The festival is being held this weekend, with more pomp and razzle-dazzle than ever. Songs, theatre, poetry and fun fairs are all meant to project the softer side of Islam. It will even prove that there can be such a thing as Muslim comedy. However, one group will be barely visible on the stage: Muslim women.
Check out MuslimFest’s Facebook page, where its 2013 poster displays a sole female performer among several male artists. All festival performances must be sharia-compliant, which means that the songs will be sung a cappella. This is not surprising, as MuslimFest sponsors SoundVision and Dawanet espouse an orthodox brand of Islam.
Among the predominantly male artists, one stands out. Like last year, organisers have lured Pakistani superstar Junaid Jamshed to attract an even larger crowd to MuslimFest this year. Jamshed, a rock star turned mullah, these days prefers to sing the praises of the prophet Mohammad.
This man has an interesting past. Once a heart-throb for westernized Pakistani women, he has now converted to the kind of fundamentalist Islam that demeans women.
This formerly secular actor, singer, songwriter, fashion designer and renowned pop star now lives a fully Islamic life, preaching piety through his hymns and sermons over television and radio.
He once displayed a passion for music. He now considers it haram — or prohibited — a stern view held by only the most orthodox and fundamentalist Muslims. This is how Jamshed must be judged, as he justifies musical expression only in the form of devotional singing.
Jamshed’s conservative views go far beyond music, and have become public knowledge in Pakistan. He decries women’s aspirations for freedom and equality. For example, he disapproves of women driving cars. Even worse, he would have women confined to the house or allowed to leave only with the permission of their husbands. On the Pakistani TV show Good Morning Pakistan on January 18 this year, Jamshed admitted that he forbids his wife to leave the house because he cannot trust her.I'd trust the wife. What I don't trust is the razzle dazzle da'wa. Oh, and the sharia, too.