Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was not born on the 25th of December. Biographers claim that he was born on the 20th of October, 1875. Growing up in British India, Jinnah (then Jinnahbai) had a boyish fondness for Christmas festivities. So much so that at school, when Jinnah was asked what his birthday was, he picked his most favorite day of the year: 25th of December. And through this divine stroke of youthful exuberance and luck, generations of Pakistanis were spared the uncomfortable controversy of whether or not to declare Christmas as a holiday in our land.

On the 25th of December each year, in commemoration of Quaid’s legacy, a debate erupts across all media channels and political gatherings, about the specifics of Quaid’s ideology for Pakistan. We hold seminars, conferences, and symposiums. We discuss Quaid’s personal life and professional accomplishments. We debate his ideology and outlook. We contemplate how Pakistan would have been if Quaid had lived on for some years after the creation of our country. Would institutions have prospered? Would democracy have been strengthened? Would we have taken our rightful place in the comity of civilized nations?

Above all, perhaps, we speculate about whether Quaid had wanted for Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic Republic’, or simply a secular democracy? Did he really intend for Pakistan to be a place where religious minorities could “freely” profess and practice their religions, or did he believe in a perverted version of the (otherwise benign) ‘two-nation’ theory that insists about separating and antagonizing one religion against the other? Was Quaid’s Muslim League a political party that was ‘Islamic’ in ethos, or was it instead just a play on nomenclature, aimed at gathering and harnessing the political support of individuals who belonged to the Islamic faith? Is the three-piece pin-stripes suit Jinnah our Quaid, or is it instead that tall Sherwani wearing individual?

On the 25th of December each year, amidst the background of milli nagmas, we contemplate these questions – relying on selective versions of history that support our respective narratives – and the next morning, we all go back to living our anonymous lives of unstirred passion. Till the next 25th December, Quaid becomes nothing more than a framed observer on our office walls, condemned to witness in silence the atrocities that we commit in the name of that promise, which he made to the millions of hapless Muslims of India.

In pursuit of Pakistan’s political, religious and cultural ethos, it is only natural for all of us to turn towards Quaid’s life for direction and guidance. It is perhaps even necessary to do so. But guessing the views of an individual (who has been dead for over 65 years) on modern issues and contemporary crises, is a murky exercise. Would Quaid have sent Army into Karachi? His abhorrence to militancy and disorder hints that he would have; his belief in civilian power and governance suggests that he would not have. Would Quaid have supported an activist Supreme Court? His resolve to eradicate corruption and put checks and balances on executive power suggests that he would have; whereas his commitment to separation of powers implies that he would not have.

And perilously, people on all sides of such issues, by claiming to be ‘true’ followers of Jinnah’s ideology, have positioned themselves as the inheritors of Jinnah.

But borrowed dreams – even those of the Quaid himself – can never fill the void of our own soul. Somewhere along the path, in our zeal to find Jinnah, we have lost our way as a nation. And we now sit in the darkness of confusion, our broken dreams all spilled across the sands of time, on a road to nowhere.

The truth is this: Quaid will not come and pick us up form this place of ours in the dust. We will have to do it ourselves. His personal ideology – whatever it may have been – cannot be used as a crutch in this endeavor. The strength to rise to our feet, and then to walk the distance, will have to emanate from within our own spirit. Instead of finding Quaid in the darkness of void, we must try and find ourselves. If for no other reason, than simply this: Quaid, a believer of Iqbal’s khudi, would have wanted us to.

Let us not fool ourselves: we did not declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims, because that is what Quaid’s faith had wanted us to. We did not open ourselves to the militancy of our Western border, because Quaid’s ideology had wished it so. We did not allow military Generals to take political seats of power, because Quaid’s creed had prompted us to. We did not nurture a sclerotic bureaucracy, because Quaid’s philosophy allowed it. We did all this – and much more – to ourselves. And now, only we can mend the broken pieces of our scattered national life.

Tough as it may be to imagine, it is time for us – as individuals as well as a nation – to look beyond Quaid’s ideology to embrace the loftiness as well as the scarcity of our own dreams. It is irrelevant, today, whether Quaid wanted an Islamic State or not; it is us – and not Quaid – who will have to answer our children about why we allowed intolerance to fester in the foundation of our home. We cannot hide behind Quaid to explain our affinity to violence. We have to make these choices for ourselves – not for what Quaid would have wanted Pakistan to be, but instead in fidelity to what we want our country to become. We cannot call on Quaid to reignite the extinguished flame of our passions. Quaid will not save us from the death of our own idealism.

Our religious and cultural fantasies have convinced us that, one day, a savior – a Jinnah or a Salauddin – will rise from the dust of this land, and deliver us all from the evils of our time. For decades now, we have been waiting for this savior… this true inheritor of Quaid and his legacy. We search for this savior in every General and every Judge. We search for him in every political leader and every religious cleric.

It is time to stop searching for Quaid. It is time to stop praying for a savior. And to embrace one simple truth: we – each one of us – are the savior, the Jinnah, that we have been waiting for all this while. If only we muster the audacity to dream for ourselves, and the courage to relentlessly chase such dreams.

The only question that now remains is: which Jinnah, from amongst us, will go on to become the Quaid?

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He  has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.


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