Unexpected guests

Nauman Lasharie, Shumaila Hussain come from Islamabad hoping to improve Israeli-Pakistani relations.

paki singers 88 (photo credit: )
paki singers 88
(photo credit: )
Pakistani singers Nauman Lasharie and Shumaila Hussain arrived in Israel Tuesday at the invitation of the American Jewish Congress, despite their country's decades-long refusal to recognize Israel. Lasharie and Hussain, who perform a fusion of jazz and traditional Pakistani music, are visiting after a successful trip by a delegation of Pakistani-Americans two weeks ago. They will be here for a week to tour and perform as part of an effort to improve relations between Pakistan and Israel. "This visit will allow them to understand Israel," said Danny Grossman, the Israel director of the American Jewish Congress. "They will get to see some of the county, meet some of the people and be ambassadors of goodwill." Grossman, who helped facilitate Lasharie and Hussain's visit with the help of the foreign and interior ministries, said the AJC Council for World Jewry invited Lasharie and Nauman, both from Islamabad, to visit Israel on their way home to Pakistan after performing in the U.S. last week. The AJC has been working for several years to establish relations between Pakistan and Israel, a development that could also lead to improved relations between Pakistan and the U.S. David Twersky, the AJC's director of international affairs, said the singers' visit is also noteworthy because it builds on the relationship of AJC Chairman Jack Rosen and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Rosen and the AJC were instrumental in helping to organize a series of Israeli-Pakistani meetings last year, including a key meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers in Istanbul. The efforts helped bring about a significant diplomatic gesture last September when Musharraf and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shook hands in front of the United Nations General Assembly. Despite the political symbolism of their trip, Lasharie, 30, and Hussain, 27, said they also hope to get a sense of Israeli culture during their time here. They have spent most of their visit so far touring Jerusalem, learning about the city's history and residents. In addition to their tour of the city, Lasharie and Nauman gave an evening performance Wednesday at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance. The two will also appear on a radio show and at the University of Haifa today and will perform a final show, free to the public, at the Tel Aviv Center for the Performing Arts Friday at 12:30 p.m. Asked how they thought their Israeli excursion would be received back home, both musicians focused their comments on their initial impressions of Israel instead. Wandering through the Arab market in the Old City between visits to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, Lasharie said he admired Jerusalem most for the way people of different faiths could coexist here. "It's amazing to see all the religions in one place," he said. "Jews, Muslims, Christians: everyone is in Jerusalem. Where else in the world can you see all these holy places together?" Lasharie said he was pleased to have made the trip, and said he saw it as a step towards peace. "As musicians, we are cultural ambassadors of our country," he said. "In all countries, music is about peace and love and harmony, so I think we have come here with a good message." Grossman agreed that musicians often carry a message of peace. "Someone from the world of music can have a tremendous impact in helping to break down the barriers of separation and distrust," he said. "There had to be someone to take the first step, and something like this can only begin one small step at a time." Grossman said that last year's meetings, the handshake between Musharraf and Sharon, and this visit by Lasharie and Hussain would all play a part in making diplomatic ties between Israel and Pakistan a reality. "This could lead to a Muslim country like Pakistan accepting Israel," he said. The young singers said they also hope their visit strengthens the process of establishing peaceful relations between the two countries. Hussain said she also hopes that a successful visit by the two musicians could open the door to more Pakistani visitors in Israel. "I really like the hospitality of the people here," she said. "I'm really thankful for the way we were welcomed." "My family and friends know I am here and they support me," she said. "I hope this visit will be a good start and will improve relations between the countries."