A Hindu’s conversion to Islam live on television during a prime-time Ramazan chat show has sparked criticism on behalf of religious minorities.
In just five minutes, the 20-year-old introduced as Sunil officially changed his religion under a cleric’s guidance.
A packed studio audience congratulated him and shouted out suggestions for his new Muslim name before he was renamed Muhammad Abdullah – the consensus choice.
Abdullah insisted on Friday that he had been a willing convert.
“I have accepted Islam by my own will and my family has no objection,” he told AFP by telephone from the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust, where a staff member said he has worked as their office boy for the last six years.
The eponymous head of the Trust condemned the live proselytizing and has decided to sue Maya Khan, the host of the ARY programme. “Burney Legal Solicitors London is going to send legal Notice to Anchor Maya Khan and TV owners of 10 million sterling pounds,” Ansar Burney said in a Twitter post.
Critics blasted the show, broadcast by ARY on Wednesday.
However, Burney said the TV channel was not involved in the ‘conversion drama’. “Sunil is a young man, who I was informed was forced to convert, though it seems now the actions were not by ARY TV,” said another tweet.
It was a second controversy in recent months for chat show host Maya Khan, who was this year sacked by Samaa TV after chasing couples in a public park, accusing them of behaving immorally.
Ramesh Kumar, a leader of the Pakistan Hindu Council, told AFP that Wednesday’s programme would encourage intolerance. “We are already intimidated. The government gives little heed to the kidnapping of Hindus and forced faith conversion of our girls. Please don’t do things that make us more alienated,” he told AFP.
Talat Hussain also warned against turning religion into mass entertainment. “Think about how Muslims would feel when Buddhists in Burma show similarly a Muslim being converted in a live TV show,” he told AFP.
According to Pakistan government figures, Hindus make up 2.5% of the country’s population of around 180 million.
(AFP with additional input by News Desk)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2012.