10/17/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN – VATICAN – ASSISI 20
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Young Pakistani imam comes to Assisi to promote interfaith dialogue

Allama Zubair Abid, president of the Pakistan Ulama Mashaikh Council, will join Pope Benedict XVI on the path of peace. He will read a brief message in Arabic in representation of the Muslim world. For a Pakistani priest, his participation will help lower tensions back in Pakistan.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – A young Pakistani imam, Allama Zubair Abid, who is the president of the Pakistan Ulama Mashaikh Council, will be in Assisi on 27 October for this year’s pilgrimage of peace. He will join Pope Benedict XVI and a hundred other participants in a meeting titled ‘Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace’. The annual event was launched by John Paul II and this year’s edition marks its 25th anniversary. Despite his youthful age, the cleric is considered an expert in Islamic law and will take part at the interfaith meeting where he will read a message in Arabic.

AsiaNews spoke to a Dominican priest, Fr James Channan, director of the Peace Center in Lahore, who recently met Zubair Abid and discussed a number of issues concerning the pilgrimage of peace and his trip to Italy.

Fr Channan is a recipient of the 2011 Golden Rule Award; a prize offered by Finland's Interfaith Dialogue Network, which he received on 21 September, the United Nations’ International Day of Peace.

“He is very excited about this international conference at Assisi,” Fr Channan said about the Muslim cleric. “It is going to be his first international conference. He is one of ten religious leaders from around the world who are chosen to read a short message”. His will be “in the Arabic language to represent the Muslim community.”

Zubair Abid has already participated in a couple of events organised by Catholic bishops on the topic of interfaith dialogue. He has also invited some Christian leaders to meetings in his mosque.

“He will greet the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI with great reverence,” the Dominican clergyman said. “He is very excited about this unique and extraordinary opportunity.”

It is hoped that the experience in Assisi will help him “promote Islamic-Christian dialogue in Pakistan” and that he will be enriched by it. “I hope he will help in lowering tensions that flare up from time to time” in Pakistan.

However, the issue of the blasphemy law was never mentioned during the meeting between the Catholic priest and the Muslim cleric. “It is a controversial law and our first meeting was not the right time to talk about it,” Fr Channan said.

In Assisi on 27 October, Benedict XVI will lead religious leaders and notables, as well as individuals not clearly affiliated with any religion, in the ‘Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace’ event.

This year’s event will commemorate the now historic meeting for peace held on 27 October 1986 at the initiative of John Paul II.

Card Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the event organisers, said, "the emphasis this time is on the pilgrimage and not prayer.”

However, it is not clear whether praying has been “ruled out entirely” or “will be minimal", the cardinal said.

The details of the day’s programme will be made public tomorrow at a press conference at the Vatican. (NC)
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