It is crucial for Pakistanis to understand the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan, which when it was created was the largest Muslim country in the world. He envisioned Pakistan as a democratic, modern Muslim state with human rights, minority rights, women’s rights, and the rule of law. We should remember that the inspiration for this vision was the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and attempt to live up to this ideal, particularly with reference to justice, integrity and the protection of minorities.
What was the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision for Pakistan? Was it of a modern democracy or a theocracy? What about the place of religious minorities? These are urgent and important questions for every generation of Pakistanis. I have explored these questions in my work for decades, most notably in the 1990s when I produced the “Jinnah Quartet,” four projects on the Quaid that included a feature film, a documentary film, an academic book, and a graphic novel.
In my book Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (1997) I discussed the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan in detail. Since the Quaid did not write a book or monograph, the main clue to his thinking comes through his speeches. If we put together two of his speeches in the crucial month of August 1947, when he had attained Pakistan — indeed the first two speeches that he made in the new state — we are able to grasp his vision for the state he had created.
The first was delivered on August 11, when the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan elected him as their first President, the second on August 14, celebrated as Pakistan or Independence Day. Together they comprise the Quaid’s “Gettysburg address” and would form the basis for his subsequent speeches in the year that remained to him.
Perhaps his most significant and most moving speech was the first one. It is an outpouring of ideas on the state and the nature of society, almost a stream of consciousness. No bureaucratic hand impedes the flow because it was delivered without notes.
The speech goes as:
“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 cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one 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 will be no end to the progress you will make. I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in 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 Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on — will vanish. Indeed if you ask me this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free peoples long, long ago.”
Building up from this powerful passage comes the vision of a brave new world, consciously an improvement in its spirit of inclusiveness from the old world he has just rejected:
“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…. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”
If Pakistanis could follow these ideals, the Quaid would be confident of the future. The Quaid made a pledge:
“My guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your support and co-operation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.”
Two days later the British Viceroy of India Lord Mountbatten and his wife flew to Karachi to help celebrate the formal transfer of power. In his official speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 14, Lord Mountbatten offered the example of Akbar the Great Mughal as the model of a tolerant Muslim ruler to Pakistan.
Mountbatten had suggested Akbar advisedly. Akbar has always been a favourite of those who believe in synthesis or what in our time passes for secular. To most non-Muslims in South Asia, Akbar symbolized a tolerant, humane Muslim, one they could do business with. He avoided eating beef because the cow was sacred to the Hindus. The Rajputs gave his armies leading generals and his court influential wives.
But for many Muslims Akbar posed certain problems. Although he was a great king by many standards, he was a far from an ideal Muslim ruler: there was too much of the wilful Oriental despot in his behaviour. His harem was said to number a thousand wives. His drinking, his drugs and his bloodlust were excessive even by Mughal standards. In a fit of rage in the siege of Chittor in 1567 he had some 30,000 people massacred because they resisted him.
Akbar also introduced a new religious philosophy, din-e-ilahi, which critics claimed was a hotchpotch of some of the established religions, with Akbar himself as a focal religious point. This, they said, was imperial capriciousness, little else; and it made the ulema unhappy. Mountbatten would have been aware that six Mughal emperors, beginning with Babar in 1526 and ending with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, had ruled India, giving it one of the most glorious periods of its history. The Mughal empire did not end until it was finally killed off in 1857 by the British, but its last great emperor was Aurangzeb.
They were remarkable men, these six, each one different and easily lending himself to popular stereotypes. There was Babar the warrior king, the founder; Humayun, good-natured but unlucky, who almost lost his father’s kingdom; Akbar the Great, the man who joined together the various cultural and religious strands of India during his reign; Jahangir, artistic, drunken, and troubled, who ruled mainly through his talented wife the empress Nur Jahan; Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal who brought the empire to a pinnacle of artistic and architectural glory; and finally Aurangzeb, whose long reign is seen as the watershed for Muslim rule in India and who himself evokes divided loyalties, orthodox Muslims holding him as an example of an ideal ruler, critics calling him a fanatic and pointing out his harsh treatment of his father and brothers.
So Mountbatten’s choice was neither random nor illogical. Yet he could also have selected Babar, who after all opened a new chapter of history in India, not unlike the Quaid. The story of Babar — poet, autobiographer, loyal friend and devoted father — was perhaps too triumphalist for Mountbatten. But had Mountbatten and his staff done their homework they would have realized their blunder. In suggesting Akbar, Mountbatten was clearly unaware of the impression he was conveying. While his choice may have impressed some modernized Muslims, the majority would have thought it odd. Of the six great Mughal emperors from Babar to Aurangzeb, Akbar is perhaps the one most self-avowedly neutral to Islam. To propose Akbar as an ideal ruler to a newly formed and self-consciously post-colonial Muslim nation was rather like suggesting to a convention of Muslim writers meeting in Iran or Pakistan in the 1990s that their literary model should be Salman Rushdie. Akbar was the litmus test for the Quaid. Perhaps some decades before he would have considered Akbar as a model, but now he rejected the suggestion. In a rebuttal which amounted to a public snub — Mountbatten was after all still the Viceroy of India — the Quaid presented an alternative model.
The Quaid in his reply pointed out that Muslims had a more permanent and more inspiring model to follow, that of the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH): “The tolerance and goodwill that great Emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries ago when our Prophet not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians, after he had conquered them, with the utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs. The whole history of Muslims, wherever they ruled, is replete with those humane and great principles which should be followed and practised.”
The Quaid reverted to the themes he had raised only three days earlier. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had not only created a new state but had laid down the principles on which it could be organized and conducted. These principles were rooted in a compassionate understanding of society and the notions of justice and tolerance. The Quaid emphasized the special treatment Prophet (PBUH) accorded to the minorities. Morality, piety, human tolerance — a society where colour and race did not matter: the Prophet (PBUH) had laid down a charter for social behaviour thirteen centuries before the United Nations.
It is interesting how even scholars have misread these speeches of the Quaid. The celebrated American historian Stanley Wolpert, an admirer of the Quaid, who analysed the first speech, concluded that what he termed the “disjointed ramblings” suggested that the Quaid’s mind was wandering. Was the Quaid aware, asked Wolpert, that he was abandoning his two-nation theory by talking of tolerance and so on? In fact the Quaid’s remarks must be seen in the context of Islamic culture and history. The Quaid, conscious that this was one of the last times he would be addressing his people because he was dying, would find himself echoing the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) own last message on Mount Arafat. For him too this was the summing up of his life and his achievement. Wolpert’s dismissal of the Quaid’s speech is interesting; he was aware of the comparison with the Arafat address but he did not follow it through.
As I continue to stress in my work, it is crucial for Pakistanis to understand the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan, which, when it was created, was the largest Muslim country in the world. He envisioned Pakistan as a democratic, modern Muslim state with human rights, minority rights, women’s rights, and the rule of law. We should remember that the inspiration for this vision was the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and attempt to live up to this ideal, particularly with reference to justice, integrity and the protection of minorities.
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