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The idea that created Pakistan

Updated December 25, 2014

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After decades of scuffles and strife, today, the idea behind Pakistan may not mean what it meant back when Jinnah led its creation in 1947.
After decades of scuffles and strife, today, the idea behind Pakistan may not mean what it meant back when Jinnah led its creation in 1947.

There’s a war on in Pakistan and it’s largely existentialist in nature. It’s a war for the mind, body and soul of the idea that drove the ‘Pakistan Movement’ and succeeded in creating a separate and sovereign Muslim-majority enclave in South Asia.

It’s not a recent war. It’s been raging between various political, intellectual and religious sections of the enclave’s polity and society for over six decades now.

On numerous occasions, the governments of Pakistan claimed to have reached a synthesis from this tussle through various constitutional resolutions and conclusions, none of which have stuck.

On the contrary, they have only managed to open numerous Pandora’s Boxes that have been almost impossible to close.

Nevertheless, the evolution of the idea which all the fight is about, has seen a gradual retardation. Today, this idea may not mean what it meant when Mohammad Ali Jinnah led the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

To some, the idea was not allowed to freely evolve and deliver its promise of a prosperous and progressive Muslim homeland (in South Asia).

To others, however, it is not retardation at all but an ideological process bearing the kind of fruit that the idea was always destined to sprout.

The idea behind the momentum that gave birth to Pakistan was Muslim Nationalism.

Also read: Political Islam: Theory and reality

One section of Pakistanis considers it as an idea that was to evolve and shape Pakistan into a modern and progressive Muslim-majority society and state.

The other section sees it as an idea that was to grow and lay the foundation of a unique Islamic state; or a strong theocratic island in a sea of western ideas and of the ‘pseudo-secularism’ of Hindu-dominated India.

Though the state and governments of Pakistan have for long attempted to find a middle-ground in this context, such a ground has increasingly shifted towards the rightist sides of the existentialist divide.

This shift is lamented by those who explain it as the gradual retardation of the idea of Muslim Nationalism. Their opponents on the other hand have welcomed this swing to the right, explaining it as the natural direction Muslim Nationalism was destined to take.

So what was this idea destined to achieve?

The idea of nationalism as an ideology with which a man identifies with his nation (on the basis of shared political and cultural commonalities and borders) is largely an 18th century construct that emerged in Europe.

Its development was accelerated by the eventual expansion of the politics and economics associated with the rise of European colonialism and the assertion of the mercantile and trader classes.

Also read: Different narratives of Pakistan

Nationalism was first introduced in South Asia by British colonialists after they strengthened their economic and political grip in the region in the aftermath of the collapse of the 500-year-old Muslim rule in India.

Though 20th Century Islamic scholars such as Abul Ala Maududi almost completely rejected any linkage between nationalism and Islam, Pakistani author and researcher, Dr Nasim Ahmed Jawed, in his 1999 book, ‘Islam’s Political Culture’, suggests that ‘Islam in itself is a sort of nationalism in which the Muslim community (ummah) occupies the place of a nation.’

In this context, Jawed is actually echoing the basis of a Muslim Nationalism that was first set up and built upon by 19th century Indian Muslim scholars, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Ameer Ali.

According to eminent Pakistani historian, Dr Mubarek Ali, when Muslim rule began to collapse in India, many prominent Muslim thinkers became alarmingly conscious of the minority status of the Muslims in the region.

Dr Ali adds that it was at this point that Muslim thinkers and reformers began to overtly talk about the ummah, suggesting that they were a part of the global Muslim community.

This thinking was a way to pad the reality that even though Muslims had ruled India for over 500 years, compared to the Hindus, they were still a minority in the region.

The creeping minority complex was offset by the notion that Indian Muslims were part of the large Muslim community — a universal nation of men and women who shared a common faith.

