The question at the core was one of difference? Were they, both the colonised children of British India, similar enough to transcend the differences in their background and form a single harmonious relationship? Was the conversion of one to the faith of another enough to forge such a bond? The fretted and fraught over by the newlywed Jinnahs nearly a century ago were familiar ones, still buzzing around every proposal and engagement and nikah in mixed up, urbanised, middle class modern Pakistan. How much difference is too much difference? Are the proponents of sameness, the champions of staying within the similar, status, sect, sense and security to be crowned oracles for future stable unions? Or should one put some stock in the newly individualistic, evaders of community and judge marital futures on the basis of passion and prudence; is there any melody in the marriage that is muddled and mixed?
Contemporary Western philosophers have changed their minds on the question of similarity and difference as an equation of co-existence. Problematic multiculturalism continues to occupy liberal theorists grappling with the relative value of salad bowls versus melting pots as the more apt culinary metaphors for the unromantic realities of angry parents and disgruntled communities, unwillingly pitched together when their progeny wed. A century ago, the Jinnahs faced just that. As documented in the biography written about her; Ruttie Jinnah’s doting father refused to speak to her when he heard of the marriage, eschewing any contact for years for what he perceived as her betrayal of the upbringing he had provided. More virulent criticism came from political quarters and quite unexpected ones.
Among the critics of Quaid-e-Azam’s marriage were the leaders of the Khaksar movement, both the leaders of the Majlis-e-Ahrar and of the Darul Uloom al Hind Deoband all of whom incorrectly said that the Quaid had been married in a civil court and whose marriage was therefore un-Islamic. Similar, if more subtle opposition to the idea of such marriages came from Mohandas Gandhi himself who while not having criticised Jinnah’s marriage (it took place before the two were political cohorts) refused to permit his own granddaughter to marry a Muslim man.
In contemporary terms, the ostracism of community has been theorised by philosophers as a significant cost to individual well-being. While purporters of individual freedom may have insisted that humans can be self-sufficient outside of society; recent communitarian theorists such as Charles Taylor have revived the Aristotelian idea that “man is a social animal” and asserted that freedom means not simply the freedom to choose but also to choose to live in a community. Applied to marriage and the issue of forming unions, this becomes the question that what a multicultural marriage may need is not simply the freedom to have one, but also the community to support one. In communitarian terms, the freedom to marry who you want may not be enough for an individual to realise freedom, the community must then support the choice made and nurture it.
In the case of the Jinnahs’ marriage on the eve of the epochal transformation that was Partition; the very concept of community was in flux. As India simultaneously shoved out the British and sectioned itself up into countries; the idea of difference was at the same time a means of unification (let’s all unite against the British) and a basis of difference (let’s not marry outside our communities). It is not surprising, then that their marriage became an intimate avenue of battling all these ideas of how much difference and how much unity was really permissible on the cusp of carving out countries.
One century later, the problems in Pakistan may not be cross-religious but they do boil down to the same question of difference even if it is now calibrated in the language of class, sect, caste, ethnicity instead of simply religion In the urban jungles of Lahore and Karachi and Faisalabad and Multan; potential couples meet on Facebook, at the workplace, at University or in crowded neighbourhoods where all sorts of origins and oddities are smashed together; the question they still face, like the Jinnahs’ is not simply whether they can get married but whether they will have the communities that would support the choice and hence, the marriage. Like those who first loved Pakistan, those that live and love in Pakistan must decide, just how much love can overcome?
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.
She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria