Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:29 pm (KSA) 16:29 pm (GMT)

British Muslim chosen as BBC's head of religion

Aaqil Ahmed is the first ever Muslim to be appointed head of BBC (Courtesy of the Telegraph)
Aaqil Ahmed is the first ever Muslim to be appointed head of BBC (Courtesy of the Telegraph)

The BBC broke with decades of tradition Tuesday and appointed its first ever Muslim to head the country's religious programming, a move that has irked several right-wing media outlets and Christian groups, who say Christian views are being sidelined in the United Kingdom.

Aaqil Ahmed will join the state-funded broadcaster in July to take up a new joint role as Head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV, the BBC announced, making Ahmed's appointment the second time in its 87-year history a non-Christian has taken the role.

 Aaqil was picked simply because he was the best candidate for the role...We've always said it is BBC policy to recruit on the basis of experience and suitability for the role; not on the basis of faith 
BBC spokeswoman

Ahmed's appointment has been seen as controversial by several right-wing media outlets with top newspapers, such as the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, publishing pieces implying he was unfit for the position based on his background and saying he was picked because he was of a "minority faith."

The BBC, however, maintained that "Aaqil was picked simply because he was the best candidate for the role," a BBC spokeswoman told Al Arabiya. "We've always said it is BBC policy to recruit on the basis of experience and suitability for the role; not on the basis of faith."

 It is positive that a Muslim has been appointed to head BBC Religion. I greatly hope that he will succeed in the role, and have excellent relationships with all faith communities. 
President of the Commonwealth Jewish Council

Christian lobby group Christian Concern For Our Nation, however, called on its members to write to the BBC objecting to Ahmed's appointment on grounds that he was Muslim, the U.K.-based Asians in Media magazine reported.

But according to the BBC spokeswoman: "So far the feedback on the appointment has been very balanced."

With regards to the Jewish community's stance, the president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, Lord Janner of Braunstone, told Al Arabiya: "It is positive that a Muslim has been appointed to head BBC Religion. I greatly hope that he will succeed in the role, and have excellent relationships with all faith communities."

Christian voice marginalized

 The vast majority of the population identifies itself as Christian and as the established Church in England we would be negligent not to take an active concern in the changes happening with the BBC's religion and ethics department 
Member of Archbishop Council

Britain's top church figures had previously raised concerns that the BBC was giving preferential treatment to minority faiths with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, last month complaining to the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, that the "Christian voice" was being marginalized.

"The vast majority of the population identifies itself as Christian and as the established Church in England we would be negligent not to take an active concern in the changes happening with the BBC's religion and ethics department," Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops' Council, was quoted by media as saying.

Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester and spokesman for the Church of England, said the church would be closely monitoring the stations religious output under its new boss.

"Changes to the structure and personnel of the Religion and Ethics department will clearly impact religious output across the Corporation and the BBC has assured us the effect will be to strengthen that output. We very much hope this is the case, and will be monitoring the situation closely," he told Al Arabiya.

Ahmed's appointment comes amid sensitivties that a Sikh, Tommy Nagra, was the executive producer for the BBC's Songs of Praise, which is a key Christian program that has been aired on Sundays for the past decade or so.

Ahmed, who previously worked for the private-owned Channel 4, has commissioned programs examining Christianity and Islam, as well as the BAFTA-winning documentary "Saving Africa's Witch Children" about children in poor parts of Nigeria being blamed for witchcraft.

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