EastEnders is to screen a storyline involving a Muslim character who has a gay affair.
New character Syed Masood, a Muslim property developer who has a girlfriend, is to fall for openly gay Christian Clarke.
The couple will be shown kissing and 24-year-old Masood, played by Marc Elliott, finds his “religion and sexual feelings in conflict”. But the Muslim Public Affairs Committee say that the BBC should have a “normal friendly Muslim character.”
Last year, the BBC received more than 150 complaints over a gay kiss between Christian and Lee Thompson which was shown before the 9pm watershed.
Diederick Santer, the EastEnders executive producer, said BBC1 soap’s production team had researched the plot while working with academics, gay Muslim support groups and the Muslim Council of Great Britain.
He said: “We’ve always tried to make EastEnders reflect modern life in multicultural Britain and we’ve always told social issue stories relevant to our diverse audience.
“This isn’t a moral tale of right or wrong; it’s very much a human interest story where a young man struggles with the conflict between his faith and his feelings.
“To all intents and purposes, Syed’s a ‘good’ Muslim man: he doesn’t drink, smoke or engage in sex before marriage. But he struggles with his sexuality when he finds himself drawn to Christian and he believes this goes against his faith.
“This is not a story about Syed and Christian’s physical relationship – we don’t see anything beyond one kiss. It’s more about the inner turmoil and conflict Syed endures trying to remain true to his faith while questioning his sexuality.
“Syed has already been ostracised from his family and community once and if he’s true to his heart he risks losing his family again.”
But Asghar Bokhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said: “The Muslim community deserves a character that represents them to the wider public because Islamophobia is so great right now.
“There’s a lack of understanding of Muslims already and I think EastEnders really lost an opportunity to present a normal friendly Muslim character to the British public.”
A survey published last month showed that UK Muslims have significantly less tolerance for homosexuality than their French and German counterparts.
The poll, part of the the Gallup Coexist Index 2009, found that not one of the 1,001 British Muslims interviewed believed homosexual acts were morally acceptable.
Brookside was the first soap to have a sincere portrayal of an openly gay character, Gordon Collins, in the late 1980s.
However, EastEnders screened the first gay kiss, between actor-turned-MEP Michael Cashman, who played Colin Russell and Barry Clark, played by Gary Hailes.