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Are we interpreting or misinterpreting Jinnah?

Published May 31, 2019 02:18am

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Photo: Citizens Archive of Pakistan
Photo: Citizens Archive of Pakistan

The Quaid-i-Azam has never been out of newspaper columns or the discourses of people seeking office of fame or even truth. But never in the manner that we have seen these past few months.

During the years of struggle for Pakistan the Quaid had to face many opponents and critics; there were people who disagreed with his arguments and challenged his conclusions. But it was rare that anyone found him unclear or ambiguous.

In the period since Pakistan came into being the Quaid has generally been held above criticism. There has been, off and on, brief and desultory discussion on his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1974, but by and large there has been little doubt about his concept of Pakistan. Now, all of a sudden, the floodgates of controversy have been opened and a debate on the Quaid’s views on the political structure of the state founded by him has started. What was said and written on the subject on and around September 11 last, the Quaid’s death anniversary, reveals a state of alarm at the difficulty in determining exactly what he stood for.

There is near unanimity on the point that the Quaid-i-Azam did not have the time to express himself fully on the polity he wanted Pakistan to adopt; in other words, he did not draft a constitution for the country. Nawa-e-Waqt and The Muslim (both of September 11, 1981) conceded this and so did Mr Suleri (The Pakistan Times, August 25), and the Director of the Quaid-i-Azam Academy, Mr Sharif al Mujahid (Jinnah: Studies in Interpretations) went to the extent of arguing that it was perhaps wrong to expect a complete political thesis from the Quaid.

Then there is considerable controversy over the interpretation of the Quaid’s speech on August 11, 1947, its meaning and its significance. Mr Sharif al Mujahid does not find it inconvenient to adopt several and mutually contradictory positions on this point. First, he says that this speech is not in variance with what the Quaid had always believed and declared, then concedes that it could be interpreted in more ways than one, and agrees with a favorite writer of his in describing it as “loose thinking and imprecise wording.” By way of apology he contends that the Quaid was under a tremendous strain when he made this speech and, therefore, the lapse, if so considered, could be excused as, after all, no one could be considered infallible.

‘Zeno’ (The Muslim, August 17) writing in a mood of quiescence thoroughly uncharacteristic of him, found such views debatable. Mr Suleri was, however, his usually strident self. He discovered Shakespeare and cried out “Mischief thou art afoot…” He had no doubt that an attempt at character assassination had been made.

There were some others who did not see any room for controversy. According to an agent report, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Raja Mohammad Zafarul Haq, told a gathering that “the views of the Quaid-i-Azam as to what system will be enforced in Pakistan were clear and unequivocal.” He said there was no ambiguity on this point and the Quaid ardently wished to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. He said that the Quaid had visualised a clear concept of an Islamic State in which Ordinances of Allah and teachings of the Quran and Sunnah would be enforced and practiced. He said that since the Quaid had departed from us it was the duty of the people to dispel all doubts and misunderstanding on this matter.

Another Minister, Mr. M. Fazil Janjua, was even more precise and confident when he declared that the process of Islamisation undertaken by the Government would lead to the fulfillment of the Quaid’s ideals.

With this view both Mr. Mujahid and Mr. Suleri agree. Indeed, Mr. Suleri’s diatribe against Mr. Mujahid revolved entirely around the latter’s contention that the Quaid’s August 11 speech was an unfortunate lapse. Otherwise, he has used more words or the same words more frequently, than Mr. Mujahid in coming to the same conclusions.

However, there are some who do not deny that the Quaid did not evolve a complete political system but argue that he did not enunciate definitive guidelines, and deplore the attempts, conscious or unconscious, to create confusion. For example: “Can we deny that he (the Quaid) left behind him a guiding legacy, a body of political principles, and a vision of a society based on Islam, justice, egalitarianism and democracy? We have none to blame except ourselves if all we have done is to obscure that legacy and cloud that vision and to drown the voice of the Quaid in a trackless theological debate about what he stood for and what he did not.” (The Muslim, September 11).

The common man who knows the Quaid only through his interpreters may find all, or some, of these observations baffling. He needs to be educated that controversy over the legacy of great men is nothing new. If interpreters did not disagree there would have been no sects in Islam and no different schools of ‘Fiqah.’

In the present case, one should be grateful that the need to rediscover the true Quaid-i-Azam has been realised only three decades after his death when the record of his speeches and writings is still available (that is not yet wholly appropriated by academics and trustees), when some people who worked with the Quaid are still around and quite a few have had no reason to forget what they remembered till a few years ago. Indeed, the possibility (hopefully) of a free and frank debate on the Quaid’s views should be most welcome as it might awaken the common people to their role as the final arbiters in all controversies of this nature. So long as one’s bona fides as a seeker of truth are not open to question, everybody should be allowed to have his say even if it seems to be in conflict with somebody else’s belief, emotions or interests.

