Muslim evangelist Junaid Jamshed, Pakistan's pop pioneer turned preacher, dead at 52

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Junaid Jamshed, a pioneer of Pakistani pop who renounced music to become a Muslim evangelist, pictured in Karachi in 2013 play

Junaid Jamshed, a pioneer of Pakistani pop who renounced music to become a Muslim evangelist, pictured in Karachi in 2013

(AFP/File)

Junaid Jamshed, a pioneer of Pakistani pop who renounced music to become a Muslim evangelist and started one of the country's most successful clothing boutiques was among 47 people killed in a plane crash Wednesday.

He died alongside his second wife, Nahya, and is survived by his first wife Ayesha as well as four children.

Born in Karachi on September 3, 1964, he shot to fame in the late 1980s as lead singer of the boy-band "Vital Signs", where his dashing looks and brooding vocals made him a style icon and heartthrob for a generation emerging from the harsh Islamist rule of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq.

The band's fusion of Western guitar-driven pop set to traditional Tabla beats inspired the creation of a new genre -- Sufi Rock -- that is hugely popular throughout South Asia today.

Their greatest hit, "Dil Dil Pakistan", an upbeat ode to the homeland with a synthesizer-heavy 1980s sound, remains an unofficial national anthem.

Many of his biggest fans became critics when in the early 2000s he left his career in pop to become a member of the Tableeghi Jamaaat, a Sunni evangelical group that preaches its austere brand of Islam throughout the world.

Jamshed ditched his leather jackets and stone-washed jeans for traditional tunic and baggy pants, grew a beard, and began recording religious 'Naats' -- hymns that are sung a capello, because instruments are seen as "haraam" (forbidden).

Pakistani liberals' disappointment only grew as Jamshed made a series of controversial statements, often targeting women -- including famously telling a female TV host that women should not be allowed to drive or leave the home without male guardians.

But his new guise also endeared him to conservative Pakistanis who followed his TV appearances closely and regarded him as a role-model for leaving a decadent lifestyle behind.

In 2014, he found himself embroiled in controversy for appearing to criticise one of the Prophet Muhammad's wives in one of his sermons, prompting a blasphemy case to be brought against him.

He issued a tearful apology and the case was not pursued -- his strong connections with the country's religious right seemingly safeguarding him from persecution minorities often receive when charged or even accused of the same crime.

In addition to his preaching, Jamshed set up a upmarket clothing boutique in 2002 catering to both men and women, a highly profitable business that today boasts a strong presence across the country.

In his last tweet, Jamshed posted pictures of himself with fellow preachers in scenic northern Chitral, from where the ill-fated Pakistan International Airlines flight 661 made its final journey.

"Heaven on Earth Chitral. With my friends in the Path of Allah. Snowpacked Tirchmir right behind us," he tweeted.

His death was mourned by clerics, politicians and fans of his earlier work.

"Disenchantment with the person he was yesterday vanishes with this tragedy. Today, the last decade didn't happen. Rest in peace, Junaid Jamshed," wrote columnist Umair Javed.

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