Michael Nazir-Ali

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Michael Nazir-Ali
Bishop of Rochester
Bishop Michael picture (cropped).jpg
ChurchChurch of England
In office1994–2009
PredecessorMichael Turnbull
SuccessorJames Langstaff
Other postsBishop of Raiwind, Pakistan
General Secretary, Church Mission Society
Personal details
Born (1949-08-19) 19 August 1949 (age 70)
Karachi, Pakistan
NationalityPakistani and British
ParentsJames and Patience Nazir-Ali
Valerie Cree (m. 1972)

Michael James Nazir-Ali (Urdu: مائیکل نذیر علی‎; born 19 August 1949) is an Anglican bishop who was the 106th Bishop of Rochester in the Church of England from 1994 to 2009.[1] He is now director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue, and has been Visiting Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, in the United States, since 2010. He is a dual citizen of Pakistan and Britain.


Michael Nazir-Ali was born in Karachi, Pakistan on 19 August 1949, the son of James and Patience Nazir-Ali.[2] He has both a Christian and a Muslim family background. His father converted from Shia Islam.[3] He attended the Roman Catholic-run St Paul's School and St Patrick's College in Karachi and attended Roman Catholic services there. He began identifying as a Christian at the age of 15; he was formally received into the Anglican Church of Pakistan aged 20.[4]

Academic career[edit]

Nazir-Ali attended St Paul's English High School, Karachi, and St Patrick's College and later studied economics, Islamic history and sociology at the University of Karachi (BA 1970). He studied in preparation for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge (1970) and undertook postgraduate studies in theology at St Edmund Hall, Oxford (BLitt (Oxon, 1974), MLitt (Oxon, 1981)), Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (MLitt (Cantab, 1976)) and the Australian College of Theology (ThD 1983). He also studied at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School and in 2005 he was awarded the Lambeth DD. His particular academic interests include comparative literature and comparative philosophy of religion.

In addition to teaching appointments in colleges and universities in many parts of the world, he has been a tutor at the University of Cambridge, a senior tutor at Karachi Theological College and Visiting Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Greenwich. He has been elected an honorary fellow of his colleges at Oxford (St Edmund Hall) and Cambridge (Fitzwilliam). From 1986 until 1989, while he was assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Co-ordinator of Studies and Education for the Lambeth Conference, he was an honorary curate of St Giles' Church, and St Margaret Church, both in Oxford. In 2010, he was appointed as a senior fellow of Wycliffe Hall[5] and is on the faculty of the London School of Theology, the Lahore College of Theology, the Alexandria School of Theology and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS).

Ordained ministry and public career[edit]

Michael Nazir-Ali in Central Europe

Nazir-Ali was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1976 and worked in Karachi and Lahore. He became the first Bishop of Raiwind in West Punjab (1984–86), at the time he was the youngest bishop in the Anglican Communion. When his life was endangered in Pakistan in 1986,[6] Robert Runcie, then the Archbishop of Canterbury, arranged for his refuge in England. Nazir-Ali said, "the reason behind some of the difficulties I was facing was removed when General Zia was killed - unfortunately for him, and I am now not doing the work that I was doing at the time with the very poor".[7] He became an assistant to the Archbishop at Lambeth and assisted with the planning of the 1988 Lambeth Conference; he was General Secretary of the Church Mission Society 1989-1994 and concurrently an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Southwark. He was appointed Bishop of Rochester, England in 1994, and in 1999 entered the House of Lords as one of the "Lords Spiritual" because of his seniority in episcopal office, the first religious leader from Asia to serve there. He was one of the final candidates for Archbishop of Canterbury, though Rowan Williams was appointed by the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

Between 1997 and 2003, Nazir-Ali was chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's ethics and law committee. He was a leader of the Network for Inter-faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion [8] and led the dialogue with Al-Azhar. He is also a founding member of the Dialogue of Scholars founded after the 9/11 attacks. For many years, he served as a member of the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and, more latterly, of the International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).


Nazir-Ali is generally on the Evangelical wing of Anglicanism but once described himself as being "Catholic and evangelical".[9] He appointed the first female archdeacon in the Church of England[10] and chaired the Rochester Commission on whether women should be made bishops.[11] He is familiar with a number of Middle Eastern and Asian languages and has played a significant role in the churches' dialogue with people of other faiths.

