Was Pakistan meant to be a secular country?

Since the so-called enlightened moderation became a favorite topic in the Pakistani media, now more than ever, it has become fashionable with the secular and liberal writers to deny the religion based Two-Nation Theory as the raison d’etre of Pakistan. They are bending over backward to prove that the aim of the Pakistan Movement was not to create a country established on the Islamic principles, but a country functioning along secular lines. In defense of their assertion, secularists quote words of mere one speech of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, father and founder of Pakistan, that he delivered in the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1948, while ignoring dozens of his other speeches, policy statements and interviews, before and after August 11, 1947, that suggest quite otherwise. The oft-quoted words are, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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.” We will come back to these oft-repeated and misquoted words of Jinnah in a minute.

It is untenable and historically preposterous to suggest that the Pakistan movement was a secular movement. Equally, it is absurd and indefensible to claim that Jinnah harbored secular plans for the proposed state.  Four months after his speech of August 11, 1947, Jinnah, in response to a question by Maulana Jamal Mian Farangi Mahal at the Karachi meeting of the Muslim League held in December 1947, categorically declared, “Let it be clear that Pakistan is going to be a Muslim State based on Islamic Ideals.” [S. Sharifuddin Pirzada]. Could Jinnah have stated his intentions with any more clarity!

The best way to judge what was the Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan and whether he intended Pakistan to be a secular state or an Islamic state is to objectively study his speeches, interviews, and policy statements that he made on various occasions – during the struggle for Pakistan and after achieving Pakistan. In fact, after Pakistan became a reality and he became its Governor General, Jinnah showed more inclination to Islam then he did during the combating years.

Here are a few of Jinnah’s sayings that leave little doubt about his vision for Pakistan with an Islamic identity.

In August 1941, in relation to Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam was questioned by Osmania students: What is the distinctive feature of the Islamic state? He responded: “There is a special feature of the Islamic state which must not be overlooked. There obedience is due to God and God alone, which takes practical shape in the observance of the Quranic principles and commands. In Islam, obedience is due neither to a king, nor to a parliament, nor to any other organization. It is the Quranic provisions that determine the limits of our freedom and restrictions in political and social spheres. In other words, the Islamic state is an agency for enforcement of the Quranic principles and injunctions.”

In his presidential address at the All India Muslim League Conference in Karachi on December 26, 1943, he said, “What is it that keeps the Muslims united as one man and who is the bedrock and sheet anchor of the community? It is Islam; it is the Great Book –” the Quran which is the sheet anchor of Muslims in India. I am sure that as we go on and on, there will be more Oneness –” One God, One Book, One Prophet and One nation”.

In his Eidul Fitr message to the Muslims in September 1945, Jinnah said, “… Islam is not merely confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or rituals or ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslims society, every department of life, collectively and individually”.

Addressing the civil, naval, military, and air force officers at Khaliqdina Hall Karachi on 11th October 1947 the Quaid said: “It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great lawgiver, the Prophet of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles”.

Have we seen any Pakistani leader since Quaid-e-Azam, with the exception of the leaders of religio-political parties, who has so forcefully and positively spoke about Islam as a comprehensive political and social system? Do Quaid’s response and pronouncements leave any doubt that the man in the outward secular and western appearance had a heart and mind of a Muslim and had he lived longer he would have built the country on Islamic ideals and principles?

The immortal and celebrated slogan, “Pakistan ka Matlab kya? La ilaha ilallah” (What is the meaning of Pakistan? No God but Allah, a Muslim creed), coined in 1946 by Prof. Asghar Saudai of Sialkot, became the rallying-cry of Muslim League meetings during the Pakistan Movement. The popular slogan that was equally embraced by, both, the masses and leaders of the movement was a clear indication of the ideological set-up of the proposed Pakistan. Jinnah a man of principle, character, and unswerving integrity, never once disproved or disclaimed the popular chanting.  

Now, coming back to Quaid’s address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, the address should be read keeping in view the historical context and background; it was the time when mutual bloodshed and destruction were taking place in the region between the Hindus and Muslims. The speech was more to do with giving the minorities a sense of security as well assurance of complete religious freedom and rights as citizens of Pakistan. It becomes even more evident when we remind ourselves that only less than a month ago on July 14, Jinnah was pestered by reporters at a press conference in New Delhi about minorities in Pakistan. The Quaid said, “Let me tell you that I shall not depart from what I said repeatedly with regard to minorities. I meant what I said and what I said I meant. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, life and culture. They will be citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed.”

Ayaz Amir, a respected liberal and secular writer, disagrees with his secularist friends, and astutely says, “Liberals say the matter was settled once and for all by Jinnah’s August 11 (1947) speech to the Constituent Assembly in which he set out a secular creed for the new state. They place too heavy a reliance on this single speech…” He further says, “But even as he spoke one of history’s biggest migrations was already underway –” Hindus fleeing Pakistan, Muslims fleeing India –” and mass killings on both sides breaking out in the name of religion. …Against the backdrop of what was actually happening on the ground, Jinnah’s August 11 speech was thus less a declaration of policy, as liberals like to believe, as a cry of despair”.  Moreover, Mr. Amir without any hesitant admits, “there was no escaping the fact that the two-nation theory, the basis of the demand for Pakistan, was rooted in religion: that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations (Existence and anguish, Dawn, August 19, 2005).

From the time when Abu Raihan Mohammad Ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, the eleventh century Muslim scholar of India, first provided the ideological reasoning for a separate Muslim nation on the subcontinent to the birth of Pakistan in 1947, not one Muslim leader or commoner, aspiring the cherished goal of a separate homeland, ever mentioned a reason other than religion for separation.

From conception to conclusion, Pakistan Movement came under great scrutiny and received full exposition at the hands of Hindus, British, and Muslim nationalists. Friend and foes made searching examination about the purpose and the intent of the movement.  And at no point during the course of the movement, was it suggested, implied or hinted by the leaders or rank-and-file of the movement or media that the new state would be a secular one. It was rather always emphasized that Pakistan would be an Islamic state. During the entire length of the Pakistan Movement from1940-1947, neither Quaid-e-Azam nor any other senior leader of the movement once uttered the word “secular” in relation to Pakistan. On the other hand, Quaid and other leaders’ speeches and statements regarding Pakistan were peppered with references to Islam and sharia. 

If there were any hints that the new state would be established on secular lines then the movement would have not received the crucial support from Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Osmani, Mufti Mohammad Shafi, and other eminent ulema and spiritual leaders.

It is time that secularists put the claim that Pakistan was meant to be a secular country to rest, once for all, and accept the historical fact that the state was created to be an Islamic entity.