Police on Tuesday opened a blasphemy investigation against pop star turned evangelical Muslim Junaid Jamshed after he was caught on camera making allegedly disparaging remarks about one of the wives of Islam’s Prophet.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan. The law is often used to target minorities and the poor by those wishing to settle personal scores, according to rights groups. Jamshed, by contrast, is a wealthy high-profile member of the Tableeghi Jamaat—a Sunni Muslim evangelical organization known for its rigidly conservative views.
In the video featuring the former lead singer of pop band Vital Signs, he appears to make negative remarks about Ayesha, the youngest wife of Islam’s Prophet, to make a broader point about women’s alleged inherent flaw of seeking attention. The video quickly went viral over the weekend and led to the police case.
“We have filed a blasphemy case against Junaid Jamshed in Rasala police station on the orders of Justice Ahmed Saba of the district court,” said Faheem-ud-Din Sheikh, spokesman for the Sunni Tehreek religious organization. Muhammad Shafique, a police official at the Rasala police station in Karachi, confirmed the incident. Another police officer told Newsweek that Jamshed was currently out of the country on a speaking tour, but would be placed under arrest once he returns.
Jamshed, 50, had earlier released a video on Facebook in which he admitted he had erred and pleaded emotionally for forgiveness. “This is my mistake and it happened because of my ignorance and lack of knowledge and I seek forgiveness from the Muslim world,” he said. “I request my brothers to forgive me and I am thankful to them for pointing out my mistake, it happened unintentionally and I seek forgiveness from Allah.”
The case was registered on the complaint of Mohammad Mobin Qadri, a Sunni Tehreek leader. “We will register blasphemy cases against anyone found involved in blasphemy regardless of their stature,” Qadri told Newsweek. He said Jamshed’s apology was irrelevant. “How can we pardon a person who has committed blasphemy? Junaid’s apology must be examined by prominent religious scholars, who will then determine how the issue can be sorted within the parameters of Islam.”
Before joining the Tableeghi Jamaat, Jamshed was one of Pakistan’s best loved pop singers, famous for hits in the 1980s such as “Dil Dil Pakistan.” Now bearded and seen in traditional attire, he often appears on TV adverts to give products a religious endorsement, and also runs a chain of fashion boutiques. He frequently makes appearances on television, and has previously said women should not drive nor venture out of the home without a male guardian.
The number of blasphemy cases being lodged with police in Pakistan has been steadily rising in recent years and even unproven allegations often prompt mob retribution. On Nov. 4 a Christian bonded laborer and his pregnant wife were beaten by a mob of 1,500 people then thrown on top of a lit furnace in a crazed reaction to rumors they had thrown pages of the Quran into the garbage. Aasia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy, has been languishing on death row for four years following a trial that activists say was deeply flawed.