Who would have thought that the pop-icon turned televangelist who irked women with the statement “it is better if women are not taught to drive” has invested the last ten years trying to save the lives of underprivileged women of Pakistan
Junaid Jamshed — the name brings to one’s mind an image of two juxtaposed pictures: one of a drop-dead handsome young Junaid, the other of a seasoned man with a long beard and a mellower face, beckoning people to come towards Islam.
Yet, there is a side to this man shrouded from the public eye. And that has to do with his work as a philanthropist whose focus is maternal health. Once known as the darling of female fans, Junaid is still very connected to women — he is helping save the lives of thousands of them in Pakistan. The man continues to surprise us and challenge stereotypes.
At the Muslim Charity fund-raising dinners in Manchester, Birmingham and London May 31 to June 2, 2013. PHOTO: MOHAMMED RAYAZ
Yet, he does not reveal this side to his life readily. The first of a series of interviews, as he agreed to talk to The Express Tribune, revolved around Vital Signs and his metamorphosis into the world of preaching. Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the Beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.
The second interview was hard to schedule. His travelling is incessant, more for philanthropic work and less for proselytising, contrary to popular belief. “I think I am ready to talk in detail. It is time people hear my side of the story. I may come across as someone who has something against women. I’m NOT!” he said on the phone while he was at the site of a model village of 200 houses near Rahimyar Khan built with his support for flood-hit people.
“Meray oopar bohat zimmedari hai. As a human, a Muslim, a Pakistani, a person whom people know. I cannot turn away from these responsibilities; that would be [ingratitude]. Being grateful increases blessings and being ungrateful sucks them away,” he said at the second interview, sitting in his comfortable home in DHA, Karachi. He had just returned from a trip to the UK to raise funds for charity.
A suitcase is forever ready for the globe-trotter. It is pertinent to wonder how he balances family life and his added responsibilities. “I try my best to balance. Whatever time I give to my family is quality time. Ayesha and the kids will vouch for it,” he said. Any conversation with him is incomplete without periodic mention of his wife Ayesha. But he does agree that there is a price to his philanthropy. “The life of this world and the Hereafter are like two wives of one man. If you please one, the other will be upset. It’s a choice you have to make. Fact of the matter is that when we struggle for the Hereafter, Allah is pleased. And when Allah is pleased the life of this world improves automatically. Theek hai na?” he said, smartly interspersing an element of preaching in the interview. He never lets go of that opportunity.
Muslim Charity has established five hospitals in Pakistan in Jhang, Faisalabad, Mangani, Rawalakot and in Lahore. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY
“Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this.”
“The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me,” said Junaid.
At the Muslim Charity fund-raising dinners in Manchester, Birmingham and London May 31 to June 2, 2013. PHOTO: MOHAMMED RAYAZ
Comparing it with the comfort and facilities which are available to women in the cities, like his wife at the birth of their four children, he felt deeply disturbed at why so many women in Pakistan had to go through this. “It was during that time that I came to know that this organisation called ‘Muslim Charity’ was working to improve the state of maternal health. I contacted them to ask how I could help in my small way. I have been affiliated with them since then.” Junaid now works as the vice president of Muslim Charity, and uses his public influence, talks and naats to raise funds for the causes.
Till now, with his support, the charity has managed to make five hospitals in Pakistan mainly focusing on maternal health. As a global initiative, the charity works on improving maternal health the world over.
The masjid schools
A fascinating project Junaid has been working on is an interesting attempt at consensus-building between the clergy in Pakistan’s rural areas and those who believe in literacy as the answer to Pakistan’s problems. “How we do this is simple. We identify impoverished rural areas and broken-down mosques. We then reconstruct mosques and construct small houses for the village imams. In return, we request them to allow use of the mosque from 8 am to 12 am,” he said.
Part of this project is to sensitise locals and persuade them to send their children to these schools. These are regular schools where the children have the option of also learning the Quran. “The idea is to get these kids off the streets. We make them realise that they have a responsibility towards themselves. With mentorship, they realise that education is their path to a better life. Our aim is to produce peaceful and responsible citizens.”
In Sindh alone, up till now, they are responsible for putting 3,500 children back in school, both boys and girls. “One of them recently sat his CSS exam. I had tears when I heard this,” he said.
On men, women and balance
“It is sad how women are objectified. Rights to women have been given by the Creator. There is no problem with women working. Didn’t Hazrat Khadija (RA) work?” he said almost defiantly when asked about his views on women and their rights, adding that limits have been defined by God for both men and women. “Women should not be coerced in any way. A man needs to be more sensitive towards his wife. A woman’s biggest insecurity is loss of control.”
A Muslim Charity tent city in Dadu in 2011. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY
He admitted candidly that Pakistani society was, according to one view, chauvinistic and male-driven. It is a place where men often oppress women. “For the sake of family honour, Pakistani women continue to suffer. Divorce may have been considered an unsavoury thing in the time of the Prophet (PBUH) but [it] was not a taboo, unlike [in] today’s Pakistani society!” he said. “In a society where [the] male-child preference still exists and women are blamed for producing too many daughters, will men not stand up for them? I have always felt strongly about the rights of women.”
