Jinnah Was The Most Secular Statesman Produced By The Muslim World

Liaqat Ali Khan with Mahomed Ali Jinnah

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

It is amazing that given the confusion created about the word “secular” in Pakistan by both the right and the left has so thoroughly disoriented the thought process of our intelligentisia, especially that which is christened by the state,  that it has failed to capitalize on the fact that Pakistan’s founding father was not just unambiguously secular but was the most secular statesman in the history of the greater Muslim world,  even more so than the great Kemal Ataturk, who is justifiably hailed as the father of secularism in the Muslim world.   Even Kemal Ataturk through an amendment to the constitution of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 instituted Islam as the state religion [1], which remained in the constitution till 1928 when Ataturk had it removed.   Jinnah never instituted a state religion and blocked every resolution or move whether in the Pakistani Constituent Assembly or the All India Muslim League Central Working Committee [2]. 

The knee jerk reaction to this statement by our intelligentsia is to quote the several statements where Jinnah appealed to Islamic principles,  Islamic social justice,  Islamic democracy etc. Pervez Hoodbhoy de-constructed this myth of Jinnah’s references to Islam very well in his piece “Jinnah and the Islamic State” wherein he proved quite convincingly that Jinnah’s references to Islam were ambiguous and certainly no indicator that he wanted an Islamic state per se.   What Hoodbhoy didn’t do was go far enough and claim the obvious i.e. the absence of a religious state means a secular state.    Instead Hoodbhoy made much of a fact that Jinnah did not use the word “secular” publicly atleast.   This ofcourse makes no sense when one considers that the US Constitution does not mention the word secular but is the most secular constitution in the world.

What makes a constitution secular?   The legal definition of a secular constitution is any constitution which does not have a state religion.  Jinnah – for all his references to Islamic principles- never allowed for any expression of the same in any resolution or legislative act.    One gentleman arguing with me on Jinnah’s secularism made a rather ironic and contradictory statement that the Government of India Act 1935 did not envisage an Islamic state so Jinnah’s decision to make a Hindu the first law minister of Pakistan did not constitute an indication of a secular state.   Ofcourse this makes no sense.    The GOIA 1935 did not have a state religion and therefore was a secular constitution.   Yet Jinnah went on to describe the government constituted under the GOIA 1935 an “Islamic Democracy”.    He was doing so because he knew – as Kemal Ataturk had known before him –  that Islam is such a strong part of the Muslim mindset that any attempt at modernity or democracy that does not justify itself in Islamic terms is bound to fail.

On 11th August 1947,   Jinnah stood up to speak as the first president of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, it was after Kiran Shankar Roy, a Congress stalwart and a member of the PCA from Bengal,  had spoken.  Roy had – after congratulating Jinnah asked him to make a clear pronouncement on whether Pakistan would be a secular or an Islamic state.   Jinnah in response gave what was the clearest pronouncement of secularism by any leader or statesman in all of history.     After observing that the first responsibility of any state was to maintain law and order and then spend some time speaking about the curse of blackmarketing which was rampant (leading to Bengal famine in the mid 1940s),    Jinnah spoke about partition as an event on which the history was yet to pass its verdict.  He spoke of the angularities of majority and minority and the need to bury these pointing out that a “India – a nation of 400 million” could not have been kept under subjection of foreign rule had it not been for these divisions.  He emphasized the need to begin a anew and spoke of completely religious freedom declaring that a citizen’s religion was no business of the state.  He then recounted the experience of Catholics and Protestants in Great Britain historically.

As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where 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. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and 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.  [3]

Jinnah had throughout the Pakistan Movement tried to keep a dignified distance from the votaries of a theocracy.  Evidence of his close colleague and friend Raja of Mahmudabad is particularly enlightening.

