August Issue 2015
A Maulana For All Seasons?
Maulana Tariq Jameel, the influential orator of the Tableeghi Jamaat, was once again in the news, this time for his visit and iftar dinner at the home of yet another celebrity: PTI chief Imran Khan. Also present was the latter’s wife, Reham. A week after the event, in a talk show on TV, Tariq Jameel spoke about the ‘inside’ story of how the meeting with the Khans transpired, and what was discussed there.
Photos of the meeting were also released, depicting Maulana Jameel, his wife and son having dinner with Imran, Reham and another woman — a friend of Reham’s. In another picture, the Maulana is seen leading the evening prayers, while Imran and some others can be seen praying behind him.
The pictures generated much discussion. Some saw them as part of Imran Khan’s image-building campaign, demonstrating how much of a practicing Muslim he is. Certainly, to bolster this idea, are other pictures that have been posted on the internet, where Khan can be seen offering his prayers, even on his seat when on board a plane.
JUI-F supporters, the PTI’s political rivals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who are fierce critics of Imran Khan, meanwhile, are furious with the PTI for publicising for political gain what they contend was a purely personal meeting. They have also taken on Maulana Tariq Jameel, claiming he acts in contravention of Islamic teachings and even of what he preaches himself, citing as a case in point the pictures of dinner at the Khans, where he is seen sitting around the same table with na mehram women who are not in purdah.
The Maulana’s followers respond by extolling his virtues, his ‘noble’ intentions and his success in influencing – often through assorted unorthodox means – cricket players, politicians, actors, singers, stage dancers and women working in red light areas, particularly Heera Mandi in Lahore, to become good Muslims. –
Apart from his owns skills in relation to advancing his ideological message, the Maulana’s association with the Tableeghi Jamaat — the most influential organisation of the Deobandi sect with a following across different segments of society — allows him to hold even greater sway as a preacher. Never mind that it is the network of Deobandi seminaries and militant organisations that form the core of the jihadi menace in Pakistan, and which are at the forefront of the ongoing violence against minority sects in the country.
A medical student turned religious cleric, Tariq Jameel was drawn to the Tableeghi Jamaat in his college years by his fellow students who were associated with the group. This led to him eventually give up his medical education, in defiance of his family’s wishes, and enrol himself in the madrassah in Raiwind run by the Tableeghi Markaz.
A young and zealous preacher, Jameel spoke with passion about the glorious afterlife, with the blessings it provided, and the horrors of hellfire. His impassioned sermons made him a popular figure in Tableeghi circles and among the general populace. Cassettes and recordings of his speeches started selling like hot cakes. His audience comprised professional bodies of doctors, lawyers, police officials, traders, businessmen, bankers, college and university students and the academic staff of the institutions they attended. However, his popularity made him a less preferable choice among his peers when it came to addressing public congregations. The elders of the Tableeghi Jamaat feared his charisma could create a personality cult around Jameel, and so he was barred from speaking to huge annual congregations and restrained only to speak in select gatherings and working in elite circles.
Undeterred, Maulana Tariq Jameel forged on. Known for his oratory skills, eloquence, and his speeches laced with humour, the Maulana often gives a first person account of his life — his past, how he abandoned his medical career despite the opposition of his family, his interaction with his father in those days, and his exchanges with a cross section of people during his Tableeghi tours. He also provides interesting details of his meetings with public figures such as film and TV actors, cricketers, stage dancers and even prostitutes. His sermons make for quite a story — and it is one that has found many rapt listeners and drawn them to his cause.
Maulana Tariq Jameel’s pursuit of ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ fame singer Junaid Jamshed, for example, culminated in more success than
perhaps even he had envisaged. Overnight, it seemed, the multi-talented and equally good-looking singer with rock-star status bid farewell to his music career, grew a beard and turned to religion. While he is now a successful couturier, he still dedicates most of his time to tours with the Tableeghi Jamaat.
Another big name lured by Maulana Jameel was cricket player Saeed Anwar, who became a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat while pursuing his cricket career, using his influence in the team to lure others such Inzamam ul Haq, Muhammad Yousuf (a Christian convert, earlier known as Yousuf Youhanna) and Shahid Afridi, among others, to the Tableeghi cause. These born-again cricketing Muslims had no qualms about demonstrating their new-found zeal. Suddenly there were public displays of religious rituals — even on the cricket field — and as a result, polarisation in the dressing room as well, with players being selected or ignored based on their association with the likes of the increasingly fundamentalist Inzamam and others.
After the cricketers, the Maulana zeroed in on women stage dancers and prostitutes from the red light areas to reform them. Coverage of these activities made headlines, beginning with Nargis, a popular stage dancer and Punjabi film actress, who quit showbiz and vowed to live her life as per Islamic teachings. Subsequently, many other lesser known actresses and performers followed her path.
With his public persona a potentially sure-fire commercial draw, since last year, PTV has been hosting a Ramzan special show, Roshni Ka Safar, in which recorded lectures of Maulana Tariq Jameel are aired. And as per PTV sources, the programme has done much better than most dramas aired on prime time with a star cast. It mustered millions in advertisement revenue last year, and has reportedly had a similar response this year as well.
On the political front, the Maulana enjoys good terms with influential political families like the ruling Sharifs, the Chaudharys of Gujarat, and the family of former Chief Minister Punjab, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. When Maulana Tariq Jameel’s wife charged the staff of a beauty salon with stealing money from her purse, it was a member of Parvez Elahi’s family who helped resolve the issue. Former Chief Minister Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim, meanwhile, employed Maulana Jameel to motivate his bureaucratic staff through his sermons. And a couple of months ago, the Federal Board of Revenue, for the first time in its history, asked a religious scholar — i.e. the Maulana – to deliver a motivational lecture to customs officers. The Maulana spoke on ‘Morality, Ethics and Public Service Delivery.’
In a bid to counter Baloch insurgency with the message of becoming a good Muslim, the activities of the Tableeghi Jamaat have, over the years, escalated in the turbulent province of Balochistan. In recent years, hundreds of Tableeghi Jamaat delegations have been directed towards the remote districts of the province, and the Maulana has been found preaching to the people against the insurgents and Baloch militant factions resisting the state, going as far as declaring calls for rights as ‘satanic’ constructs.
That hardline notwithstanding, Maulana Jameel has tried to portray himself as someone above the sectarian divide. He personally went to the Tahirul Qadri-run network of seminaries and lauded their services for people, while also visiting assorted mosques of the Shia sect in Gilgit-Baltistan, in a purported bid to promote religious harmony. However, these actions did not go down too well with the Tableeghi Jamaat, which hardly has any members other than those from the Deobandi sect. Yet, Maulana Jameel remains embedded in the Jamaat to date. Mutual need obviously supersedes even ego.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2015 issue.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order