For the first time, the BBC, the world’s largest broadcaster, has appointed a Muslim to head the religious programming unit.
Aaqil Ahmed, who has been serving as an executive at another channel, was named to the post earlier this week. The position as head of BBC’s religious programming is considered one of the most influential religious roles in the United Kingdom.
British Christians, in response to the news, have expressed a range of emotions from anger to encouragement.
Dr. Robert Coulter, a retired Presbyterian minister, has called the BBC’s appointment an “insult” to Christians, the BBC reported Wednesday.
“According to the Church of England 70 percent of the U.K. are Christian, three percent are Muslim yet the BBC for its head of religious broadcast appoints a Muslim,” Coulter complained.
Several U.K. media outlets also reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury in March had expressed concern to the BBC about a Muslim heading the religious broadcasting unit. Dr. Rowan Williams and other Anglican archbishops feared Christians will be neglected in religious programming.
But the Evangelical Alliance, which represents more than 3,000 churches, was more optimistic about Ahmed’s appointment.
“As Mr. Ahmed is a Muslim, he should be well-placed to understand the importance of religious faith to many people in the UK, including the large Christian population,” said Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance.
He added, “We value the way Aaqil has brought religious programming into the prime time at Channel 4 and we look forward to seeing similar innovation, combined with the BBC’s values of independence, impartiality and honesty, in his new role.”
The organization called on its members to pray for Ahmed to have wisdom in his new role, and offered to provide interesting stories and Christian commentary to BBC.
Ahmed has nearly 10 years experience in religious broadcasting and formerly worked for BBC as a deputy editor for documentaries at BBC Religion before heading the religion and multicultural department at Channel 4.
Supporters of the appointment argue that the BBC religious broadcasting department is not meant to promote any particular religion and only a person’s qualification should matter.