Pakistan's Islamic Take On “Millionaire” Game Show Is Nightly Sign Of The Times

As many as 40 million Pakistanis tune in every night for “Alif Laam Meem,” an Islamic version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” The trivia show’s popularity is just one example of how dominant a role religion now plays in Pakistan.

Pakistan's 'Millionaire' host is a devout Muslim (Geo TV)
Pakistan's "Millionaire" host is a devout Muslim (Geo TV)
Emmanuel Derville

ISLAMABAD -- Every evening at 7:30 p.m., Geo TV, the most watched TV channel in Pakistan, broadcasts an Islamic version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." The show is called "Alif Laam Meem," three letters from the Arabic alphabet that can be found at the beginning of some suras (chapters) in the Koran.

"Salam Alaykoum (good evening)," says the presenter, Junaid Jamshed. A 36-year-old former singer, Jamshed used to be clean shaven. Now he wears a prayer hat and sports a long dark beard, evidence of his recent rediscovery of Islam. In the audience, women wear veils or niqabs.

Jamshed welcomes his first player. "Welcome Adnan, my brother." Adnan is a smiling but nervous 30-year-old man who used to be a Procter & Gamble executive before committing himself to studying the Koran. If he manages to answer the 15 questions, he will win an apartment, a pilgrimage to Mecca for two, and 2.8 million rupees, about 23,000 euros.

The presenter moves on to the first question. "How many pieces of fabric is the clothing worn by a pilgrim to Mecca made of?"

"Two," says Adnan without any hesitation.

"Is it your final answer?"


"Allah akbar. God congratulates you brother," says Jamshed.

Adnan fails to answer the fifth question and leaves with 20,000 rupee (160 euros). The fact that the game is difficult does not discourage the candidates. Geo TV received between 30,000 and 40,000 applications the first weeks it was broadcast, and estimates that 30 to 40 million people have been following the show: one out of every five Pakistanis. Alif Laam Meem is especially popular among women and young people between 18 and 25.

Muslim and proud

The success of the show suggests just how fascinated Pakistanis are with religion these days. "The Pakistanis practice their religion more and more, and want to show it in public," says Imran Aslam, the head of Geo TV.

Rifaat Hussain, a 59-year-old professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, shares this opinion. "In the 1960s and 1970s, I would travel throughout the country with girls," he recalls. "We could drink alcohol in public, eat during the day when it was the month of Ramadan. Now it's not well accepted." These days, women in niqabs are more numerous both on the university's campus and in the streets of Islamabad.

Pakistan is going through an identity crisis. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was founded in 1947 to give the Muslims of the sub-continent a country of their own. The founding fathers thought it was impossible to integrate into India, a mostly Hindu country, but they never said explicitly that Islam should be part of the national identity.

The issue of religion became particularly tricky after 2001, when major divisions began to appear in Pakistan. In the Northeast of the country, the Taliban fight against the army in the name of Islam. They reproach the government for allying with the United States. "Religion is ubiquitous in the media. We hear about jihad, fundamentalism. So that's what people want to know about, especially the youth," says Mr. Aslam.

Two-thirds of Pakistanis are under the age of 30. It's a statistic Aslam is very much aware of, and as a television executive, very much interested in capitalizing on. He is already planning to run another season of Alif Laam Meem after the summer break.

Read the original article in French

Photo- GEO TV

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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