Let us first examine the lament that the Quaid did not have time to draw up a complete political system, i.e. a constitution for Pakistan. In this respect an important fact is generally ignored — that the Quaid-i-Azam did not want to draw up a constitution. He was not Ayub Khan who had the audacity to declare: “I, so and so, hereby give the following Constitution to the people of Pakistan.” He believed in the supremacy of the will of the people. Whenever he was asked about the Constitution of Pakistan he invariably replied that this was for the representatives of the people to decide. Has anyone even so much as challenged these observations? Fortunately, the people have not departed and there are not obstacles to the adoption of the principle relied upon by the Quaid other than some unmentionable considerations.

Mr. Husain Imam once recounted an incident that took place at a meeting of the All-India Muslim League Working Committee. A zealous forerunner of some of the present-day ideologies had sent to the League General Secretary, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, a “draft constitution for Pakistan” which was supposed to be based on Islamic principles, and Mr Liaquat Ali placed the document on the table. The Quaid, according to Mr. Husain Imam, was furious and took the General Secretary to task for entertaining the ___ on that any individual, or the Muslim League executive as a whole, could supplant the people’s representatives, specifically chosen for the task, as the constitution makers for Pakistan. The message is clear for anyone who cares to see.

As regards the Quaid’s speech of August 11, 1947, a dispassionate study would show that there is nothing “loose” or “imprecise” about it. True, the speech was made against the background of a terrible communal carnage, and the need for communal peace and assurances to minorities was uppermost in the Quaid’s mind. He wanted to reassure the sizeable non-Muslim population.

That purpose could have been achieved by merely guaranteeing the minorities due protection. But when the Quaid declared that religion was a private matter between man and God and had nothing to do with the running of the state he was clearly defining the basis and primacy of Pakistani nationhood. He was also telling his followers that the achievement of Pakistan had relieved them of the need to shout pre-independence slogans, and that a broader concept of the state had to be adopted.

It is true that this speech was relied upon by Congress members of the Constituent Assembly to criticise Mr. Liaquat Ali’s Objective Resolution in 1949. But, surely, not even Mr. Mujahid would find fault with the Quaid’s observations only because some Congressmen interpreted it in a particular way. In 1954 the Government of the Punjab released the report of the court of Inquiry (into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953) written by Justices Mohammed Munir and M.R. Kayani. They were neither non-Muslim nor Congressmen. The senior judge was known to the Quaid and enjoyed his confidence.

The authors’ first quote from the Quaid-i-Azam’s pre-independence interview to a Reuter correspondent: “The Quaid-i-Azam said that the new state would be a modern democratic state, with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of their religion, cast or creed.” Then they reproduce a long excerpt from the August 11 speech and observe:

“The Quaid-i-Azam was the founder of Pakistan and the occasion on which he thus spoke was the first landmark in the history of Pakistan. The speech was intended both for his own people, including non-Muslims, and the world, and its object was to define as clearly as possible the ideal to the attainment of which the new state was to devote all the energies. There are repeated references in this speech to the bitterness of the past and an appeal to forget and change the past and to bury the hatchet. The future subject of the State is to be a citizen with equal rights, privileges and obligations, irrespective of colour, caste, creed or community. The word ‘nation’ is used more than once and religion is stated to have nothing to do with the business of the State and to be merely a matter of personal faith for the individual.”

The report was submitted to the government on April 10, 1954. It must have been read by the Punjab ideologues of the Muslim League, from Mian Daultana to Sir Feroz Khan Noon. One presumes that stalwarts like Khwaja Nazimuddin, Raja Ghazanfar Ali, Mr. Ispahani, Mr. Ghulam Mohammad, etc. all pious Muslims and dedicated to the Quaid’s legacy – could read at least official reports. Did they controvert the conclusions drawn in the report? Probably the only people who questioned the Quaid’s views were those often generously described as ‘ulema’.

The authors of the report note: “If Mualana Amin Ahsan Islahi’s evidence correctly represents the view of Jamat’at-i-Islami, a State based on this idea (the idea contained in the Quaid’s speech) is the creation of the devil.” However, “the Quaid-i-Azam’s conception of a modern national State, it is alleged (by ‘ulema’), became obsolete with the passing of the Objectives Resolution on 12th March 1949; but it has been freely admitted (by the same ‘ulema’?) that this Resolution, though grandiloquent in words, phrases and clauses, is nothing but a hoax and that not only does it not contain even a semblance of the embryo of an Islamic State but its provisions, particularly those relating to fundamental rights are directly opposed to the principles of an Islamic State.”

However, the fact of the matter is that this speech (August 11, 1947) cannot be taken in violation from the Quaid-i-Azam’s other utterances both before and after independence. It has been argued, by Mr. Mujahid and a host of scribes, much lower in terms of scholarship, that the Quaid consistently spoke of the ideal of a homeland where the Muslims could order their lives in accordance with their faith and culture and hence he always meant an Islamic State even though he never used the term. Granting, for the sake of argument, that this view is correct, one should like to know what to do with the following statements of the Quaid:

“There is a lot of misunderstanding. A lot of mischief is created. Is it going to be an Islamic Government? Is it not going to be Islamic Government? Is it not a question of passing a vote of censure against yourself? The Constitution and the Government will be what the people will decide. The only question is that of minorities.” – Address at the Muslim League’s annual session, Delhi, 1943. “What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy, nor for a theocratic State. Religion is there and religion is dear to us. All the worldly goods are nothing to us when we talk of religion; but there are other things which are very vital; our social life, our economic life, and without political power, how can you defend your faith and your economic life…?” – Address to League legislators’ convention, Delhi, 1946.

