What Jinnah Believed: Common Myths About Pakistan's Founder

Pakistan's Islamist ideologues have invented a number of stock myths that need to be addressed

What Jinnah Believed: Common Myths About Pakistan's Founder

Fake news and disinformation is something certain ideologues in Pakistan have practising for decades. The main target of this campaign has been Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's anglicised, secular and nominally Shia founding father. Mr Jinnah made it absolutely clear in his lifetime that Pakistan would not be a theocracy of any kind. He even asked his friend the Raja of Mahmudabad to distance himself from the League when he started claiming that Pakistan would be an Islamic state.

The Raja of Mahmudabad's evidence is instructive. He says that when he tried to broach the subject with Mr Jinnah, the latter went red in the face and asked the Raja if he had taken leave of his senses. Mr Jinnah ruled out that Pakistan would be an Islamic state based on Quran and Sunnah because this would embroil Pakistan in endless sectarian debates. Instead Jinnah said that Pakistan would be a liberal democratic Muslim state. Mr Jinnah was absolutely clear on what kind of Pakistan he wanted. This was not the only time Mr Jinnah had done so. In 1943 he vetoed a Muslim League resolution calling for Pakistan to be based on Islam and Quran and Sunnah calling it a censure on every Leaguer.

On 10 August 1947, Mr Jinnah made significant changes to the oath of office for the Governor General and the Ministers of the new country. Reference to God was dropped and the word "swear" was changed to "affirm". An affirmation – those familiar with its use in English courts – is an atheistic oath as opposed to a religious one. Swearing presupposes the existence of deity. Regardless of whether Mr Jinnah was an atheist or not, which is a separate debate , he wanted the highest offices in the land to be open to all citizens, even if they were atheists.

To fit Jinnah into the state's narrow Islamist ideology post 1970s, Pakistan's Islamist ideologues have invented a number of stock myths that need to be addressed. These are:

Myth Number 1

Jinnah said that Pakistan would be a laboratory of Islam to experiment with Islamic principles

The date given for this quote is 12 January 1948 and the location is Islamia College in Peshawar. Jinnah was not in Peshawar on the said date. He was in Karachi. He went to Islamia College in April 1948 and his speech contains no such reference. It is part of the archives and can easily be verified. The laboratory for Islamic principles quote is actually from Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan's speech of 12 March 1949 and to be fair to Mr Liaquat Ali Khan, he explains what he meant by that in the same speech, which should be read by all.

Myth Number 2 

Jinnah formed a department called the Directorate of Islamic Reconstruction and appointed Allama Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, as its head

This myth was invented by Orya Maqbool Jan who is no paragon of honesty. He had also tried to claim that Jinnah's 11 August speech was a lie relenting only when provided primary source evidence from NA debates and from the archives of Dawn, The Hindu and several other reputable sources.  Orya's claim about Asad was later quoted as a source by Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed in his poorly researched polemic against Mr Jinnah.  However there is no primary source evidence for this claim. There is no correspondence on this subject by Mr Jinnah. The so-called directorate of Islamic reconstruction was allegedly set up in Lahore. Even if this were true, surely Jinnah would have set it up in Karachi not Lahore. Allama Asad has written in detail about his time in Pakistan and at no point did he claim that his work was sponsored by Mr Jinnah or that he even corresponded with Mr Jinnah himself.

Myth Number3

Jinnah asked Hassan Al Banna for guidance on Islamisation of Pakistan

There is no primary source evidence for this claim. Mr Jinnah's solitary letter to Hassan Al Banna is available in the Jinnah papers. Thanking Banna for his wishes and Banna's decision to form an association in aid of Pakistan in Egypt, Jinnah turns down the offer to be associated with the said body.  There is no reference to MrJinnah asking Hassan Al Banna for advice or help on the Islamisation of Pakistan. At no point did Al Banna ever claim that Mr Jinnah had asked him for advice or help.

Myth Number 4

Jinnah promised the Pir of Manki Sharif that he would implement Sharia in Pakistan.

The evidence for this are two lines from Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani's speech to the constituent assembly. No one has seen any letter or correspondence on the issue. Shariat in legal language meant personal law but even that becomes suspect because Mr Jinnah had a bill calling for personal law withdrawn in the Punjab Assembly in early 1948.

Mr Jinnah of course had a very progressive and modernist idea of Islam itself. For example on 25 August 1947 he told Collier's Weekly that Purdah was an outdated institution which had no sanction in Islam or the Quran. Given his modernist Muslim understanding of Islam, Mr Jinnah believed that a liberal democratic state was not in conflict with Islam or Shariat. In more than 30 such pronouncements after independence Jinnah made the following points repeatedly:

  1. Pakistan would not be a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission.

  2. Every Pakistani, no matter what their religion, would be an equal citizen of Pakistan and religion would be the personal matter of each individual.

  3. Sovereignty rests unconditionally with the people of Pakistan that they would exercise through their chosen representatives in the legislature.

  4. Islam and Islamic principles reinforce democracy and forbid theocracy and Islam had no room for an ecclesiastical state.

This is decidedly a liberal, democratic and a secular vision. The sooner Pakistan realises that vision the better it would be for the country.  Islamists by and large opposed Jinnah and his Pakistan movement. Jinnah was denounced as "Kafir-e-Azam" by Majlis-e-Ahrar because Jinnah refused to entertain their request about expelling Ahmadis from the League. Others in the Jamiat e Ulema Hind and Jamaat e Islami denounced him as a "Kemalist" who wanted to replicate the Secular Turkey model in Pakistan. Mr Jinnah of course did draft a constitution for Pakistan which was buried by Mr Jinnah's successors. According to Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, Mr Jinnah told her that he had modelled Pakistan's constitution on the French Constitution of 1945. This can be verified from her book Father and Daughter; A Political Biography.

Finally Mr Jinnah's choice of his law minister speaks volumes about the kind of state he wanted. Jogindranath Mandal, a scheduled caste Hindu, on a Muslim seat in the interim government of India in 1946. After Pakistan was created, Mr Jinnah made him the law minister. If Islam's predominant preoccupation is with law, then surely this position would have gone to an Islamic scholar. Instead Mr Jinnah chose a Scheduled Caste Hindu to head up that position. As with the oaths, this had significant symbolic value- which cannot be buried under heaps of Islamist propaganda.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a barrister at law and the author of the book Jinnah; A Life.