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May 1, 2005 Sunday Rabi-ul-Awwal 21, 1426

My degrees are not fake

By Salman Siddiqui

JUST flick through the local channels anytime day or night, and there is a nine out of ten chance you’ll find Dr Aamir Liaquat’s face beaming on air, either putting questions to religious experts from different sects, or swinging zealously to hymns. In fact, he now even has a number of religious CD albums to his credit that sell like hot cakes, specially in Ramadan and Rabi-ul-Awal.

Shooting to instant stardom in the country by way of anchoring his own show, he now has 500 episodes under the belt which, in Aamir’s own words, are second in number only to some of the largely viewed Indian soaps. Dressed in simple shalwar qameez and traditional slippers, the State Minister for Religious Affairs was in his element when this scribe called on him. He was at his host television’s production office in Karachi, busy screaming at his crew members for not getting things done right. Surprisingly, there was no police brigade around him; not even a personal gunman.

A former radio broadcaster on FM101, he once had PTV doors actually closed on him. “A few years ago, I did a program for PTV, but was soon asked to leave since the programme producers there believed that I did not know how to speak, and that I did not have the right manners to make a conversation. I was quite heartbroken for sometime after that.”

Aamir Liaquat owes his ‘Dr’ label to his two poles-apart degrees; he got an MBBS from Liaquat Medical College Jamshoro in 1995, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from an online university in 2002. Explaining the events that led him to pursue an online degree in Islamic Studies after completing his medical education, he says: “Before the events of 9/11, in 2000 there was a negative propaganda against Islam. This was the era of the Taliban, who were being labelled as terrorists by the West and were being portrayed as tormentors of the fair sex since they disallowed them to work or pursue education. It was during this time that I started my research work on the topic ‘Islam and Terrorism’ which is also available in book form.”

Available for Rs200, the title of the book showcases a nuclear missile wrapped in the flags of Israel and India cruising towards Muslim countries, while the back cover has large-sized pictures of Osama and Al-Zawahiri splashed across.

“I worked very hard for over a year on this topic and, in fact, went on to complete 1,500 pages. After completing my research I decided to get it published somewhere so that the world would recognize my effort. For this purpose I contacted all the universities I could find on the net and sent my thesis to them.

“A number of them, which include the Ambassador University of Texas, Trinity College & University (Spain), Lincoln College, Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), appreciated my work. Out of these, two universities, the Ambassador University of Texas and the Trinity College & University, offered me honorary degrees on behalf of their faculty of arts, which I duly accepted.

“Even though I did work hard for a year on my thesis, I want to make it clear that I have never said that I have pursued a proper education programme for my PhD degrees, which are just honorary entities awarded to me in appreciation of my effort,” he concludes.

Recently Aamir Liaquat’s degrees have become quite a contentious issue. His PhD degrees came under intense scrutiny in a section of the Urdu press which claimed that he had ‘bought’ these degrees from online universities in “a desperate attempt to become eligible for contesting the 2002 elections”.

More damage was done when the South Asian Tribune, an explosive online news ezine, also picked up this news item and uploaded some so-called documentary evidence on its site. None of these stories featured comments from Aamir, who for the first time has spoken on this issue to any publication.

“These are all just lies. Before I never commented on this issue because, I believe, it’s in the nature of dogs to bark, and I don’t want to counter every bark made by a dog. This has all been done by a few people in some newspapers, and other people who don’t wish to see me in the religious spectrum of Pakistan. My PhD degree has nothing to do with my becoming eligible for elections since my medical degree was sufficient for that.

“True, I attached my honorary PhD degrees along with my other medical degree when I filed my nomination papers, but I ask, what’s wrong in that. Why should a storm stir up on this issue? Yes, it might be true that the Trinity College sells degrees or that other people buy degrees from it, but I wasn’t aware of or concerned with that. The point is that I got it for free and as an honorary degree.”

Hinting on pressures and propaganda from other quarters, he gives the lowdown on his daily challenges which he has to face as a television anchorperson and a minister. “I face difficult times all the time since I’m working against the nature of the clergy in the country. I don’t sport a beard, I wear suits, I wear ties in my programmes and I say this to their faces, very aggressively and with a lot of stress, that this too is Islam. I am like a fish trying to swim against the current. So there are many difficulties, which are expected, since I’ve dared to sit with them on their throne, something which they had always taken for granted as their right. They do question how a young man, who wears jeans and stuff, can come to teach them Islam; this is their job, they believe. So they do question my character, they do question my personality traits, but since this is a challenge of knowledge, they know they cannot question me on that front.”

Further strengthening his case, he points out that most of the leading right-wing legislators in the National Assembly and Senate have degrees issued from seminaries. “A month ago, the biggest chain of seminaries in the country, the Ittehad-e- Madarsul Arabia, which has a total of 5,000 branches and from which the likes of Maulana Akhtar Shirani, Maulana Fazl-ur- Rehman, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq and Hafiz Hussain Ahmed have their respective degrees, awarded me the Shahadat-ul-Aalmi degree according to which I’m now even eligible to issue a religious decree. Now tell me, did I also buy this degree?”

Moving on, Amir Liaquat stresses that there was absolutely no truth in rumours doing the round that he is tipped to succeed MQM chief Altaf Hussain. “I would like to say this in clear terms that I’m not at all the successor to Altaf Hussain. In fact, from the depths of my heart I sometimes strongly feel that I have made a big mistake by entering politics because there are a lot of lies and hypocrisies in it. I would never want to grow politically. Instead, I want to do some welfare work, and I have a vision of building institutes all over the country where the true picture of our religion will be portrayed.”

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