Islam and Muslims, something no one else of his importance has done".

"Extremism is no more the monopoly of Islam than it is the monopoly of other religions"

Prince Charles

According to Shahin, the honorary doctorate is meant to encourage the Prince of Wales to "befriend Muslims in Great Britain and to support Islam against the obstacles it faces in Europe".

In October, the UK's daily Telegraph reported that the prince, in a private conversation with British Muslim leaders two months after the 11 September 2001 attacks, expressed concern over America's "confrontational" approach to Muslim countries.

The newspaper also noted that Charles had previously urged the West to lay aside its "unthinkable prejudices" against Islam, pointing out that "extremism is no more the monopoly of Islam than it is the monopoly of other religions".

The university plans to bestow the award on Tuesday during the prince's visit to the institution, where he will deliver a lecture on relations between Islam and the West.

The government-appointed grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, will attend the ceremony and make a speech.

Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived on Monday for the first part of a two-week tour that will take them to Saudi Arabia and India.

The British Foreign Office warns Britons of a high terrorist threat in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said on Sunday that he hoped the visit "would contribute to easing tension between the West and the Islamic world".

Charles' tour is meant to improve Britain's profile and boost inter-faith tolerance, as well as promote the prince's environmental initiatives, according to the prince's office in Clarence House, London.

Charles will also inaugurate the British University in Cairo, visit the western desert oasis of Siwa and lay a wreath at the Commonwealth cemetery at El Alamein, the site of a 1942 battle that was a turning point in World War II.