Several years ago, I had an argument with several people I respect – the issue, I forget how it arose, was whether Junaid Jamshed knew that he was leaving a lucrative pop music career for another equally lucrative career as a televangelist and religious personage.
My position was he didn’t know, or couldn’t know. Back then we knew well about how the state had misguidedly weaponised religion, but the organic commercialisation of religion hadn’t occurred yet. When Junaid left the world of music for a more ascetic calling, he had turned his back on a sure bet for the unknown. That fortune still smiled upon him was accidental.
Junaid Jamshed’s last sermon will leave you in tears
There is integrity in how he made the move, giving up all that he loved dearly for what he believed in clearly. There was a visual incongruity in seeing him with his flowing beard and pulled up shalwar, but not a very strong mental dissonance. That was because he was always the mega pop star who stood on a foundation of humility, he gave an air of introspection instead of the bluster of confidence that a showman unleashes on the stage and off.
While his life has been richly documented, it seems his life has been retold in how people have reacted to his death. One section remembers how he provided the soundtrack to their lives, every song marking a memory, a milestone in life. Another section remembers him for the religious figure that he had become. Junaid himself didn’t bridge the gap between modernity and religion – he shifted from one to another. But in his death, the two differing tribes of Pakistanis – the ‘moderns’ and the ‘deeni’s’ – shared the same pew, united not in what they said but in their use of the language of grief.
His death exposes the cleavages of Pakistan in the same way that Junaid inhabited them – the struggle to navigate the different identities that the country has not yet been able to comfortably amalgamate into a coherent narrative. It’s one or the other we are often told, just as Junaid became one, then another.