Pakistani television show host Aamir Liaquat (R) distributes gifts to the audience during an Islamic quiz show Aman Ramadan in Karachi on July 31, 2013. Photo: ASIF HASSAN / AFP
Pakistan’s controversial trailblazing televangelist and politician Aamir Liaquat was declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Karachi on June 9, weeks after a private video of him leaked online in which he was seen naked next to a substance that looked like drugs. Police are currently investigating the circumstances around his death. The 50-year-old left behind two children, two ex-wives, an estranged third wife, and a contentious legacy, which continues in his death.
Liaquat’s family refused to allow a post-mortem examination to determine his cause of death and police prevented them from burying his body on June 10. The family has taken the police to court.A self-declared religious scholar, celebrity politician, and even a sex symbol to some, Liaquat was frequently the subject of memes and was often embroiled in controversies. In his 20-year career, he was lauded for his accessible and entertaining religious programming, but was also “cancelled” for flipping political parties, appending “Doctor” to his name without earning a PhD, claiming fake college degrees, speaking hate against minorities, and giving away abandoned babies on TV. Despite all this, Liaquat always bounced back from controversies and retained a loyal following. Some are now blaming his death on depression. He was bullied online after his nude video leaked, and he recently had a very public falling out with his third wife.The megastar’s cause of death is yet to be confirmed. Liaquat was found unconscious in his home in Karachi city after which he was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
In May, Liaquat’s third wife, the teenager Dania Shah, had filed for divorce alleging domestic abuse and forceful confinement. When news of their marriage initially broke in February, many accused Liaquat of entrapping and grooming the teenager with his wealth, fame and influence. Liaquat had been divorced twice before his marriage to Shah. After the announcement of their impending divorce, Shah also accused the televangelist of substance abuse. Shortly after, a nude video of Liaquat surfaced online where he is shown sitting next to suspected narcotics. The video trended and generated many disparaging memes. On May 15, a visibly disturbed Liaquat released a video in response, accusing Shah of recording the explicit video and “removing the veil of privacy” of their marriage. He also vowed to leave Pakistan. Shah released a video statement after Liaquat’s death, claiming she and Liaquat had been working on reconciliation. Liaquat worked with the country’s top media houses and also served in parliament from 2002 to 2007. He was forced to resign when he accused British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie of blasphemy, saying that he was "worthy of death" for his novel The Satanic Verses. He also served as a junior religious affairs minister from 2004 to 2007 when General Pervez Musharraf was president. In 2018, Liaquat returned to politics under former prime minister Imran Khan’s party.
Liaquat was criticised in 2008 for inviting guests who were accused of inciting hatred against Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmadi religious minority during a broadcast of his highly-rated TV show. Local media and civil society blamed Liaquat for a surge of attacks against the community following the broadcast. In 2013, he made international headlines by giving away abandoned babies to couples on live TV during his religious quiz show “Aman Ramzan.” He has also been called out in the past for sexist remarks against women. Thousands have been grieving Liaquat’s death, with many sharing prayers of repentance for his sins and urging others not to speak ill of him. Many have also accused Shah for Liaquat’s public downfall. One Twitter user wrote, “Aamir Liaquat was eaten up from the inside by [Shah.] Millions of people are also responsible for spreading his nudes.”Despite this, some have warned against whitewashing Liaquat’s “damaging” legacy. “Aamir Liaquat’s legacy in our public consciousness has always been a toxic one. It’s ironic that everyone is suddenly concerned about mental health when it comes to this man who has destroyed so many people’s lives. What about the mental health of all the people he has harmed with his religious hatred and misogynistic antics?” Lahore resident Sarah Zulfiqar told VICE World News. “To glorify him as a tragic hero who was ‘ruined’ by women shows you the blindspot we have when it comes to men. The same thing could have happened to Dania Shah and people would never have spared her from all sorts of vile judgements even in death. Why the double standard?” she added.Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.