Was Jinnah a Secularist? – by Amir Mir

Perhaps the most contentious issue in Pakistan since its very inception in 1947 is the nature of the state. Should Pakistan be a sharia based Islamic state or should she be a Modern democratic secular state? The very word ‘Secular’ has been demonized by a majority of religious class in Pakistan who has loosely translated the word to mean ‘irreligiously’ – a concept wholly divorced from secularism. In fact, the term ‘secularism’ is misunderstood by many all around the world. Nothing illustrates better the confusion about secularism than general public’s perceptions of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

There is convincing evidence to suggest that Jinnah was a modern-minded secularist. However, ever since his death in 1948 – shortly after the birth of the new state – there has been a tug-of-war over his legacy. Islamists – Muslims who view Islam as a political ideology – have not been slow in claiming him as one of their own. Hamid Gul is a retired general and the former head of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the ISI. He is also a well-known Islamist. What does he think of the idea that Jinnah was a secularist?

“No, this is not accurate. I think he has been misquoted. There is only one speech on record [about the subject] – and that is on 11 August 1947 – when Pakistan had already been announced [as a state]”, Hamid Gul said. “Then, in the Constituent Assembly, he made a speech, saying: ‘In the new state of Pakistan, everyone will be equal before the law, and people will cease to be Muslims and cease to be Hindus, in the eyes of the law’. “But what law did he mean? He meant Islamic law. Implicitly – he was clear in his mind – he implied that it would be Islamic law. So I think Jinnah has been misquoted…[Jinnah] is quite clear that he did not want a Muslim nation-state. He wanted an Islamic state”.

Jinnah did have a vision as a moderate, although in an overall Islamic context. In his presidential address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947, Jinnah said: “Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”. Contemporary Pakistanis are often trying to deny this secularist call by Jinnah. This tussle is at the heart of Pakistan’s search for a modern identity. Many eminent authors and historians from the Subcontinent as well as the West have described Jinnah as an avowedly secular leader, pointing more often than not to his one year in office as the Governor General of Pakistan. The opponents of this view however point out Jinnah’s fervent advocacy of the Two-Nation Theory as a counter to this claim. Then in the first camp there are those who point to Jinnah’s whisky drinking and swine eating habits to prove his secularism.

The Bhartia Janata Party’s President Mr L K Advani’s recent resignation over his remark in Karachi that Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a secular leader has revived the old controversy – whether or not Jinnah was a secularist and if he was, why did he believe in two-nation theory? Mr Advani stated at a function organised by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs & Law in Karachi on June 5, 2005: “I believe that Jinnah’s speech to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 is the ideal that India, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh – the three present-day sovereign and separate constituents of the undivided India of the past, sharing a common civilisational heritage – should follow”. The million dollar question is, did or didn’t Jinnah believe in two-nation theory and whether he was a secularist. The question was put to various historians, scholars, intellectuals and writers and following are the answers:

Dr Rafiq Ahmed, Director Centre for South Asian Studies, former Vice Chancellor Punjab University, Lahore

The lobby or circles of writers and intellectuals trying to prove that Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a secular State are quite active especially since the process of normalization of Pak-India relations started a few years ago. In the wake of frequent cultural and political exchanges between the two countries the supporters of secular Pakistan have increased their propaganda, have geared up their efforts and have created some forums to spread this notion. All those who subscribe to the secularistic view are bending backward to prove the Quaid as secular. They base their arguments on 11 August 1947 speech of the Quaid which he delivered in the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. They quote this speech in support of their view but are guilty of misinterpreting the same. According to their perception and perhaps according to the agenda given to them, they do not quote any other speech and are thus again guilty of omission and commission. Unfortunately, since its very inception, Pakistan is faced with a cultural invasion particularly from its eastern neighbour and undoubtedly this invasion has influenced some people and a feeling is growing that the nation’s commitment to its Islamic ideals set by our elders is getting diluted thereby eroding our ideology.

The factual position is that the Quaid on many occasions had clearly and unambiguously stated that Pakistan would be an Islamic democratic State and Islam would be the ideology of Pakistan. He meant what he said and he said what he meant and was never equivocal. First of all we all know that he never said that he was secular. Islam was in his blood like it is in the blood of all Pakistanis. Yet he was conscious and aware of true spirit of Islam. It was on the appeal and persuation of Allama Mohammad Iqbal that he forfeited his career as a highly successful lawyer of England and came back to lead Muslims and Muslim League.

The best way to judge whether the founder of Pakistan was a secular or not, is to have a careful look at some of his speeches and statements on various occasions and analyze them objectively. Speaking on the occasion of the Holy Prophet’s birthday at the Karachi Bar Association on 25th January 1948, the Quaid said, “The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) was a great teacher. He was a great lawgiver. He was a great statesman and he was a great sovereign who ruled. The life of the Prophet (PBUH) was simple according to those times. He was successful in everything that he put his hand to from as a businessman to as a ruler. The Prophet (PBUH) was the greatest man that the world had ever seen. Thirteen hundred years ago he laid the foundations of democracy”.

On another occasion addressing the Civil, Naval, Military and Air Force Officers at Khaliqdina Hall Karachi on 11th October 1947 the Quaid said, “It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great lawgiver, the Prophet of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles”. In his concluding speech at the session of All-India Muslim League, Karachi on 26th December 1943 the Quaid said, “What is it that keeps the Muslims united as one man, and what is the bedrock and sheet-anchor of the community. It is Islam. It is the Great Book, Quran, that is the sheet-anchor of Muslim India. I am sure that as we go on there will be more and more of oneness, one God, one Book, one Prophet and one Nation”.

