Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part IX)

The seeds of religious extremism were sown long before Pakistan came into being. They were fostered further when Pakistan was born amidst bloody riots between the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs of the Indian Subcontinent. After the creation of Pakistan, the politico-religious parties that had opposed the very idea of a new Muslim state then started projecting themselves as the rightful custodians of the infant state.

In Rewriting the History of Pakistan, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Abdul Hameed Nayyar observe: “Maulana Maudoodi and the Jamaat-e-Islami had rejected nationalism because it ‘led to selfishness, prejudice, and pride’.” Till 1947 Maudoodi maintained that he would not fight for Pakistan, that he did not believe in Pakistan, and that the demand for it was un-Islamic. Some ten years before Partition he had maintained: “Muslim nationalism is as contradictory a term as a ‘chaste prostitute’” (Abul Ala Maudoodi, Mussalman Aur Maujooda Syasi Kashmakash, quoted in K. K. Aziz, The Making of Pakistan, p. 148). Jamaat literature would sometimes use the derogatory word ‘NaPakistan’ for the proposed state. There were frequent indictments of Jinnah as lacking ‘an Islamic mentality or Islamic habits of thought’ (Maulana Kausar Niazi, Maudoodiat Awam Ki Adalat Mein). Such were the views of these religious parties before Partition, but when Jinnah tried to make Pakistan a secular country, these parties started playing the religious card to further their own agendas.

Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly met in Karachi on August 11, 1947, for the first time. Jinnah was elected the first President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. In his presidential address, Jinnah had openly said that religion would have nothing to do with matters of the state and there would be a Western-style democracy in the country. He said: “…If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed…We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community – because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis, and so on – will vanish…You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of 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.”

The secular flavour of Jinnah’s speech was not very gratifying for the mullahs and other such elements who were displeased with the fact that this speech totally negated the basis of the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ and that nothing was said about the imposition of Shariah in the new state. Some of the Islamists justified it by saying that Jinnah had only said this in order to save the 40 million Muslims in India – who had participated in the struggle for a Muslim state but were left behind – from the wrath of the Hindus. This justification is not accepted by the majority of historians, given the fact that Jinnah was a known secularist. Those who were unhappy with Jinnah’s secularism started to bring religiosity into the equation once again. At a Karachi Jamia mosque, Pir Elahi Bakhsh, Minister of Education in Sindh, suggested on August 26, 1947 that all the Jamia mosques of Pakistan should start referring to Jinnah as the ‘Amir-e-Millat’ (Leader of the Nation) in their Friday sermons. He said that in all Muslim countries it is a tradition that if there is a Khalifa (caliph) or a king, his name is taken after every Friday sermon all over the country. A section of the Urdu press also supported this idea, besides suggesting that for decisions pertaining to law-making, sub-committees of noteworthy ulema should be formed, the system of Zakat should be established, Jazya (protection money for non-Muslims living in a Muslim state) should be imposed and the session of Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam should be called from time to time to settle (religious) disputes. Some sections of the English press also propagated similar ideas, where columnists congratulated Jinnah on becoming the first Amir-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful) of Pakistan and suggested that he should go pay homage to Bahadur Shah Zafar’s dargah in Rangoon. There were also suggestions for the Pakistani Muslims that the decaying system of governance inherited from the English should be completely overhauled and in its place a system based on the Quran, Hadith and principles of Fiqh (jurisprudence) should be adopted, as this was the only way mankind would be saved from the abyss of ignorance and be able to progress.

Jinnah’s speech ruffled the feathers of many notable religious figures. In an interview to some local newspapers, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani said that Jinnah’s success was due to the solidarity shown by the Muslims in the freedom struggle. He said that the unifying point of all Muslims is religion, therefore had the Ulema-e-Deen (religious scholars) not entered the freedom struggle and not given it a religious angle, no political leader or political party would have managed to mobilise the Muslim masses. He also said that an Islamic system of governance should be established in Pakistan, as a Western-style democracy would only lead to destructive nationalism. Maulana Usmani believed that the slogan of Muslims and Hindus being two different nations was not just a meaningless slogan, it was a Muslim reality. While Maulana Usmani was more careful in voicing his displeasure over Jinnah’s speech, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Amin Ahsan Islahi went as far as to say that a state based on the principles laid down in Jinnah’s August 11 speech would be the “Devil’s creation” (“Iblees ki makhlooq”). In other parts of Pakistan too voices were being raised by the extremist elements for the imposition of Shariah.

All this was in contrast to Jinnah’s secular policies. Sir Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, became Pakistan’s first foreign minister while a low-caste Hindu, Joginder Nath Mandal, was appointed the law minister in Jinnah’s cabinet. Thus it was pretty clear that Jinnah did not want to induct religion or sect into the state system. However, he inadvertently fomented religious passions by giving his ‘nod’ to the invasion of Kashmir by tribal lashkars to liberate their Muslim ‘brethren’ from ‘cruel’ Hindus through the use of force.

