ROME – One way to measure the real nature of struggles over religious freedom in the Islamic world is by the kind of person who would show up in the United Arab Emirates over the last three days, joining Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt for a massive interreligious paean to peace, love and tolerance.
There were more than 700 religious leaders on hand, and Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, a well-known Muslim cleric from Pakistan, is a good example of the kind of crowd the event drew.
Ashrafi is known as a “liberal” cleric in his native country, the kind of religious leader who condemns extremism and stands for tolerance and acceptance and who’s been awarded a presidential honor for the defense of peace and human rights. So real are those commitments that there was recently a push in the Pakistan Ulema Council, the main body of Islamic clerics in the country, to expel him and replace him with someone more traditional.
Certainly, Ashrafi said all the right things in Abu Dhabi in terms of the event’s official talking points.