White Star Archives
White Star Archives

“The great majority of us our Muslims. We follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). We are members of the brotherhood of Islam in which all are equal in rights, dignity and self-respect. Consequently, we have a special and a very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake. Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it…” – Message to the people of Australia, 1948. “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state – to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.” – Message to the people of USA, 1948.

“I have no doubt in my mind that a large body of us visualise Pakistan as a people’s government.” – Address at League annual session, Delhi, 1943.

“Muslims in Pakistan want to be able to establish their own real democratic popular government. This government will have the sanction of the entire body of people in Pakistan, irrespective of caste, creed or colour.” – Interview to Daily Worker of London, 1944.

“The theory of Pakistan guarantees that federated units of the national government would have all the autonomy that you will find in the constitutions of the United States of America, Canada and Australia. But certain vital powers will remain vested in the central government, such as the monetary system, defence and other federal responsibilities. Each federated state or province would have its own legislative, executive and judicial systems, each of the three branches of government being constitutionally separate.” – Interview to APA, 1945.

“Here I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense by a system which is so vicious, which is so wicked and which makes them so selfish that it is difficult to reason with them. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood… there are millions and millions of our people who hardly get one meal a day. Is this civilisation? Do you visualise that millions have been exploited and cannot get one meal a day! If that is the idea of Pakistan I would not have it.” – Address at League annual session, Delhi, 1943.

Obviously, so far as the Quaid-i-Azam was concerned there was no discrepancy between ordering life in accordance with Islamic tenets and the dictates of a democratic dispensation, the people’s right to frame laws, and an economy in which the key industries were in the public sector and which was aimed at ending exploitation and inequality and helping the poor.

Unfortunately, some of the interpreters do not end there. A learned judge of the Lahore Court has said that in matters concerning Islam he would humbly disagree with the Quaid even Mr. Mujahid argues that Jinnah knew only law and constitutionalism and should not be taken as an authority on Islamic polity. All right, somebody should be accepted as an authority on this subject. Since Mr. Mujahid says Iqbal was the thinker and the visionary that Jinnah was not, we may turn to Iqbal, whose views also are fortunately available in print.

In his famous Allahabad address Iqbal declared: “Nor should the Hindus fear that the creation of autonomous Muslim States will mean the introduction of a kind of religious rule in such states. The principle that each group is entitled to free development on its own lines is not inspired by any feeling of narrow communalism.”

One of the crucial questions in any discussion on polity concerns the institution responsible for legislation. Iqbal declares (Reconstruction of Religious Thought, chapter on ‘The principle of movement in the structure of Islam’) that the question that is going to confront “Muslim countries in the near future is whether the law of Islam is capable of evolution – a question which will require great intellectual effort, and is sure to be answered in the affirmative; provided the word of Islam approaches in the spirit of Omar – the first critical and independent mind in Islam who in the last moments of the Prophet, had the moral courage to utter these remarkable words: “The Book of God is sufficient for us.”

The only reason Iqbal referred to Omar was to emphasise the need to shed the notions acquired through centuries of what Iqbal often described as ‘Arab imperialism’, and approach legislation in the spirit of ‘Ijtihad’ and ‘Ijma’.

Later, Iqbal declares ‘Ijma’ as “perhaps, the most important legal notion in Islam,” approves the Turkish experiment of legislation through the grand National Assembly, and notes that “the growth of the republican spirit, and the gradual formation of legislative assemblies in Muslim lands constitutes a great step in advance, and declares:

“The transfer of the power of ‘Ijtihad’ from individual representatives of schools to a Muslim legislative assembly which, in view of the growth of opposing sects, is the only possible form ‘ijma’ can take in modern times, will secure contribution to legal discussion from laymen who happen to possess a keen insight into affairs. In this way alone we can stir into activity the dormant spirit of life into our legal system, and give it an evolutionary outlook.”

In essence Iqbal is saying what the Quaid did when he supported the Child Marriage Bill in the face of opposition from most of the ‘ulema’ and declared that he was not answerable to them; he was answerable only to his Bombay electorate and if they did not approve of his views they could elect somebody else to represent them in the Assembly.

It is quite possible that some of us have a concept of Islamic principles of justice, social equality and democracy different from the Quaid’s. a way out has been suggested by Mr. Mujahid when he asserts that it is immaterial what words, for tactical reasons either way, the Quaid used; what is material is the meaning the common people derived from his call for Pakistan. The tense here can easily be changed into the present. If the people could understand what was what 40 years ago they may well be able to do so even today.

Let us ask them.

Maybe, that would end all controversies about what the Quaid stood for.


The article was published in the Herald's October 1981 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.