I’ve written recently about televangelists and millionaires Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer.
The charismatic evangelist is a unique aspect of American faith history, one that predates the television. Back then, traveling preachers like Sam Porter Jones were known as “revivalists” and they attracted huge followings and generated controversies of their own.I recently came across the story of Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a popular Pakistani religious figure who fits the mold of a televangelist. And he is no stranger to controversy, even in a culture far different from ours.
In 2002, Hussain was elected to the National Assembly affiliated party with Muttahida Qaumi Movement. He resigned from his post a member of the National Assembly and from his seat as the Minister of Religious Affairs in 2007.
At that point, he began hosting what became a hugely popular television program on GEO Entertainment, the biggest TV station in Pakistan. Hussain delivers Islam with a heavy dose of flash and personalist. He normally wears bejeweled sherwani, a long coat-like garment worn in Pakistan.
His shows are a whirlwind of game-show questioning, cooking demonstrations, prize giveaways and general entertainment. Hussain is relentless, hosting 11-hour shows daily during Ramadan.
He is also controversial. He was let go by Geo — despite monster ratings — following a series of missteps. Most notably, Hussain urged fundamentalist Muslims to kill members of Pakistan’s minority Ahmaddiya population. A day after that show, two Ahmaddiya followers were shot dead, one of them an American citizen.
Hussain was also found to have fake degrees and, in 2011, a video surfaced showing him shouting profanities and making light of rape. By then, he had moved to the rival ARY Digital TV network.
Last summer, GEO executives apparently felt Hussain had learned his lesson. Either that, or they needed a rating boost, because Hussain was rehired.
His shows today are more lavish than ever. A New York Times piece described a show with a giant ship representing Noah’s Ark, complete with several live animals scooting around the set. The same story estimated Hussain makes in the neighborhood of $30,000 monthly, not counting his various side ventures.
Interesting. It goes to show that we are not that different from other cultures in our need to be constantly entertained, even by our faith figures.