Medical ethics[edit]

Nazir-Ali has written and spoken on a number of bioethical issues including in vitro fertilisation, stem cell research, organ donation and assisted dying. Here he has generally supported the "culture of life" and warned against a "culture of death".[12] He has argued that human dignity is based on "transcendental values" and must be respected at all stages of human development, even when we are not sure whether there is a person, on the basis of the precautionary principle.[13] He is pro-life on abortion and euthanasia. He attended the March for Life, the first to ever take place in London, in 5 May 2018, where he delivered the closing prayer.[14]

Marriage and the family[edit]

In 2000, Nazir-Ali wrote,

It is very important for the Church to continue saying that having children and their nurture is a basic good of marriage and not an optional extra. Just as a marriage is not complete without mutual support, companionship and love, so there is a real lack if the intention is never to have children, regardless of circumstances. This signals that marriage is not a matter of self-indulgence. In our age, such teaching is crucial."[2]

In his statement, he had gone on to say when it was right for couples not to have children. Clergy and counsellors would need to advise couples in such circumstances as to what was right for them.

Because of this statement, it has been claimed that Nazir-Ali believed that married couples have a duty to have children and that those who remained childless were "self-indulgent".[15] Although he views having children a basic part of a good marriage, he has denied ever labelling couples who did not have children "self-indulgent",[16] claiming it was "pure invention".[2]

In 2014, he spoke at the Humanum interreligious colloquium on marriage and the family held at the Vatican.[17] His views on marriage as contract, commitment and sacrament were published in Standpoint magazine in May 2012.[18]

In late September 2017, Nazir-Ali spoke at the UK Independence Party conference in Torquay. In his speech, he blamed the 1960s for "a sudden death for Christian discourse in public life" in Britain. In his opinion, "the Christian faith stopped being of importance in this country when the women stopped passing it on in the home. It was not the church, it was not the school, it was the mothers who passed the faith on". While he said that he was not calling "return to the past", he advocated UKIP should "promote policies for the wellbeing of the family and the nurture of children in the family".[19]


Because of his beliefs on marriage and the family, Nazir-Ali is not in favour of the ordination of non-celibate homosexual people as clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. He was one of the bishops who signed a letter against Rowan Williams' decision not to block the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading in 2003.[20]

In October 2007, he told The Daily Telegraph that he would not attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference because he would find it "very difficult" to be in council following the actions of the Episcopal Church in the United States in ordaining Gene Robinson, a person in an active homophile relationship to the office of bishop, which he believed was destroying the unity of the Anglican Communion. In doing this, he was joined by nearly 300 other bishops.[21]

He was "accused of pandering to hate and homophobia" by activists after the media published a statement on the day a gay pride parade took place in London and before a major Anglican event at which he was preaching, claiming he had called on homosexuals to "repent and be changed".[22]

After he was reported in the press as saying homosexuals should "repent and be changed", he made further comments in which he clarified his remarks. He stated that he had initially said to the journalist from the Telegraph that he was going to say in his sermon that all people, particularly churches and Christians, should repent, because there was a need "to refocus on the faith of the church from down the ages and an authentic mission to the nations."[23] When asked specifically about whether this included homosexuals, he had reiterated it included everybody and cited his interpretation of the Christian view of human sexuality, marriage and the family.[23]

Church in the public square[edit]

In the June 2008 issue of Standpoint magazine,[24] Nazir-Ali called for the Christian faith to regain a prominent position in public life and blamed the "newfangled and insecurely founded doctrine of multiculturalism"[24] for entrenching the segregation of communities. He claimed that the decline of Christianity and the rise of secular values in the UK during the 1960s had created a moral vacuum with aggressive secularism and radical Islam filling the gap.

He wrote that "Christian faith has been central to the emergence of the nation and its development. We cannot really understand the nature and achievements of British society without reference to it. In a plural, multifaith and multicultural situation, it can still provide the resources for both supporting and critiquing public life in this country. We have argued that it is necessary to understand where we have come from, to guide us to where we are going, and to bring us back when we wander too far from the path of national destiny."[24]

In 2014, he stated that many Anglicans and other Christians looked to the Roman Catholic Church to lead in the protection of Christians from persecution by extremist Islamists in countries such as Iraq and Syria.[25][26]


In the launch edition of Standpoint magazine Nazir-Ali called for Christianity to regain a prominent position in public life and blamed the "newfangled and insecurely founded doctrine of multiculturalism" for entrenching the segregation of communities. Nazir-Ali argued that the decline of Christianity and the rise of liberal values in the UK during the 1960s had created a moral vacuum which radical Islam threatened to fill. He wrote that "We have argued that it is necessary to understand where we have come from, to guide us to where we are going, and to bring us back when we wander too far from the path of national destiny."[27] The Guardian newspaper devoted its leader to criticising Nazir-Ali, although it described his writing as "neatly underlining [Standpoint]'s expressed intent ‘to defend and celebrate Western civilisation’".[28] Nazir-Ali was condemned by the Ramadhan foundation and the President of the National Secular Society, who accused him of "doing the BNP’s work", but was praised by The Daily Telegraph newspaper.[29][30] Nazir-Ali has himself written against Christian involvement in far-right organisations like the BNP.[31][32]