The Raja started off by saying that since the Lahore resolution had been passed earlier that year, if and when Pakistan was formed, it was undoubtedly to be an Islamic State with the Sunna 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]

Leading to its very dissolution !   We see some of the signs of that dissolution right now – consequences of our inability to follow Jinnah’s advice.   This is also indicative of the reality of Muslim unity.  The very reason Jinnah – the westernized barrister- could command the overwhelming support of the Muslims of different shades of opinion is because he was non-religious.

The claim that Jinnah was secular is based on :

1.   His record as the “Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity”  and as a “legislator”.

For example in 1912, Jinnah alienated many of his Muslim supporters by giving his wholehearted support to the Special Marriage Amendment Bill, which sought to provide mixed religion marriages legal protection. He argued that the bill would provide equality but he was opposed by many members on the grounds that the bill contravened the Koran. Undaunted Jinnah asked the law member who had opposed the bill if he “would deny that there is a certain class of educated and enlightened people who rightly think that a gravest injustice is done to them as long as liberty of conscience is held from them”.

This was a position through out his life believe it or not.  Rubbishing the idea that Muslim sensibilities would be hurt, he asked:

“Is this the first time in the history of legislation in this country that this Council has been called upon to override Musalman Law or modify it to suit the time? The Council has over ridden and modified the Musalman law in many respects.”[5]

In 1919 Jinnah gave evidence before the Joint Select Committee appointed by Parliament on the Government of India Reform Bill. The following views were expressed by him in answer to questions put by members of the Committee on the Hindu-Muslim question.

EXAMINED BY MAJOR ORMSBY-GORE.Q. 3806.—You appear on behalf of the Moslem League— that is, on behalf of the only widely extended Mohammedan organisation in India ?—Yes.

Q. 3807.—I was very much struck by the fact that neither in your answers to the questions nor in your opening speech this morning did you make any reference to the special interest of the Mohammedans in India: is that because you did not wish to say anything ?—No, but because I take it the Southborough Committee have accepted that, and I left it to the members of the Committee to put any questions they wanted to. I took a very prominent part in the settlement of Lucknow. I was representing the Musalmans on that occasion.

Q. 3809.—On behalf of the All-India Moslem League, you ask this Committee to reject the proposal of the Government of India?—I am authorised to say that—to ask you to reject the proposal of the Government of India with regard to Bengal [i.e., to give the Bengal Muslims more representation than was given them by the Lucknow Pact].

Q. 3810.—You said you spoke from the point of view of India. You speak really as an Indian Nationalist ?—1 do.

Q. 3811.—Holding that view, do you contemplate the early disappearance of separate communal representation of the Mohammedan community ?—I think so.

Q. 3812.—That is to say, at the earliest possible moment you wish to do away in political life with any distinction between Mohammedans and Hindus ?—Yes.  Nothing will please me more than when that day comes.

Q. 3813—You do not think it is true to say that the Mohammedans of India have many special political interests not merely in India but outside India, which they are always particularly anxious to press as a distinct Mohammedan community? —There are two things. In India the Mohammedans have very few things really which you can call matters of special interest for them—I mean secular things.

Q. 3814.—I am only referring to them, of course.—And therefore that is why I really hope and expect that the day is not very far distant when these separate electorates will disappear.

Q. 3815.—It is true, at the same time, that the Mohammedans in India take a special interest in the foreign policy of the Government of India ?—They do; a very.—No, because what you propose to do is to frame very keen interest and the large majority of them hold very strong sentiments and very strong views. [[There seems to be a confusion in the text of the reply. –FWP]]

Q. 3816.—Is that one of the reasons why you, speaking on behalf of the Mohammedan community, are so anxious to get the Government of India more responsible to an electorate ?—No.

Q. 3817.—Do you think it is possible, consistently with remaining in the British Empire, for India to have one foreign policy and for His Majesty, as advised by his Ministers in London, to have another ?—Let me make it clear. It is not a question of foreign policy at all. What the Moslems of India feel is that it is a very difficult position for them. Spiritually, the Sultan or the Khalif is their head.

