A dilemma to be taken under consideration!

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Ayesha Siddiqa is a prolific academic and controversial too. She has got complete grasp over Indo-Pakistan history. Lately she is targeted as a raw agent by pro-Pakistan pen-pushers/anchors in the pay of the deep state.  Her recent article in popular Nayadur magazine titled: The Tariq Jameel problem’ –search for kind of Islam’  following his bitter speech in support of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s telethonic magnum to raise public funds for the crusade against coronavirus pandemic directed against the media and anchors has ignited ever simmering fire.

Maulana Tariq Jameel recognised and promoted as Imran Khan’s Papal authority on Islam that day reminded of his anti-PPP diatribe when he was playing the same role as of today in praise of his new master. According to him there is no leader in Pakistan as honest as Imran Khan. In his eyes rest of the leaders in Pakistan, anchors and journalist community were just scavengers pocketing cash loaded envelopes from various vested interests.

A file picture shows Maulana Tariq Jameel meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the PM House recently.

Whenever I hear him speak with his mischievous smile peeking out peripherally from his shaven face—I just have to listen to him to draw parallels with him and the past masters who used to hold their audience spell bound by their rhetoric and lucid religious demagoguery. Maulana Tariq Jameel dancing on the stage reminds me of a Hollywood movie character Elmer Gantry played by Burt Lancaster with Jean Simmons in the female lead. As far as I remember Burt was a travelling salesman and a con man. He came across a church where he attended a Sunday Service. He was very much impressed by evangelist nun played by pretty Jean Simmons. Both become friends and decide to sell religion to a small town in America. Hard drinking alcoholic, excessive in fornication– endowed by nature with a gift of the gab. When he thundered in the Church warning his devoted listeners—‘you will burn in the fire of hell for your sins’–they used to feel that they were about to enter hell and burn for their sins.

Adapted by director Richard Brooks, the film is based on the 1927 novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis and stars Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy, Shirley Jones and Patti Page. The high quality performance by Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons earned the movie nominations for five Academy Awards in 1961, including Best Picture and Best Score.

Late Maulana Kausar Niazi could pass as a much more soave orators from the pulpit than either Burt Lancaster or Imran Khan’s Maulana Tariq Jameel.

Aisha Siddiqua in her article narrates how Imran Khan’s Papal authority on Islam makes ‘religion accessible to the middle class and beyond. The cleric’s popularity is linked to the educated class’s struggle to find a kind of Islam that it can live with,’ she argues. According to Aisha any one, who has read Hassan al-Banna or Maulana Abul A’la Maududi would blush at calling Tariq Jameel a Maulana. He appeared to be a liberal soul who had worked with the religious music troupe 

of Junaid Jamshed’s company to preach at maidan-e-Arafat where it is believed that prayers are heard and fulfilled. Jameel caught attention of many because he sounded different and somewhat liberal-ish as compared to other mullahs. While shedding tears at Arafat, Jameel talked about how it was not a woman’s duty to even serve a glass of water to her husband’s parents if they asked for it. Instead it was the son’s duty to do so, but only if the girls/women would be kind. He spoke about how it was a husband’s job to provide for a wet-nurse for the infant as it was not a wife’s duty to feed the child. A lot of young women present at Arafat started to listen to him with apt attention.

Indeed, according to those who know him better Tariq Jameel is indeed a prolific storyteller like of who are found in village ‘nautonkis’. Like Elmer Gantry his art lied in charming people towards religion by mixing pep talk with self coined anecdotes – the kind that one hears from the barbers while they are trimming your hair. Perhap, some of the barbers who make their profession more interesting basic do have religious references at their finger tips.

Maulana Tariq Jameel no doubt has a command over the language and his expression is extremely facile. Like Maulana Kausar Niazi he too has a photographic memory to impress his audience by repeating stories from more or less Arabian Night Tales.  No doubt like every other Maulvi Jameel Sahib is well versed with the Deobandi/Tableeghi, Qasas-ul-Biyan.’ He can name every single patriarch backwards in one breadth from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to Adam. Furthermore, he adds selective theatrics like copying the Prophet (PBUH) as he may have sat at the grave of his deceased mother.

It is said of him that during Hajj, one could not but notice Tariq Jameel’s great salesmanship. Like Aamir Liaquat Hussain, who was brought by another Hajj operator to arouse the sentiments of the pilgrims and make pilgrimage their money’s worth (at a minimum rate of Pak rupees 1.1 million per pilgrim), Jameel was not interested in addressing the poor or less affluent pilgrims. Like Junaid Jamshed’s haute couture, his Hajj package included Tariq Jameel. Later, friends from South Punjab talked about how the maulvi reportedly pushed singers, musicians, and dancers out of his area Tulamba, and made fortune out of the property evicted by those people. His dislike and criticism of nakedness of the female body and prostitution is, hence, understandable. Tariq Jameel makes religion accessible to the middle class and upwards people like Imran Khan. He is accused of emotionalising the early days of Islam without contextualising the era.

Aisha Siddiqua concludes that she was reminded of her research on extremism and militancy in South Punjab and the insight her team took to gain was by asking them about their ideals. The research was conducted in South Punjab including Multan, the administrative division where Tariq Jameel lives. What came as a shock was that youth didn’t have ideals including those from the madrassa. It is then that one understood that religious seminaries did not necessarily teach, leave alone rationalise, the history of Islam. Rather, most of them end up as cradle for paedophiles.

It is indeed a fact that most of the Muslims in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent are converts. So as they moved on they needed a maulvi’s narrative to get them ready to forget their sins and get ready for hereafter with the blessings of the Mullas.

A controversy that ended!

Remarks by well-known cleric and speaker Maulana Tariq Jameel at a telethon programme in Islamabad on Thursday (April 23) generated a hot debate and realising the gravity of the situation, he tendered an unconditional apology to media personnel as well as his fellow clerics on Friday over remarks in which he had termed media houses “liars”.

Maulana Tariq Jameel

Speaking as a guest at a talk show hosted by anchor Muhammad Maalik, Maulana Tariq acknowledged that his “tongue had slipped” towards the end of a telethon the previous day, which was also attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan. “This happens, as I speak a lot,” he said to Mr Maalik.

The maulana had stirred a storm among journalists and members of the civil society by calling media houses around the world, including Pakistan, “liars” and said the organisations “needed to be more truthful”.

While saying a longish prayer at the end of the Ehsaas Telethon, which was meant to raise funds for the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, Maulana Tariq said one of the main issues involved was “not speaking the truth”.

“The prime minister is here, media anchorpersons are here… Do we consider how we are going to face the day of judgement due to our deceitfulness?”

Speaking about an unnamed proprietor of a TV channel, the cleric said: “The owner of a mainstream channel asked me for some advise; I told him to abolish all incorrect news from his channel. The owner replied that in case that was done the channel would be finished but twisting of facts would not end… This is not just here, but media the world over is the same.”

The maulana also cast aspersions on a large number of women, blaming those who “were often scantily dressed” for the spread of coronavirus in the country. He condemned such women and said their behaviour was bringing such wrath upon the country.

As the telethon ended with prayers said by the maulana, the anchors who were present on the occasion did not get an opportunity to respond to the comments about media houses.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also took exception to the clerics’ comments. In a tweet, the commission said: “HRCP is appalled at Maulana Tariq Jameel’s recent statement inexplicably correlating women’s modesty to the coronavirus pandemic. Such blatant objectification is unacceptable and when aired on a public television it only compounds the misogyny entrenched in society,” the commission added.

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)