With cap set on his head at a slightly rakish angle and a face bedecked with a smile, he keeps working day in and day out for the relief of those who are affected somehow or the other because of COVID-19.
Hailing from a remote village of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where few could have thought to cross beyond the hills of the area, he dreamt, planned, toiled and thereby carried himself to the rugged arena of politics where his presence matters to the players of the Machiavellian game.
Yes, he is Siraj-ul-Haq. I was first fascinated by him in 2014, when I came to know that he, as a minister from KP, came to Lahore by bus to attend a party meeting. When the camera sneaked into his hometown at KP, I was even more inspired to see his very modest residence exhibiting signs of austerity.
As he assumed the office of the fifth Emir of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in March 2014, his first task was to extricate his party from the controversies of his predecessor, Syed Munawar Hasan. The latter’s implicit siding with a version of the Taliban earned loads of barbs from the public, thus creating negative vibes for the party.
As chief, Siraj-ul-Haq avoided getting into controversies, and was also able to secure a comfortable niche in the eyes of the kingmakers. He roamed each nook and cranny of Pakistan to highlight the brazenly inhuman treatment of the innocent Kashmiris by the Indian security forces, specifically his campaign on the heels of the abrogation of Article 370 in the valley. This produced favourable ripples not only in the public that always bear a soft heart for their Kashmiri brethren, but also in the circles of the establishment.
In today’s world, the most important tool which has the capability to alter opinions and narratives, is social media. Jamaat-e-Islami and its charity wing, Al-Khidmat, has very aptly and dexterously used this forum to underscore its activities, especially after COVID-19 paralysed life in Pakistan. Its relief activities in these hard times have attracted the attention of even those who have earlier been sour towards the Jammat. The main mobilising force in this regard is Siraj-ul-Haq.
Al-Khidmat has built temporary hospitals and isolation wards, providing personal protective equipment (PPEs), surgical masks and gowns to doctors, paramedics and security personnel carrying out duties in and around corona isolation wards. It is also donating services and goods to hospitals with the assistance of provincial governments. Pertinent in this regard are the services provided to DHQ Teaching Hospital Dera Ghazi Khan, Abbasi Shaheed Hospital Karachi and District Health Hospital, Gujrat.
It was very positive to see the female workers of Al-Khidmat reaching out to the ever-isolated people of the transgender community. Committees were formed to locate their residences so as to provide them with food and other necessary items for use.
For decades, Jamaat-e-Islami and its affiliated wings have been considered having a tilt towards extremist ideology. Jamaat, during these relief activities, has been able to somewhat crack this hard veneer by extending help to minorities and their sacred places. The workers in green waistcoats reached out to Hindu temples, gurdwaras and churches in this difficult hour and provided them with ration and other edibles.
Apart from being solicitous and munificent towards humans, Al-Khidmat won the hearts of many when the images of feeding stray animals came to the surface. This benevolent act was widely appreciated.
If Jamaat-e-Islami is creating soft inroads in the political landscape of Pakistan by being close to the people on the grassroots level by winning their sympathies, the credit goes to its Emir, Siraj-ul-Haq. The exposure on social media of each and every detail also brought it in proximity with the public in their homes.
If Jamaat-e-Islami has to emerge on the political landscape of Pakistan with dominant influence, it has to have more Siraj-ul-Haqs who, while shunning the old attire of orthodoxy and sternness, should adopt moderate policies and be kind and considerate to Pakistanis of all hues with no tinge of discrimination. Moderation and adaptability is the only way to receptivity in all spheres of political life.