Q. 3818.—Of one community ?—Of the Sunni sect, but that is the largest; it is in an overwhelming majority all over India. The Khalif is the only rightful custodian of the Holy Places according to our view, and nobody else has a right. What the Moslems feel very keenly is this, that the Holy Places should not be severed from the Ottoman Empire— that they should remain with the Ottoman Empire under the Sultan.

Q. 3819.—I do not want to get away from the Reform Bill on to foreign policy.—1 say it has nothing to do with foreign policy. Your point is whether in India the Muslims will adopt a certain attitude with regard to foreign policy in matters concerning Moslems all over the world.

Q. 3820.—My point is, are they seeking for some control over the Central Government in order to impress their views on foreign policy on the Government of India ?—No.


Q. 3853.—. . . .Would it not be an advantage in the case of an occurrence of that kind [i.e., a communal riot] if the maintenance of law and order were left with the executive side of the Government ?—1 do not think so, if you ask me, but I do not want to go into unpleasant matters, as you say.

Q. 3854.—It is with no desire to bring up old troubles that I ask the question ; I would like to forget them.—If you ask me, very often these riots are based on some misunderstanding, and it is because the police have taken one side or the other, and that has enraged one side or the other. I know very well that in the Indian States you hardly ever hear of any Hindu-Mohammedan riots, and I do not mind telling the Committee, without mentioning the name, that I happened to ask one of the ruling Princes, “How do you account for this?” and he told me, “As soon as there is some trouble we have invariably traced it to the police, through the police taking one side or the other, and the only remedy we have found is that as soon as we come to know we move that police officer from that place, and there is an end of it.”

Q. 3855.—That is [a] useful piece of information, but the fact remains that these riots have been inter-racial, Hindu on the one side and Mohammedan on the other. Would it be an advantage at a time like that [that] the Minister, the representative of one community or the other, should be in charge of the maintenance of law and order ?—Certainly.

Q. 3856.—It would ?—If I thought otherwise I should be casting a reflection on myself. If I was the Minister, I would make bold to say that nothing would weigh with me except justice, and what is right.

Q. 3857.—I can understand that you would do more than justice to the other side; but even then, there is what might be called the subjective side. It is not only that there is impartiality, but there is the view which may be entertained by the public, who may harbour some feeling of suspicion?—With regard to one section or the other, you mean they would feel that an injustice was done to them, or that justice would not be done?

Q. 3858.—Yes; that is quite apart from the objective part of it.—My answer is this: That these difficulties are fast disappearing. Even recently, in the whole district of Thana, Bombay, every officer was an Indian officer from top to bottom, and I do not think there was a single Mohammedan—they were all Hindus—and I never heard any complaint. Recently that has been so. I quite agree with you that ten years ago there was that feeling what you are now suggesting to me, but it is fast disappearing.


Q. 3892.—. . . .You said just now about the communal representation, I think in answer to Major Ormsby-Gore, that you hope in a very few years you would be able to extinguish communal representation, which was at present proposed to be established and is established in order that Mahommedans may have their representation with Hindus. You said you desired to see that. How soon do you think that happy state of affairs is likely to be realized?—1 can only give you certain facts: I cannot say anything more than that: I can give you this which will give you some idea: that in 1913, at the All-India Moslem League sessions at Agra, we put this matter to the lest whether separate electorates should be insisted upon or not by the Mussalmans, and we got a division, and that division is based upon Provinces; only a certain number of votes represent each Province, and the division came to 40 in favour of doing away with the separate electorate, and 80 odd—1 do not remember the exact number—were for keeping the separate electorate. That was in 1913. Since then I have had many opportunities of discussing this matter with various Mussulman leaders; and they are changing their angle of vision with regard to this matter. I cannot give you the period, but I think it cannot last very long. Perhaps the next inquiry may hear something about it.

Q. 3893.—You think at the next inquiry the Mahommedans will ask to be absorbed into the whole?—Yes, I think the next inquiry will probably hear something about it.[6]

2.   Jinnah insistence on a parliamentary form of government representative of and responsible to the people regardless of religion, caste or creed and not to or by priests with a divine mission:

On 21st May, 1947,   Jinnah described clearly what kind of state he envisaged in Pakistan:

The basis of the central administration of Pakistan and that of the units to be set up will be decided no doubt, by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. But the Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of Government. Its Parliament and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and programme of the Government that may be adopted from time to time… The minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights, privileges and obligations of citizenship without any distinction of caste creed or sect.  They will be treated justly and fairly. The Government will run the administration and control the legislative measures by its Parliament, and the collective conscience of the Parliament itself will be a guarantee that the minorities need not have any apprehension of any injustice being done to them. Over and above that there will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life.  [7]

In an interview with Duncan Hooper he said:

Minorities DO NOT cease to be citizens. Minorities living in Pakistan or Hindustan do not cease to be citizens of their respective states by virtue of their belonging to particular faith, religion or race. I have repeatedly made it clear, especially in my opening speech to the constituent Assembley, that the minorities in Pakistan would be treated as our citizens and will enjoy all the rights as any other community. Pakistan SHALL pursue this policy and do all it can to create a sense of security and confidence in the Non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan. We do not prescribe any school boy tests for their loyalty. We shall not say to any Hindu citizen of Pakistan ‘if there was war would you shoot a Hindu?’[8]

In his address to the people of the United States of America,  Jinnah said:

In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.[9]

Speaking toParsi gathering in Karachi in February 1948, he said:

I assure you Pakistan means to stand by its oft repeated promises of according equal rights to all its nationals irrespective of their caste or creed. Pakistan which symbolizes the aspirations of a nation that found it self to be a minority in the Indian subcontinent cannot be UNMINDFUL of minorities within its own borders. It is a pity that the fairname of Karachi was sullied by the sudden outburst of communal frenzy last month and I can’t find words strong enough to condemn the action of those who are responsible. [10]

On 22nd March 1948, meeting with Hindu Legislators in an effort to stem their exodus to India,  he said

We guarantee equal rights to all citizens of Pakistan. Hindus should in spirit and action wholeheartedly co-operate with the Government and its various branches as Pakistanis. [11]

On 23rd March 1948 meeting  the ‘Scheduled Caste Federation’, he said:

We stand by our declarations that members of every community will be treated as citizens of Pakistan with equal rights and privileges and obligations and that Minorities will be safeguarded and protected.[12]

Speaking to Quetta Parsis in June 1948, he said:

Although you have not struck the note of your needs and requirements as a community but it is the policy of my Government and myself that every member of every community irrespective of caste color, creed or race shall be fully protected with regard to his life, property and honor. I reiterate to you that you like all minorities will be treated as equal citizens with your rights and obligations provided you are loyal to Pakistan. [13]

3.   The fact that even those statements where Jinnah appealed to Islamic principles or Islam itself,   he did so to drive home that democracy, equality of citizenship, communal harmony were all compatible with Islam:

It has become fashionable for both Jinnah’s  Islampasand latter day supporters and his detractors to selectively quote Jinnah’s references to Islam.  One favorite amongst our Islamists and Jinnah-haters alike is the selective quote of Jinnah’s speech at Sindh Bar on the occasion of Eid Miladun Nabi i.e. Birthday of the Prophet.  It is usually quoted as :

“Why this feeling of nervousness that the future constitution of Pakistan is going to be in conflict with Shariat Laws? Islamic principles today are as applicable to life as they were 1,300 years ago.”
“Islam is not only a set of rituals, traditions and spiritual doctrines. Islam is also a code for every Muslim, which regulates his life and conduct in even politics and economics and the like.”

This shows the bankruptcy of those who are quoting it.   The missing parts are :

Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. Islam has taught Equality, Justice and fairplay to everybody. What reason is there for anyone to fear. Democracy, equality, freedom on the highest sense of integrity and on the basis of fairplay and justice for everyone. Let us make the constitution of Pakistan. We will make it and we will show it to the world [14]

So Jinnah speaking on a religious occasion used that occasion to drive home the point that we should be a democratic and egalitarian state.  How is that non-secular?   Whenever Jinnah spoke of “Islamic principles” he qualified the statement with “democracy”,  “equality”,  “fairplay”,  “brotherhood of man” and “social justice”.

Oddly enough some people have made a big deal about Jinnah’s letter to Pir of Manki Sharif.    The Pir had asked Jinnah if lives of Muslims shall be subject to Shariat?  Scholars like Ishtiaq Ahmed have deliberately distorted the facts in issue when they claimed that Jinnah agreed to this demand, even if tactically as a political move.   What Jinnah had promised was that affairs of the Muslim community would be subject to Shariat i.e. the Muslim personal law. No where did Jinnah promise to make Shariat the civil and criminal law of Pakistan.    Shariat in British India referred to Personal Law.  It is this law that is still in force in India.

Section 2 of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937 of India reads:

2. Application of Personal Law of Muslims.- Notwithstanding any customs or usage to the contrary, in all questions (save questions relating to agricultural land) regarding intestate succession, special property of females, including personal property inherited or obtained under contract or gift or any other provision of Personal law, marriage, dissolution of marriage, including talaq, ila, zihar, lian, khula and mubaraat, maintenance, dower, guardiaship, gifts, trusts and trust   properties, and  wakfs (other than chartities and charitable institutions and charitable and religious endowments) the rule of decision in case where the parties are Muslims shall be the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat). [15]

This is the law in secular India today.   Muslims of India are governed by Shariat in their affairs as a community.   Does it affect Indian secularism in anyway?    Communal Personal laws are an accepted part of English Jurisprudence.   So it does not quite follow that Mr. Jinnah was referring to anything but this when he promised Pir of Manki Sharif that the affairs of Muslim community (not nation interestingly) shall be run by Shariat in Pakistan and that no Muslim would be forced to accept any unIslamic law, which implies – for those who use this double-edged sword to prove the impossible-  that there was an element of choice that a Muslim may accept an unIslamic law out of his or her free will.   This would obviously make it consistent with Jinnah’s life long support to mixed marriages bill.

Jinnah was secular despite his references to Islam and Islamic principles -few and far between-, because he believed in a non-religious polity based on popular will and because he was a dogged opponent of any discrimination or religious bars whatsoever.  To him the state and the citizen were bound in a social contract whereby the state was bound to the principle of complete impartiality in dealing with its subjects.  There was to be n0 difference whatsoever between citizens of the state on any distinguishing basis.  This was Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan.  This was a consistently secular vision.


1.   P.  394,  Andrew Mango Ataturk , Woodstock and New York 1999

2.  For example see Jinnah’s speech at the Delhi Session of the Muslim League of 1943 after Dr. A H Kazi tried to introduce a resolution committing Pakistan to Khilafat-e-Rashda

3. http://tinyurl.com/6xk6kq

4.  http://www.dawn.com/events/pml/review38.htm

5.  p. 21, Ian Bryant Wells, Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity, Permanent Black New Delhi

6. http://tinyurl.com/ycfsg3g

7.   p.845,  Zaidi, Z.H. (ed) (1993) Jinnah Papers: Prelude to Pakistan, Vol. I Part I. Lahore: Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project

8.  p. 61,  Jinnah Speeches and Statements 1947-1948,  Oxford 1997

9.  p. 125 Ibid

10. p.102-103 Ibid

11. p.  153 Ibid

12. p.  154 Ibid

13. p. 223  Ibid

14.  p. 98  Ibid

15.  http://www.vakilno1.com/bareacts/muslimperact/s2.htm

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