With the Quaid Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s birth anniversary, that time of year is upon us again when the secular versus Islamist debate sparks off in Pakistan, with both sides of the debate picking selectively on various speeches of Jinnah to prove their own side of the argument.

It appears, however, that both sides are indeed aware that Jinnah did make conflicting statements at different times, either in keeping with changing influences on him, or more likely in conformity with changing political realities and objectives. As outlined by Tufail Ahmed in the Indian Express only a couple of days ago, Jinnah is on record talking about an Islamic system and a constitution provided by the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)for Pakistan. Indeed those utterances of his that espouse an Islamic system of governance for Pakistan sound as extreme as those of the present day Jamat-e-Islami: “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”; “The Quran is a complete code for the Muslims—a religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal, and penal code.” To borrow further from Tufail Ahmed’s piece: “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”; “We do not want any flag except… the Crescent and Star. Islam is our guide and the complete code of our life…”

Were these utterances not documented and therefore incontrovertible, many would find the idea of the not exactly ‘practicing Muslim’ Jinnah delivering these words unbelievable. However, without the two nation theory, or wooing the religious segments he could hardly be expected to gain the upper or even the equal hand in negotiations with the Congress or the British. Had he called for a secular but separate Muslim majority state to be carved out, he would not have had a political leg to stand on – or so he thought.

However, change his public stance, he did – especially when the state of Pakistan began to look like a reality. But the liberals who argue today for a secular state, whilst ignoring his Islamist statements, do not deny their veracity. They focus instead on those statements of Jinnah that spoke of a democratic and a secular dispensation (secular being implied without the express use of the word): “Religion should not be allowed to come into Politics….Religion is merely a matter between man and God”; “The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”

In particular liberals hold fast to Jinnah’s speech to the constituent assembly on 11 August 1947 which completely contradicts his earlier advocacy for an ‘Islamic state’: “— because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on .… Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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 with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State…we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would 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.”

However, the right-wing ideologues do not just ignore, but completely deny the existence of the latter speeches of Jinnah espousing a secular state. It is quite interesting that the Islamists of the likes of Farid Paracha of the Jamat-e-Islami have no compunctions about lying to suit their agenda. The full presidential address to the constituent assembly even details Jinnah’s reasons for setting a secular path for the country, and outlines the pitfalls of fashioning the state on an ideological or theocratic basis.

Given that the two sides do not, and will not, agree on Jinnah’s intent; that his intent apparently kept changing; and that Pakistan does not happen to be his personal estate to be dispensed with as he wished, we have the strongest case to set aside the debate of Jinnah’s intent. This is a country of over 200 million souls who ought to be able to define for themselves the kind of life, nation, country and future they want; whether they want religion to be between man and God or whether they wish to be ruled by the Mullah, the Taliban or Al Qaeda who will interpret what God intended and rule them according to that interpretation.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.


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