Islamic sect complaint highlights Ofcom’s increasing impotence
By Jerome Taylor
Monday, 6 October 2008
A small Islamic sect that is deemed heretical by some mainstream Muslims has complained to Ofcom after being labelled “liable for death” by a Pakistani television show broadcast in Britain via the Sky satellite platform.
The complaint, made by leaders of the Ahmadi community in Britain, is being investigated by the watchdog and raises concerns over how much control it has over the content of the burgeoning number of foreign language channels UK viewers can access. The comments were made during a live broadcast of Aalim Online, a religious discussion programme aired daily on Geo TV throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It is viewed by millions of Urdu speaking viewers worldwide.
Aalim Online, available in Britain on Sky Channel 815, is presented by Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a former minister for religious affairs turned popular spiritual television host. Ofcom is investigating the 7 September edition of the show, which included views from a number of prominent Pakistani Muslims scholars as guest speakers. The broadcast coincided with the anniversary of a change in Pakistan’s constitution in 1974 that officially classified Ahmadis as “non-Muslims”. Human rights groups say this event legitimised persecution of the sect in Pakistan and eventually forced the leadership of the 70 million strong community to flee to London. The Ahmadis are deemed heretical by hardline Islamic authorities because of their belief that their 19th century founder was the Mahdi – Islam’s equivalent of the messiah – and the successor to the Prophet Mohamed.
Dr Hussein asked his guests during the broadcast how orthodox Muslims should respond to the claims made by Ahmadis. One speaker, Dr Saeed Ahmad Innayatullah, responded: “As long as this sedition is alive and even one [Ahmadi] remains on this earth, there is need to eliminate it.” Two other speakers, meanwhile, used the Arabic phrase “Wajb-ul-Qatal” (liable for death) to describe those who believe in Ahmadi doctrine. Dr Hussein did not intervene to moderate those views, nor was a member of the Ahmadi community invited to speak.
Earlier this year, Ofcom ruled Geo TV had breached guidelines during another prayer show hosted by Dr Hussein, when the host called for the death of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie. During evening prayers he said: “Ruin Rushdie. I beg you for his death. O God, give him death.”
Two prominent Ahmadi leaders were murdered in Pakistan shortly after Aalim Online was televised.
Rafiq Ahmad Hayat, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK, said: “We demand a response from Geo TV for their flagrant abuse of satellite broadcasting for promoting animosity against our community. Geo officials must explain their endorsement of the clerics’ twisted ideology, and for the programme presenter’s failure to challenge their views.”
Geo TV failed to respond to The Independent’s requests to comment.