“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state” — August 11, 1947 “There are people who want to create mischief and make the propaganda that we will scrap the Sharia law. Islamic principles have no parallel” — January 26, 1948 What do these two contrasting quotes have in common? They are attributable to the same person, who is easily the most revered figure in Pakistan’s history; the founding father of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Given how Jinnah was able to carve out a separate country for Muslims in South Asia by simultaneously negotiating with the British Crown and The Congress, he has no parallel in Pakistan when it comes to respect.His picture on all currency notes. His portraits in all government offices. His iconic status in Pakistan’s collective conscious. Pakistanis might disagree on almost every issue under the sun. But when it comes to the sort of country Pakistan should be, everyone looks at Jinnah’s words and actions for guidance. In 71 years of Pakistan’s short history, secularists have consistently used Jinnah’s words in the first quote to further their cause for a secular country. At the same time, Islamists have relied on the second quote to promote their vision of an Islamic country.It is slightly paradoxical that Islamists have also used Jinnah’s words in order to give their arguments some legitimacy. Prior to independence, Muslim religious scholars were not particularly fond of Jinnah. He did not speak any local language. He was not a practicing Muslim. It is hence no surprise that Muslim clerics had an issue with Jinnah mobilizing a mass movement of reexploring Muslim religious and political identity. This can be seen from the following words of Maulana Abu A’laMaududi, who was one of the most revered Muslim scholars of his time: “The whole world knows that he [Jinnah] does not even know the basics of Islam” — December, 1939, Tahfim-ul-QuranIndependence from the British and The Congress meant that millions of newly created Pakistani citizens now had to grapple with the big question: should Pakistan be a secular or a religious state? Since Jinnah passed away in 1948, both sides were left with his words to legitimize their arguments and curate Pakistan’s identity. 71 years of independence have not provided a conclusive answer to this big question. The Pakistan of today is certainly not secular. But neither is it completely Islamist.In Pakistan’s case, there are three main reasons why the question of a secular or religious state is particularly problematic and difficult to resolve.First, since Islam means different things to different people, taking on a uniform religious identity becomes extremely complicated. If the state wants to take on a complete religious identity, then who’s version of Islam should it use? Sunni or Shia? Rationalist or Orthodox? Wahhabi or Barelvi? Hanafi or Hanbali? Twelver or Jafri? It is easy for the Pakistani lawmakers to insert the term Islamic Republic of Pakistan into the constitution. But it is much harder to spell out what that means.Political parties are happy to use religious symbols to be voted into power. However, the same parties resist pressure from Islamist parties when voted into power. This partial incentive to use religion makes it hard for Pakistan to tilt towards either an Islamist or secular version of the countrySecond, the Islamist message has been hijacked by far-right extremists and the secular message is often equated with elitism. The two sides have curated a message that has little in common with the daily life and expectation of an ordinary Pakistani.Hence, neither the proposed strictly orthodox Islamist state by the far-right, nor a purely secular form of government has captured the imagination of the people. This lack of mass appeal for either side complicates the resolution of Pakistan’s question of identity.Last, politics creates an incentive for politicians and dictators to use Islam to their advantage. Since religion is such an integral part of daily life in Pakistan, it is powerful in mobilizing people. This makes secular politics unattractive within the country. It does make religion-based politics in Pakistan attractive, but only to an extent. Political parties are happy to use religious symbols to be voted into power. However, the same parties resist pressure from Islamist parties when voted into power. This partial incentive to use religion makes it hard for Pakistan to tilt towards either an Islamist or secular version of the country.It is hence no surprise that Pakistan has struggled with its question of identity.At the inception of Pakistan in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah faced a serious dilemma of curating a secular or Islamist version of Pakistan. 71 years later, the political leaders of modern Pakistan face a similar dilemma that has no easy answer.The writer is a PhD student at the University of Oxford and is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has also worked as a civil servant in Pakistan. He is interested in issues of social justice, political economy and public financePublished in Daily Times, December 4th 2018.