PESHAWAR, Aug 18: It is not uncommon for popular disc jockeys to have a huge following. So there is nothing extraordinary about a large fan club of a cleric, known as Radio Maulana, who has hit the airwaves of Swat, except that his female admirers are making their husbands grow beards and abandon what the Maulana describes as ‘un-Islamic’.

Women in increasing number attentively listen to the sermons of Maulana Fazlullah, a leader of the outlawed Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi, on illegal FM radio stations in and around Swat. The proscribed organisation has restarted its campaign against obscenity in the Malakand Agency and its neighbouring areas.

“He speaks our language and talks about our issues. It’s better to listen to him than watch irrelevant TV programmes,” says a woman listener.

“In one of his speeches, Maulana Radio warned women that their nikah would be invalidated if they did not make their husbands grow beards,” says another woman in Saidu Sharif. She does not want to be named in the story.

Salma Khatoon, a 26-year widow, attributes her changed lifestyle to the eye-opening sermons on FM radio.

A resident of Sharifabad, she avidly tunes into the programmes of Maulana Fazlullah and Maulana Ishaq every morning and evening. She thinks it is the best way for illiterate rural women to acquire a smattering of religious knowledge.

“Even a poor family can afford a radio and listen to the sermons. Speeches of knowledgeable religious scholars on FM radio have changed my life. And I have started telling other women to get their husbands abandon their un-Islamic ways,” says Salma.

Mohammad Aman, who lives in Saidu Sharif, says his sister took to the burqa when she became influenced by the sermons she listened to on FM radio.

“My aunt was given to using foul language. But now, influenced by the sermons, she has become completely unfamiliar with the profanities that she previously rattled off with remarkable ease,” he recalls.

Activists of the proscribed organisation financially compensate those who voluntarily close their audio-video shops. But they are known to resort to ‘strong-arm method’ when persuasion fails to work.

Police, last week, arrested 24 TNSM activists for trying to set ablaze CDs, TV sets, video and audio cassettes in Mingora.

“An FIR was registered against them. They were apparently waging a campaign against obscenity,” said an official of the Mingora police station.