Junaid Jamshed was the first pop star on the Pakistani music scene. At the height of his career, he turned his back on the world of glitz and glamour and devoted himself to Islam. A portrait by Nadia Riaz
"When I came back from a religious tour in 1997, I realized that there was so much more to life than just singing and jumping around" – an insight that eventually prompted his transformation from pop icon to devout Muslim. Junaid Jamshed explains: "When I decided to give up singing, a lot of people were shocked. But I was sure that it was the right decision because Allah forbids the kind of singing that I was doing, and it's my duty to follow His command."
Since then, Junaid Jamshed has been widely criticized. Many fans can't accept his sudden departure from the pop music scene. How does Jamshed deal with this criticism?
"I don't deal with it because I don't worry about criticism. In this day and age you simply can't listen to what people say because you are always criticized, in every situation. It's really a shame that I'm always asked why I stopped singing. It is Allah's command. Why doesn't anyone ask me where it says in the Quran that singing is allowed?"
By strictly adhering to the tenets of Islam, as interpreted by orthodox Muslims, the one time heart throb is barely recognizable these days, with his ever growing beard.
"I wear a full beard because that's the way it should be. Some people may find that ugly and unhygienic, but if Allah had commanded us not to wear a beard and shave every day, then people would have something else to object to. People need to learn to accept the will of Allah."
"The prophet was also a merchant"
After embarking on his journey to religious enlightenment, Jamshed launched a highly successful fashion chain under his name. In ten cities across Pakistan, consumers can shop in Junaid Jamshed boutiques for traditional clothing, alcohol-free perfumes, and shoes.
So how does the former pop idol reconcile his devotion to Islam with owning a designer fashion label?
"Our prophet Muhammad, peace be with him, was also a merchant who sold cloth. It was allowed, and all that is the will of Allah should be done. At first, I made the designs myself, but my products were so successful that I was able to afford my own designers, and they now run the entire design department."
A pop star's rise to fame
Before Jamshed radically changed his life to pursue a more spiritual existence, he was a pioneer of Pakistan's pop music scene. He rocketed to fame as the leader of the first Pakistani pop band, Vital Signs. Their patriotic song 'Dil Dil Pakistan", released on 14 August 1987 to mark the country's 30th national anniversary, instantly became a smash hit.
The four talented young musicians from Rawalpindi, a city in northeast Pakistan, all came from respectable families, wore jeans, let their hair grow long, smoked cigarettes, and literally took the country by storm. Today the band is widely recognized as the most popular Pakistani band of all time. At the height of the group's success, even grandmothers reportedly carried photos of the band members in their purses, especially of the lead singer of the Vital Signs – Junaid Jamshed.
From Quran school to pop star
"I was a good Quran reader in school," says Jamshed. "I could stress the Arabic words correctly. All this reading was virtually the best training I could get to prepare my voice for singing. So when we formed the band, it was easy for me to sing for hours on end."
Born on 3 September 1964, Junaid Jamshed was 23 years old when the Vital Signs released their historic hit single. Today many consider him to be one of the best-looking men in the music business. He is a good singer and a natural born actor, having played the main role in all the band's video clips, as a heartbreaker and, at times, as a man with a broken heart.
When Jamshed married in 1990, he broke the hearts of fans across the nation. Nevertheless, his fans remained loyal and the band's popularity actually increased.
A charismatic media star
Jamshed was much more than just the lead singer of the Vital Signs. While the three other members of the band tended to remain in the background, Jamshed was their main representative, appearing on talk shows, signing autographs, and attracting the attention of enthusiastic female fans.
After producing six highly acclaimed albums, performing countless concerts around the world, and winning the hearts of millions, Vital Signs split up in 1995.
But his anxious fans were relieved when Jamshed started his own solo career and released a number of new hit albums. At the time, there were persistent rumors that Jamshed was thinking of quitting the music business to devote himself to Islam, but these stories were largely ignored, and the pop star continued to appear in concert and on television.
Islam as a publicity stunt?
In 2002, he broke the news, causing a huge outcry. At a press conference Jamshed announced that he would leave the music business once he had completed his contractual obligations and projects. For a number of months, his physical appearance had already signaled a change in lifestyle. Jamshed grew a beard and was only seen wearing the shalwar kameez, Pakistan's traditional dress.
The music world was shocked and amused. While fans mourned the loss of their favorite singer, skeptics maintained that Jamshed was only going through a pseudo Islam phase, perhaps as a publicity stunt.
"For 16 years I had loads of money, fame and publicity. I simply don't need to attract any more publicity. People don't want to accept that I'm following the will of Allah and it just took me a long time to understand His will."
And what do his wife and three children have to say about this transformation?
"Of course the changeover was very difficult at first. When you're used to a certain lifestyle, it takes a lot of effort to change your ways and tackle new goals. But it is exactly like the preparations that you go through before you take a test. You study and read and delve into things so you can pass the test. Our current life is merely a preparation for the test that awaits us after our death. And we should thoroughly prepare ourselves. All I can do is travel around the world and call on people to follow the path that I have chosen. That's all I can do."
© Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen