Junaid Hafeez: artist, teacher, poet, and son - incarcerated

Junaid Hafeez: artist, teacher, poet, and son - incarcerated
Junaid Hafeez has been incarcerated for four years over blasphemy allegations raised by an Islamist group that was opposed to his name being considered for a permanent faculty position at Multan’s BZU Literature Department. In solitary confinement, Hafeez continues to pursue his passion for reading, thanks to his lawyer who brings him books whenever needed.

Nayi reet chalaa kar tum

Yeh reet amar kar do

Mera geet amar kar do

Honton se choo lo tum

Junaid Hafeez sang this immortal romantic ghazal on a local radio in Multan; FM 103. The hour-long radio interview of him, which was conducted in January 2011, reveals a hopeless romantic, utterly ambitious person in Junaid. Not only is he full of life in this candid conversation, Junaid also comes off as someone deeply immersed in books, literature and poetry.

Junaid's liveliness and ambition were snatched from him in March 2013 following a blasphemy allegation, which landed him in jail – to no end, even after 4 years. His case remains subjudice.

Junaid Hafeez's story is of a man far from being ordinary. After winning a gold medal for his intermediate studies, Junaid proceeded to study to become a doctor at the King Edward Medical College in Lahore – one of the most prestigious medical studies institutes in Pakistan. However, after spending two years in Lahore, Junaid discovered a completely different side of him – a poet, writer, and someone deeply indulged in literature. It was at KEMC that he wrote his first poem, which was also published in the Young Times section of The Khaleej Times in 2006. Titled "Hey You!", the poem exhibits the transformation Junaid Hafeez was going through at the age of 21.

When I see you,

I feel fairies smiling at me

Angels sprinkling dewdrops

The sun, the moon and the stars,

the larks, the waters and flowers--

this whole Universe dedicated to me

Unsatisfied with his decision to pursue medical studies, Junaid left the prestigious college after two years – a move he later described as a part of discovering an artist in himself. His life, as Junaid indulged later, was too linear when he was at King Edward. "I was touching peaks; one after another, without facing any failures, any heartbreak," he told his host at FM 103. "To be a good artist, you need to fall, and pick yourself up – it’s very important," he continued.

Junaid Hafeez got enrolled at Bahauddin Zakaria University, Multan for studying English literature, before embarking on a life-changing journey in 2009 to study the American literature at Jackson State University in the United States on a Fullbright Scholarship.

He returned after his Masters to teach at his alma mater Bahauddin Zakaria University. There, in the department of English literature, he found secular academic space amid an increasingly Islamized environment in the university. Being a rebel that he was, Junaid continued to push for secular debate around different topics. Meanwhile, he became the favorite candidate for a permanent faculty position due to his academic credentials. However, an on-campus Islamist student group had been eyeing that post, in an attempt to Islamize the department. Sources close to Junaid's case claim he was framed as blasphemer to prevent him from joining the English literature department as a permanent member of the faculty.

Junaid's contention with the Islamization of the university was evident in the 2011 interview when he recounted an encounter with one of his professors. "Some miscreants had forced the students out of the classes to shut down the university, and I was standing with a few [female] friends, when a professor approached us and scolded me for talking to them... I rebuked him, saying he should instead focus on the troublemakers who have shut down the university," Junaid recalled.

Being the eldest son, Junaid's imprisonment has also affected his family; his father suffered a heart attack earlier this year. When I met him last year in Multan, he looked defeated, his eyes red with fatigue, body weak with diseases that had caught him. Junaid's mother, who was looking for a girl for him before he was arrested, has since not attended a single wedding ceremony.

Junaid, who is post-modernist in thoughts, is not fascinated by the Greek or Roman goddesses. Instead, as he sang to the FM 103 host: "Amreeka k, na Japan k.. hum tou hain deewanay Multan k..." (Neither America, nor Japan; I am instead passionate about Multan).

Even in his incarceration, Junaid indulges himself in books and literature. His love for books was testified by Junaid's father, who witnessed him bringing 38 kilograms of books from the United States. Currently, he exchanges books with his lawyer on a regular basis.

The Lahore-based Advocate Asad Jamal took up the case after the assassination of Junaid's previous lawyer, Rashed Rahman. Mr. Jamal travels biweekly to Multan for the hearing of Junaid's case, often to his disappointment, as the case doesn't inch forward.

In a telephonic conversation, Mr. Jamal told me that Junaid Hafeez is still well-spirited, and takes active interest in his case, and discusses every detail with him.

Despite all the hardship, Mr. Jamal, who remains optimistic, believes the case is now nearing an end. "The recent proceedings in the case have been encouraging and we are looking forward to a judgment soon," he said.

His father also expressed hope for their future. "All of our worries would fade away the day our son is home," he said.

Umer Ali is an award-winning Pakistan journalist currently based in Aarhus, Denmark. He can be reached on Twitter at @iamumer1.