The B-side: Junaid Jamshed and untold stories behind the controversies

Published: April 12, 2016
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PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

After leaving a lucrative career as a pop singer, Junaid Jamshed (JJ) has evolved into a preacher and poster boy for the austere deobandi group, the Tableeghi Jamaat. He once jokingly remarked,

“When I was a singer people use to throw rose petals at me, since I came into Islam they throw stones at me.”

This simple statement does more to highlight Pakistan’s state of affairs than explain how someone, who has been referred to by his musician friends, and in his Islamic circles, as “the nicest person one can meet”, can be party to one controversy after another?

Some say, he is a ‘buffoon who continues to stick his foot in his mouth’. So, is it because one minute he is talking about women not driving and the next he is seen holding hands and hugging his old mates from the music industry?

Or are other forces at work?

One minute he is talking about women not driving and the next he is seen holding hands and hugging his old mates from the music industry.
Photo: Twitter

The whole world (well, mainly Pakistanis and expat Pakistanis) watched with horror as the man cited as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world was attacked with punches and kicks at the Islamabad airport.

It was later revealed that these men were part of the pro-Qadri brigade. However, the video that went viral featured the unbearded attackers in western clothing, following the orders of a bearded man dressed in shalwar kameez and a topi.

The bearded man shouted,

“We have been looking for you”

“Beat him!”

And,

“You are “ghustakh-e-ay-rasool””.

Needless to say, JJ’s non-violent response, coupled with his attempts to converse with the attackers while standing his ground, won him admiration from world over.

The question is, how did he get into a position, where accusations of blasphemy led him to a point where he left the country until the situation cleared up? In one instance in London, he stopped an interview because tears started to flow down his face upon mentioning how his words had been misunderstood.

This mild mannered man, who most have been seen on TV screens smiling, crying or begging for forgiveness, had not realised that he had walked into a minefield, where bitter religious rivalries existed between the Barelvis’s represented by the Sunni Tehreek and the Wahabi styled Deobandis’.

The Sunni Tehreek were, as the saying goes, ‘a bit peeved’ by the sudden popularity of the Deobandis. If the Deobandis had not realised it, the Barelvis had; it was the fame of JJ that had increased the attractiveness of the group.

JJ had become the protégé of Maulana Tariq Jameel, whom he saw as his “elder brother”. He travelled around from Canada to America, Australia, New Zealand and Britain to spread the groups message. His events were packed wherever he went and his following grew, as did the popularity of the group he represented.

Through his efforts, he managed to put this unknown group on the radar, giving it a softer image than the one it had acquired through the notorious activities of it’s off-shoot, the Sipah-e-Sihaba (known for killing and maiming innocents perpetuating an intolerant form of Islam).

However, the drama that unfolded highlighted just how much the beautiful, merciful and forgiving Islam the Prophet (PBUH) had preached had now been twisted and used by the holier-than-thou groups and lynch mobs that claim to be judge and jury.

Fearing the lynch crowd, no media or publication really examined what JJ had said.

The issue of JJ being blasphemous, according to many clerics, was not so much blasphemy as it was the way in which he had narrated the story of the blessed Prophet’s wife Hazrat Ayesha (RA), taken from the Sunni book, Sahih Bukhari. According to Maulana Ibraheem Isa,

“It was not so much a case of blasphemy but a matter of incorrect adab”.

Overnight, JJ’s mentor, who he always consulted along with the “elders in Raiwind”, disowned him publicly with Tariq Jameel stating that he was ‘ignorant and uneducated as a scholar’ and that he had no ties with the Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ).

This came as a surprise to JJ considering he had been travelling the world upon their orders, as well as raised the profile of the group.

According to their rules, no member of the group could take independent decisions without permission from the heads at Raiwind; if JJ was asked to appear on a morning TV show, he had to have acquired permission to do so.

His views on women, which according to his old friends used to be quite liberal, now became conservative, reflecting the Islamic group’s attitude. He ended up saying contradictory things about women which he probably found illogical himself, as a close source to his family explains,

“His beloved aunty is in politics and his wife was allowed to drive but she chose not to, and his daughter worked for a short while as an intern in London.”

Most people had become accustomed to JJ’s inimitable, down-to-earth style; full of humour and pleasant bayans, his style of singing religious songs and videos were peppered with a Bollywood appeal and as the saying goes,

“You can take the boy out of show business but you can’t take the show business out of the boy.”

