Facebook celebrity Qandeel Baloch and Mufti Abdul Qavi make an unlikely pair, but that's not the only reason why their selfies have stirred up a storm.
The photos made headlines when their 'controversial' nature led to Mufti Qavi's suspension from the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee as well as the National Ulema Mushaikh Council.
Just how controversial were those selfies? A conversation with Qandeel and Mufti Qavi sheds some light on the matter; a tale of claims, counterclaims and denial.
It began with Neo
Qandeel and Mufti Qavi were first acquainted during a live interview on Neo TV's show Ajeeb Sa, hosted by Rana Matlub. While on air, Qavi declared his desire to visit Qandeel on his next trip to Karachi.
According to Qandeel, he made many attempts to make that happen.
"We were both on [Ajeeb Sa], him from Multan, me in Karachi and our host was in Lahore. You may have seen it. He said he would be in Karachi for the moon sighting and that it was possible we would meet. I said 'Ji mufti sahib, most welcome'," Qandeel shared with Images.
"He’s publicity-hungry. He took my number from the media organisation and contacted me, saying 'I promised I would meet you'. He said 'I’m coming on this date' and then sent me his flight PNR number. But on chand raat I was in Lahore for a modelling gig and couldn’t meet him."
"He came to Karachi again, the second time for an iftar transmission. He texted his flight number again. I told him I will come to see you tomorrow or day after but I couldn’t go as I wasn’t well."
"The third time he came, he texted and said from Monday to Friday, I will be in Karachi as I am on Amir Liaquat’s iftar transmission. Then I called him. I apologised for not meeting him earlier. He asked me to come after iftari, but I said no, I will come in the afternoon."
"He texted first, then I called," Qandeel emphasised, adding, "I think this is why there is confusion [about who called whom] and he says I called him. I only called him for this reason."
A 'conditional' visit
Mufti Qavi clarifies that the texts Qandeel is referring to are standard messages he sends all his friends whenever he flies into town.
"She called me two days before Ramazan and said that her followers were asking if I would visit her. I said to her, 'Yes, tell them that I will come, but only on the condition that you will fast for the whole month'," says Mufti Qavi.
"I have a habit that whenever I am traveling to another city, I text all my friends that I’ll be coming to the city at this time through this flight. When I went to Karachi for Geo TV, I messaged all my friends in Karachi along with her. I have neither sent any other text to invite her or to set up a meeting, nor did I call her. She won’t have proof of any other message."
"After this text, she called me the next day, saying that she wanted to meet me. Then, she came to meet me. I had told her that I will be at Geo TV for iftar transmission, so if you come, then come between 1pm and 4pm."
When their meeting did take place, Qandeel maintains that she was alone with him for the most part.
"We were alone in the room," says Qandeel. "I went there only with my driver. He had called a couple of people to make a video of him for social media. They were two men — one had a camera. First, they were in the lobby, then they came to the room. Then he got rid of them in five minutes. Lots of people knocked but he would get rid of them at the door."
Mufti Qavi, however, says they were alone for only a few minutes.
"There was a family from Multan, an official from interior Sindh who is our seniors’ mureed [devotee], a team with a camera, six or seven other people and Qandeel. I listened to each of them, she was also there and listening to them. I also listened to her. All people left one by one after which Qandeel said two or three things which I mentioned."
"When I went to do my wuzu [ablutions], Qandeel wore my hat. When I expressed my surprise, she said that she wore my hat for barkat [blessings] because she did not have a dupatta."
"What she did in the minute or two after that, all the pictures that she took are in front of you."
'I party a lot so...'
Qandeel talked about their meeting in more expansive terms.
"I thought there would be some betterment in [meeting him] for me. I party a lot, I thought it would be beneficial to me if I spent some time around someone who is religious," says Qandeel.
"He called me, I didn’t know what he was like. But when I met him, I saw how he was like. He was different in front of others than he was with me. He would put on an act around other people."
"You may have heard of his fatwa, he said that contract nikkahs are jaez [allowed] and he has only one malka but has done nikkah 17 times. He said he had heard I was not very well off, and then said he earns money and has a lot of land in Multan and even gave me a business card with his various titles on it. I still have this business card."
A kiss and a hug
Qandeel claims that the Mufti tried to get intimate with her during their meeting.
"[He tried to] kiss me and hug me. You know in showbiz, girls are sometimes bold so we are okay with it. I was laughing and telling him not to do it. He stopped then and said 'I know you can’t phasaofy [trap] a girl in the first meeting. As our relationship develops, we will become more open with each other'."
"He couldn’t control his emotions. He was very emotional and made many attempts to hug and kiss me. The sofa I was sitting on, he sat on it and tried to make out with me. Then he would stop when I asked him to stop. Then he’d try again. Then he started talking about romance. He told me he knows how to seduce a woman and said 'You have to do this, start from the ear and then...' Main ne bola wah Mufti sahib ko tau romance karna bhi ata hai [Wow, Mufti sahib knows how to romance]."
Mufti Qavi says all of this is false.
"I have nothing to do with the ‘fahashi’ she’s talking about. She left satisfied with her respect and dignity in place. She said she would visit Multan on the second day of Eid and meet my mother."
"A while after she left, I got phone calls from people saying they saw photos and videos on TV channels and that Qandeel had been saying something. At first I thought that whatever she’s saying, she will probably be saying the right thing. But then when I was told she said I was lying, then I said ‘Oh no, she has a loose character’. I don’t know if she’s doing this alone or under the influence of someone else."
According to Mufti Qavi, Qandeel is now asking for his forgiveness.
"I got her message asking for forgiveness for her mistakes. I’ve forgiven her and I’ve told her that if she has any issues in the future, she should talk to me instead of engaging in blame games."
Mufti Qavi is even open to meet her on Eid.
"People are always coming and going for taaweez or other reasons. If she comes, we are very open, anyone can come to see us."
Talk about bygones. And what of the job that the selfies have cost him?
"I think that every position or honour you achieve is from Allah. First, I was given a position, I represented the Markazi Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA). I remained a member for seven years. Now the Markazi Ruet-i-Hilal Committee is being disbanded. The meeting now is the last meeting."
"After this, a new committee will be made. I won't protest the decision made by the MORA but I will say I think they made the decision in haste. Apart from this, I have no complaints. Whatever decision they have taken, I have no problem with it."
Qandeel's take on his suspension?
"It’s temporary right? So he’ll come back, he has lots of sources, he will definitely be back. He’s a “dou number” person, it’s true. I’ve seen his personality myself."