Jinnah’s Dream 70 years on

by Akbar S. Ahmed

Jinnah’s critics are many and widespread.  To Indians on the whole and many in Britain he is the ultimate villain, the bête noire in the drama of the petition of India into two countries. He is depicted as a megalomaniac who caused the deaths and displacements of millions of people.  For groups like the Taliban his model is most dangerous of all for Muslim society, because it is actually capable of winning support and affection of the masses.

On the whole for Pakistanis, Jinnah is revered as being the Quaid-e-Azam, or “Great Leader” the father of their beloved nation, Pakistan.

Jinnah’s Dream

It must not be forgotten that Jinnah envisaged a country that would foster human rights, women’s rights, minority rights and the rule of law. During the short period he was governor general of Pakistan he established the importance of showing extra consideration to minorities.

Once on his way to a state function he ordered his entourage to stop because he saw a Muslim mob threatening a small group of Hindus with violence.  These Muslims were refugees who had lost everything in India and were venting out their anger.  Jinnah against the pleading of his staff threw himself into the mob and demanded that it desist. He declared, “I am going to constitute myself the Protector General of the Hindu minority in Pakistan.”

All this would suggest that his legacy has been safely preserved in Pakistan and that the Jinnah model has survived, this is not so.

Jinnah died one year after creating Pakistan and the strong forces of feudal and tribal society soon reasserted themselves, overriding modern notions of justice, democracy and rule of law. Almost inevitably, civilian government faltered and just a decade after Jinnah’s death the military stepped in to assume power.  The history of Pakistan since then has oscillated between shaky democratic governments and rapacious military rule.

Jinnah’s dream of Pakistan can be reconstructed from the speeches he gave towards the end of his life.  He had a clear idea of the kind of country he wished to create.

This would be a modern democracy, not a theocracy and a non-Muslim would be safe in it.  He would have been heartbroken at the persecution and killing of minorities in Pakistan. We have had too many examples of attacks on Christians, Ahmedis and even rival Muslim groups.

Pakistanis need to heed Jinnah’s first speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, which elected him as the country’s first president, delivered on the 11 August 1947.  It is a seminal speech in the history o f Pakistan.  (The state itself came into being a few days later, on 14 August, which is now celebrated as Independence Day).  Because the words  reflect a vision of Islam which does not suit either the likes of the Taliban or those in uniform or civilian clothes who do not wish to promote a tolerant, democratic and humanistic nation, they have been frequently expunged from the history books.

For me this is the heart of the speech and because of its importance and relevance today, I quote from it at length.

“If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there is no end to the progress you will make.

“I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in the course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community – because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vaishnavas, Khatris (Kshatriyas), also Bengalis, Madrasis, and so on – will vanish. Indeed, if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain … freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long, long ago.”

Examining this powerful passage the vision of a brave new world, consciously an improvement in its spirit of tolerance of the old society Jinnah has rejected.

“You are free – You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan.  You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state…  We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste and creed. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal of one state.

“Now if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well being of the people and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed.”

Jinnah had regularly reminded his Muslim audiences of the ideal of Islam.

“Our own history and our Prophet have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously.”

Jinnah was confident of the future if Pakistanis could follow these ideals.  He also envisioned Pakistan and India living as good neighbours, supplementing and supporting each other. He even proposed a joint defence system that would seem outrageous to most Pakistanis and Indians today. On the death of Mahatma Gandhi on the 30 January 1948, he issued a statement in which he described the slain leader as ‘great’ three times.

The Jinnah model is both vital and relevant for Pakistan. Unfortunately in the country’s tribal, class and establishment dominated society has never allowed never allowed justice, democracy and the rule of law to make a deep impression. The repeated acts of violence by the Taliban and others on those whom they as the enemies of Islam and the violation of the constitution by consecutive dictators and rulers of Pakistan, have convinced many that Jinnah’s model is irrelevant. In a time, the people o Pakistan, with humour and irony, began to comment on the widespread corruption by saying that only Jinnah could solve the country’s problems, by which they meant the official currency notes that carry his portrait.

Jinnah’s message is enshrined in the notion of Pakistan itself, a pluralist, inclusive and progressive democratic state. A state where every citizen would be equal and there would be no distinction on the basis of faith, caste or creed.

Jinnah was a ‘great leader’ an ardent champion for the downtrodden and one of those rare men who actually create history.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan was that of a pluralist, inclusive and progressive democratic state.  A state where every citizen would be equal and there would be no distinction on the basis of faith, caste or creed.  We speak of Jinnah and forget the role of his sister Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, the mother of our great nation. In her campaign to oust dictator Ayub Khan showed us a glimpse of how our society perceived women (not much has changed).  Ayub Khan knew that being up against a woman albeit one of esteemed stature, he would do well to galvanise heavy support in rural areas, where many Muslim electors disapproved of a woman’s candidacy. He went on to accuse Fatima Jinnah of being pro-Indian and pro-American. Our beloved mother Fatima Jinnah may have lost at the ballot box but left an everlasting beacon for our nation for the ability of our women.

Jinnah said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you”, which can only be done by empowering women.  This is something that was exemplified by the struggle of the two Jinnah’s and the quest for Pakistan.

The author is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.  This article is from 2009.