By Kamran Chaudhry
A teaser for a new TV drama series on conversion to Islam has sent Pakistan’s minority Christians into meltdown and brought calls for the government to cancel the show.
Geo TV recently released the first trailer of Maria Bint e Abdullah showing Maria, the daughter of a Christian mother and a Muslim father. It begins with images of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Lahore, the crucified Jesus and Maria crying with a rosary in her hand.
“To me she doesn’t seem a Muslim. She doesn’t even know how to say namaz [a ritualized Islamic prayer],” says a woman in a voiceover. “Can I ask something, are you Christian,” asks another as Maria reads a Bible.
Pakistani Christians on social media reacted with outrage to the teaser.
“My name is Yasir Javed Masih. I think this drama should never have been produced. I requested its makers to stop doing it. Please, please, please,” posted a Catholic youth member on Facebook.
Christians in Pakistan, a website highlighting persecution of the minority community, condemned the drama.
“It may be ignored as a drama or a story but it is not right to ignore this every time. It is not right to present any religion on TV in a wrong way or belittle a religious group. Such dramas only cause disruption and hurt others in a diverse culture,” it posted.
“The dialogue suggests it is not suitable for a person to be Christian, as if it is is disliked or shameless. But many Pakistanis think the same. This drama will be very much liked like other popular literature. The channel will get tremendous business. But it will also increase suffocation and hatred for religious minorities in the country. So-called religious unity will further weaken.”
See the trailer here for Maria Bint e Abdullah:
Rev. Amjad Niamat, convener of the Pakistan Christian Action Committee, issued a similar message on social media.
Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Aijaz Alam Augustine highlighted the concern in a government notice issued on Oct. 25.
“The upcoming project of a private channel … seems to carry content which is undermining religious beliefs of the Christian community and Christianity in general. No religion teaches hatred. A peaceful atmosphere and enhancing tolerance in society are a joint responsibility for all of us. No channel has a right to promote negative aspects of any community,” he stated.
The Christian minister also requested all media channels to immediately stop such programs that violate human rights and warned he may approach the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
The Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association (PMTA) requested Prime Minister Imran Khan and the chief justice of the Supreme Court to take action against Geo TV in a letter sent on Oct. 25.
“After print media, the electronic media has also become biased against Christians. This drama serial will not only desecrate Christianity but also persuade Christian girls and women to leave their faith for Islam. Christian and Hindu girls are already unsafe. They are harassed, kidnapped, converted to Islam and forcibly married to pedophiles,” said PMTA chairman Anjum James Paul.
Forced conversion of young women belonging to low castes remains a significant concern among human rights groups. According to Sindh Human Rights Council, 47 Hindu girls have been kidnapped in the past four months.
Last year the PMTA protested a Baji Irshad TV comedy about a Christian Punjabi maid.