Muhammad Ali Jinnah set out his vision for the nascent Pakistan, a nation he hoped would be democratic, prosperous and tolerant.
Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, is an icon of history and an excellent example of how an individual can change the course of history. Such a history- making person always posesses an extraordinary personality and exceptional calibre. One can argue that every leader is a product of socio-political circumstances and conditions. However, a leader of Jinnah’s stature is not at the mercy of the prevailing conditions. Rather, he moulds the prevailing conditions in a manner that the course of history is changed. He functions more as an independent variable in the historical process, offering a new vision of the future and turning it into a reality. Most people acknowledged Jinnah’s admirable qualities of leadership in the pre- and post-independence period. Beverly Nicholls describes Jinnah as “The most important man in Asia” in his book “Verdict in India”, published in the US in 1944. He justifies his comment about Jinnah by arguing that “India is likely to be the world’s greatest problem for some years to come, and Mr. Jinnah is in a position of unique strategic importance, he can sway the battle this way or that as he chooses. His 100 million Muslims will march to the left, to the right, to the front, to the rear, at his bidding and at nobody else’s…”. American news magazine “Time” published a cover story on him on the 22nd of April 1946.
In the post-independence period, Jinnah is viewed as the most powerful national symbol in Pakistan, whose views and political career inspire most Pakistanis. His speeches and statements are seen to offer a vision of the nature and direction of the political and economic system in Pakistan in broad terms. He presented basic concepts and a broad framework for the constitutional order and socio-political arrangements for Pakistan. He did not give a precise and codified constitutional and legal framework because he believed that such a task was to be undertaken by Pakistan’s constituent assembly. His illness and death within 13 months of the establishment of Pakistan did not give him enough time to further articulate his perceptions of the future of Pakistan or to personally guide the constituent assembly to translate his ideas into political institutions and processes.
His death on the 11th September, 1948, created an organisational and leadership crisis for the Pakistan Muslim league. The party was heavily dependent on his personality and there was no leader of his stature to fill the gap and ensure political continuity. Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, attempted to fill the gap but he soon faced challenges from regional leaders inside and outside Pakistan.
As the constituent assembly began the task of constitution-making, a debate started in the political circles about Jinnah’s view of politics, constitutionalism and Pakistan’s relation with Islam. The dominant political elite in the early years of independence, represented mainly by the Pakistan Muslim League leadership and its allies, upheld the modern democratic vision of statecraft with constitutionalism and the rule of law, elections and equal citizenship. They viewed Islamic principles and teaching as a source of inspiration and guidance for legislation and policy making. They were convinced that the principles and teachings of Islam could be reconciled with modern statecraft and representative democracy.
Islamic religious leaders, especially the Jamat-e-Islami, articulated a counter- narrative of Pakistan’s political system and its relationship with Islam. They were less interested in the modern notions of statecraft and democracy and keener on creating a religious-Islamic state with an emphasis on fundamentalist and orthodox notions of an Islamic order. The focus was on creating a puritanical Islamic order with a literalist approach to Islamic scripture.
The first group dominated the statecraft. They created a modern democratic and constitutional system while maintaining inspirational links of the state with Islam. While recognising Islam as a part of the Pakistani identity, these leaders did not think that the state should take upon itself the task of strict enforcement of Sharia in society, as demanded by the Islamic clergy.
The debate on Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan became more contentious during and after the military rule under general Ziaul Haq. His military government evoked the notion of an Islamic State as advocated by conservative and orthodox Islamic leaders in order to win their support for military rule and deflect the political pressure built up by the Pakistan Peoples’ Party whose government was overthrown by Gen. Zia ul Haq in July 1977 and some other political parties that contested his rule. The dominant Pakistani elite and the state had rejected the vision of an Islamic state as advocated by the Islamic clergy during the first 30 years of independence. Now, with the advent of Gen. Ziaul Haq the table was turned on the moderate and modernist Muslim, and the Pakistani state took upon itself the task of implementing Islam in the state system and society on orthodox and fundamentalist lines.
Gen. Zia’s policy of using the state apparatus to implement Islamic orthodoxy was strengthened by the support his government got from the US and from conservative Arab states after the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979. These states co-opted Pakistan’s military government in the hope of building Afghan-Islamic resistance for countering Soviet presence in Afghanistan. This made financial and diplomatic support available to Pakistan’s military government, which began to promote religious orthodoxy and militancy with greater confidence.
