The Undefined Equilibrium between Pakistan and Islam. Part 2: Our Founding Father's Vision

By Adnan Syed


A widely circulated ideology of Pakistan that is heavily promoted by the right wing section of the Pakistani society maintains that Pakistan was attained in the name of Islam for the Muslims of the Sub-Continent. Pakistan was created so that the social order can be created based on Islamic principles and people can live their life in accordance with their religious values. A variation of Nazaria Pakistan uses a popular slogan used by the Muslims during the 1946 elections: “Pakistan means there is no God except Allah”.

There is no doubt that the terms Islam and Muslims were used interchangeably by Muslim League in the elections of 1946, which were fought for Pakistan. However, Nazaria Pakistan (NP) while acknowledges a separate homeland for Muslims, it introduces Islam as a way of life that encompasses not just the private lives, but also the public affairs for the Muslims living within the geographical boundaries. Our founding fathers were aware of the distinction; the thorny discussion about the role of religion in the affairs of the state was alive among the ML leadership.

 There have been instances when Quaid specifically mentioned that religion in the affairs of state was not acceptable. We see that even though Quaid did not come out explicitly in favour of one mode of state policy, Quaid was explicit in mentioning what Pakistan would not be: Theocracy (complete rule of religion into the affairs of the state) will not happen in Pakistan.

At the same time, we see Quaid invoking Islamic principles frequently in his speeches, even after the creation of Pakistan. While the vagueness regarding the role of Islam in the affairs of the state, maintained by Quaid in pre-Independence communal environment was tactically required, some may argue that Quaid unnecessarily kept up the vagueness post independence; a fact that has come back to haunt Pakistan again and again.

Since Quaid towered above every other leader in the Muslim League, most Pakistanis try to find the meaning of Pakistan in Quaid’s words. Many have pounced on the vaguness embedded in Quaid’s statement;  General Zia-ul-Haq frequently used selective Quaid’s quotes to justify the complete Islamization of Pakistan during his dark decade of rule.



Why would a state still be unsure of its exact identity of being a Muslim or an Islamic State? In a rather strange way, Pakistan was a conditional demand employed by Jinnah and Muslim League leadership. They wanted to ensure that Muslims have adequate representation and safeguards and Muslims would not fare poorly even when they made up 30% of the total population of the United India. “Brother Gandhi has three votes, Brother Jinnah has one vote” was one of Jinnah’s famous quips to pound on the fact that despite their sheer numbers, Muslims had no say in the affairs of the government of the United India.

 The idea of Pakistan was based on single or multiple states with Muslim majority within the United India, and Quaid showed willingness as late as 1946 to accept Pakistan with United Punjab and Bengal within the Indian Federation boundaries.

 Importantly, the Liaqat-Desai coalition in 1945, and the acceptance of Cabinet Mission in 1946 were clear indications that if demands of Muslim League about representation of Indian Muslims within United India were met, they were prepared to remain in the United India.

 Pakistan was as much a consequence of Muslims struggles for their rights and self interest, as it was due to the attitude of the leaders of Congress. Viewing Jinnah with disdain and contempt, they called him out on his demand, and to their disdain, Pakistan became a reality.

So what was the raison-d’être of Pakistan? Was it just a result of cataclysmic politics of the early 20th century, a turbulent decade of 1940s as Britain had lost will to govern India after fighting a great World War, or a result of genuine Muslim disenfranchisement that was expressed as early as 1870s by Sir Syed and Ameer Ali?

Most certainly all of the above were the cases.  Muslims as a distinct nation was an idea that started appearing at the dusk of Mughal Empire, and gained steam as Muslims started lagging behind their Hindu counterparts in the British India. The Two Nation Theory certainly explains the genesis of Pakistan quite well.

I would venture here that the concept of Muslim Nationalism for the creation of Pakistan completely suffices the reason behind the creation of Pakistan. However, separating Muslim identity from all encompassing Islamic influence was left unclear, and the ambiguity distorted the subsequent vision of Pakistan.



