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Pakistan Needs The Affluent To Pay Taxes, Not An Increase In Conspicuous Consumption

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Naya Daur Media.

News surfaced recently that famed Pakistani preacher, Maulana Tariq Jamil (MTJ), has decided to launch a clothing brand business. He was reported as saying that his intention to do so was affirmed when the pandemic hit, so that instead of relying on zakat funds, he would use the profits from that business to sustain his seminaries. He also added that he didn’t make money his entire life and that the business profits would be channeled to the MTJ Foundation for the purpose of establishing a great hospital and school.

When I read of this news, my mind raced back to the modest living conditions of the late Abdul Sattar Edhi and the simplicity with which he conducted his humanitarian work across Pakistan and abroad. So much outreach from such modest conditions tells me that it is not business corporations but unconditional giving that sustains humanitarian work. A profoundly religious person, on witnessing Edhi’s operations, would have remarked that his work was aided by angels from the Heavens.

In contrast to Edhi, who had a humble way of speaking, MTJ engages in emotional hyperbole, as he enjoys a lavish lifestyle with a mansion, fine cars, frequent trips abroad and mingling with celebrities from the upper echelons of societies. Whereas Edhi was focused on raising children whom society had abandoned, reaching out to people irrespective of religion, and offering unconditional humanitarian assistance, MTJ has been more focused on being a televangelist, whose emphasis is on the demarcation of an Islamic identity and who caters to the religious needs of popular celebrities and high-profile personalities. Various online sites provide the net worth of MTJ that ranges anywhere from the US $735,296 to $5 million. An estimated salary of $221,548 is also provided. Some sources also indicate that he was marrying a third wife who was many decades younger than him. In contrast, Edhi’s net worth is depicted as having a sole wife, a son and a two-room apartment.  One could distinguish between them as the saint of the gutters in contrast to the bishop of the affluent.

There is nothing wrong with entrepreneurship or starting a business but here’s the thing: the pandemic has hit the average person badly and further exacerbated inequality in a society already suffering from skyrocketing food prices and high cost of living. With a Rs. 30,000 salary, is a young bank cashier going to pay rent, buy food or send his kid to a good school? In contrast, those who played games in the stock market, often the wealthy, have seen their net worth rise in stark contrast to the common masses. Therefore, starting a brand new MTJ business that is reminiscent of the J. brand created by the late Junaid Jamshed, which caters to the affluent and the proceeds of which would be channeled to a foundation, which often have tax advantages, does not appear to be a very sensitive choice in such times. Pakistanis do not necessarily need yet another charity school or hospital opened by the affluent. They need the affluent to pay their taxes so that the government can provide public services properly to the people, who live in a state where the rich engage in obscene extravagance. The fact that MTJ will be pushing for more conspicuous consumption, remains oblivious to the system he participates in and instead engages his energies on the inanities of emotional feel-good but empty speeches, speaks volumes.

If MTJ has adopted the mantle of the spiritual father of an emotionally religious people, whose worship rituals are in a foreign language that barely a few understand, then he should push back at the zulm (oppression) that is inflicted by a highly inequitable economy. If the affluent that he panders to really listen to him, then he could have pushed them to purify their wealth by paying state taxes. Building that one institution of paying taxes would have been a much-needed contribution to Pakistan than blaming the ills of the pandemic on “immodestly dressed women.” But as it stands, MTJ is simply complicit in perpetuating what Marx called the opium of the masses, where they are given supernatural stories and where their attention is focused on mind-numbing rituals than guiding them to a system that would bring prosperity, if not to them, then to their upcoming generations.

In short, the news of MTJ starting a clothing brand comes across poorly. This is a person who enjoys the lavish lifestyle of a televangelist, who enjoys the tax advantages of a foundation, who already caters to the affluent and whose business, like that of his late protégé, would cater to that same class of the affluent. There is less simplicity of Islam here and more lavish business corporate interest. And Pakistanis don’t need another J. that fuels conspicuous consumption. They need the affluent to start paying taxes to begin the arduous task of putting a dent on ever exacerbating inequality where the poor person is fed the opium that he too could live in a mansion, have fine cars, enjoy trips abroad and cavort with celebrities if he grew a beard and practiced Islamic rituals more stringently.

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