The religiotainment wizards of Pakistan


A constellation of six glittering stars

This year’s Ramzaan has brought great news. Dr. Shahid Masood’s much awaited third series on the “End of Times” is ready for release. This one is aptly entitled The Final Call since Dr. Masood, by his own admission, may not be able to carry out in future the extensive research needed for such projects. If the teaser is anything to go by, the series, for the first time, will feature the concepts of time and the speed of light. Coming from Dr Masood, a mouth-watering prospect indeed!

Ramzan or not, we have all received text messages offering a hadees a day for Rs. 9.95 plus tax. The same goes for TV ads, whose inevitable tinge of religious sentimentality becomes even more thinly-disguised in Ramzan; what with the usual sight of the Muslim family happily breaking the fast, or the sound of azaan in the background for an ad selling soft drink, fries, or some dairy product. The fasting month of course coincides with the peak season, but the religiotainment industry is lucrative all year round. In the following, I list six superstars from this thriving industry.

Starting from the “End of Times”, Dr. Masood has made the theme absolutely his own. Even his political analyses of the here and now have all the doom and gloom of the apocalypse. Thankfully for the believers however, at the end there is the joy of the rapture, or something very like it. The interesting thing about the doomsday scenarios is that regardless of the religion, they are all pretty much identical – there is much violence and blood; only the identity of the blessed and the doomed differ according to the narrative. Dr. Masood is always very careful to tell the ‘correct’ version.

A variant of the “End of Time” stories is the Ghazwa-e-Hind narrative, the most popular version coming from Zaid Hamid whose very name is now synonymous with the concept. The story usually has the Muslim forces marching into Delhi. Videos of Hamid horse-riding and discharging sundry firearm rounds (presumably by way of rehearsal for the war) are available on Youtube. This narrative may sound political or military, but it derives all its strength from religion. These may be tough times for Hamid, he being denied access to TV and all, but only a foolish man will write him off so easily. He has risen from the ashes of disasters before, and using his Teflon resilience will most probably do so again.

The suave and soft-spoken Bilal Qutab is next, his specialty being the wazeefa show (no it doesn’t mean scholarship). One needs to meet his fans to have an idea about the kind of loyal following he commands. The only info needed in order to benefit from his program is one’s mother’s maiden name and one’s own date of birth. You can either ask for a wazeefa, or can directly get a dum from Qutab by placing a glass of water next to your TV screen.

The next two stars of our constellation are Tariq Jameel and Junaid Jamshed. In terms of the light they emit, they are very similar to one another. Junaid has of course been a star from his Vital Signs days. He has never looked back – TV preaching, garments brand, J. Fragrances, lecture tours… you name it. Maulana Jameel commands even a greater fan following, if anything. Of course I sort of knew about him all along but the first time I ever listened to his lecture on the internet was probably in 2009-10. I was half-lying in my chair, as was my habit (still is); and Maulana sahib was describing the houris of paradise. I distinctly remember abruptly getting up and taking notice. I have been a fan ever since.

Last but definitely not the least; we now come to the reigning king of religiotainment – none other than Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain. Nobody does Ramzan quite like Hussain. Unlike the American televangelists, he doesn’t ask for money from his devotees – plenty of money comes from the sponsors. His ‘constituency’ is the whole of Pakistan, and all his fans need to do is keep watching and endorsing his show, which they never fail to do. Apart from the usual quiz sections and other regular stuff, the show features delightful sights of Hussain thrusting mangoes down people’s throats. Hussain demands no special skill-set on the part of his guests, except the ability to make absolute fools of one’s self. If Dr. Hussain’s immense knowledge of Islamic history or his penchant for playing the clown won’t win you over; his devotional singing certainly will. If the show has any negatives, they are minor in nature. For example, there is an occasional urge on the part of the viewer to reach for the revolver and do something rash.

Dr. Hussain consistently features in the list of 500 influential Muslims of the world. He is a walking encyclopedia of all art forms, especially drama and cinema. And he completely understands the subject, as was evident by his quite impromptu professional appraisal of Ghalib.


  1. This writer appears to have approved presence of women with very loud makeup and very colourful dresses on every ‘Ramazan’ show with a so-called Ulama sitting nearby on the same sofa. Here the women wear their trousers etc above the ankle. No ‘Blasphemy’ detected here but this is not the Maslak I practice. This is an introduction perhaps to a new religion which has nothing to do with Islam.

    I would recommend this writer to confine his writups to the fields mentioned in his profile.

  2. What a perfectly delightful & hilariously accurate round-up of the 6 Sperstars !
    Dr. Shahid Masud's End Of Times ?, Bilal Qutb's TV Wazeefaas ?, Maulana Tariq Jamil's Hours of Paradise ?, & last but not least Dr. Aamir Liaqat's "Aam Khaey Ga" episodes have to be watched to be believed …. believe me, I'm still laughing !

  3. Not to forget :
    " There is an ocassional urge on the part of the viewer to reach for the revolver & do something rash…" ???

  4. If one has a maslak, I pity him. What maslik did our master, pbuh, and his closest companions, Allah b pleased with them, follow? This author writes about what he sees, without making fun of the characters. If alongwith his descriptions he gives us a little laughing gas, v should b grateful rather than calling him self-righteous, a misogynists, or any other such names. He hasn't approved of or disapproved anything, and that is how it should b.

  5. I wish to amend my comment above. Mr Bhatti's remark was addressed to Mr Disgusting, the fist to comment on the page. My apologies to him to use his words against him.

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