Mahershala Ali's Oscar win stirs controversy in Pakistan

Published: February 27, 2017
Mahershala Ali poses with the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role on February 26, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Mahershala Ali poses with the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role on February 26, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Controversy arose in Pakistan after Mahershala Ali — who won the best supporting actor Oscar on Sunday for his portrayal of a drug dealer in coming-of-age drama “Moonlight” — was given the title of the first ‘Muslim’ film star to pick up a golden statuette.

Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi was forced to delete a congratulatory tweet when people on Twitter began pointing out that Mahershala Ali was an Ahmadi.

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Article 260-3 of Pakistan’s Constitution declares Ahmadis “non-Muslims”. The amendment made this exclusion legally in that the phrase “for the purposes of the constitution or law” was used when rendering them non-Muslims.

The deleted tweet and Ali’s Ahmadi religion immediately caught the attention of many on Twitter.




A first-time nominee, the 43-year-old actor saw off competition from Britain’s Dev Patel, veteran US actors Jeff Bridges and Michael Shannon and newcomer Lucas Hedges, AFP reported.

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“I want to thank my teachers, my professors,” Ali said. “One thing that they consistently told me… ‘It’s not about you. It’s about these characters. You are a servant. You’re in service to these stories and these characters’.”

He thanked his fellow cast members — and his wife, who gave birth to their first child, a baby girl, just days earlier.

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Barry Jenkins’s “Moonlight” tells the life story of a young African-American struggling to find his place as he grows up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami.

Muslims have won Oscars in various categories over the years — including Pakistani documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and feature director Asghar Farhadi — but none has taken a statuette for acting.

Ellen Burstyn, who won a best actress Oscar in 1975, has practised a blend of Sufism and other religions since her late 30s but has said she considers herself a “spirit open to the truth” rather than a Muslim.



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Reader Comments (20)

  • Hasan
    Feb 27, 2017 - 2:08PM

    How sad that in this day and age people are using religion to divide people and downgrade the merit of other people.

    Man was born free, put everywhere he has put himself in chains.Recommend

  • Zaida Parvez
    Feb 27, 2017 - 2:16PM

    What a narrow-minded people Pakistanis have become !
    Just shameful !!Recommend

  • kilo
    Feb 27, 2017 - 2:54PM

    Ahmadis are non Muslims only in Pakistan, outside Pakistan they are considered and treated as MuslimsRecommend

  • Munib
    Feb 27, 2017 - 2:57PM

    As if Pak has the copy rights of ISLAMRecommend

  • rich
    Feb 27, 2017 - 3:07PM

    he his a Muslim bec he believes in koran, ect

    yes maybe the difference is they are a peaceful sect, and educated tooRecommend

  • Nasir Mahmood
    Feb 27, 2017 - 4:59PM

    Please do not act on behalf of ALLAH. He is the on who will decide who is muslim and who is not and what punishment/rewards to give.
    We waste so much time on trivial/non productive matters which has no bearing on the well being of our society. JUST GROW UP and accept other. Allah has created them all. Recommend

  • Lumdheeng
    Feb 27, 2017 - 5:28PM

    Mahershala Ali converted from Christian to Muslim, because his wife is an Ahmedi Muslim. Secondly he is black African American, likely to be accepted in Pakistan society, who consider themselves as fair skin people. Recommend

  • Freedom
    Feb 27, 2017 - 6:12PM

    In an age where people are getting fed up of religions and saying bye bye to them, talking about who is Muslim and who is not Muslim is a waste of time. Celebrate a success and move on.Recommend

  • Naeem Khan
    Feb 27, 2017 - 9:05PM

    Congratulations to you Mahershala Ali, we support you regardless of your faith and belief. You are a superb actor who deserved the Oscar.Recommend

  • Sunny
    Feb 27, 2017 - 9:12PM

    He is a Pakistani and we are happy.Recommend

  • Nadir Sadiq
    Feb 27, 2017 - 9:34PM

    Let’s congratulate him on winning and and take pride in his being a Pakistani or it will be too late just like Dr. Slaam. These are our heros who are and have give good name to Pakistan. Let’s keep religion out of this.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Feb 27, 2017 - 9:45PM

    Anyone who believes he belongs to a certain faith, belongs to that faith irrespective of what others think about it. An Ahmadi is considered a Muslim everywhere, if anyone claims otherwise, it will not change matters.Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 27, 2017 - 9:59PM

    @kilo: “Ahmadis are non Muslims only in Pakistan, outside Pakistan they are considered and treated as Muslims”

    Partly true. In many Arab countries also they are considered non-Muslims by other Muslims. In India and US though they can openly own their Muslim identity.Recommend

  • PrakashG
    Feb 27, 2017 - 10:16PM

    Why can’t he belong to both Ahmadiyya and Muslim communities, kind of like dual-citizenship?Recommend

  • Humanity
    Feb 27, 2017 - 10:21PM

    Ahmadi muslims are pro-claimers of Kalima in its absolute form : There is no God but Allah, Mohammad is a messenger of Allah.

    That declaration makes them Muslim by default. No agency in the world can refute that entitlement. As far as the matters of divine judgement are concerned, theyare best left to the Master of the day of judgement when each and every one be judged by the Creator.

    Or would the nay sayers rather amend the Kalima to feed the demagoguery that has become the legendary laanut for the nation. A laanut which simply is snuffing the air out of the lungs for the quam now unable to breathe and think like humans.

    Carry one with your zarbs and Radhs and see how far that gets you ..Recommend

  • hamza khan
    Feb 27, 2017 - 11:21PM

    @Nadir Sadiq:

    he’s not pakistani! he’s an african american. Recommend

  • vinsin
    Feb 28, 2017 - 12:11AM

    @hamza khan:
    Pakistan is an Islamic state. All Muslims are Pakistani.Recommend

  • Yusuf
    Feb 28, 2017 - 2:18PM

    We Pakistanis are so narrow minded, why bring in religion in all walk of our life, I totally agree with all the other people who have commented on the issue. Recommend

  • Farru
    Feb 28, 2017 - 6:20PM

    I am a Pakistani Muslim and I have no issue with Mahershala Ali’s sect or faith.

    He won the award for his performance and that is enough for me.

    Good luck Ali!Recommend

  • R S Chakravarti
    Mar 1, 2017 - 11:31PM

    I believe this controversy shows why governments should be secular.Recommend

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