Both the worlds

February 28, 2021

Maulana Tariq Jamil, the famous cleric and missionary preacher, launches an eponymous clothing retail brand for the “good of religion”, to fund his seminaries

Maulana Tariq Jamil, a very popular cleric from the Tableeghi Jamaat, an extraordinarily large group of preachers who have been frequently critiqued for holding on to very rigid interpretations of religion, in a recent statement, spoke about the launch of his clothing retail brand which has been around for a little while, as a means to support his religious seminaries.

In a video captioned “Why Did I Launch my MTJ brand?”, Jamil shares his thought process. The video is on brand: a mellow, spiritual vibe created by a melancholic background score, a logo of the new brand behind a cosy sofa from where Jamil makes a pitch for his “cause”.

“I had this question in my mind since 2000 about how I can support my madrassas [financially]. And (for years) I had been praying to God to create the circumstances to help me. I want to run my seminaries without relying on Zakat. During the [early] days of coronavirus, I thought about opening my business with the intention to help my madrassas. A few friends are extending cooperation in this launch of the MTJ (Maulana Tariq Jamil) brand (coming soon). This brand is not in competition with others; but is an effort to ensure my madrassas can work (in a sustained way),” Jamil says in this video statement posted on his official Twitter account last week.

The video does not give away any details like how many religious seminaries he runs; how many students are enrolled; and what kind of content is being taught in these seminaries.

The brand’s Linkedin page says that MTJ is a “fashion retail brand that strives to learn and exhibit the principles taught by Maulana Tariq Jamil and break the eroding stereotype”.

The irony is hard to miss. Not too long ago, Jamil gave public remarks suggesting that perceived “immodesty” in women’s fashionable clothing had brought the wrath of Almighty upon the mankind in the form of coronavirus pandemic.

Jamil’s venture has surprised many. The idea of launching a fashion brand for “religious purposes” and to fund madrassas in a country where they are considered pivotal to the spread of religious extremism is remarkable, to say the least. Regulation has been a huge challenge historically. Pakistan is already under a lot of pressure with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which is pushing it to keep strict checks on economy and trade with a view to curb financing of terrorism, such activities raise more questions. Some argue that irrespective of celebrity clerics, the political will to prevent the use of religion for dubious ends should be unwavering. They demand that the government should press Jamil to publicly declare details like the list of his seminaries, number of enrolled students, and the content they are being taught before the world gets alarmed. For the last two decades, Pakistan has been struggling with madrassa reforms, unable to make significant progress in this direction.

The irony is hard to miss. Not too long ago, Jamil gave public remarks suggesting that perceived “immodesty” of women’s fashionable clothing had brought the wrath of Almighty upon mankind in the form of coronavirus pandemic. Many clerics who also subscribe to the same ideology have openly seconded the idea that such calamities are result of not following what they hold to be the Islamic dress code and way of life.

Although Jamil represents the Tableeghi Jamaat, he knows that he has also become somewhat of a brand himself. Many clerics differ with him and believe that he has strayed away from their ideology by way of his public posture. Some of them still do not like to be photographed. Years ago, members of this preaching group used to have public ceremonies featuring breaking of television sets as in their view moving/ still images were “forbidden”. Even today, cameras are not allowed at many of their congregations and photographers are discouraged. On the other side, Jamil, a celebrated Tableeghi cleric has his own YouTube channel and social media accounts. He often appears on television channels.

Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi, a student of Dar-ul-Aloom Deoband had founded the group that later emerged as Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat (India) in the mid-1920s. According to historical accounts, the first Tablighi conference held in November 1941 in Mewat was attended by 25,000 people. Tableeghi Jamaat Pakistan holds a huge congregation twice a year near Lahore. The preaching group is apparently seen providing a “soft image” for a hardline ideology, making it more palatable and creating more social space for it.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Maulana Tariq Jamil: Both the worlds