RNS () — A controversial Muslim scholar-turned-television-host has given away at least two abandoned babies during his live TV show in Pakistan, saying “it is real Islam” and not exploitation because the infants find homes with couples who want to adopt.
Millions of Pakistanis are tuning into Aamir Liaqat Hussain’s program, but critics say he is using a sensational ploy simply to attract viewers.
For several years, Hussain followed a typical talk-show format of interviewing celebrities, staging games, giving away cars and household appliances.
Last year, he began broadcasting 11 hours each day during the month of Ramadan. This year during Ramadan — which ends later this week — he has been giving away babies.
“We are trying to create an environment in the society for those people who are needy, and want to adopt babies,” Hussain told Agence France-Presse. “It is not commercialization, it is not showbiz. It is real Islam.”
Each married Muslim couple is interviewed to determine their suitability to adopt, he said.
“At Christmas there’s Santa Claus to give everyone gifts,” Hussain told CNN. “For us, Ramadan is a really special time, so it’s really important to make people happy and reward them.”
At least two babies were given away on the show after being handed over to Hussain by the Chhipa Welfare Association, a nongovernmental organization that receives or finds more than a dozen abandoned babies each month, CNN reported.
“Our team finds babies abandoned on the street, in garbage bins, some of them dead, others mauled by animals,” the association’s founder, Ramzan Chhipa told CNN.
A one-month-old baby girl, named Fatima, was found “on a rubbish dump” in the southern city of Karachi, the BBC reported. She was given away by Hussain to a childless couple.
Fatima’s new father, Riaz Uddin, an engineer, told the BBC that he and his wife wanted a baby for the past 14 years. He said he resisted demands from others to divorce her when the couple could not conceive.
Hussain, 41, graduated as a medical doctor but choose journalism, initially in print media and then TV, he said on his website.
He became a “Sunni scholar” and then a minister of state for religious affairs in 2004, before resigning three years later, partly in protest of Pakistan’s weak condemnation of author Salman Rushdie, who Hussain described as the “devil.”
Last year, The New York Times profiled Hussain under the headline: “A Superstar Televangelist in Pakistan Divides, Then Repents.”
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