Pakistan’s founder, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s first address to the country’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 continues to draw varied responses. In it Mr. Jinnah had elucidated the new country as an all-inclusive abode where faith would be a personal matter of its citizens, and that the state will have nothing to do with a citizen’s creed.
Whereas the speech had delighted many of Mr. Jinnah’s comrades, there were also those within and outside the assembly who were left feeling uneasy by it. The critics bewailed that the creators of Pakistan were sounding conflicted. They bemoaned that the founder was explaining Pakistan’s raison d'etre through a ‘secular lens.’ But Mr. Jinnah had heard this before.
He had been consistently criticized during the Pakistan Movement (1940-46). Many Islamic outfits with links to the Indian National Congress (INC) and those who had opposed both AIML as well as INC, had warned that a group of ‘secular’ and ‘nominal Muslims’ were wanting to construct a Muslim-majority country which would be a demographic and political catastrophe for India’s Muslim minority.
Nevertheless, one of Mr. Jinnah’s first biographers, Hector Bolitho, had described the speech as ‘one of greatest made by Mr. Jinnah.’ However, A.G. Noorani in his essay for the June 16, 2012 edition of Criterion Quarterly wrote that when the draft of the speech was sent to the newspapers for publication, a press advisory accompanied the draft asking the newspapers to ‘black out certain portions of the speech.’
Mr. Jinnah was unaware that such an advisory had been sent. And even though Noorani wrote that some editors threatened that they would inform Jinnah about it, it is not known whether they did or not. In September 1948, Mr. Jinnah passed away and the recording of the speech vanished. According to a September 11, 2013 feature on the BBC’s website, the speech had been recorded by the All India Radio (AIR) and that it might still be in its possession.
Parts of the speech made their way into some school textbooks in the 1960s during the modernist Ayub Khan regime (1958-69). Parts of it were also published in textbooks during the Z.A. Bhutto regime (1971-77). However, it disappeared again during President Zia-ul-Haq’s government (1977-88). Twice it was expunged from newspapers that attempted to rekindle it, once in August 1980 and then again in March 1981. This was followed by the odd action of removing a painting of Mr. Jinnah from the waiting lounge of the Karachi Airport in 1982.
The painting was done by the famous artist Ahmad S. Nagi. According to Nagi’s obituaries published in various newspapers in 2006, the painting was sanctioned by the country’s future Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan in 1944. The painting was brought to Karachi after Pakistan’s creation in August 1947. It shows Mr. Jinnah in a suit and a tie. But in 1982, it was replaced by another painting which showed Mr. Jinnah in a sherwani.
This relatively minor episode exhibits how Mr. Jinnah’s image that was formed by his August 11 speech continued to disturb those who had wanted to suppress it right from the onset of Pakistan. They saw Pakistan’s emergence as an ‘Islamic state’. They believed that in an Islamic state the Muslims alone should dominate. They asked, isn’t this why Jinnah created a separate Muslim country?
This question is still being asked. Those who ask this, assume that the debate is about a secular Pakistan and a theocratic one. But this is not the case. Let me explain.
During the first session of Pakistan’s nascent Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, delivered a remarkable speech. The speech is rooted in the modernist Muslim ethos which was first pioneered by the likes of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the 19th century and then greatly evolved by Muhammad Iqbal in the 1920s and 1930s.
Jinnah said: ‘You (the citizens of the newly created Pakistan) 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; caste or creed (because) this has nothing to do with the business of the state. You will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims will 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.’
Then in February 1948, he explained: ‘Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.’ Such words by the founder of a Muslim-majority country were directly aimed at the criticism Jinnah’s party the AIML had faced in pre-partition India from both traditional/orthodox as well as radical Islamic outfits and individuals who had mocked the party’s leadership for dreaming of creating a Muslim republic steeped in the European ideals of constitutionalism and modernity.
In 1939, some Islamic scholars warned that the ‘Pakistan Movement lay in the hands of those who believed in a secular mode of politics and state.’
Many traditionalist ulema and Muslim nationalists who saw more sense in backing the INC to maintain Muslim influence in a united India, had scoffed at the whole idea of a separate Muslim country because it was being ‘propagated by Muslim modernists.’ Men such as Mr. Jinnah were derided as being ‘token Muslims’ who were ‘secular’ and had no knowledge of Islam.
Muslim modernism to these ulema was just another expression of secularism peppered with nominal Islamic concessions and a convoluted reimagining of Islamic laws and history. They were alarmed by Muslim modernism’s vehement criticism of the Muslim orthodoxy and the clergy and the fact that it did not allow them to play any significant role outside the confines of mosques or madrassas. Even though Iqbal did concede some space for the ulema in legislative bodies, Jinnah was more than willing to keep them stationed in places of worship and seminaries.
Jinnah’s opponents in this context wanted to explain Pakistan as an entity which (with the input from the ulema) should evolve into becoming an Islamic Republic and then an Islamic State.
They rejected Mr. Jinnah’s August 11 speech by suggesting that Muslims of Pakistan alone should enjoy the most prominent political, economic and social benefits and positions in Pakistan. They insisted that only Islamic laws can create an Islamic republic which was to evolve into becoming an Islamic state headed by ‘pious Muslim men.’
But Jinnah was suspicious of the religious outfits, despite the fact that some of them had broken ranks with the INC and supported Jinnah during the important 1946 election in pre-partition India. Besieged by the attacks on the manner in which he practiced his faith, Mr. Jinnah cautiously welcomed the arrival of these ulema to tackle the alarmist religious rhetoric of Islamic parties such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUIH), the Majlis-e-Ahrar (MA) and the Muslim nationalists associated with the INC.
But by then Jinnah had already expanded the AIML into becoming a broad-based party. Apart from having a large number of Muslim modernists, by the early 1940s, the AIML also had communists and socialists and even groups of Christians, Zoroastrians and members from certain downtrodden Hindu communities in its ranks.
The idea was to offer a Muslim-majority haven in shape of Pakistan which would be more welcoming to all minority groups of the region and to the lower-caste Hindus than a hegemonic ‘upper-caste Hindu-dominated India’. According to AIML’s 1946 manifesto, a country formed by a minority (of India) would be more sympathetic to the needs of all minority groups of the region.
Pakistan was the outcome of a powerful intellectual tendency, Muslim modernism, which broke out in the second half of the 19th century and then rapidly evolved among sections of educated Indian Muslim middle-classes in the 1930s and 1940s.
Muslim modernism had explained the social, economic and political decline of India’s Muslims as a consequence of (1) their reliance on ‘outdated’ modes of Islamic law and their reading of Islam’s sacred texts according to the ancient conditions in which commentaries on these texts were authored; (2) a rigid mindset instilled in Muslims with the way their faith was taught to them by traditionalist/orthodox ulema and clergy; (3) their reactionary attitude towards modern education and the sciences; (4) their disposition which rated superstition over reason and dogma over open debate; and (5) their lack of understanding that history was not just a set of ancient stories.
From a social, economic and educational plea, Muslim modernism had then evolved to add a political dimension to itself by converting the idea of a reformed and modernized cultural Muslim separatism (in India) into becoming an equally enlightened and economically vibrant political polity. A polity that could only progress as a dynamic Muslim entity in a Muslim-majority state where – without impediments such as ‘hegemonic Hindu majoritarianism’ and British colonialism – this state could truly shape Islam as a modern and progressive force.
On February 14, 1948, Jinnah spoke about a ‘Muslim democracy.’ A few months before this he had told a journalist that he had no idea what a theocracy meant. ‘We (the Muslims) learned about democracy thirteen hundred years ago’, he informed, clearly alluding to the claims of early Muslim modernists that Islam was an inherently enlightened and progressive religion.
By using the term ‘Muslim democracy’ Mr. Jinnah was also alluding to Iqbal’s idea of an ‘Islamic democracy’ in which people would send learned men to the assemblies, and decisions would be made and laws passed through ijtihad (independent and informed reasoning) and ijma (consensus).
That’s why even though two of the country’s main founders, Mr. Jinnah, and Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, continued to insist that Pakistan was not to become a theocracy, they often explained their idea of a progressive and liberal country not in secular terms, but through Islamic symbolism and lingo. This is the reason why there are also quotes of both leaders speaking about an Islamic republic. But this is explained in a modernist manner as being flexible and able to complement modern-day needs (without resorting to theocratic rule).
So the central debate in Pakistan has largely been about two competing tendencies of Muslim nationalism in South Asia: one claiming to be modernist and the other political-theocratic. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan pioneered the idea of Muslim modernism in the 19th century. And right from the period when poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal further evolved it in the early 20th century, to Mr. Jinnah who mobilized it into becoming a populist movement for a separate country, Pakistan was to become a project of Muslim modernism.
In theory, Muslim modernism called for a rational and contemporary interpretation of Islam’s sacred texts, the adoption of a scientific mindset, and the pragmatic absorption of social modernity, because the modernists believed Islam to be a flexible and an inherently progressive faith.
Since it was the modernists who led the movement for the creation of Pakistan, they desired a country where the Muslim modernism project could be fully constructed without impediments such as ‘hegemonic Hindu majoritarianism.’ Mr. Jinnah’s August 11 speech is thus deeply rooted in this very narrative.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist, cultural critic and satirist. He is the author of two books ‘End of the Past’ and ‘The Pakistan Anti-Hero.’
E-mail: [email protected]
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