Mountbatten would have been aware that six Mughal emperors, beginning with Babar in 1526 and ending with Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, had ruled India, giving it one of the most glorious periods of its history. So his choice was neither random nor illogical. Yet he could also have selected Babar, who after all opened a new chapter of history in India, not unlike Jinnah. The story of Babar – poet, autobiographer, loyal friend and devoted father – was perhaps too triumphalist for Mountbatten.
But had Mountbatten and his staff done their homework they would have realized their blunder. In suggesting Akbar, Mountbatten was clearly unaware of the impression he was conveying. While his choice may have impressed some modernized Muslims, the majority would have thought it odd. Of the six great Mughal emperors from Babar to Aurangzeb, Akbar is perhaps the one most self-avowedly neutral to Islam. To propose Akbar as an ideal ruler to a newly formed and self-consciously post-colonial Muslim nation was rather like suggesting to a convention of Muslim writers meeting in Iran or Saudi Arabia in the 1990s after the publication of The Satanic Verses that their literary model should be Salman Rushdie.
Akbar was the litmus test for Jinnah. Perhaps earlier in his life he may have considered Akbar, but now he rejected the suggestion. In a rebuttal which amounted to a public snub — Mountbatten was after all still the Viceroy of India — Jinnah presented an alternative model, that of the holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh):
The tolerance and goodwill that great Emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries ago when our Prophet not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians, after he had conquered them, with the utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs. The whole history of Muslims, wherever they ruled, is replete with those humane and great principles which should be followed and practised.
After the creation of Pakistan, it was precisely a broad and inclusive idea of Islam that led the Quaid to spend his last Christmas before he died in a church with the Christian community, declare himself Protector General of the Hindu minority, and appoint a Hindu and an Ahmadi to key posts in his small cabinet
Jinnah reverted to the themes he had raised only three days earlier. The holy Prophet had not only created a new state but had laid down the principles on which it could be organized and conducted. These principles were rooted in a compassionate understanding of society and the notions of justice and tolerance. Jinnah emphasized the special treatment the Prophet accorded to the minorities. Morality, piety, human tolerance – a society where colour and race did not matter: The Prophet had laid down a charter for political and social behaviour thirteen centuries before the United Nations.
Jinnah’s remarks must be seen in the context of Islamic culture and history. Jinnah, conscious that this was one of the last times he would be addressing his people because he was dying, would find himself echoing the holy Prophet’s own last message on Mount Arafat. For him too this was the summing up of his life and his achievement.
While rejecting the idea of a “theocratic” state, the Quaid’s speeches emphasized the need for Pakistan to draw inspiration from the “high principles” of the Quran and the holy Prophet. Reading Jinnah’s speeches, it is clear that in his vision Pakistan would be an ideal Islamic society that would be equitable, compassionate and tolerant and from which the “poison” of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and inefficiency would be eradicated. This was also a society in which minorities would be treated with dignity and respect, not excluded from public life simply because of their faith or ethnicity.
We have heard the Quaid’s own words above. Let us look at his actions to find clues as to how he interpreted his faith.
Here is a glimpse of Jinnah’s attitude to Islam when he was a young man. It has been said that Jinnah chose Lincoln’s Inn because he saw the name of the holy Prophet at the entrance. I went to Lincoln’s Inn looking for the name on the gate, but there is no such gate nor any names. There is, however, a gigantic mural covering one entire wall in the main dining hall of Lincoln’s Inn. Painted on it are some of the most influential lawgivers of history, like Moses, and, indeed, the holy Prophet of Islam. A key at the bottom of the painting confirms the names. Jinnah, I suspect, was not deliberately concealing the memory of his youth but recalling an association half a century after it had taken place. He had remembered there was a link, a genuine appreciation of Islam. Had those who have written about Jinnah’s recollection bothered to visit Lincoln’s Inn the mystery would have been solved.
After the creation of Pakistan, it was precisely this broad and inclusive idea of Islam that led the Quaid to spend his last Christmas before he died in a church with the Christian community, declare himself Protector General of the Hindu minority, and appoint a Hindu and Ahmadi to key posts in his small cabinet.
Dina, his daughter and only child, sums up her father’s position on his faith in a rare interview she gave us for the Jinnah documentary: “He was not a religious man, but he wasn’t irreligious either. There was no big religious thing.”
Jinnah’s dream for Pakistan was a grand one: what he wanted was nothing less than that Pakistan become “one of the greatest nations of the world,” not just in the Muslim world. Yet today, the idea of Pakistan is greater than the reality. At this very critical time, Pakistan is facing major external and internal challenges. Without a clear moral and political compass, Pakistanis will remain confused, divided and prone to anger and even violence as to how best face the growing challenges such as those posed by the protesters who recently blockaded Islamabad. Pakistanis must look back at Jinnah’s Gettysburg Address and re-imagine their own future as a people and as a nation.
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 24th 2017.