Muslim Nationalism for revival of Indian Muslims

This was the basis upon which men such as Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Ameer Ali began to construct a Muslim Nationalism which would evolve into becoming the main engine behind the movement that created Pakistan.

Read on: The Pakistan Ideology: History of a grand concoction

The ummah factor was adopted from the Pan-Islamism of 19th Century thinker and activist, Jalaluddin Afghani. But as the state of the Indian Muslims began to degrade after the complete collapse of Muslim rule in India, Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Ameer Ali concentrated more on improving the condition of India’s Muslim minority.

Both emphasised the importance of gaining ‘western education,’ and participating in the economic activity of British colonial rule. To ward off criticism from orthodox Muslim clerics and scholars, they also pleaded to understand Islam’s holy scriptures in a more rational and non-literalist manner, insisting that Islam was a modern, dynamic and enlightened religion.

 Syed Ahmed Khan
Syed Ahmed Khan

Though Ahmed and Ameer Ali often reminded the Muslims of India of their royal past as a ruling class, they paralleled this with a plea to look forward and regain this past through modern means ( i.e. mainly through modern education and the rejection of the superstition, obscurantism and anti-intellectual bias that they believed had crept into the thinking of India’s Muslim subjects).

The idea of this Muslim Nationalism was mainly to reinvent the region’s Muslims from being the degraded left-overs of a fallen empire into becoming a resourceful, enlightened, and above all a separate cultural entity of India.

 Syed Ameer Ali
Syed Ameer Ali

It was from this Muslim Nationalism that the All India Muslim League was formed in 1906.

But this nationalism still retained its initial seeds of Pan-Islamism and many Muslim Nationalists took an active part in the ‘Khilafat Movement’ that was launched in 1919 to halt the fall of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.

Interestingly, though the movement did not succeed in saving the Ottomans, it did trigger one of the first battles among the Muslim Nationalists of the region over the essence of the ideology.

For example, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (who, was yet to become a prominent Muslim Nationalist), criticised the Khilafaf movement of being fuelled by religious fanaticism, whereas Muslim Nationalists such as Mohammad Ali Johaur and Shaukat Ali played a prominent role in it.

Johar and Shaukat saw Muslim Nationalism as an ideology that was to dismantle British rule in India through the formation of an Islamic caliphate. Ironically, the movement was also supported by Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress.

The collapse of the movement was a blow to the Pan-Islamic elements within the time’s Muslim Nationalism.

But that aspect of the idea of Muslim Nationalism that was first set into motion by Syed Ahmed Khan and Ameer Ali had been largely successful in rehabilitating the economic and social status of some Muslims (also giving birth to a Muslim bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie in India). It was still mostly an idea preoccupied by the social, academic and economic improvement of the region’s Muslims. It didn’t have any political pull as such.

To become this it required a coherent political philosophy and narrative. This eventually came through the mind and pen of a renowned Muslim philosopher and poet, Mohammad Iqbal.

'Spiritual Democracy' — Iqbal's epic undertaking

But when Iqbal began to construct the political dimensions of Muslim Nationalism, the idea had already experienced its first schism.

Explore: Iqbal: The man and the existential quest

As mentioned earlier, the start and collapse of the Khilafat Movment (1919-1924) had fragmented the views of Muslim Nationalists, with one section looking at it as a universal Pan-Islamic idea whose epicentre was India, and the other faction holding on to the idea’s India-centricity, concerned only with the economic and social uplift of the region’s Muslims.

Iqbal’s writings in this context attempted to bridge the gap between the two poles. He expanded upon Syed Ahmed Khan’s pleas to liberate the Muslim mind from superstition and the anti-intellectual orthodoxy of the clergy, and on his (Syed’s) insistence that Islam’s scriptures should be read and understood in the light of reason.

But Iqbal also emphasised that Muslims need not be taken in by modern concepts such as secularism because Islam was inherently secular as there was no concept of the Church and/or official clergy (as a mediator between God and man) in Islam.