He has said, "The Church must change its approach. It must not capitulate to culture nor must it destroy any culture. Instead it must take heed of Pope Benedict's point: that the role of the Church is to enable culture to find its true centre".[25]

Relations with Muslims[edit]

Nazir-Ali has become a spokesman for an engagement between Christianity and Islam and has been involved in a number of important dialogues between Muslims and others. He has led the Church's dialogue with Al-Azhar As-Sharif, the premier place of Sunni learning, and also with Shi'a Ulema in Iran. He is frequently quoted in the press. In November 2006 Nazir-Ali criticised the "dual psychology" of some extremist Muslims who seek both "victimhood and domination". He said it would never be possible to satisfy all of the demands made by them because "their complaint often boils down to the position that it is always right to intervene when Muslims are victims... and always wrong when Muslims are the oppressors or terrorists. Given the world view that has given rise to such grievances, there can never be sufficient appeasement and new demands will continue to be made." In response, the Muslim Council of Britain said "We would normally expect a bishop to display more humility and work towards bringing communities closer together rather than contributing towards fostering greater divisions."[33] He has also said, "In the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo the International community was defending Muslims from danger whereas in other situations, as in Iraq or Syria, Christians and others need to be defended from Radical Islamism".

No-go areas[edit]

In January 2008, Nazir-Ali wrote that Islamic extremism had turned "already separate communities into 'no-go' areas" and claimed that there had been attempts to "impose an 'Islamic' character on certain areas", citing the amplification of the call to prayer from mosques as an example.[34] He criticised the government's integration policy as "an agenda which still lacks the underpinning of a moral and spiritual vision", and asked that the government make a public affirmation of the "Christian roots of British society".

These comments resulted in some debate and criticism, including a response from the Muslim Council of Britain, who said the mosque call was no different from church bells ringing, and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, who described the claims as "a gross caricature of reality". Conservative home affairs spokesman David Davis said, however, that the bishop had rightly drawn attention to a "deeply serious problem" and that Labour's support for multiculturalism risked creating a situation of "voluntary apartheid".[35]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears responded to Nazir-Ali's comments by stating that Britain was a "secular democracy", and challenged him to name specific 'no go' areas.[36] Nazir-Ali subsequently received threatening phone calls, but said his "overflowing postbag" had been "overwhelmingly supportive".[37][38]

Burka Ban[edit]

In 2018, Nazir-Ali spoke in favour of banning the burka.[39][40]

Anglican schism[edit]

He is a supporter of the Anglican realignment and of the Global Anglican Future Conference. He attended GAFCON III, which took place in Jerusalem, on 17–22 June 2018.[41] He also attended G19, the additional conference that took place in Dubai, on 25 February-1 March 2019.[42]

Private life and honours[edit]

Nazir-Ali met his wife, Valerie Cree, who is Scottish, in Cambridge. They were married in 1972[43] and have two adult sons, Shammy (Shamoun) and Ross.[44] His pastimes include hockey, cricket, table tennis and Scrabble as well as writing poetry in English and Persian and listening to music.[44] In 2003, he was awarded an honorary (Doctor of Letters) degree from the University of Bath; he also has honorary doctorates from the universities of Kent and Greenwich and others in the United States.


Nazir-Ali's published writings include the following:

  • Islam: A Christian Perspective (1983)
  • Frontiers in Christian-Muslim Encounters (1987)
  • From Everywhere to Everywhere: A World View of Christian Mission (1990)
  • Thinking globally, acting locally (1992)
  • Mission and Dialogue: Proclaiming the Gospel Afresh in Every Age (1995)
  • The Mystery of Faith (1995)
  • Citizens and Exiles: Christian Faith in a Plural World (2000)
  • Shapes of the Church to Come (2001)
  • Understanding My Muslim Neighbour (2003)
  • Conviction And Conflict: Islam, Christianity And World Order (2005)
  • The Unique and Universal Christ (2008)
  • Triple Jeopardy for the West, London, Bloomsbury (2012)
  • Faith, Freedom and the Future, London, Wilberforce (2016)

He has also published a number of monographs and many other articles in newspapers and journals.

See also[edit]

List of British Pakistanis


  1. ^ Wynne-Jones, Jonathan (28 March 2009). "Michael Nazir-Ali steps down as Bishop of Rochester". The Sunday Telegraph. London.
  2. ^ a b c Brown, Andrew (12 January 2002). "Blessed with ambition: Michael Nazir-Ali". The Independent. London. Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  3. ^ A Message from the President
  4. ^ "Anglican bishop has 'Catholic past'". BBC News. 12 January 2002. Retrieved 26 November 2007.
  5. ^ http://www.wycliffehall.org.uk/documents/downloads.asp?lvid=1017&id=1386
  6. ^ Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent (2 February 2008). "Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, faces death threats". Times Online. London.
  7. ^ Mackay, Maria (4 October 2007). "Interview: Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali on the persecution of Christians". Christian Today. Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  8. ^ "Profile: Michael Nazir-Ali". BBC News. 6 January 2008.
  9. ^ Petre, Jonathan (13 January 2002). "I am Catholic and evangelical". The Sunday Telegraph. London.
  10. ^ "Bishop no stranger to limelight". BBC News. 12 January 2002.
  11. ^ "'Women bishops in the C of E?'". London: CHP. 2004.
  12. ^ Nazir-Ali, Michael (13 September 2012). "Triple Jeopardy for the West". Bloomsbury. London. p. 99ff.
  13. ^ Nazir-Ali, Michael (13 September 2012). "Triple Jeopardy for the West". Bloomsbury. London. p. 9ff.
  14. ^ March for Life: the day the pro-life movement came to London, The Catholic Herald, 7 May 2018
  15. ^ "Profile: Michael Nazir-Ali". BBC News. 6 January 2008.
  16. ^ "Bishop no stranger to limelight". BBC News. 12 January 2002.
  17. ^ http://humanum.it/en/program
  18. ^ Nazir-Ali (May 2012). "How to Save Marriage From Hitting the Rocks". Standpoint. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  19. ^ Hopr, Christopher (29 September 2017). "Collapse in Christianity in Britain blamed on mothers by former bishop". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  20. ^ Telegraph – And suspicion begat spite, back-stabbing and schism
  21. ^ Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent (8 October 2007). "Church of England gay clergy row intensifies". The Sunday Telegraph. London.
  22. ^ Smith, Lewis (6 July 2009). "Condemnation for bishop who called for gay people to "repent" — Michael Nazir-Ali accused of pandering to hate and homophobia". The Independent. London.
  23. ^ a b West, Judy (6 July 2009). "Bishop attacks 'lurid' headlines". London: The Church of England Newspaper, Religious Intelligence Ltd. Archived from the original on 9 July 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  24. ^ a b c Nazir-Ali, Michael (June 2008). "Breaking Faith With Britain". Standpoint.
  25. ^ a b "Most look to Rome to stem Islamic militancy" says Anglican bishop. Ordinariate.org.uk. Published: 6 October 2014.
  26. ^ Anglicans take lead from the Pope, says bishop. The Times. Published: 1 November 2014.
  27. ^ Pigott, Robert (28 May 2008). "Britain left with 'moral vacuum'". BBC News.
  28. ^ "Bishop's move". The Guardian. London. 30 May 2008.
  29. ^ Beckford, Martin (29 May 2008). "Bishop of Rochester 'doing the BNP's work'". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  30. ^ Pitcher, George (30 May 2008). "Right or wrong, the Bishop of Rochester named our ills". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  31. ^ Nazir-Ali, Michael (27 October 2009). "The BNP's values aren't Christian". The Guardian. London.
  32. ^ Nazir-Ali, Michael (29 May 2009). "Jesus wouldn't have voted BNP, and neither should any Christian". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  33. ^ "Bishop attacks 'Muslim hypocrisy.'". BBC News. 5 November 2006.
  34. ^ Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester (6 January 2008). "Extremism flourished as UK lost Christianity". The Sunday Telegraph. London.
  35. ^ "Bishop warns of 'Islamic areas'". BBC News. 6 January 2008.
  36. ^ "Blears rejects 'no go' area claim". BBC News. 7 January 2008.
  37. ^ "Threats to 'no-go areas' bishop". BBC News. 2 February 2008.
  38. ^ Gledhill, Ruth (2 February 2008). "Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, faces death threats". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 3 June 2010.
  39. ^ https://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway/news/bishop-calls-for-burka-ban-187870/
  40. ^ https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=12105590
  41. ^ Fulcrum response to GAFCON 2018, Anglican Ink, 3 July 2018
  42. ^ Standing with the Suffering, GAFCON Official Website, 1 April 2019
  43. ^ Brown, Andrew (12 January 2002). "Blessed with ambition: Michael Nazir-ali". The Independent. London. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  44. ^ a b Nazir-Ali, Michael (May 2013). "Bishop Michael J Nazir-Ali". michaelnazirali.com. Retrieved 20 November 2014.

External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Michael Turnbull
Bishop of Rochester
Succeeded by
James Langstaff