|Revd John Weir, Zeshan, H.E. Saleh al Ghurg|
Labour MP, Stephen Timms intervened to ensure a musician from Pakistan was permitted entry into the UK and able to compete in this year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. Timms wrote to the UK Border Agency to ensure Zeshan Rahab, a Christian singer from North West Punjab, was allowed to travel to the UK in order to perform and compete in North Wales’ largest music festival.
Mr Timms, wrote from his hospital bed after being stabbed by a Pakistani woman in his East London constituency surgery in May 2010.
Zeshan Rahab will be the first ever Pakistani soloist in the international festival’s 65 year history. He will sing and play the harmonium, performing traditional Urdu Ghazal music that is of deep and personal meaning to the Pakistani Christian Church. Zeshan said, “It is a great honour for me to be the first Pakistani soloist to perform and compete at such a well regarded international festival. I’m proud to be able to bring Urdu Ghazal music to the UK and Wales.“ Zeshan went on to say “I’m especially looking forward to performing in Llangollen, a place that I have heard is so beautiful.”
Pakistan is home to more than 187 million people, 97% of which are Muslim. In recent years tension between the majority Muslim communities and minority Christians groups has risen. Zeshan’s hometown is Gujranwala in North West Punjab, an industrial town of four million Muslims and half a million Christians, who have lived together peacefully for many years. Recently false blasphemy charges were filed against a Christian father and son from the Christian Technical College, and violence erupted against the poor Christian colonies of Gulzar and Aziz.
Moderate Muslim and Christian leaders organized peace rallies where ghazal music was played and the situation has since improved. The blasphemy law has seen many Christians as well as Muslims arrested under false cases for personal grudges or enmity and even professional jealously.
Encouraged by his Christian parents, Zeshan began to learn harmonium at the age of 12. Like many Pakistanis Zeshan left his country to find work abroad, where poverty is a growing concern. He was discovered working as a labourer in Dubai and brought to the U.K. by the Anglain Chaplain of the inter-denominational Holy Trinity Church, Dubai, Revd. John Weir who said: “Zeshan is really looking forward to performing at the Eisteddfod. It was struggle bringing him to the UK, but I believe his talent should be shared with the world and with so many different countries performing and competing in Llangollen this year. ”
His journey to Llangollen has not been without incident. After Christian friends and supporters in Dubai offered sponsorship for his travel costs, his harmonium was taken apart and damaged by airport security.
Mervyn Cousins, Chief Executive of Llangollen Eisteddfod said: “We are very excited about having Zeshan compete and perform at the Eisteddfod. His music really captures the true essence of the Eisteddfod which was established to promote international peace through music and dance.” Cousins went on to say: “His story is one of the triumphs of peace, love, healing and harmony overcoming the politics of war and hate.”
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod takes place in North Wales from 4-10 July with more than 4,000 competitors from 50 countries taking part. Zeshan will be performing on Wednesday 6 July on the outdoor stage.