In the message of Eid to the Muslims in September 1945 he said, “Every Mussalman knows that the injunctions of the Holy Quran are not confined to religious and moral duties. From the Atlantic to the Ganges, says Gibbon, the Holy Quran is acknowledged as the fundamental code, not only of theology, but of civil and criminal jurisprudence, and the laws which regulate the action and the property of mankind are governed by immutable sanctions of the will of God”. Everyone, except those who are ignorant, knows the Holy Quran is the general code of the Muslims”.

Dr Mubarak Ali, historian and former Chairman of History Department, Karachi University

Mohammad Ali Jinnah did believe in two-nation theory and struggled for the creation of an independent homeland of Muslims on the very basis of the theory. Jinnah used to be a perfect secularist as far as his private life was concerned, yet he believed in using religion for public consumption to achieve his political ends. The propelling slogan during the struggle for Pakistan was to establish a distinct identity of Muslims as a nation. And Jinnah used Islam as a motivating force to rally the Muslims to the cause of Pakistan politically. But the state they aimed to create was to be secular, not a theocracy. And the method to achieve the goal was not a religious movement but political agitation.

I. A. Rehman, former Editor Daily The Pakistan Times, Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)

Mohammad AIi Jinnah’s two-nation theory lacked clarity. He did not base his theory on the religion alone but also on the basis of territorial majority. If we examine his statements that only the Muslims in the Muslim majority provinces of India constituted a separate nation while the rest of the Muslims in India were not part of that nation, we can find out the problem in sustaining that theory. That’s why, Jinnah said goodbye to the two-nation theory at the first opportunity that is on August 11, 1947.

Secondly, Jinnah was a secularist given the fact that he always adopted a secular approach while dealing with constitutional and legal issues. People today should realize that the Indian-Muslim community had a number of prominent people who were deeply religious and also secular in politics. These included Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Hakeem Ajmal Khan etc. The apparent contradiction in Jinnah’s creed was the result of communalization of politics in India which certainly did not match with his philosophy.

Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi, Political Analys, former Chairman Political Science Department, Punjab University, Lahore

Mohammad Ali Jinnah did believe in a two-nation theory as stated by him quite often especially in the only article he wrote for a British weekly Time and Tide, published in March 1940 and his speech on the occasion of the passing of the Lahore resolution in March 1940. On both these occasions, Jinnah clearly stated that the Muslims of the sub-continent were a nation entitled to a homeland.

Secondly, Jinnah definitely was a secularist who viewed Islam as an instrument of identity formation and political mobilization for the Muslims of South Asia. Whenever he talked of Islam, he also talked about the modern notion of the state, constitutionalism, civil and political rights and equal citizenship irrespective of religion or any other consideration. This means that he was neither for a religious or orthodox Islamic state nor for a secular system in the classical Marxist terms. His view was that Pakistan would be a modern, democratic state which derives its ethical formation from Islam.

Imtiaz Alam, Secretary General South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA)

Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisioned Pakistan as a modern democratic state to be run strictly on the basis of merit and where all citizens will be equal before the law. Jinnah’s ideas about what the new state should be like were very clear as can be seen from his speeches and statements. He meant Pakistan to be a progressive state in which there would be scope neither for intolerance nor for obscurantism and whose highest aims would be expressed in the social, cultural and economic uplift of the masses.

Only three days before Pakistan formally appeared on the world map, Jinnah, in his August 11, 1947 memorable speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan stated the principle on which the new state was to be founded: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state …… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and citizens of one state……. in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.

Rashid Rehman, writer, columnist, former Editor Daily The Frontier Post

In my view, there are two Jinnahs not one. The younger one was a nationalist who was dubbed as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity because of his efforts in keeping the independence movement united. But at the same time, he was also a constitutionalist and a democrat of the old British school. He, therefore, incrementally had grave reservation about Gandhi’s use of religion and mass mobilization as the means to independence. Jinnah subsequently changed his stance and took on the view that the Muslims constituted a separate nation in terms of language, culture and way of life. He soon emerged as the champion of the rights of an increasingly insecure Muslim minority in India. But despite his change of views, Jinnah tried to the last to obtain warranty for socio-political and economic rights of the Muslims of India through constitutional guarantees and arrangements in a united independent India.

Secondly, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a true secularist and an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. He had to change his stance after he returned from London and discovered the new trend of promoting Hindu culture. He made it clear in his first speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 that he wanted a state which would allow maximum freedom of religious beliefs and practice while the state would treat each citizen equally. This is the classical definition of a classical state. It is another matter that Pakistan has not followed Jinnah’s philosophy.

That Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah advocated many different types of Nationalism at different times in his career is an undeniable fact. Broadly speaking, he was a staunch secular Indian Nationalist right until his reiteration of Sir Syed’s two-nation theory. From that point till the creation of Pakistan in August 1948, he was the supporter of Muslim Nationalism, after 3rd June 1947 he seemed to favour Secular Pakistani Nationalism. This however is of no consequence to his credentials as a secularist. Neither is his dietary observation (whisky drinking and swine eating) which can only prove his ‘religiosity’. To cut the long story short, Jinnah was a secularist simply because he endorsed the principle of the separation of Church and State, which is the active definition of Secularism in our times.

(Cobrapost News Features)