Importantly, the events after 1937 were moving at a breakneck speed. In a matter of 7 years, Pakistan turned from a visionary ideal to a geographical reality. During the time leading up to Pakistan creations, two important factors had started to influence the new state:

1)      Muslim League frequently invoked Islam during the campaign leading to the creation of Pakistan.  During the pivotal 1946 elections “Muslim League activists toured the countryside (and) personal commitment to Islam became fused with an assertion of Muslim community solidarity. As one election official reported ‘wherever I went everyone kept saying, bhai if we did not vote for the League, we would have become a kafir (infidel)’ “.[1]

While the distinction between a Muslim majority secular state and a Muslim majority Islamic state is a lot clearer today, for the 1940s Muslim, the distinction was not as cut and dry. A Muslim living in early 20th century was seeing the majority community prosper, and had genuine fears about being dominated by the majority Hindus, with whom Muslims developed at best an uneasy community relationship. The Muslim nationalism espoused by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was developing into a full blown movement, as Congress failed to realize the fear and power of the sizeable Muslim minority.

In that environment, Muslim League rode the public opinion when it gave voice to the Muslim fears. The two words “Islam” and “Muslims” were used interchangeably. From various statements of Quaid and Liaqat Ali Khan, we can establish that their idea of democratic Muslim state did not involve theocratic rule. Yet Islam was a necessary symbol, and the references to Muslim ideas were expressed freely in leadership rallies.

At the same time, the religious right in India was moving to Pakistan, and they were determined to purposefully use the words “Muslim” and “Islamic” together, exploit the logical consequence of mixing religion and nation together.


2)      Islamic right wing parties under Jamaat-e-Islami, Majlis-e-Ahrar, and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, who had vociferously opposed the Muslim League and their Pakistan platform before, started moving en-masse towards Pakistan. By all indications, around the time of partition, the religious right spearheaded by Abu-al-Ala-Moudoudi was weary of the secular credentials of Muslim League Leaders. Mr. Moudoudi, in his various writings was warning against the western disposition of Jinnah and his colleagues, and was rightly worried that the Muslim League leadership was looking for a democratic Pakistan, but not a Sharia ruled state. In several of Mr. Moudoudi’s writings, he wrote against Muslim League and the Quaid:

“Pity! From League’s Quaid-e-Azam down to the lower cadres, there is not a single person who has an Islamic outlook and thinking and whose perspective on matters is Islamic”

“To pronounce these people fit for leading Muslims for the simple reason that they are experts of Western type politics and masters of Western organizational arts, and are deeply in love with their people, is a manifestation of an Unislamic viewpoint and reflects ignorance of Islam”.

“Even with a microscopic study of their practical life, and their thinking, ideology, political behaviour and style of leadership, one can find not a trace of Islamic character.”  [2]

Mr. Moudoudi equated “Muslim Nationalism” with chaste prostitution, and scoffed at the ideas of modern democratic Muslim state.


Before partition, Muslim League’s main rival was Indian National Congress. After partition, the religious right had started positioning itself as one of the bigger rivals. The fight for Pakistan entered new grounds when Quaid died too soon after the independence. From then onwards, we see a haphazard approach towards Islam by the state, leading us to the present times.

Historians Thomas and Barbara Metcalf caught the dilemma facing Pakistan in the following words: “Pakistan was a modern nation state for India’s Muslim population. At the same time, however, as a symbol of Muslim identity, Pakistan transcended the ordinary structures of the state. As such it evoked an ideal Islamic political order, in which the realization of Islamic life would be fused with the state’s ritual authority. This Pakistan would not be simply an arena in which politicians, even if Muslims pursued their every day disputes. During the bloody upheavals of 1946 and 1947, Pakistan underwent a transformation from visionary ideal to territorial state. Yet it could not, after independence, shake off the legacy of its origin as a ‘pure’ land at once of Muslims and of a confessional Islam”[3]



Pakistan’s uneasy relationship with Islam had started to brew even when Pakistan was a demand, not a state. Pakistan as an Islamic state idea was advanced by a small faction inside Muslim League, whose most visible face was Raja of Mahmudabad. He formed Islami Jamaat cell within the Muslim League. Raja Sahib mentioned to Jinnah that since “Lahore Resolution was passed earlier in the year, and when Pakistan was formed it was undoubtedly to be an Islamic State with the Sunnah and Shariah as its bedrock. The Quaid’s face went red and he turned to ask Raja whether he had taken leave of his senses. Mr. Jinnah added: `Did you realize that there are over seventy sects and differences of opinion regarding the Islamic faith, and if what the Raja was suggesting was to be followed, the consequences would be a struggle of religious opinion from the very inception of the State leading to its very dissolution. Mr. Jinnah banged his hands on the table and said: We shall not be an Islamic State but a Liberal Democratic Muslim State.”[4]

Raja Sahib Mahmudabad ended up getting expelled from the Muslim League. His relationship with Quaid deteriorated to such an extent that he saw Quaid just once after the independence. In his last years “Quaid’s prodigal child” admitted that his “insistence on Pakistan being an Islamic state and taking recourse to violence” was wrong[5]. Yet his ideas in the early 1940s show signs of visible discomfort shown by the Muslim League leaders as they were freely mixing the terms of Islamic and Muslim state.