When asked why families seem to be falling apart, he has a simple formulaic solution. “Damage control lies in this: men should control their tempers and women [should] think before they speak.”
Junaid Jamshed and Ali Haider performing at the Spiritual Chords Nasheed concert held in South Africa in August 2011. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY SOUTH AFRICA
So is Ayesha allowed to drive?
“I knew you’d ask this!” he said with a chuckle. “Before I got married, I was visiting my father-in-law with a friend. My father-in-law mentioned that my wife-to-be was learning how to drive, and I was happy to hear that. But my friend, a senior, advised me, as experienced friends do: ‘Don’t teach your wife how to drive’. That was what I mentioned light-heartedly in that show.”
Junaid Jamshed helped raise funds for the charity that was involved with the building of Doha village in Sanjarpur, Rahimyar Khan. PHOTO: MUSLIM CHARITY
After he got married, he tried to teach her to drive but couldn’t because of a paucity of time. “She never insisted and never learnt,” he added. “It never really was an issue for us.” Wary of calling himself a scholar, he is clear that he is in no position to pass a verdict about women who drive. “But my personal opinions, likes and dislikes are my own. I have a right to them.”
The crossroad and the road less traveled
It was around 1999 when his solo album Uss raah par was released. The main track of the same title was conceived metaphorically by Shoaib Mansoor. “He knew that something had changed in me,” said Junaid, recalling the lyrics: hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain. Kyun na chunain wo raasta jis par naheen koi gaya. In a very Robert Frost fashion, the song talked about the road less traveled, which, in JJ’s life, did make all the difference.
“The transition in me had started. That song was about my journey. But at that time we couldn’t have showed it in the video. People were not ready for it.” He had not gone public with his change then. But he had started visiting religious scholars for his own inner healing. “I had everything — fame, money. But I did not feel complete. Being in a masjid made me feel at peace. Masjids still have the same effect on me. It is the place where we discover humanity. I confess that I had no plans of leaving music at that time. But I could feel I was changing. I couldn’t run away from it.”
And does he miss his past life? “Naheen yaar. No withdrawal symptoms of my past life. I own and cherish my time with Vital Signs. I am happy that as a singer I contributed to my country in a positive way. I lived that part of my life to the fullest. But now that is the past,” he said, with a direct look, again defying the pre-conceived notion that he no longer talks to women directly or makes eye contact with the opposite sex.
This Ramzan he will be seen again on TV every day, all through the holy month, sharing what he knows. “It will be different,” he said, alluding to an approach that relies on more outreach as opposed to sermons. He agrees that people should be sensitised about civic responsibilities through religious shows. “Breaking a red signal, parking a car behind someone’s, evading taxes: I consider all of these major sins. Religion IS about being a better, more considerate human.”
While Junaid is armed with Islamic study and training, he stops people from calling him a maulana. “It is a compliment when people call me that but I don’t think I am worthy of that.” His pet peeve is “When people use the word mullah or maulvi in a derogatory way.” For now, it appears that he is neither and defies being pegged as one thing or another.
Making a difference
We highlight three other people who are acting much in the same way as Junaid Jamshed to help those around them
The CEO of Dawood Foundation smiles a guarded smile, instantly commands respect, has a command over literature and poetry, and completely owns the floor when he begins public speaking. He is best known for being associated with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). “Religion is more than just spiritual and ritualistic attainment. It is a code of life intertwined with a belief in Allah, which then helps one live in a fair, calm, equitable manner and makes the plank of value addition to the community a major goal,” says the man who uses religion to support his mentoring and academic activities. The Dawood Foundation just finished a city campus for the Karachi School for Business & Leadership, a graduate management school, established in strategic collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Judge Business School.
Hina Shamsi Nauman
With infectious energy, this mother of three wants to contribute to society. You can find her planting mangroves with her students to fight delta flooding, or selling hand-crafted environment-friendly stationery made by physically challenged people. She teaches Quranic tafseer to groups of women, and teaches business ethics and what Islam says about that at university. From a traditionally religious family, she studied Islam in-depth by choice at a more mature stage, and feels that “a leap of faith is what it takes to discover oneself. But it was not easy coming out of the closet about it”. A teacher for the past seven years, this business grad decided to bring religion to her university students, breaking the taboo that religious discussions are only for the madrassas.
They call him “disco maulvi” and he fits the bill, happy with the description. He tweets incessantly, has his hand in a lot of social causes, and blogs. An entrepreneur by profession, the tech-savvy Aly’s niche is activism for social causes through social media, be it the cause of a better Karachi or raising civic awareness. As a founding trustee of Ihsaas Trust, a not-for-profit set up to provide Islamic Microfinance along with other charitable work, he and his team “use this platform to advocate husn-e-khuluq (good behaviour/ethics) as taught by Islam within the context of business and personal life.” Aly has been a volunteer teacher at “Active Saturdays”, a Saturday class for young men aged 10 to 15 years.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 21st, 2013.