There are two shades of debate about the politics of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the founder of Pakistan whose birthday is celebrated on December 25. First, liberal commentators argue that Jinnah was a secular leader who advocated a state for Indian Muslims, not an Islamic state. They cite his statements in support of democratic values, pluralism and minority rights such as: “The new state would be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people”; “Muslims will cease being Muslims; Hindus will cease being Hindus, not religiously, but politically”; “Pakistan is not a theocracy”. This class of advocates has been marginalised in Pakistan’s policymaking and school textbooks.
Second, right-wing writers and Islamic clerics attribute Jinnah’s ideas to the Quran and Sunnah, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad. They argue that Jinnah stood for an Islamic state and cite his mission’s fulfilment as expressed in the popular response to this slogan: What is the meaning of Pakistan? The chorus: La ilaha illallah (There is no deity but Allah). This class of advocates, supported by successive governments, rules over the country’s mainstream. Akbar S Ahmed, author of Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin, notes two stages of Jinnah’s personality: in the first, he is a secular person and stays so amid the Hindu politics of the 1920s. In the second stage, he is tutored by the Islamist poet Muhammad Iqbal, resulting in a complete intellectual break from 1937 onwards, when Jinnah relies increasingly on Islam to advance Muslim separatism.
From 1937 onwards and even after the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah’s speeches were laced with imageries from Islam. He made statements like: “Muslims… have not been crushed during the last 1,000 years”; “I shall never allow Muslims to be slaves of Hindus”; “The cows that Hindus worship Muslims eat, the villains that Hindus malign, Muslims idolise”; “The goal of Pakistan is not only to get freedom and autonomy but the Islamic concept of life”; “It is Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual blessing that Pakistan came into being. Now it is Pakistanis’ responsibility to turn it into the model (state) of the Righteous Caliphs”; “We must… present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality.”
As Iqbal desired an Islamic character for the state of Pakistan, Jinnah articulated: “The Quran is a complete code for the Muslims—a religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal, and penal code.” Asked how Pakistan’s constitution would look like, Jinnah responded: “Who am I to give you a constitution? The prophet of Islam had given us a constitution (Quran) 1,300 years ago. We have to simply follow and implement it, and based on it we have to establish in our state Islam’s great system of governance.” Rejecting the atheistic conception of socialism, he said: “We do not want any flag except… the Crescent and Star. Islam is our guide and the complete code of our life… We do not want any isms, socialisms, communisms or national socialisms.” Jinnah was articulating global Islamism.
Iqbal, who promulgated the idea of Pakistan in 1930 and is celebrated along with Jinnah as the country’s founding father, wrote a popular Urdu couplet: Hazaron saal nargis apni benoori pe roti hai/Bari mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida (For thousands of years the narcissus laments its colourlessness; with great difficulty the one with true vision is born in the garden). Some writers think Iqbal was referring to Prophet Muhammad, but Akbar S Ahmed says the scholars of South Asia agree that Iqbal was speaking of his own success in converting Jinnah to the cause of an Islamic state.
Post-1937, Jinnah did make statements in support of democratic values but under Iqbal’s influence he had been primarily cultivating a religious audience. Then in a speech before the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, he spoke: “You are free; 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.” It was a bombshell; his audience was unprepared for it. This epic speech disappeared from the next day’s newspapers and government records. The civil service was no longer in ideological consonance with Jinnah, and possibly prevented medical aid from reaching him in his dying hours.
In the sociology of nations, facts are sometimes not important; it is more important what people consider to be the facts. Jinnah unleashed a genie. The search for an Islamic identity meant that women stopped wearing saris; people began choosing Arabic names; Pakistan looked to the Arabs rather than to its Indian heritage; her origin was calculated back to the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 AD; the civilisations of Taxila, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, which existed for thousands of years before Islam, were erased from memory. Even liberal writers began searching for an Iqbal in the cosmopolitan Ghalib, or for Jinnah in Saladdin who conquered Jerusalem.
It is immaterial what kind of Pakistan Jinnah stood for; what is consequential is the genie. In Arab folklore, the genie granted wishes; in Pakistan it kills people. The genie, imbued with free will, is Islamism; it refuses to return into the bottle. In Pakistan today, the mainstream is right-wing, Islamist and growingly xenophobic. If Pakistan were a Hollywood movie, it is invaded by aliens. The genie’s cousins are killing people. They have outlawed Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims. They are forcibly converting Hindu girls to Islam and trapping Christians in blasphemy cases. A genocide is unfolding, as Shia Muslims are being hunted and murdered systematically. These murders are ideological; the killers are not found. The secular Jinnah is dead; the Islamist Jinnah is alive. Pakistan is irrecoverable as a state and has entered, to use noted historian Ayesha Jalal’s words, a state of “cognitive disability”.
Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research
Institute, Washington DC. Email: email@example.com