The Church of England has got the wind up, or at least the Archbishop of Canterbury has. He’s got nervy, as have lots of Anglicans and other Christian faiths, because Aaqil Ahmed has been appointed head of religious broadcasting by the BBC. And of course now you know why – that name is a bit of a giveaway. Mr Ahmed is a Muslim, and Rowan Williams and various other Christian big shots are agitated about the appointment. They’re afraid, apparently, that Christianity is going to get sidelined in British life and too much attention will be given to minority faiths (translated: God Almighty – they’ve hired a Muslim!).
Aaqil Ahmed comes to the BBC from Channel 4, where he earned criticism for putting on a series on the history of Christianity which featured people like Cherie Blair and Michael Portillo. This was ‘trivialising Christianity’ his critics said. I saw the C Blair episode and while it wasn’t wonderful at least it was alive and personal, which is more than can be said about many historical series. Because Ahmed isn’t ‘like us’, does that mean he must be intent on doing down Christianity and bigging up Islam? And wasn’t his predecessor in the post an agnostic/atheist? Besides which, a central tenet of the Qu’ran is that ‘there must be no compulsion in religion’. In other words, by definition Muslims must respect other faiths.
The complaints from Christian bigwigs has to do with a fear that the traditional power of their churches (The C of E is the established religion in Britain) is being weakened, and that this threat comes in the form of people who look funny and different and who may have designs on all the things the British hold dear. It’s called racial/religious prejudice, and had Mr Ahmed not been given the job, it would have probably been illegal as well as immoral.
Meanwhile, let’s be optimists. Maybe now we’ll hear less tut-tutting from Britain over what they’ve always defined as our so-out-of-date religious wars.