A London-based Pakistani philanthropist shared his remarkable experience when he was invited to the Queen’s state funeral.
Suleman Raza, 42, found the surprise of a lifetime when he received the official invitation to attend the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday at the Westminster Abbey.
He was the only Pakistani public member who was invited to the Queen’s state funeral. The invitation was signed by the Earl Marshal and the Dean, clearly sighting that it must be kept confidential. It also marked that private cameras were not allowed.
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“It was a privilege paying my honours to the Queen of Pakistan. As surprising as it may seem, the reigning queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations ruled the country of Pakistan for four years from 1952 to 1956. Not many people are aware that Queen Elizabeth and her father George VI ruled the world’s first Islamic Republic for nine years. The Queen’s reign over Pakistan ended on March 23, 1956, when Pakistan assumed republic status,” a jubilant Suleman stated.
“I came to the UK with £50 in my pocket some 22 years ago and sweated as a chef in a Brixton eatery before I became a “foodpreneur”, and here a Pakistani was going to join the most powerful leaders of the world – simply unbelievable.”
Hundreds of foreign royals and heads of state attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London on September 19 — one of the biggest diplomatic gatherings in decades.
Westminster Abbey has space for around 2,000 people, and around 500 heads of state and foreign dignitaries and their partners were present.
“I spotted King Charles III, current UK Prime Minister Liz Truss as well as other surviving UK prime ministers like Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron, US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, Polish President Andrzej Duda, President of France Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe.”
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Suleman recounted: “It was perhaps the only occasion when all the reigning monarchs of the world were invited to the state funeral such as queens and kings of The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Norway and Belgium. The emperor and empress of Japan were also present and this was their first international visit since they ascended the throne three years ago. Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Queen Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah were seated behind the king and queen of Jordan. It was such a breathtaking moment that I felt like I was standing at Madame Tussauds. I felt elated and then I suddenly felt sad when I realised that Queen Elizabeth was missing from this auspicious gathering.”
Handful members of the public were invited to the state funeral who received honours from the Queen for their service to the general public during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, Raja Suleman Raza received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee for his services to business and charity during Covid-19.
Surprisingly, on the same day, his voluntary initiative Spice Village Uplyft was also awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services (QAVS) with the following citation, “feeds the homeless and vulnerable, uplifts communities through diversity and inclusion initiatives.”
It is highly unusual that a recipient of the Queen’s honours is honoured twice for services in different sectors. The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) is the highest award given to UK volunteer groups, being equivalent to the MBE. The prestigious award recognises exceptional work done by volunteer groups in their communities.
“I dedicate both of these honours to the late Her Majesty, the Queen of Pakistan”, an emotional Suleman stated.
He also serves as a member of the “Founders Circle” at British Asian Trust under the patronage of HRH the Prince of Wales.