If we examine who was the main person who had accused JJ, we may get a clearer picture of how this celebrity mullah was used as a tool to attack a rival group and tarnish their popularity.

During the tirade against his alleged blasphemy in the press and websites, no one once bothered to ask why a video that had already been circulating for the past two years was suddenly highlighted as blasphemous?

We mustn’t forget that this is a country where it doesn’t take long to “rent a crowd” for a handful of rupees. Many use the blasphemy laws to settle political or personal scores.

It is also interesting that the main agitator against JJ who demanded his arrest and imprisonment was the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek (PST) Rabita Committee member Mubeen Qadri.

Did it take Mr Qadri two years to come to the conclusion that JJ was a blasphemer?

Also, is it not naive for Mr Qadri to be completely unaware that he had opened up a whole can of worms? Many legal advisers in the country have asked how many other tapes of JJ and other scholars he is willing to go through if he has issued a fatwa on a tape that was two years old. How many other people was he going to be enforcing a fatwa on?

Apparently no other scholar except JJ, as time has shown.

The other reason why no one from the political arena stepped in to help him was because JJ had unwittingly entered the murky world of politics by supporting Imran Khan’s dharnas.

When the fervour started on the streets of Pakistan led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, by the end 2014, where Pakistanis were demanding a new system that caters to all, JJ’s enthusiasm could not be contained and he decided to voice his support for Imran Khan’s campaign to bring in “Naya Pakistan”.

He stated in an interview,

“After years of watching injustices happening I don’t want to keep quiet anymore.”

He also attended the campaign site where he sang a few religious songs.

The fact that the headquarters of the Deobandis is situated right next to Nawaz Sharif’s home on Raiwind, to what extent the Sharif brothers support the group is unclear. However, the Raiwind elders were not amused with JJ showing support for Imran Khan so he was ordered to take a back step.

In the meantime, interestingly, we had Nawaz Sharif’s spokesperson Khawaja Asif speaking on TV bashing JJ’s credibility as a scholar and stating he is just a clothes seller. Inadvertently highlighting how upset Nawaz Sharif’s government was at JJ’s stance.

No one supported JJ when he had to flee the country after an FIR was taken out against him. He said,

“All who were supposed to be my friends stopped calling me.”

Except his old Vital Signs band mates who were there for him.

One can understand why many didn’t, but why the Deobandis disowned him so publicly is a question asked by many.

The only explanation for the Deobandis stance may have been because JJ was becoming a liability as he did not stay within the unspoken sectarian boundaries that existed. He would attend any gathering whether it was Barelvis, Deobandis, Shias and Sufi in an effort to bring people together.

And the forces that exist in Pakistan, those that want division, sectarian conflict, and turmoil in Pakistan, were not happy with his pleas for ‘unity’ on his TV shows.

Needless to say the dharna’s came to a final end, and in the way that JJ had sacrificed his position with the ruling Nawaz Sharif party, along with all the people who sat out for months in the heat and intolerable weather with their children. In peaceful demonstrations, mostly the poor and the middle class were sacrificing their time; all their efforts were wasted.

The dharna’s were disbanded a few months later because of the horrific killings of school children in Peshawar. But as many asked, shouldn’t the protests have continued especially after the killings, as the need for a just fair system, with education and social services had become dire?

Imran Khan decided to end the dharna and reward all the thousands of people who had sat in the sun all day and night and made sacrifices; by secretly getting married.

They say politicians are fickle; Imran Khan who had begged JJ and other celebrities to come and sing at the dharnas, didn’t bother to offer any support to him at the time of the blasphemy charges or now after he had been attacked by hooligans.

Whereas the Nawaz Sharif’s government and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar did step in to arrest the attackers, realising most probably that JJ is not only a celebrity in Pakistan but internationally. It would be seen as a disgrace and affirm what most westerners believe; Pakistan is a failed state where religious extremists control the country.

One also hopes that JJ has also learnt that one doesn’t have to go along blindly and spew up narratives he doesn’t really believe in, like Allah is not fond of women etc. He should instead continue to walk his own path, call for tolerance and remember to be a voice for those whose voices are suppressed. Those like Aasia bibi.

Shabana Syed

Shabana Syed

The author is a British Muslim journalist and has been a news editor for TV as well as editor of various magazines. She worked in the Middle East and in 2003 was in Iraq right before the war broke out and enjoys writing primarily on issues concerning Muslims and current affairs.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.