A Dubai radio station fired a morning drive-time talk show host for mocking religion and impersonating God on the air, the show's management said Wednesday.
The operator of Virgin Radio Dubai said in a statement it "let go" of host Revin John following a sketch Monday in which he quoted an article about a U.S. court overturning a lawsuit against God.
John then pretended to act out a conversation with God on the telephone, prompting complaints from listeners of "diverse faiths and nationalities," Arabian Radio Network said.
"He intended to be funny, not to offend anybody," said Steve Smith, chief operating officer of the Arabian Radio Network, which runs the station. "However, what he did was highly offensive to the Muslim and Christian community in the UAE," he said.
Abdullatif al-Sayegh, chief executive of Arab Media Group, which operates the only Middle East outpost of Richard Branson's Virgin Radio brand, said that John was asked to leave after being allowed back on air to apologize Tuesday.
"The presenter himself felt he's done something wrong and apologized on air to Dubai," al-Sayegh said. "And we should respect him for that."
John could not be reached for comment and did not respond to a request passed to him through the company.
In June, John was quoted by Dubai English-language newspaper Gulf News as saying he researched the Middle Eastern market thoroughly before arriving. "The adage 'know your audience' was my starting point," he was quoted as saying.
Virgin Radio Dubai went on air earlier this year. It mostly plays European and American pop music, including artists such as Kid Rock, Dizzee Rascal and Britney Spears. Its parent, Arabian Radio Network, is a division of Dubai-based conglomerate Arab Media Group, which operates more than a dozen radio and TV stations, including MTV Arabia.
Mariam Zarouni, a 20-year-old chemical engineering student at the American University of Sharjah, said she was so offended after hearing John's comments that she formed a group to protest the incident on the social networking Web site Facebook. It had 569 members by Wednesday evening.
"When somebody crosses the line, then you have to defend your religion," Zarouni said in an interview. "Honestly ... how can he do this? We're in a Muslim county. But even Christians would take offense to that. You can't insult God," she told the AP.
Smith said all Virgin Radio Dubai anchors are briefed on cultural guidelines and society's sensitivities.
"Religion in particular needs to be handled delicately," he said.
Dubai is the most liberal of the seven semiautonomous states that make up the United Arab Emirates, a conservative Muslim country overlooking the Persian Gulf. Alcohol flows freely in the booming city-state's many hotel bars, and fully veiled women shop alongside much less modestly dressed Westerners amid ads for risque lingerie and nightclub wear.
Yet tensions surface when the country's many Western residents breach the limits of what is considered to be acceptable behavior. The issue is particularly raw in the wake of a verdict this week in which two Britons were sentenced to jail after being convicted of having sex on a Dubai beach in July.
Arab Media Group's MTV Arabia recently pulled all music videos from rotation out of deference to the holy month of Ramadan, replacing them with reality shows. The videos are now back on air.