Aamir Liaquat Hussain is a TV personality, a politician, and the former Minister for Religious Affairs. He has also a reputation for offending religious minorities.
by Massimo Introvigne
The Divine Mother, Mahakali, is one of the main Hindu deities. In 2017, Indian actress Pooja Sharma offered a memorable portrait of the goddess in the TV series Mahakali: The End Marks the Beginning.
What does all this have to do with religious freedom in Pakistan? You should really ask Aamir Liaquat Hussain, one of the most colorful personalities in Pakistani politics. He likes to call himself “Dr.” Hussain, but doubts have been raised about his academic career, and he admitted he repeatedly purchased doubtful titles from Western diploma mills.
Hussain became famous as an evangelist for his radio and TV shows promoting Islam. His passionate language came under heavy criticism because of his attacks against journalists and members of the Ahmadiyya religious minority, some of whom were assassinated days after Hussain’s shows.
This did not prevent Hussain from successfully entering politics. He became a MP in 2002 and the Minister of State for Religious Affairs in 2004. He had to resign in 2007, after stating in a TV interview that author Salman Rushdie “should be killed for blaspheming the Holy Prophet.” He announced he will abandon politics altogether “to give full attention to his religious pursuits.”
However, he later changed his mind, and was re-elected to the Parliament in 2018 for the ruling party Tehreek-i-Insaf. Now, he is in trouble again. Last week, rival politician Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif and the vice-president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, was quoted as warning the government against stealing votes in the Daska by-election (which eventually her party won, by a narrow margin), “otherwise they will see a different face of me.”
Hussain answered with a tweet where he ridiculed Nawaz by posting an image of Mahakali and likening it to Nawaz’s “different face.” This created widespread protests among Hindus in Pakistan, who accused the MP of having offended both the goddess and their religious feelings, which later led Hussain to delete the tweet and apologize.
It may seem a trivial matter, but it isn’t. The Hindus in Pakistan would not have reacted as they did if the country did not have a history of discrimination and violence against religious minorities, including Hindus as well as Christians and Ahmadis. And if this violence had not been condoned by politicians such as Hussain, and incited by the same Hussain in his incarnation as a televangelist. In a flammable situation, it only takes a spark to create a fire.