Iqbal’s Muslim Nationalism rejected the traditional Muslim clergy and hierarchal spiritual leaders (as mediators between God and man), but advocated the somewhat Plutonian enactment of a 'spiritually enlightened' and learned assembly of men who would decide the political, economic and legislative fate of the Muslims. Iqbal called this ‘spiritual democracy.’

 Muhammad Iqbal
Muhammad Iqbal

Just as Syed Ahmed Khan had done, Iqbal too saw the Muslims of India as a separate cultural entity. But he added that they should now politically strive to carve out their own sovereign abode.

However, he wasn’t quite clear exactly what would be the geographical shape of such an adobe because like the Pan-Islamists, Iqbal too saw the Muslims of India as being part of a universal Muslim nation.

Iqbal’s was a giant undertaking because he was constructing a politically relevant Muslim Nationalism by incorporating into it all that inspired and impressed him: From his intense interpretation of Islam’s holy texts, to Pan-Islam’s notion of religious and political (Muslim) universalism, to Syed Ahmed Khan’s idea of constructing a robust Muslim class in India, to even Kamal Ataturk’s secular Turkish nationalism and all the way to Nietzsche’s notion of ‘will to power.’

A lesser thinker would have exhausted himself in trying to weave together such distinct ideas into becoming one coherent indication of nationalism. But Iqbal largely succeeded in at least inspiring the growing number of Muslim bourgeoisie to begin seeing the All India Muslim League as a stirring expression of Muslim Nationalism.

Read through: Pakistan ka matlab kya - I and II

But Iqbal’s epic undertaking was such that it also attracted the admiration of the Pan-Islamists who by now had become to be known as ‘Islamic nationalists.’ These were prolific Islamic scholars such as Abul Ala Maududi who, however, rejected Muslim Nationalism’s new separatist tendencies (because it supposedly negated Islam’s essence of universality).

Instead, Islamic nationalists such as Maududi understood Iqbal’s ideas as allusions to the creation of a universal Islamic state that would mushroom from India and then spread.

  Abul Ala Maududi
Abul Ala Maududi

But the Muslim League, especially under Mohammad Ali Jinnah, understood and saw Iqbal in a different and more localised light.

Till even the early 1940s, Jinnah’s Muslim Nationalism was still embedded in the act of safeguarding the economic, cultural and political interests of India’s Muslims. He saw Iqbal as a contemporary extension of the enlightened endeavours of Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Ameer Ali who wanted to mould the Muslims of the region into a robust community at par with India’s Hindu majority.

But as communal tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority continued to rise, the League increasingly attempted to become the major political organ of the region’s Muslims.

The 'idea' assumes concrete political form

Till even the mid-1940s, India’s Muslims were being represented by a host of political and religious outfits that included the Muslim League, The Unionist Party, The Jamiat Ulema Islam Hind, the Khudai Khidmatgar, the Majlis-e-Ahrar, the Khaksar, and Jamat-i-Islami.

The Unionist Party was largely a pragmatist political group dominated by influential Muslim feudal, spiritual and business elites of the Punjab. It was also close to the Indian National Congress.

The Jamiat Ulema Islam Hind (JUIH) was a well organised party of Deobandi ulema and clerics who were opposed to the League’s notion of Muslim Nationalism, even though some of its leaders broke away and began to support the League’s calls for a separate Muslim homeland.

The Khudai Khidmatgar (also called the Red Shirts) was a left-leaning Pushtun nationalist party that was entirely opposed to Muslim Nationalism, believing it to be a construct of Punjabi and North Indian Muslim elites.

The Majlis-e-Ahrar and the Khaksar were radical right-wing Islamic groups that, along with the Jamat-i-Islami, rejected the idea of Muslim Nationalism, which, to them, was a secular colonial construct and detrimental to the political and spiritual interests of the Muslims of India.

