Quaid’s vision of Islam and Pakistan — I

There is an urgent need for Pakistanis to step back and examine the Quaid’s vision for the new nation he created; what better time than when Pakistan celebrates his birthday on 25 December

The debate around the definition of Islam and its relationship to Pakistan’s identity has become vitriolic, obfuscating and violent. It also threatens a breakdown of law and order across Pakistan. The recent protests in Islamabad ended in deaths, angry protests, and the closure of schools, all in the name of demanding the heads of central ministers over accusations of blasphemy. In the meantime, Peshawar once again saw an educational center attacked and students brutally killed.

It is a matter of some urgency then for Pakistanis to step back and examine what exactly was the Quaid’s vision for the new nation he created; what better time than when Pakistan celebrates his birthday on 25 December.

Instead of imposing our personal opinions on Jinnah’s ideas, the most accurate way to understand him is to read what he said, study his actions and listen to those who knew him. Forcing him into a ‘secular’ category or an ‘orthodox’ one is a futile exercise. People cannot just make up things; that is called ‘fake news.’

Understanding the central importance of Jinnah to Pakistan, I spent a full decade of my life creating and completing the Jinnah Quartet, which featured Jinnah (1998), starring Sir Christopher Lee, the documentary Mr Jinnah: The Making of Pakistan (1997), the academic study Jinnah, Pakistan, and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (1997); and a graphic novel, The Quaid: Jinnah and the Story of Pakistan (1997) (for further information please see the documentary, Dare to Dream- The Making of Jinnah (1998)

This ambitious project was only completed due to the dedication of numerous people each one contributing in different capacities.

To my mind, perhaps no words better frame Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan than two hallmark speeches he gave in August 1947, as I pointed out in my book on Jinnah and from which the following excerpts and quotes are taken. The first was delivered on 11 August, when the Constituent Assembly elected him as its first President, the second speech on 14 August. Together they comprise the essence of Jinnah’s thought, his defining statement, his “Gettysburg Address.”

Instead of imposing our personal opinions on Jinnah’s ideas, the most accurate way to understand him is to read what he said, study his actions and listen to those who knew him. Forcing him into a ‘secular’ category or an ‘orthodox’ one is a futile exercise. People cannot just make up things; that is called ‘fake news’

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:

“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 co-operation, 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 tolerance on 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.”

Jinnah also pledged: “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 Mountbattens flew to Karachi to help celebrate the formal transfer of power. In his formal speech to the Constituent Assembly on 14 August, Lord Mountbatten offered the example of Akbar the Great as the model of a tolerant Muslim ruler for Pakistan.

Mountbatten had suggested Akbar advisedly. Akbar had always been a favorite of those who believed in inclusive cultural 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 proud 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 ideal Muslim ruler: there was too much of the willful Oriental despot in his behavior. His harem was said to number a thousand wives. His drinking, his drugs and his blood lust were excessive even by Mughal standards. In a fit of rage he had some 30,000 people massacred in a campaign because they dared to resist him. Akbar also introduced a new religious philosophy, din-e-ilahi, a hotchpotch of some of the established religions, with Akbar himself as a focal religious point. This was imperial capriciousness, little else; and it made the ulema unhappy.

The writer is an author, poet, filmmaker, playwright, and is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, DC. He formerly served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. He tweets @AskAkbar

Published in Daily Times, December 23rd 2017.