The above episode was one of many where Quaid was clear in one aspect; that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state. He clearly mentioned in his message to the people of the United States that “Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”. [6]

 Or the famous speech to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 where he laid down what many perceive as his clearest and unequivocal message to the lawmakers of the newly formed country 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…. You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”

To emphasize how shocking Quaid’s speech was for everyone in Pakistan, Maulana Shabbir Usmani immediately yet subtly condemned Quaid’s words. He reminded that if it was not for Islam (the unifying force), religious leaders would not have entered the freedom struggle, and no political party (including the Muslim League) would have been able to mobilize the masses. He called for declaring the new country an Islamic Republic. Other leaders were less guarded in their remarks. Jamaat Islami leader Ahsan Islahi called a Pakistan based on Quaid’s August 11 speech principles a devil’s creation[7]


Muslim League used the slogans of “Pakistan ka Matlab kiyaa, La Ilaha Illallah (Pakistan means There is no God except Allah)” and “Muslim hai to Muslim League main aa (If you are a Muslim then you should be in the Muslim League)” during the election campaigns. Yet, we do see a documented case where Quaid admonished a Muslim League worker for using the slogan of Pakistan means no God except God in Muslim League first post Pakistan meeting in Karachi. Quaid said that individuals may have used that slogan for garnering votes, but no such slogan was approved by the Muslim League’s central committee.[8]

Some of the clearest signals about the equality of the creeds was coveyed by Quaid’s actions as Governor General of Pakistan. He appointed J.N. Mandal as his first Law Minister. Setting up a scheduled caste Hindu to head the pivotal ministry of law was a clear sign that Quaid was looking for the laws of the state to rise above the creeds. Sir Zafarullah Khan was appointed the first Foreign Minister, despite protests from the religious right for belonging to the Ahmedi sect. It is well documented that Quaid asked for a Hindu poet Jagan Nath Azad to write the first national anthem of Pakistan. With his actions Quaid was showing that a Muslim majority Pakistan belonged equally to every sect and creed. “Minorities will cease to be minorities in the new state .. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – this has nothing to do with the business of the state”. Isn’t that what he was saying, in words as well his actions? 

As Dr. Ayesha Jalal said “Jinnah’s resort to religion was not an ideology to which he was ever committed or even a device to use against rival communities; it was simply a way of giving a semblance of unity and solidity to his divided Muslim constituents[9]


However, at the same time we do see instances where Quaid included Islam with the state. And this is where the same right wing leaders who bitterly opposed Jinnah and his party, come to the forefront to make him nothing sort of a religious leader. For example, in the same speech to the people of the United States in February 1948 he described Pakistan as a “premier Islamic State”. In another instance, Jinnah called Khan Brothers’ claims untrue that “PCA (Pakistan Constituent Assembly) will disregard the fundamental principles of the Shariah and Quranic laws”.

 There were instances when Jinnah replied to the question of democracy by saying that Muslims had learnt democracy thirteen centuries ago. There have been various references to Quran and Sunnah in Jinnah speeches as well.

 His speech to the State Bank of Pakistan in July 1948 stated: “We must work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice. We will thereby be fulfilling our mission as Muslims and giving to humanity the message of peace which alone can save it and secure the welfare, happiness and prosperity of mankind”



What do we make of the conflicing statements from Quaid? Most likely, Quaid’s use of term “Islamic” was used in lieu of the Muslim democratic state. However, a glance at the tumultuous years preceding and following the creation of Pakistan do explain the choice of words on Quaid’s part.

Partition brought with its bloody communal rioting that left up to a million people dead. Majority of those killed were Muslims that were looking to move to their new homeland. The body count was huge and by every indication, consumed the new government’s efforts. The state was strapped for cash and fighting for its very survival against a much larger and supremely unhappy neighbour. Kashmir mess was beginning to brew into a major conflict, and any considerations to set aside religion from the affairs of the state was put aside for a while, as the state tended to more urgent needs.

By all indications, Quaid was under intense pressure during his last year due to the problems facing Pakistan. Pakistan seemed to be fighting for its own survival. We catch Quaid’s foreboding words in his speech in Lahore University on October 30, 1947.

