Unsecular Ambiguities of Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Pervez Hoodbhoy, physicist, scholar, activist, has a most dispassionate appraisal of Jinnah’s attitude towards the secular state in the current issue of EPW (“Jinnah and the Islamic State: Setting the Record Straight”; Issue : VOL 42 No. 32 August 11 – August 17, 2007). He concludes that Jinnah’s attitude was at best ambiguous and often suited towards the inclinations of his immediate audience. The oft quoted part of his speech:

“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 caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

made on 11 Aug 1947 regarding the attitude of the state towards non Muslims, Hoodbhoy feels is a valiant but insufficiently grounded attempt to project Jinnah as a secularist.

I think it is pointless to seek a consensus on the nature of the state that Jinnah wanted for Pakistan. He certainly did not want a theocracy or a Taliban state, nor one in which the non-Muslim minorities would be persecuted and harassed (as they are today). But Jinnah’s statements at different times and circumstances are far too widely spread out to conclude anything substantial beyond these truths. Not being sufficiently wellversed in Islamic history or theology, Jinnah’s allusions to establishing an Islamic state in Pakistan cannot be taken seriously. The future of Pakistan – how secular or how Islamic it is to be – can only be decided by the citizens of the country that Jinnah made.

In a related post comparing the speeches of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru, this blogger had observed:

Anti- Nehruvians who currently dominate the Indian scene blame Jawaharlal for the statist model of development that India followed, his perceived “softness” on Kashmir and for “pampering the minorities”.

In the same vein, Jinnah may also be held responsible for some of the faults in Pakistan today- for creating a State based on religion, and also for not having reared the next line of leadership.

But death deprived Jinnah the time and possibility of leading Pakistan- something that he shares with Mahatma Gandhi, which is probably the reason for the adulation that the Quaid e Azam still gets in Pakistan, like Gandhi gets in India, compared to the rather beleagured stature of Jawaharlal Nehru in India today.

In Pakistan, the view is that the country did not live up to the ideals of the Quaid e Azam.

In India, it is Jawaharlal Nehru who is blamed for not living up to the possibilities of India.

Hoodbhoy’s article just goes to underline how onerous the task for liberals in Pakistan is, with a very fragile defence for secularism in the speeches and writings of Pakistan’s last Congressman.

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13 thoughts on “Unsecular Ambiguities of Mohammad Ali Jinnah

  1. Pingback: Jinnah at Blogbharti

  2. It’s quite interesting to see how the fortunes of these two historical figures are changing. Going by what I’ve read, including on blogs like ATP is the continuing hold that Jinnah has on Pakistani national identity and discourse. Nehru, on the other hand, has been all but relegated to the dustbin of history. Thanks for pointing out the Hoodbhoy article–I will certainly look it up.

  3. Fawad

    Bhupinder, I did read the Hoodbhoy article and I am always impressed that he is willing to honestly deal with facts and ambiguities no matter how inconvenient. I happen to believe (likely a majority Pakistani opinion) that Jinnah’s governance would have been very much in the secular mould of Nehru but without the reverence for communist Russia. He was a modern constitutionalist through and through so I find it hard to believe that he would not have constituted the legal platform of the state without a basis in theology. However, I believe that it would have been inevitable that he would have lost the reverence with which he is held in Pakistan today as the messy process of governing would have unfolded. (Legitimate Bengali resentment to his announcement of Urdu as a national language was one such early reaction).

    The loss of Nehru’s prestige in India is indeed extremely sad. I am a strong admirer of Nehru for his strong belief in secularism and democracy. India owes an incredible debt to him for laying a strong foundation stone for a post-independence democratic state. I am always surprised here in the US when I find Indians complaining about the messiness of democracy. Thanks to Nehru, India has been unique in sustaining a democratic order in the post-colonial era.

    1. ImranS

      Wholeheartedly agree with you Fawad!And never mind the so called loss of prestige for Nehru in India. If some indians, with or without sinister designs, do indulge in it, it is so only because the secular and democratic India, which he relentlessly tried to create, foster and maintain all his life, allows them to do so. Can anyone indulge in Jinnah bashing in Pakistan without fear of consequences? Nehru did commit some mistakes (china primarily). But then he was at the helm of the messy process of governance (your words…very apt indeed!) of a new born country with every imaginable problem for 17 years. And was he dropped from the skys to never make mistakes in such an environment. His greatest gift to India is the secular and democratic polity. If India has survied till now and if she does in the future (I am sure she will as long as the secular and democratic fabric is not damaged), she will always have Nehru to thank the most.

  4. The point is, whatever be the individual beliefs of Jinnah, ultimately his ideology was based on religion. Those whom he mobilised were mobilised around religion and not for any other reason. The strength of Hoodbhoy’s essay is that he brings out the wavering views of Jinnah on secularism, unlike some Pakistani liberals (especially those at ATP whom I have been following) who have tended to reclaim his “secular legacy”.

