Secularists And Jinnah's 11th August Covenant

There is no more a sacred covenant than this speech by the founding father, statesman, law-giver and philosopher in chief ,  Mr. Jinnah,  for this country and it spoke clearly, undeniably, incontrovertibly, clearly not vaguely that religion would be separate from the state and that religion would be the personal faith of an individual. I’d like to add that there are 30 odd other speeches of Jinnah which also speak of an inclusive democratic polity unfettered by priests with a divine mission but 11th August is the most important speech because it is spoken to the constituent assembly which was about to start framing the constitution of Pakistan.    This is a solemn promise and should have the status of a sanctified compact between the state of Pakistan and all its people.   It is this compact that the honorable justices of our Supreme Court should have considered when they chose to spray the judgment against NRO with Islamic injunctionsYLH

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

No ideological tendency in Pakistan identifies itself with the August 11 speech of Jinnah with greater enthusiasm than the secularists. Among them are included the marginalised leftists, oppressed minorities, retired senior bureaucrats and radical intellectuals. Both Marxist and liberal versions of secularism inform their thinking. The secularists are divided on many things, but agree that the secular nature of the Quaid’s message is unequivocal and incontrovertible. Their lament is that his unworthy successors broke a sacred covenant of equal rights bequeathed by the Founder of Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that the Communist Party of India supported the demand for a separate Pakistan and passed a resolution in 1944, associated with a leading theorist of the Party, Dr Adhikari, in which the demand for Pakistan was described as a popular movement of the Muslim masses for national self-determination. Consequently Communists of Muslim background were advised to join the Muslim League. The Muslim League which had hitherto been emphasising the religious differences between Hindus and Muslims to justify the two-nation theory added from 1945 onwards radical slogans and arguments which portrayed the struggle for Pakistan as a class struggle of impoverished Muslims against Hindu and Sikh moneylenders and capitalists.

Some leading landlords who sympathised with Communist ideas such as Mian Iftikharuddin and Mumtaz Daultana became top leaders of the Muslim League in the Punjab. Daultana later changed course in 1953 when as chief minister of Punjab he promoted the anti-Ahmadiyya movement to bring down the weak central government under Khwaja Nazimuddin in the hope of himself becoming the prime minister. In any case, it is generally acknowledged that communist rhetoric played a noteworthy role in popularising the idea of Pakistan..

Most Muslims of undivided northern India were either peasants or artisans. There was also a powerful Muslim landlord class everywhere and a small stratum of professionals or gentry, but industry, commerce and banking were almost entirely in the hands of Hindus, Sikhs and the tiny community of Parsees. The reason why Muslims have been slow or resistant to capitalism has still not been properly investigated and theorised, but in the context of colonial India class and religious cleavages coincided rather well to portray the creation of a separate Muslim state as a panacea to all the ills afflicting the Muslim community.

However, once Pakistan was established, hostility towards communism became a centrepiece of state policy. Conservative ulema particularly attacked communism as a Godless creed. Thus, for example, in 1948 when dockyard workers in Karachi went on strike Shaikh ul Islam Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani gave a fatwa that in Islam there was no right to strike and those who incited Muslims to go on strike were wrongdoers. However, the real blow was dealt with the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case of 1951 in which a number of officers of the Armed Forces and leaders of the Communist Party of Pakistan were accused of plotting to overthrow the government. They were tried in a special court and some of them sentenced to prison terms. In 1954, the Communist Party was banned. That virtually crippled the Marxist left.

Radical nationalists of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP often invoked the August 11 speech. Their complaint was that the centre betrayed the original idea of a secular, federal Pakistan.. Mian Iftikharuddin’s Lahore-based English-language newspaper, The Pakistan Times, became a powerful voice of secular and rationalist ideas in Pakistan until the 1958 military coup of General Ayub Khan muzzled it and ultimately confiscated it. Among senior bureaucrats, Masud Khaddarposh was an eminent supporter of Islamic socialism and of a secular state. He wrote the famous dissenting note against the Sindh Hari Commission’s report, taking up cudgels on behalf of the Sindhi tenant cultivator as against the overall pro-landlord tone of the report.

But the most powerful secularist challenge in intellectual terms came during the period of General Zia ul Haq (1977-88). It was launched by no other person than the former chief justice of Pakistan, Muhammad Munir. In his book, From Jinnah to Zia, (1978), Munir referred to the August 11 speech and asserted that reasons for the creation of Pakistan were social and economic. Jinnah wanted to create a secular state. Munir described the ascendance of the theocratic vision of the state as a ‘quirk of history’, alleging that the ulema who had opposed the creation of Pakistan had subsequently become its ideological custodians and thus subverted the original vision on which Jinnah wanted to base Pakistan.

The author argued in support of secularism by quoting a famous saying or hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “When I enjoin something respecting religion receive it but when I counsel anything about the affairs of the world, I am nothing more than a man” (Mishkat Book 1, Chapter VI, 145-6). Munir remarked that this saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) clearly showed that he did not have authority over matters relating to worldly affairs and that in fact his statement introduced secularism in Islam.

In general, Munir adopted the technique of contrast to argue that a modern democracy and an Islamic state based on the dogmatic stance of the ulema cannot be reconciled into a coherent ideological formula. He also took issue with modernist Muslims who assert that an Islamic democracy can be a proper democracy. For him if democracy was to be practised it was imperative that religion and state be kept separate. He argued that a democracy functions when the following conditions are fulfilled: universal adult franchise, periodic elections, two or more political parties, an educated electorate and a transparent government. Besides these political prerequisites, society is based on values such as equality, freedom, tolerance, social justice and equality before the law. Munir referred to the writings of the erstwhile fundamentalist thinker of the Indian subcontinent and of Pakistan, Abul A’la Maududi, and of Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran, both of whom affirmed that an Islamic state cannot be a democracy based on popular will.

The resurrection of the August 11, 1947 speech in recent times, therefore, opens the scope for the secularists once again to assume the intellectual initiative in Pakistan. This can be done only by intellectuals committed to a democratic, egalitarian and free Pakistan..

First Published In The Daily Times.

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