(AsiaNews) - Pakistan's
religious minorities - including its Christian leaders - have strongly
condemned the decision to broadcast the conversion of a young man from Hinduism
to Islam. The
ceremony was broadcast for Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer for
Muslims, on the private ARY Digital channel
on 25 July. Although
the national media - not just television, but also weekly and daily newspapers
- are not new to the publication of material that is "offensive" to other
faiths, this is the first time in history that a live conversion of a non- Muslim
has been broadcast, what's more, during a popular television show thus rendering
one of the most intimate and sacred aspects of the human person, public.
Younas Alam, director of the Commission for the rights of minorities in Pakistan, said that after the recent cases of forced conversions of non-Muslim women, this is "a more direct attack on minorities." Besides, the program legitimized only Islam as a faith, undermining the others.
Sunil, 20-year old Hindu embraced Islam during a prime time show broadcast during Ramadan (pictured). Originally from Karachi, the most populous city in the country, the young man took "only five minutes" to change his religion, under the expert hand of a "Maulvi", a Muslim religious leader.
Although he claims to have converted to the faith of Muhammad of his "own volition", many remain skeptical and do not believe his claims. Ansar Burney, Head of the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust at which Sunil worked for six years, defines the conversion as "staged". And many others speak of a fiction artfully assembled by the presenter and the authors, only to gain a greater audience share.
Several critics have targeted the show, not only guilty of encouraging Islamic extremists in carrying out forced conversions, but also of creating a "hostile environment" around religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadis. A transmission branded as "intimidating" and many have raised direct appeals to the government for action against programs that "incite hatred" among religions. In a nation where minorities are already treated as "second class citizens", reads an editorial published by Dawn - the leading English-language Pakistani newspaper - this type of event "only serves to exacerbate conditions of marginalization".