Pakistan in those years experienced a sustained effort by the military government, Islamic clergy and political far Right to re-write Pakistan’s history to justify Islamisation under Gen. Zia’s military government. Jinnah’s views were given a totally new interpretation to argue that he wanted to create a Sharia- based Islamic state rather than one that was both modern and democratic.
Most of these interpretations were out of context and did not take into account the mindset and disposition of Jinnah. Given his educational and social background, especially his British legal training and liberal political orientation, Jinnah viewed Islamic idiom and history as integral to national identity- formation and as an instrument for political mobilisation for the Muslims. Islamic principles, sharia and its cultural parameters were sources of guidance and provided an ethical basis to both society and state. There was, however, no notion of creating an Islamic state as envisaged by the leaders of Pakistani Islamic parties.
There were repeated efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to project Jinnah as a practising Muslim who offered his prayers regularly and strictly followed Islamic injunctions in his personal life. Articles and several books were published during those years to build up Jinnah’s image as a religious person, which conflicts with the description of his personality and disposition in his established and recognised biographies.
There are those who project Jinnah as a secular leader who wanted Pakistan to be a secular state. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on the 11th of August, 1947, four days before Independence, is the core basis of the secularist view of him. Those people ignore Islam in his statements before and after the 11th of August, 1947 speech.
Jinnah’s politics cannot be described as “secular” in the Marxist sense where religion is strictly separated from politics and state. It was only after his return from England in 1934 and the reorganisation of the Muslim League in order to make it a popular movement. That Islamic idiom figured prominently in his discourse. He viewed Islam as a nation-building and integrative force. He was impressed by Islam’s emphasis on equality and social justice. However, he never suggested a religious Islamic country as advocated by many today. He also suggested a non-discriminatory treatment of all religions by the state and upheld the notion of equal citizenship, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, caste or region. Jinnah’s interview with Beverley Nichols in December 1943 includes an interesting question-and -answer exchange:
Beverly Nicholls: “When you say the Muslims are a nation, are you thinking in terms of religion?”
Jinnah: “Partly, but by no means exclusively. You must remember that Islam is not merely a religious doctrine but a realistic and practical code of conduct. I am thinking in terms of life, our history, our heroes, our art, our architecture, our music, our laws, our jurisprudence… in all these things our outlook is not only fundamentally different but often radically antagonistic to the Hindus”.
The focus was on protecting the socio-political identity, rights and interests of the Muslims of South Asia. Both Jinnah and the Muslim League pursued this strategy. Initially they demanded constitutional safeguards and guarantees for securing the identity, rights and interests of the Muslims. Later they talked of a federal system and when the required securities were not available for the Muslims under a federal system, Jinnah began to advocate a separate homeland. If the objective was to create a religious and sharia-based state, Jinnah and the Muslim league should not have accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan (1946). Further, the Muslim League favoured the inclusion of the whole of the Punjab and Bengal in Pakistan because these were Muslim majority provinces. Had this proposal been accepted by the British then Pakistan would have had a large non-Muslim population. How could then a puritanical Islamic state be created in Pakistan?
There was a strong territorial basis to the demand for a separate Pakistani state. The four Muslim majority provinces in the North-West were territorially adjoining which made it possible for the Muslim league to demand a separate homeland. Had there been no concentration of Muslim population in these provinces, the demand for a separate homeland would not have materialised.
Pakistan is a territorial state based on the homeland concept for the Muslims of South Asia. However, it was never conceived as a homeland for all the Muslims of British India. Given the fact that a section of the Muslim political elite opposed the establishment of Pakistan, it was recognised that the Muslims who would continue to live in India would be advised by Jinnah to be loyal to the Indian state.
The founding leaders of Pakistan knew that non-Muslims would be among its citizens. In fact Jinnah assured Non- Muslims in 1947-48 that their rights, religion and property would be protected in Pakistan. He wanted them not to leave Pakistan. It was in this context that he delivered his 11th August, 1947 speech and referred back to the speech in October, 1947 to win the confidence of non-Muslims. He also talked of equal citizenship for all, irrespective of religion, ethnicity and region. Pakistan’s first law minister was a non-Muslim.
Pakistan was conceived as a modern democratic state and a mid-way house between a purely religious state dominated by Islamic clergy and a completely secular state that did not allow the use of religion in political and state affairs. Being a modern democratic and constitution-based state, Pakistan did not reject the guiding role of Islamic principles and teachings for its policy- makers. Socio-cultural and religious pluralism were to be its characteristic features.
Image: Portrait of Quaid-e-Azam, image, Nehru, Mountbatten and Jinnah, Jinnah and Muslim League.
The author is a professor of Political Science at Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan.