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Jinnah unequivocally wanted Pakistan to be a secular state



(Photo: Jacket Cover of leftist Indian historian Dr Ajeet Jawed’s book “Secular and Nationalist Jinnah“)

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

I am writing this article as a rebuttal to Khuldune Shahid’s article “Jinnah’s Pakistan a mirror of his contradictions.” It is necessary because if you do not counter a falsehood in public domain over time it is taken to be the truth. It is sad that there are many OpEd writers who when writing on this topic do not check their facts or at least try and understand what the point of view is that they are challenging. Khuldune’s article is no exception. It draws on several strawman fallacies which have nothing to do the argument that Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan was a secular one.

Jinnah’s Secularism

Khuldune’s argument that Jinnah did not use the word secular when defining his vision is neither here nor there. The requirements for a secular state are the absence of a state religion and not the use of the word secular. The US Constitution does not use the word “secular”. Indian constitution did not use the word “secular” till 1976. The word “secular” was inserted along with “socialist” through the 42nd Amendment. Contrary to what Khuldune Shahid wrote, those who claim that Jinnah spoke of a secular state don’t rely on two lines of one speech but the entire record of the man. Looking at Jinnah’s record as a whole would lead to two conclusions:

a.         Jinnah was and remained all throughout his political life a staunch Indian nationalist who nonetheless was not ready to turn his back to his community which not only gave him representative status but which as a minority had to secure some level of equality with the Hindu majority before a consensual inclusive Indian nationality could be evolved.

b.         Jinnah was a politician who understood that politics is the art of possible.

Keeping this in mind we can divide Jinnah’s career into four distinct phases:

1.         1906-1910: Indian and Indian alone

This was the period when Jinnah, in his early 30s, believed – as he would realise later- that Indian nationalism should remain unconcerned with the various religious, ethnic and other parochial divisions and should impose a territorial unity from the top. In this period Jinnah strongly condemned the formation of the Muslim League and the Rajas and Nawabs who under the leadership of Aga Khan petitioned the British rulers for separate electorates. In 1910, despite his opposition to separate electorates, he was named as a Congress candidate and defeated a Muslim League candidate on a Muslim seat. He remained however an Indian to whom his religious belief was a personal matter and not a political issue.

2.         1910-1930 : Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity I and Congress

Jinnah’s importance lies in the fact that in 1916 he saw himself as an Indian first and Muslim second and perhaps more importantly he was seen by others as such.

During this phase Jinnah began to appreciate better the concerns of the Muslim community and saw the separate electorate system as an important temporary measure which could be dispensed with provided adequate safeguards are provided. The crowning achievement of this was the Lucknow Pact, where he conceded Muslim majorities in Muslim majority provinces in return for separate electorate system. During this period. The failure of the Congress – which was strongly influenced by the Hindu Mahasabha- to come to an agreement on the Nehru report with Jinnah’s pro-Congress faction of the Muslim League ended his dream of Hindu-Muslim Unity through Congress-League pact though it did not close the door on political settlement between the two.

3.         1930-1940: Spokesman of a Muslim Minority for a United India

Jinnah is more Congress than Congress, wrote Viceroy Lord Willingdon to Lord Zetland.  All throughout the 1930s, Jinnah continued to search for ways of bringing Hindus and Muslims together. However post 1934, he was firmly rooted as a leader of the Muslim minority instead of a national leader who happened to be Muslim. He however remained an Indian nationalist in so much as that he stood for Indian Unity, Independence from Britain and a Hindu-Muslim settlement. As with his earlier period he sought an alliance with the Congress. However Congress’ majority in 1937 elections rendered his alliance dispensable for the Congress leaders. Unfortunately sense did not prevail on the Congress despite having been roundly defeated on all Muslim seats save one in UP which was won only as a consequence of UP Muslim League’s support for the Congress. During this period Jinnah had also tried to enlist Muslim groups of diverse opinions and formed the Muslim Unity Board with his old foes and Congress allies – Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind- but when the break between League and Congress came after the elections, JUH put its lot firmly in with the Congress. It was here that Jinnah raised the stakes and disputed the Congress claim of representing Muslims when it did not win any Muslim support in the elections.

4.         1940-1947: Apostle of Pakistan

1940 was a watershed. Jinnah and the League demanded independent states for Muslims of India wherein constituent units would be autonomous and sovereign and which states would also ensure that minorities are fully safeguarded. By doing so Jinnah seems to have calculated that there were any number of new possibilities for Hindu-Muslim Settlement and indeed Congress-League agreement and all of which were variants of what Pakistan could like in the future, namely:

a.         Full independence: The creation of one or two Muslim majority states in India (as at present) with territorial adjustments.

b.         Sovereign states in a confederation: The creation of a Pakistan and a Hindustan with notional political unity, defence cooperation of some kind and a consensual foreign policy. As it would be a treaty arrangement, any party could walk out of it at any time.

c.         A Federation with parity between Hindu Majority Zone and Muslim Majority Zone: This would require one or more autonomous groupings of Muslim majority provinces within a federation to have in total the same number of representatives in a federal legislature as Hindu majority provinces, with princely India forming the third plank. There would also be the option of secession available – primarily as a safeguard against any attempts to modify the agreement. Important to note here is that this was not to be a parity of Hindus and Muslims constitutionally but rather a regional parity. This – Jinnah must have concluded- was the best possible outcome.

d.         Indian federation with Muslim Groupings but no parity: This is precisely what the Cabinet Mission Plan provided and Jinnah accepted even though this was in his view the worst case scenario for him. It is often forgotten that Cabinet Mission Plan itself was closer to the Congress point of view than the League.

This was in essence what Jinnah was after. All these were in the realm of possibility and the ball was in Congress’ court to decide which one it was going to be. Jinnah had realised that achieving a common Indian nationality when a minority formed significant majorities on two opposite ends of the subcontinent would be impossible without significant concessions by the majority – concessions which saner minds in Congress were ready to give but were restrained from doing so by the Hindu Mahasabha’s disproportionate influence on the Congress machinery.

To this end it is helpful to compare two statements by Jinnah side by side. The first was made in the Indian Central Legislature on 11 September 1939 and the second is Jinnah’s famous 11 August 1947 address to Pakistan’s constituent assembly. On first reading these might seem entirely contradictory but like Jinnah’s career these are in a logical order. In 1939 he described the fusion of Hindus and Muslims into one national unity as a distant dream (but a dream which one might add he had struggled for till then). In his address to the constituent assembly he stated:

In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual but in a political sense as citizens of one state.

He was perhaps naive in assuming that his Muslim co-religionists would be any more generous to their minorities than his Hindu countrymen had been to Muslims. In fact on the contrary, Muslim majority has proved to be infinitely more brutish. While this is a burden we in Pakistan have to bear, it goes without saying that the traditional view of a sudden 180 degree shift in Jinnah’s “ideals” is naive and wrong.

This claim that Jinnah was secular is not based on 11 August 1947 alone though that is pretty darn good piece of evidence. It would be fair to say that Jinnah’s vision of the state would have been secular even if he had not made that extraordinary pronouncement where he merely put it in black and white.

This claim is based on all of the following:

1.         Jinnah’s record as a legislator in the central Indian legislature spanning over four decades.

2.         Jinnah’s role in the Indian Independence movement and in trying to forge a united Indian nationality which earned him the title of “Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity”

3.         Jinnah’s record after he took over the Muslim League as its president.

4.         Jinnah’s clear pronouncements as the Governor General and the first president of the constituent assembly.

5.         The symbolism deployed by Jinnah in his choice of his cabinet.

Jinnah’s secularism meant equal rights for all people regardless of religion or gender and because he believed in freedom of speech and freedom of expression. He was – as Agatha Harrison eulogized- a believer in unpopular causes such as the Suffrage Movement at a time when even men like Gandhi denounced suffrage for women as a satanic idea.  Jinnah was a champion of racial equality from very early on at a time when it was still acceptable to be racist. In short Jinnah was schooled in the political philosophy of John Morley who was the finest amongst Victorian and Edwardian liberals.

In fact Jinnah’s world view was never so wide as to include retrogressive and reactionary mullahs, who opposed Jinnah on every turn.  Like Kemal Ataturk, a contemporary world leader he admired, Jinnah’s views on clerics and religious scholars bordered on outright contempt. Words such as fraud, crooks, cranks, madmen, illiterate Mullahs, reactionary Maulvis etc were common in Jinnah’s public pronouncements against the Mullahs. Even when he was not contemptuous his speech was full of scathing sarcasm as in the case of the famous speech he gave on why Child Marriages Restraint Act ought to be passed despite orthodox Islamic opinion. Jinnah’s main point of departure from Gandhi emanated from the dispute the great Gujurati leaders had over the role ulema ought to play. Jinnah’s world view had no place for religious priests with a divine mission. He said in February 1948: “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.”


To him politics was a gentlemen’s game where rabble rousing using religious slogans was distasteful. Speaking to the central legislative assembly on 7 February 1935, Jinnah declared: “Religion should not be allowed to come into Politics….Religion is merely a matter between man and God… when I speak of minorities, I speak of secular things”


Granted he may have paid lip service to Islamic principles on occasion, but always to reinforce that Islam was compatible with democracy and equality. By July 1947, the most ardent of Muslims amongst Jinnah’s supporters realized full well that Jinnah did not intend to give into their demands about Sharia. In a confidential letter addressed to Mountbatten, Rob Lockhart, the governor of NWFP, reported on 9 August that local League leaders were annoyed because Jinnah had told them bluntly that he would not establish Shariat Law. See Appendix IV. 17, Page 462, Volume IV of the Jinnah Papers.


Is it just two lines?

Khuldune’s claim that Jinnah spoke of “secularity” only when speaking to minorities or foreigners is also wrong and is not borne out by facts of history.

While speaking to the constituent assembly Jinnah made the clearest pronouncement of his secularism  and for that matter clearer than any leader of the subcontinent:

“You are free – You are free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state. .. if we keep this infront of us as a principle, you will see that in due course of time, Hindus will cease be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense because that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of the state”. (Jinnah 11th August, 1947)

He went on to recount the history of Protestant and Catholic conflict in England and how they had evolved beyond it and he expressed his fervent hope that in Pakistan there would be no bar against any class or religion. This was a tectonic shift from the “Muslim nation” Jinnah had led from 1940 onwards to a secular Pakistani nation. The only other example of this tectonic shift in the Muslim world was Ataturk himself who similarly retired the Turkish nationalism based on Muslim identity in 1928 and sought to define Turkish nationalism on the basis of Turkish language and Pre-Islamic Turkish identity. Both Jinnah and Kemal Ataturk have the unique distinction of being the founding fathers of two of the earliest Muslim nation states emerging after an era of colonialism. Both were men to a large extent shaped and influenced by ideas that emanated from Europe and the Western civilization. Both were political liberals and secular in their world view but both championed at a certain time in their lives the cause of a people defined primarily by group identity based on religion- in Jinnah’s case, Indian Muslims, and in Ataturk’s case – Muslims of Anatolia who were called Turks. Yet both imagined their states on European lines as Republics run modern principles and constitutional lines. The difference however was in approach. Ataturk was a military man and was largely inspired by the French secular strain. Therefore Ataturk’s approach was quite aggressive, which included stringent measures by the state to clamp down on religious symbolism and identity- even if Ataturk had himself used them during the Turkish War of Independence.

Jinnah was a lawyer and parliamentarian for most of his life. Furthermore his liberalism and secularism was of a constitutional variety derived from the rich British tradition. The British tradition itself is much more tolerant of religion (indeed there are some like archbishop of Canterbury who state that perhaps even Islamic sharia has a role to play in modern legal system) and accepts religion as the civic basis of secular laws- keeping with the work and thought of John Locke who had initiated the whole idea of a modern state with his social contract and the “true end of government” by applying Christian ideals to statehood. Thus Jinnah’s secularism was not aggressive but steeped in British tradition in so much that it expected evolution to a point where religion would become a non-issue. In any event, the short run has shown greater success for Kemal Ataturk’s model of secularism in Turkey. In Pakistan, the state has increasingly moved away from Jinnah’s conception of an impartial secular state and had increasingly created new religious bars which have made some question the very basis of the country. In Turkey we have seen that after decades of repression, the pro-Islam forces have come to define secularism in terms that would be closer to Jinnah than Ataturk- secularism as state impartiality instead of state’s active persecution of the religious minded.

The late Justice Munir, paraphrasing the Quaid’s interview with Doon Campbell of May 21 1947, said that Jinnah believed that sovereignty would rest with the people regardless of religion, caste, creed etc.  I reproduce the actual quote by the Quaid: “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 program of the Government. 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.” Any lawyer, historian or political scientist will tell you that is a perfect summation of a secular democratic state.

In a nutshell Jinnah’s vision was of an inclusive democratic state where religion would be “personal faith of an individual” and each citizen would have the same opportunities in every field – including the highest offices in the land – without any distinction of religion. The example that Jinnah quoted was from the history of Great Britain where religious wars between Catholics and Protestants were brought to end by a practical separation of church and state. Jinnah believed – and many of his colleagues like Zafrulla Khan agreed- that this was a vision that was compatible with Islam.  It must be remembered that Jinnah made his 11 August speech where he explicitly declared that religion would be a personal matter after Krishan Shankar Roy in his speech asked Jinnah to declare Pakistan a secular state. Jinnah’s response was unambiguous, undiplomatic and entirely secular. In what was his most important policy speech, Jinnah made no mention of Islamic principles or even God. Later that day, Jogindranath Mandal, a Hindu lawyer from East Pakistan with absolutely no training in Islamic law, became the new state’s first law minister. If Jinnah wanted an Islamic state, he certainly did not lift a finger to make that happen.
Nor is the idea that Jinnah’s nuanced idea had not resonance with the people he was leading entirely accurate. Pakistan Movement itself was supported by people with divergent agendas. In Bengal it was the peasant nationalism. The urban left leaning intellectuals supported it because they believed that it would lead to the rise of a bourgeoisie nationalism which would then create a state where the second stage of revolution would be possible.  The Muslim landlords supported the movement for their own vested interests which worked at cross purposes to the interests of the peasantry which was also supporting the movement.  What is clear in all of this are the following:

1. There was never one idea of why Pakistan was being demanded.
2. The religious parties by and large opposed the creation of Pakistan.
3. The leaders of the Pakistan Movement were more or less neutral towards religion and theology and did not want or envisage an expanded role for it in state.

Jinnah, Ruttie,  Dina

Jinnah did not cry “murder” when his daughter married a Parsi. On the contrary there is no evidence at all other than anecdotal evidence that Jinnah was unhappy about it.  Many Pakistan ideology and Islam-hawks in Pakistan claim that Jinnah objected to his daughter’s marriage to a Parsi on grounds of faith. This is only partially true. If Jinnah was all bothered about faith, he would not have ensured that his daughter grew up in a British boarding school and learned in British (not Muslim culture). If Jinnah’s anglicization was deliberate, his daughter is in very real terms English and there is absolutely no indication in Jinnah’s life that he tried to have his daughter schooled in religious dogma. His objection to his daughter’s marriage was on legal grounds. The law in India did not allow interfaith marriage unless one of the spouses converted to the other faith or both renounced their faith.U nder the law people between two religious communities could marry only if they renounced their faith. Jinnah had famously worked to get a law where people of different communities could marry each other but had failed.  This is all a matter of record. To say Jinnah somehow contradicted himself is wrong because Ruttie converted only in name to fulfill this legal requirement. Ruttie remained a theosophist and never a practising Muslim- how ironic if bigotry was the reason.


Jinnah IlamDin and Blasphemy Law:


Jinnah was the appellate lawyer for Ilam Din. His contention through out was that Ilam Din is a young boy who hasn’t done it never that what Ilam Din did was right.  Everyone has the right to fair trial. Consider the facts: Jinnah’s political career began firmly in the moderate camp when the Indian National Congress was divided into moderates and extremists. His mentor was Gopal Krishan Gokhale and Tilak was his political rival. On the limited question of sedition, Jinnah represented Tilak and represented him well. Similarly to the disappointment of those who try and use Jinnah’s role as the lawyer in appeal for Ilam Din to somehow score a point about blasphemy law, Jinnah’s arguments as reported in the said judgment show that at no point did Jinnah condone Ilam Din’s act. Given the communal colour that this issue had taken, Muslims of Punjab invented many myths about Ilam Din but the fact is that Ilam Din repeatedly claimed that he did not kill Raj Pal, the publisher of the offensive pamphlet. Jinnah also represented Sardar Phanse in the famous Bawla Murder Trial and had his punishment mitigated to life. Would one conclude then that Jinnah’s political vision was broad enough to include even murderers?


What was the Pakistan demand and how it came about?

As I understand it the idea of Pakistan arose out and as a result of the following:

  • The inability of British Indians to evolve a common nationality and this itself has three factors:  a. The insecurity of Muslims – having taken to modern education and British rule much later than the Hindu Majority (a gap of 80 years almost b/w Ram Mohan Roy and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan) b. The unwillingness of the Hindu majority to meet the Muslims half way and allay their fears and c. the role of the British rulers i.e. making Hindu-Muslim settlement a sine qua non and a condition precedent for responsible government in British India.
  • The introduction of separate electorates for Muslims in 1909 (which was – it must be emphasized- opposed by Jinnah) which created a fissiparous tendency.
  • Congress Party’s insistence that it spoke for all India and not just those Indians who supported it.
  • Gandhi’s support for the Khilafat Movement which introduced a permanent religious angle (of the Mullahs) and made religious identities non-negotiable destroying the top down Indian nationalist unity constructed painfully through the Lucknow Pact of 1916.
  • Congress’ unwillingness to accept the Delhi Muslim proposals in 1928-1929 which would have undone the separate electorates. Jinnah had convinced almost all of the Muslim opinion makers to endorse joint electorates in return for reserved representation and constitutional reforms in Sindh and NWFP (KP).
  • The Punjab Muslim thesis at the roundtable conference i.e. represented by the British backed Fazli Hussain and the Unionist Muslims who wanted a watered down Indian federation as opposed to Jinnah’s faction of the Muslim League which wanted a workable federation and Congress which wanted a strong central government.
  • The British insistence at the roundtable conference that the Princely states could negotiate their status vis a vis the Indian federation which was unacceptable to the Indian provinces.
  • And finally in 1937-1938 the inability of the Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru to concede even an inch to the Muslims of the Hindu majority province.

All of the above represent distinct forks in the road with one way always leading to the elusive Hindu-Muslim unity to which both Gandhi and Jinnah were ideologically committed all through out. Had a different route been taken by those concerned India may well have remained united and the idea of Pakistan would not have become necessary.

The Two Nation Theory was a consociationalist counter-poise and did not say at any time that Hindus and Muslims could not live together.  Instead it said that Hindus and Muslims being two nations had to formulate a constitution for the governance of their common motherland. The idea of a Muslim nation was a Muslim nation within India. The Lahore Resolution was a bargaining counter. Jinnah wanted a scheme or an idea that was strong enough to rope in the Muslim majority provinces which had been dominated by the local politicians so that he could then negotiate with the Congress at the center. His calculations included a belief that the Congress Party would rather concede safeguards at the center than agree to a division of India. This was a miscalculation. The British were in a hurry to leave and the Congress was in a hurry to get its strong center which it did but after division of India and mutilation of Punjab and Bengal (which again it must be stated was opposed by Jinnah till the very end).

So then what is the central idea of Pakistan? It is certainly not to create an Islamic state as Pakistanis now seem to believe. That was ruled out by Jinnah on no less than 50 occasions. Jinnah’s consistent view throughout was of a democracy where sovereignty would rest with the people regardless of their identity.  The only viable idea, vision and concept of Pakistan is one that Jinnah expressed on 21 May 1947 and 11 August 1947 and on several other occasions – 30 that I have counted. The creation of a new nation state was an accident of history, like all other nation states. However once it was created, it was to be organized on what one would in modern parlance call “secular democracy”. Instead Pakistan’s early leaders – after Jinnah’s demise- came up with the chimerical Objectives Resolution which sought to balance the modern nation state with an Islamic ideological ethos, prompting Jawaharlal Nehru to rightly comment that it was medievalism. The way the Objectives Resolution was passed by the Pakistani Constituent Assembly was in complete and total negation of the fundamental principle that Jinnah had been fighting for i.e. a permanent majority should oppress a permanent minority. The Objectives Resolution was passed with all Muslim members minus one voting for it and all Non-Muslim members voting against it.  Pakistan having arisen out of a minority’s demand was now turning around and oppressing its own minorities. From then on this has been a slippery slope. The final nail in the coffin of the idea of Pakistan came when Ahmadis – who were amongst the leading patriots of this country- were excommunicated, ostracized and condemned by the very state that they had so vociferously supported. The movement against Ahmadis was led by people who had opposed Jinnah and called Kafir-e-Azam. One needs to read Munir Report to see who were the people behind Islamization and exclusivism. These were the same people who had supported Gandhi and the Congress- Majlis-e-Ahrar etc.


It is for foregoing reasons that the claim that Jinnah wanted a secular state holds water and the claim that he wanted an Islamic state does not. Khuldune concludes his article by saying by saying that Pakistan was a case for Jinnah and he said different things to different people to establish the independent state of Pakistan. Perhaps the irony misses him because this in of itself shows that Jinnah had no commitment to ideological motivations that are posthumously affixed to him.  Still Khuldune’s article is probably a mirror of the contradictions that plague the young Pakistani mind about the genesis of his or her nation state. In the final assessment one does not have any qualms with the suggestion that Pakistan was for Jinnah a case- his greatest case. However the litigants were the Muslim people of South Asia. Pakistan was a maximum demand, open for negotiation- as is routinely the case with law suits.  The analogy holds and therefore it follows that Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan was completely secular.

Happy Independence Day

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3 Responses to "Jinnah unequivocally wanted Pakistan to be a secular state"

  1. Saad Ali Dar Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    You do not have the common decency to write articles. Please refrain from doing so.

    That’s the least i could ask you.

  2. SANSAD United States WordPress Unknow Os says:

    […] Hamdani, Yasser Latif. “Jinnah unequivocally wanted Pakistan to be a secular state.” Pak Tea House. August 13, 2013. Available at […]

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