The claim that Jinnah was secular needs to be understood before it can be argued for or against. The claim that Jinnah was secular does not necessarily pre-suppose that all utterances of Jinnah the politician were consistently secular, especially when put against secularism as we understand it today. That Jinnah used the Islamic idiom on occasion is a fact and not necessarily an inconvenient fact for those who argue for Jinnah’s secular vision. Substance not form trumps rhetoric.
If Jinnah’s pronouncements are taken in entirety, it becomes obvious that while he might have referred to Islamic principles and even Muslim ideology on occasion, his vision for a state — whether united India or Pakistan — was always essentially secular. That is, Jinnah emphasised a pluralistic polity where religion would be the personal faith of an individual, not the matter of the state and where permanent cultural majorities — be they Hindu or Muslim — would not dominate permanent cultural minorities. Those Islamists hiding behind Jinnah’s ambiguous references to Islam or Islamic socialism should answer this simple question: what would Jinnah have thought of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 2012, which persecutes people on the basis of faith, determines who is Muslim and who is not, imposes restrictions of food, dress, etc ? The answer — if anyone from any side of the ideological divide is honest enough — is that Jinnah would have cringed at the idea of being hailed as the founder of a theocratic Islamic Republic of the kind we are today. Not just his political idealism, which spanned four decades — as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity — but his own social and material conditions dictate that Jinnah would have never wanted such a state in the first place.
Jinnah was a ‘Shia-Khoja Mohammedan’, as per the affidavit filed by his sister, Fatima Jinnah and his trusted colleague, Liaquat Ali Khan, who had heterodox beliefs, including a law of inheritance based on the Hindu law. The most ‘westernised’ Muslim leader in the history of South Asia, who flouted all dietary laws of Islam and had no truck with religious observances known as pillars of Islam, would have been out of place in the kind of society we have created in the name of Islam in this hapless country of ours.
So what then were his Islamic pronouncements starting with his famous speech at Minto Park in 1940? The 1940 speech was the re-statement of the Muslim cause as a national cause using the established cannons of international law. That it was not a clarion call for the creation of a religious state is obvious from the momentous resolution, drafted by Zafarullah and vetted by Jinnah, which emerged from that meeting. Nowhere in the Lahore Resolution does the word ‘Islam’ come up. The famous address to the Karachi Bar Association in January 1948, which Mr. Chaudhry alludes to in his article, made on the occasion of the birthday of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) simply states — if read in entirety — that the constitution of Pakistan, if framed on universal values of equality for all regardless of religion would not be in contradiction to Islam. In other words, Jinnah was trying to convince the Muslim majority in Pakistan that a modern democratic state, which was impartial to personal religious observances of its citizens, was compatible with Islam. His letter to the Pir of Manki that has been quoted time and again stated that the affairs of the Muslim community would be run in accordance with Shariah. Those affairs of the Muslim community are run in accordance with Shariah, i.e. Muslim personal law, even in India today.
Even if one was to ascribe some other meaning to these pronouncements, which would defy the logic of Jinnah’s own unique position as aforesaid, none of these remarks can trump the clear policy statement he gave in his opening address to the constituent assembly. What is not mentioned is that the speech was made as a response to a direct question posed by the Congress leader, Kiran Shankar Roy in which he had called upon Jinnah to clarify whether Pakistan would be a secular state or a religious state. Jinnah may well have had a rudimentary knowledge of Islam but he did know a thing or two about the history of the United Kingdom. The most important part of the August 11 speech is where he speaks of Catholic-Protestant conflict in English history. Great Britain was the example before him in many ways. Great Britain was and still remains essentially a Protestant realm but is in practice completely secular, having learnt from the sectarian bloodshed starting in the 16th century. There can be no ambiguity about the words Jinnah spoke on that day, especially where he warned against bars being imposed on communities on the basis of religion. He also spoke about a dissolution in due course of Hindu-Muslim differences under the patronage of a state that would remain unconcerned and unburdened by any theocratic agenda. Jinnah warned against the state being partial to any faith for this would lead to sectarian differences, not just between Muslims and Hindus but Muslims themselves, precisely what he had pleaded to Gandhi three decades earlier when the latter embarked on the course of mixing religion with politics. Later on in another speech, Jinnah declared unambiguously that, “Pakistan would not be a theocratic state to be run by priests with a divine mission.” The Federal Shariat Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology are precisely that, i.e. priests with a divine mission. It is a negation of Jinnah’s vision.
So this controversy of nomenclature — secular or Islamic — notwithstanding, a rose is a rose by any name and a spade must be called a spade. Is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan today not a theocratic state? Does it not discriminate against Christians, Hindus and other non-Muslims? Does it not impose religion on its people when it awards 20 marks to Hafiz-e-Qurans or when it determines whether Ahmadis can call themselves X Y Z? Does it not impose religion when it allows destruction of places of worship? Are people free to go to their mosques, temples or any other place of worship in Pakistan? We stand in utter and total negation of everything Jinnah stood for. This is a fact. Accept it. Move on.