 “We are in the midst of unparalleled difficulties and untold sufferings; we have been through dark days of apprehension and anguish…We have been the victims of deeply-laid and well-planned conspiracy executed with utter disregard of the elementary principles of honesty, chivalry and honour…Do not be afraid of death, our religion teaches us to be always prepared for death. We should face it bravely to save the honour of Pakistan and Islam. There is no better salvation for a Muslim than the death of a martyr for a religious cause”[10]

In the extremely uncertain formative year of Pakistan, the state was beset with too much uncertainty and fear. The fight for Pakistan was invoked as fight for Islam. The Islamic concepts of martyrdom were used for Pakistani martyrs. We simply cannot fathom a months old republic facing so many threats as soon as it came into being. Quaid kept invoking Islam in his official speeches. For a Muslim majority new born state in 1940s, can we seriously blame Quaid for doing that? Half a million Muslims had died during the partition violence. The next door giant of a neighbor was waiting for Pakistan to collapse. The uneven standards were applied by India when it laid claim to Kashmir; over time it would annex Deccan and Junagadh, all on one pretext or another.

It is quite clear from his statements that Quaid sincerely wanted a democratic Muslim Republic that would be inspired by Islamic ideals, but would not promulgate Islam as a state religion. He did give us clear occasional references about his ideals of Pakistan based on secular, humanist principles. Unfortunately, we have to make do with his words that were both a product of catastrophic uncertainty for the new nation, as well as Quaid’s personal ideals. I would go one step further and say his statements are not as mutually contradictory ideals sixty years ago as they may seem right now. Quaid was invoking Muslim ideals to rally the majority Muslim nation under the banner of Pakistan. But constant message we hear from his words and actions is that he wanted Pakistan to be a Liberal Democratic Muslim State. I would get to this point in detail in the final conclusion, and would also say for now that sixty years have shown that our founding fathers’ well meaning idea of a democratic Liberal Muslim Republic seemed nice on paper, but is anything but practical in the real world.

 Sixty years later, as the inexactness of religion within the state offices of Pakistan takes its toll on the nation, we wonder if Quaid needed to be more firm in publicly specifying the exact role of religion in the affairs of the state. He was rapidly dying of consumption mixed in with a deadly form of lung cancer. We do get plenty of his statements that imbue his vision of democratic progressive Pakistan. But apart from the important Constituent Assembly speech on August 11, 1947, we have to make do with his actions, his statements spread across various speeches and interviews and meetings with different leaders.

 It is an undeniable fact that the Quaid had united the disparate group of the political union of the Indian Muslims under one banner of Muslim League. Despite clear references to exclusion of religion from the state (or at best laws were to be inspired by the religious lessons), Quaid never explicitly came out in putting his personal stamp on the exact role of religion. Since Quaid remained such a pivotal figure in Pakistan’s genesis, his death effectively left the whole country searching for its exact identity.

We learn from his biography by Stanley Wolpert that Quaid was obsessed with drafting of the new constitution of Pakistan in his last year. We can imagine had he lived up to the completion of the constitution, Pakistan would have achieved a much revered document outlining the exact place of religion in the affairs of the state. It was not to be; we see barely 6 months into his death, the leadership had set itself on a confused path that haunts us even today. One non Muslim member of Assembly remarked on the Objectives Resolution: “What I hear in this (Objectives) Resolution is not the voice of the great creator of Pakistan – the Quaid-i-Azam, nor even that of the Prime Minister of Pakistan the Honourable Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, but of the Ulema of the land”.


Next: the Objectives Resolution and the subsequent make shift Islamization of Pakistan over the next sixty years



[1]  Metcalf and Metcalf “A Concise History of India”

[2] “Muslims and the present Political Turmoil” by Abu-al-Ala-Moudoudi

[3] Chapter titled 1940s; triumph and tragedy, from the book “A Concise History of India” by Barbara Metcalf and Thomas Metcalf

[4], “Raja Mahmudabad, a pillar of strength of the Muslim League” by Dr. Muhammad Reza Kazimi

[5] ibid



[8] Abdus Sattar Ghazzali’s book Islamic Pakistan; Illusions and Reality (

[9]  The State of Martial Rule, by Dr. Ayesha Jalal

 [10] Chapter “Karachi-Pakistan Zindabad”, from the book “Jinnah on Pakistan” by Stanley Wolpert

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