Jinnah died on September 11, 1948. With his death ended any hopes of Pakistan’s march towards achieving a progressive and forward looking vision, with no truck with religion in any form or manner, except in the personal sphere.


In my opinion, Jinnah's speech of 11 August 1947 is too thin a thread to hang the argument that he was for secular politics in independent Pakistan. While it is correct to trace his non-orthodox lineage within Muslim politics, I for one remain highly unimpressed by his speech. If you look at Jinnah's politics over the twenty years prior to the independence of the two countries, there is a clear movement from secular politics (defined as a politics which involves people irrespective of their religious denomination) towards communal politics (defined as a politics which involves people only on the basis of their religious denomination).

His personality remained largely non-religious, and he himself remained largely unconvinced of the slogans raised by orthodox Muslims. But he provided effective leadership to a political movement which considered Muslims of South Asia, as Muslims (followers of the religion Islam), to be a nation separate from all others. The founding principle of this political position was that Muslims cannot be part of a political community with others. And the line of separation was not class, it was not region, nor language, nor ethnicity, but affiliation to a particular religion.

How can the undisputed leader of this politics claim secularism to be his principle?

There is another problem I have with this formulation of "If only Jinnah had survived and succeeded in his mission... " or other variants of this line. Jinnah was so spectacularly successful in his politics because there already existed a political space for communal politics, specially among the Urdu speaking propertied Muslims of South Asia. The formation of Pakistan was not the result of the efforts of a superman, but rather the result of the effective leadership provided to this demand for relio-nationalist separatism by Jinnah. If he had put himself against the logic of Muslim nationalism he would have been sidelined immediately, converted into a statue and perhaps even assassinated, like Gandhi or Mujib in Bangladesh.

For me Jinnah provided protection and sustenance to the growth of religious extremism in South Asia, despite his own irreligious personality, due to his political actions.

This is a polemical and blunt reaction to your post, please pardon the sharpness of the language, if any.

mehmal said…
Aniket, I agree with you that Jinnah's August 11 speech argument is hollow, and that's because the tragedy of Jinnah's life (as Ayesha Jalal also said in Jinnah, the sole spokesman) was that despite being a secular person, he resorted to play the religious card. Although there were a number of reasons for it, but the fact remains that in my eyes, it cannot be justified because in the long run, the price of 'religion' has become too high! Jinnah's reason for the creation of Pakistan was proven wrong during partition when a major chunk of Muslims were left behind in India and after the separation of East Pakistan. As my brother-in-law recently put it, "The umbrella of religion under which this nation got 'united' was a mirage, a non-realistic dream, which perhaps only feels good in dreams, but has no application or chance of success in practice."

And to an extent I agree with you that had Jinnah lived, things couldn't have gotten much better, but the optimist in me says that there might have been a chance, a miniscule chance that things wouldn't have gone so bad had he lived a bit longer, but then again... who knows? Maybe things would've gotten even worse!

Oh and don't hesitate in being blunt, you know I LOVE to get your feedback :D
syed aamir masood said…
To begin with, I am incredibly impressed by this volume of work. It is indeed refreshing to read such an academic initiative. If not already, I do hope you go further and deeper into these issues.

I too agree that relying solely on the August 11th speech does not provide much credibility to the argument for secularism. I do, however, believe that Jinnah was a secularist. It does appear odd that he would leave the Congress Party and later join the Mulsim League. I take it that that is what the first commentator is referring to. Let's look at this in context. By the time the Congress Party was established in the late 19th century, the British categorization of the Indian population on the lines of religion alone had become well rooted. Religious communalism (and even fuedilism) was a British inspired phenomona. I cannot, for one moment, believe that under a monarchical system, the Mughals would have ever made such a distinction or that one's religion at that time was the sole basis for identity.

Nevertheless, the legally codified segregation of religions when having superimposed on it a nation state form of government can only fracture into religious majorities and minorities. I believe that it was in this communal spirit that Jinnah became disillusioned by the Congress Party. My interpretation of Jinnah is simply that he veiwed Muslims not in a religious sense but in a minority sense within a democracy. It was minority rights and not Mulsim ones that he wished to safeguard. His appeal to Muslims was not for an Islamic state but only that democracy was in conformity with Islamic principles. However, the greatest flaw in this is the categorization of communities wholly on religious lines. Religion alone does not provide cohesion as was well articulated in the Munir Report.

Whether Jinnah would have been successful in implementing secularism had he lived longer, who knows? However, undeniably he was unable to comprehend the Muslim mind of that day.

As an aside, I can't help but wonder whether Pakistan was in fact just a product of his extreme vanity.
Anonymous said…
Well researched articles. The writer has failed to record that there were a lot of Muslims who were opposed to Muslim League and Pakistan. The writer also fails to bring out the covert British support to Jinnah from Linlithgow onwards.
Whatever be the facts, history is that Jinnah created a spectre of "Islam in danger" and obtained Pakistan. That is his biggest blunder for which Pakistan is paying today.

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