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Jinnah and the Question of a Secular Pakistan

Saleena Karim’s text questions the late Muhammad Munir’s reading of a quote attributed to the Quaid-e-Azam

by Khaled Ahmed

Saleena Karim’s Secular Jinnah and Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know (2010) seeks to answer the perennial question of whether Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah believed Pakistan should be a secular or an Islamic state. To reach a conclusion, she has examined Jinnah’s statement about the kind of state he wanted Pakistan to be, noting the founding father appeared uncertain over his aims, but was subsequently “interpreted” as desiring a secular state.

According to Karim’s book, the core argument supporting Jinnah’s desire for a secular Pakistan stems from late chief justice Muhammad Munir’s book, From Jinnah to Zia (1979). Describing it as one of the bestselling books in Pakistan’s history, she notes that it can safely be considered one of the most influential books in secularist circles because Munir was among the first to openly describe Jinnah as a secularist. Munir’s text cites an interview Jinnah gave in 1946 to Reuter’s Correspondent in New Delhi, Doon Campbell. “The new state would be a modem democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of religion, caste or creed,” it quotes him as saying.

However, notes Karim, Munir’s version was misquoted. The actual text of the interview, she writes, is: “But the Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of government. Its Parliament and Cabinet to the people without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will be the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and program of the government that may be adopted from time to time.”

Stressing these two passages have significant deviations, she writes their only commonality are the words “caste” and “creed.” Instead of Munir’s “modern democratic state,” and “sovereignty resting in the people,” respectively, the actual quotes are “democratic form of government” and “popular representative.” Even those, contends Karim, are technically in reverse order.

Jinnah’s statement, writes Karim, was given in answer to a specific question: Would Pakistan be a secular state or a religious state, and how this would affect its relationship with neighboring territories? It was an opportunity for Jinnah to call Pakistan a secular state, if he so chose, and this would have surely suited the Western audience for whose benefit the interview was conducted. Further, she writes, the questions were provided to Jinnah in writing a day in advance, giving him time to prepare his answers. Thirdly, Jinnah was trying to explain Pakistan’s rationale to this audience in general terms, as expressly asked of him by journalist Campbell. Essentially, Jinnah’s response was well-prepared and not given off the cuff.

Analyzing Jinnah’s response, Karim states that Pakistan’s founder makes it clear he lacks the authority to singlehandedly decide the basis of the “central administration of Pakistan,” adding the Constituent Assembly will make the decision. Instead of calling the proposed Pakistan a “modern democratic state,” Jinnah states it would have a “democratic form” of government. This supports his aversion to imitating “modern” (read: contemporary) democracy as a political system, considering it a failure.

When Jinnah states that the “policy and program of the government that may be adopted from time to time,” writes Karim, he is invoking the Quranic perspective, a clear reference to a range of policy in accordance with the principle of ‘mutual consultation’ (Verse 42:38). She concludes that Jinnah’s actual words are characteristic of the Quaid’s level-headed pragmatism rather than the romantic and conceptually fuzzy language of the Munir report. She posits that Munir’s quote might have been a paraphrase of an Urdu translation of the original text that was, in turn, translated back Into English.

According to Karim, Munir’s “sovereignty rests in the people” is borrowed directly from the “social contract” school of thought. She writes that the idea of popular sovereignty has, ultimately, come to mean separation of religion from the state based on a Christian dualist view. Yet, she states, even Jean Jacques Rousseau considered popular sovereignty to be a spiritual concept, based on the Idea that the “voice of the people is the voice of God.” Of course, there is no denying that the freedom to choose is a natural law and innate in humans.

The Quran’s stating of free will being a natural law sanctioned by the idea of popular sovereignty is the mere assertion of a natural law and its morality is not in question. However, “sovereignty in the people” as a supposed feature of most modern democratic states is generally considered to be an exclusively secular principle. This is because in European history the principle was introduced in opposition to the “sovereignty of God,” which in the West means a church-state, or theocracy. Pakistan’s Constitution contains a clause declaring that sovereignty belongs to Allah, making this point all-the-more significant, and has caused much controversy.

Jinnah was clear in stating that the Muslims of India had a right to self- determination and choosing their government. The assumption was that they would choose to live by Islamic principles in their new state. The Munir quote, meanwhile, gives the impression of a purely secular state, and reinforces the misleading, romantic notion of a direct democracy. For these reasons, writes Karim, she believes Jinnah would not generally use the term, and if he ever did, as a constitutionalist he would no doubt make the context clear.

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