Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 18:46 UK

Gay Muslim story for EastEnders

By Shabnam Mahmood
Entertainment Reporter, BBC Asian Network

Marc Elliott as Syed Masood
Syed's mother has been trying to set him up with women

EastEnders is to tackle a storyline which will feature a Muslim man embarking upon a gay affair.

Newcomer Syed Masood, played by Marc Elliott, will fall for openly gay man Christian Clarke (John Partridge) and the pair will share an on-screen kiss.

The plot is expected to hit TV screens from next month.

"I think EastEnders would be doing the programme a disservice if they didn't give a voice to various communities," Elliot told the BBC Asian Network.

"I think that's really important because I think London is a very ethnically diverse multicultural place, and EastEnders has a job to reflect that in the storylines it gives people and the characters they have on board."

His character, who joined the cast recently, has been trying to make amends with his family.

It is entirely possible to be Muslim and gay and there's many of us in Britain today
Yusuf Wehebi from Imaan

His mother Zainab Masood, played by Nina Wadia, has also been seen trying to set him up with various women from "good families".

'Visible minority'

However, the gay storyline has been criticised by Asghar Bokhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

"The Muslim community deserves a character that represents them to the wider public because Islamophobia is so great right now," he said.

"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."

But the show's executive producer Diedrick Santer said it was important to tackle issues which reflect real life.

"It's really important that on EastEnders we give the Masoods big stories.

"Sometimes there's a danger of being too careful with black or Asian characters that we might go into territories that might offend.

"But it seems to me if we steer away from any controversy, they don't stand a chance of being a great EastEnders family - they'll just be in their kitchen unit making curries for years and years and that's not going to be very interesting."

Yusuf Wehebi from Imaan - an organisation that supports gay Muslims - agreed with him.

"It is high time that the invisible minority became a visible minority," he said.

"It is entirely possible to be Muslim and gay and there's many of us in Britain today.

"It is great that the BBC have had the courage to raise such an important social issue in our society today."

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