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First Asian diocesan bishop is appointed: Poet is expert on relations with Muslims

A MAN who believes that the Third World should supply missionaries to help re-Christianise Britain has been appointed the Church of England's first diocesan bishop from an ethnic minority.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali will become the 106th Bishop of Rochester this autumn. He succeeds Dr Michael Turnbull, the new Bishop of Durham.

Dr Nazir-Ali is an expert on Christian-Muslim relations, who writes poetry in English and Persian.

He is currently general secretary of the Church Missionary Society, which operates projects all over the world, among them an inner- city mission in south London staffed by a Zambian priest. In total, the society has 20 'mission partners' working in Britain today.

Dr Nazir-Ali, 45, holds dual British and Pakistani citizenship and was and educated in Pakistan. He was consecrated Bishop of Raiwind, in Northern India, in 1984, when he was the youngest bishop in the Anglican Communion. Since then he has been close to the centre of Anglican affairs. 'I hope my appointment is a marker for the globalisation of Christianity in this country,' he said yesterday. He was involved in the preparations for the 1988 Lambeth Conference, which brought together all the bishops of the Anglican Communion worldwide. He is part of the Anglican delegation in standing talks about visible unity with Rome. And he is secretary of the Eames Commission, which regulates relations between those parts of the Anglican Communion which ordain women and those which do not.

There is already one black Anglican bishop; the Rt Rev Wilfred Wood, who has been suffragan bishop of Croydon since 1985.

Three of Dr Nazir-Ali's books and much of his occasional writing have been concerned with the difficulties posed for Christianity by the rise of Islam. 'Historically, there have been three ways for Christianity to deal with it. There has been the Western crusading response. There has been the response of Byzantium, which was to heap scorn and abuse on Islam.

''Finally, there has been the response of those large numbers of Christians who actually lived in the Islamic world, and who helped to create what we call Islamic civilisation,' he has said.

His upbringing in a country where Islam is very much the established religion has left him very sensitive to the subtleties of Christian-Muslim relations on the ground. He has argued that Muslims may need special protection in British law.

He believes that the Christians who have lived with Islam have learnt to distinguish between modern fundamentalism, which leaves little room for co-existence, and the devotion of ordinary Muslims, which, he says, deserves respect and dialogue.

(Photograph omitted)