Beliefnet
London, Jan. 8-(AP) A Pakistan-born Anglican bishop widely respected for his insight into Islam following the Sept. 11 terror attacks emerged Tuesday as a strong contender to succeed the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury. The Right Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, 52, is one of several bishops considered a leading candidate to replace the Most Rev. George Carey when he steps down Oct. 31 as spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans.

Speculation in the British news media about a successor was intense, and according to some reports, Nazir-Ali is Carey's favorite. The reports could not be independently confirmed. Nazir-Ali's spokesman, the Rev. Chris Stone, said the process of selecting a successor "had only just begun." "He is saying that this is purely speculation," Stone said.

Nazir-Ali was born and reared in Pakistan, where he served as bishop of Raiwind from 1984 to 1986. He moved to England and was assistant to Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie from 1986 to 1989. He later headed a London-based missionary agency and became the bishop of Rochester in 1994.

In June 1999 Nazir-Ali, who holds dual Pakistani and British citizenship, became the first nonwhite religious leader in the House of Lords, Parliament's unelected upper chamber, where 26 of the church's bishops sit. If he were selected to succeed Carey, he would be the first Archbishop of Canterbury born outside Britain in modern times. The first archbishop, St. Augustine in 597, was not British. The pope sent him to Britain from Rome to spread the Gospel.

Nazir-Ali was strongly in favor of allowing women to be ordained to the priesthood and heads a working group examining the contentious issue of allowing women to serve as bishops. But it is his work on multiculturalism and encouraging interfaith dialogue, especially between Muslims and Christians, that has won him universal respect.

Writing in the Church Times three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in an article entitled "Meet Islam's Peaceful Traditions," he called for more dialogue between different faiths. "There must be dialogue between different systems of thought and social organization--civilizations if you like," he wrote. "It is of the utmost importance that those engaged in the building up of civil society in the Islamic world and those who are working for the development of Islamic Law in the light of contemporary circumstances are recognized and supported not only by their own governments but also by the wider international community."

In Britain, which recently experienced race riots between its white and South Asian populations, Nazir-Ali also is seen as an important figure who could ease tensions among the country's diverse religious and ethnic groups. He is seen as a forthright man and a member of the church's conservative wing, but was recently criticized by church liberals after saying that married couples who chose not to have children are "self-indulgent."

With the growing importance of cementing relations among religions following the Sept. 11 attacks and the increasingly international role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, commentators believe Nazir-Ali has impeccable qualifications. His interests include cricket, hockey, table tennis, Scrabble and writing poetry in English and Persian.

Nazir-Ali is married to an English woman and has two teen-age sons. He credits the boys for his being named, in April 1997, the Church of England's trendiest bishop after a survey, published in The Times newspaper, revealed he was the only one who could name all five members of the Spice Girls.

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