    On Nehru: The good that men do is oft interred with their bones….

  5. Manjunatha

    The point is, whatever be the individual beliefs of Jinnah, ultimately his ideology was based on religion.

    Both Nehru and Jinnah’s individual beliefs were irrelevant during Gandhi style freedom movement since 1920’s (I believe both shared atheistic and secular set of ideals). Pervez has pointed out that Jinnah was opposed to religion in political arena(probably during initial days of Gandhian struggle). Had Nehru been a true Secularist he should have been the camp follower of Jinnah and not of Gandhi. Probably, what allowed Nehru to ride piggyback on Gandhi’s wave was shared religious identity. Nehru made his opportunistic move and Jinnah his. In Jinnah’ case probably it was too late to make amends to the compromises he had made.

    1. Imran

      Gandhi did bring religion into Indian political arena. May be because he thought that as the most effective way to get the mostly uneducated and illiterate Indian populace participate into the freedom movement. But he did not belittle one religion against other. Recitations from different religious texts were quite common in his meetings. That way, at least for me, it is not difficult to fathom why someone like Nehru (his secular credentials, I personally believe, are absolute and without doubt) could allow himself to be a Gandhi ‘camp follower’ as you say!

  6. Manjunatha: I do not think, even for a moment, that Nehru’s move was “opportunistic” when it came to secularism. It is Gandhi who invoked Hindu symbolism and Jinnah, whatever be his personal beliefs and lifestyle, who used religious identity as a tool of mobilisation (I would have been more accurate above had I said “mobilisation around religious identity rather than “his ideology was based on religion”).

  7. siddiqui

    We have started an unnecessary discussion. There is no theocracy in Islam. Islam is 500% SECULAR. We muslims of present era suffer from complex and accept every lie spoken by any westerner. Please read and study “Meesaq e madina ” and the last ” Khutba” (Hujjat ul Wida ) Theocracy vs secularism is a western dilemma
    Mr Jinnah had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan..It was Nehru who at Birla’s prompting rejected it and alas ! today we have the same situation…three zones ” Bangla Desh, India and Pakistan!!!!!! So who was really far sighted?
    Pakistan has come into being; rightly or wrongly. and we are muslims so what you and I should do ? Abuse Jinnah all the time ?? or gat on with the job. We as muslims are heir to a great civilisation; we have made great contributions to the human civilisations so why should not we have our own legal, social and civil system ?
    Why are we ashamed of our ISLAMIC identity ? We accept and approve of nudity, same sex marriages and all other western morality but we are ashamed of Hijab and the beard ? jews are not ashamed of beards ? US President is not ashamed to take oath of office on Bible; british Kings/Queens are coronated in the West Minister Church…..they are not ashamed but we feel ashamed………………………………….
    Please judge people like Sir Syed and Jinnah in their own time frame; they did not live in 21st century. It is for us to re define and re shape our society in line with Quranic guide lines. Abu Hanifa and imam Malik were not prophets but but were like you and me; they saw the need of new rules and guide lines for the evolving and expanding society and made new ground rules which did not violate Quran……………..THINK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. >so what you and I should do ? Abuse Jinnah all the time ??

    The intention is certainly not to ‘abuse Jinnah’ at all. Parvez’s conclusion is actually exactly what you also seem to indicate- that it is up to the contemporary Pakistani to figure out the future. The point that I wanted to make in this post is that to look for seeds of liberalism in Jinnah’s politics is to miss the wood for the trees.

  9. siddiqui

    Thank you……….But let us look at our own solutions to our very own problems…….how does one define LIBERALISM ? It means different things to different people !
    Reg your admiration of Nehru……….”he hangs between Mascow and Benaras..” so said the Quaid about him…………Nehru cheated every one..his father; his wife; his comrades and at the end the Indian people !!!! Patel was a better man. he was not devious like Nehru; an up front man. Had he been the Prime Minister of India ( instead of Nehru ) things would be much better in the sub continent..Desai was his desciple and his primiership saw the best relations

    The Quaide was Liberal because he was always open to REASON and LOGIC. His entire political career proves it

    1. Imran

      “he hangs between Mascow and Benaras”

      And I wonder where did Jinnah hang when he created the mess that is the Pakistan! In between delicious but haram pork and halal but tasteless meat?
      In between “I am really an atheist at heart” AND “oh here…see me suddenly taking about and practicing Islam”?

      In my opinion, Pakistan is the worst thing to have ever happened to Muslims in sub-continent. Congress, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and all of them that time did commit grave mistakes in tackling Jinnah and League in timely manner and also underestimated them. But if Jinnah really had any foresight and vision at all, he would have (after 46 elections which indeed gave him an upper hand) thought about the future of muslims in every nook and corner of India (and not just about own political ambitions and welfare of nawabs, jaagirdars and jameendars) and opted for keeping them united with more autonomy and possibilities of better future.

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