ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani actress castigated for appearing to cuddle with an Indian actor on a reality show lashed out at a Muslim cleric who had criticized her during a widely watched television exchange this week.
The unusual outburst, punctuated by tears, came at a sensitive time in a country where Islamic fundamentalism is spreading and liberals are increasingly afraid to express their views.
"What is your problem with me? You tell me your problem!" an angry Veena Malik asked the Muslim scholar, who accused her of insulting Islam.
Earlier this month, a liberal Pakistani governor was shot dead for opposing the country's harsh laws against blasphemy. In the aftermath, his killer was cheered as a hero among many in the public, shocking the country's small liberal establishment.
Malik, 26, participated recently on Bigg Boss, an Indian version of "Big Brother." Clips of the show on the Internet include ones in which she appears cozy with Indian actor Ashmit Patel. Those scenes, and her involvement with a show in Pakistan's archrival India, prompted criticism online and on the air.
"You have insulted Pakistan and Islam," Mufti Abdul Qawi accused her on the Express TV channel talk show via a television link. The exchange first aired Friday and then again Saturday.
A furious Malik shot back, saying Qawi targeted her because she is a woman, reminding him that the Quran admonishes men not to stare at a woman's beauty beyond a first glance, and telling him there were bigger problems in Pakistan, including the alleged rape of children at mosques.
During the exchange, Qawi admitted he had not seen the clips of the show but had heard about it from others.
"What does your Islam say, mufti sir?" the actress asked. "You issue edicts on the basis of hearsay."
Malik said she had read the Quran and she knew what lines not to cross as a Muslim as well as an entertainer in South Asia. She pointed out that she never kissed Patel, for instance.
"I am a Muslim woman, and I know my limits," she said. The cleric seemed unable to respond to her flood of words.
Malik's fierce outburst sparked a barrage of comments on Twitter. While some writers said they didn't agree with her and one called her a "porn star," others said she was brave for standing up to the Pakistani clerical establishment, especially when such an act can mean personal danger.
Wrote one supporter: "The only way to talk to these bloody clerics is to talk down to them. Veena Malik did just that, and how. Good for her!"