Challenge to the secularists | Pakistan Today

Challenge to the secularists

Did Quaid really want a secular state?

“The creation of Pakistan” by Inamullah Khawaja revisits an old debate: Was Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah a secular leader or not? And whether Pakistan was to be a secular state or not? In the ‘Preface’, the author does indicate that sometime in the 1990s when he realized that some western authors and Pakistani columnists (though he does not specify names) began to assert that Jinnah wished to create a secular state, he decided to write a book to prove that the father of the nation actually wanted to set up an Islamic country. He firmly believes that Pakistan was meant to be an Islamic state because his childhood and adulthood memories of the leading League leaders whose speeches and discussions he personally witnessed in the public domain as well as in the house of his grandfather, Shams-ul-Ulema Syed Ahmad, who was the Imam of the Jamia Masjid, Delhi, at the time of partition convinced him that they intended an Islamic Pakistan. Although most of his sources are secondary in nature; nonetheless, he did consult some important primary documents in the India Office Library in London, All Soul’s College Oxford and the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton that houses the Mountbatten papers, for about four months to build up his case. His research laid bare a conflicting discourse of the Indian Muslim identity—something which the liberals across the Pak-India border have failed to smoothen and harmonize till today. It is this very conflicting discourse that allows the conservatives to build a historical narrative of “mutually antagonistic Hindu-Muslim identities”. Just see how Inamullah has built his.

The Indian writers claim that the Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam whereas he confutes that it were “the high moral standards and honesty of the Muslims” that impressed the natives to convert to Islam. The Indians postulate that Islam spread through the sword while Inamullah counters that it spread through the missionary work of the sufi saints. Moreover, to the Hindu imagination, the Muslims remain “the Other” as ‘invaders’ and ‘outsiders’ whereas the author suggests that the Muslim rulers and their armies made India their permanent home.

Moreover, there is a common perception among Indian intellectuals to look upon the Muslims as the ‘collaborators’ and ‘beneficiaries’ of the British Raj, however, many Muslims including Inamullah hold an opposite view stating that the Muslims were viciously persecuted by the colonists. To prove his point, he recalls that the British used the Jamia Masjid of Delhi as a stable for two years after the 1857 war. To highlight the British animosity, he refers to the work of a Hindu historian, S N Sen, who in turn has quoted the directive of the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, who directed the first Viceroy Canning that “Every civil building connected with Mohammadan tradition, should be leveled to the ground without regard to the antiquarian veneration or artistic predilection.” To further disprove the Hindu stance that the Muslims prospered under the Raj, he has quoted from William Hunter’s classical work, “The Indian Musalmans” which highlighted the fact that “the Muhammadans are now shut out equally from government employ and from the higher occupations of non-official life.” To further counter this charge, he states that the greatest Hindu leader – Mohandas K Gandhi – was himself a collaborator, because he acted as a “recruiting sergeant” for the British imperialists during World War I for which he was honored with the grand title of “Kaiser-i-Hind.”

Such a narrative then takes a serious turn. Without appreciating the fact that a secular person can be religious in his personal life, the author tries to prove that both the “Quaid” and the “Mahatma” being religious in their personal lives desired to set up “religious states”: an Islamic Pakistan and a Hindu India. After profusely quoting Gandhi’s sayings such as “For me there are no politics but religion. [Politics] subserve religion…” etc, he narrates details of Quaid’s religious life. Starting that as Jinnah’s family belonged to the Asna Ashri shia sect that regularly attended ‘majalis’; prior to leaving for London for studies, he had about eight years of religious instruction in forty to fifty ‘majalis’ per year. Moreover, he also studied the Holy Quran for over four years at ‘Madrasa-tul-Islam’. In addition, instead of having a civil marriage like the Muslim Congress leader S Asif Ali with Aruna Ganguli, the Quaid ensured that his Parsi wife, Ms Ruttie Petit first embraced Islam in the mosque whose Imam was Maulana Azad’s father and the ‘nikkah’ was performed by Maulana Hassan Najafi, all this being reported in the daily Statesman of 19 April, 1918. Furthermore, during his stay in Delhi, he always attended the Eid prayers and was also often present at the Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid, whose Imam was the grandfather of the author. Jinnah himself stated at a meeting of the League in London in 1946, “Very often when I go to the mosque, my chauffeur stands side by side with me.”

This narrative then goes on to show that not only the Quaid, his close associates also wished to set up an Islamic republic. For instance, a confidant Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad while addressing the Bombay League in May 1940 stated, “The creation of an Islamic state, mark my words gentlemen, I say Islamic and not Muslim is our ideal…. The state will conform to the laws as laid down in Islam…. There will be prohibitions absolute and rigorous, with no chance for it ever being withdrawn. Usury will be banished. Zakat will be levied…” Nawab Bahadur Yar Jang, the President of the All-India States Muslim League is quoted to have told a League’s session in Karachi in 1943, “There is no denying the fact that we want Pakistan for the establishment of the Quranic system of government.” Premier Liaquat, the right-hand man of Jinnah reaffirmed to the League’s Council in 1949 that “we wished Pakistan to be a laboratory where we could practice the Islamic principles…” and clarified during a debate on the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan that “the State is not to play the part of a neutral observer… because such an attitude on the part of the state would be the very negation of the ideals which prompted the demand of Pakistan…”.

The author has also quoted several speeches of the Quaid in which he promised to make Pakistan “a bulwark of Islam”. To the contention of the secularists that Jinnah’s 11th August 1947 speech in the Constituent Assembly clearly indicated that he wanted to set a secular state, Inamullah emphasizes that there was just one speech of this type whereas there are over two hundred speeches in which Jinnah referred to Islam to be the polity of the Muslim state. To those secularists who aver that the Quaid employed religious symbolism as a political strategy, the author dismisses it out of hand by insisting that Jinnah was a truthful, honest and upright person and it was uncharacteristic of him to have lied to the Muslims of India for so many years. Such assertions throw the ball back in the court of the secularists to dig into the historical sources and come up with substantial evidence to prove that the Quaid indeed wanted the establishment of a secular state.

The author is an academic and journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Genesis said:

    The comment that "we wished Pakistan to be a laboratory where we could practice the Islamic principles" has successfully come true now with the fleeing of the minorities to safer places.

  2. pashtunyar said:

    The question whether Jinnah wanted a secular pakistan is only of academic interest. Irrespective of what Jinnah wanted, a secular, liberal and a tolerant Pakistan that is at peace withiself and the world is what we should strive for!

  3. tauseef said:

    If Gandhi couldnt stop India from becoming secular, good for for the Indians! They are better in many ways than us. So, lets learn from the good example of India.

  4. Asad Mansoor said:

    Dear Sir Basharat, i am your former student and i have to say you were one off the best professors i never had in my academic career, sadly i realized it all to late when i went to college and stepped into my practical life. I remember during my school days i always had the conflict in my mind as to how your lecture or the Pak Studies class would influence my practical life in the future, but it was your honest narrative and your true assessment off our history that i now come to realize we all desperately need a lesson in. i think you are one off the very few that taught a true account off our history and i will always appreciate you for that, i feel lucky to have had you as my professor during an early age because now i can relate back to your lectures and better understand the problems we face today as a country and better understand and confront the wrong historic narrative we have been taught and made to believe in. I wish you the best off luck and would really want to meet you in person one day

    Asad Mansoor

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