It was during the legislative assembly elections of 1946 in India that the League was finally able to give a more articulate political dimension to its Muslim Nationalism.

Ideas from Syed Ahmed Khan and Iqbal’s notions of Muslim Nationalism were merged with the more contemporary political and ideological declarations largely authored by men such as Choudhry Rehmat Ali and Danial Latifi.

Rehmat, a graduate of the Cambridge University in the UK, authored a passionate pamphlet in 1933 titled ‘Are We to Live or Parish Forever.’ In it he openly called for the creation of a separate Muslim state carved out from the Muslim-majority regions of India (and even beyond).

Rehmat’s Muslim Nationalism was a direct response to what he perceived to be the rise of ‘Hindu Nationalism’ in the guise of the Indian National Congress. He urged the Muslims of India to follow the example of Islam’s Prophet who had united the Arab tribes in the 7th Century. To him, such a unity was the only way India’s Muslims would be able to challenge the onslaught of Hindu majority-ism.

 Chaudhry Rehmat Ali
Chaudhry Rehmat Ali

Jinnah gave Rehmat’s Muslim Nationalism a cool-headed spin when he advised a more pragmatic and patient approach. In 1944, Jinnah asked Danial Latifi to transform the Muslim Nationalism of the League into a coherent political, social and economic programme.

The final 'idea' — a patchwork of various ideas

Latifi was the leading socialist in the League at the time. In 1944, he authored and published the first complete manifesto of the All India Muslim League.

The manifesto was patronised by Jinnah and floated to attract Muslim votes in the 1945-46 legislative assembly elections, the results of which finally turned the League into the largest Muslim party in India. The very next year it succeeded in creating Pakistan.

Go through: Muslim modernism and Jinnah

Though a committed ‘scientific socialist’, Latifi married ideas of bourgeoisie Muslim economic advancement (through meritocracy) to Iqbal’s idea of ‘spiritual democracy’.

According to Latifi, the League would promote policies that would benefit and encourage the enterprising economic spirit of the Muslim middle-classes, and at the same time protect the Muslim masses from the oppression of the Hindu, Muslim and British Colonial elites.

Latifi also expressed the League's idea of a separate Muslim state as an organ that would eventually transcend and resolve religious differences in the region, because a Muslim-majority state was inherently more equipped to appreciate religious plurality, harmony and diversity than a state dominated by a large Hindu majority.

This was strongly alluded to by Jinnah during his first major speech as the Governor General of Pakistan in August 1947.

 Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Furthermore, Latifi envisaged the League’s idea of the state as something that had a soul. According to him the state (under the League) ‘will be the alter-ego of the national being and in good time the two would merge to form an ordered and conflict-free society …’

During the 1945-46 election campaign, the League wielded Rehmat’s pleas for Muslim unity to gain a separate homeland and Latifi’s notion of the League being ‘the (political, economic and social) manifestation of the (Muslim) national soul.’

So the Muslim Nationalism that led to the creation of Pakistan was not quite a monolithic idea as such. Over a period of many decades it evolved as a patchwork of various ideas – from Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Ameer Ali’s pro-assimilation pleas of Muslim progress (on the basis of adopting modern education and a rational understanding of the faith); to Iqbal’s philosophical mediations on the state of Islam in the 20th century and a nationhood based on an inspirational self-will of the Muslims; all the way to Rehmat Ali’s passionate call for the geographical separatism of the Muslims, and Danial Latifi’s promise of the creation of a progressive ‘state with a soul’ that would provide economic benefits and care across the classes.

Also read: Political Islam: An evolutionary history

Pan-Islamist ideas too informed the creation of this Muslim Nationalism, but once the idea rapidly moved towards the ambition of carving out a separate Muslim state in the region, Pan-Islamists and ‘Islamic nationalists’ decided to oppose it. They derided it as a myopic experiment that would be detrimental to the spiritual and political wellbeing of the Muslims of India and to the Pan-Islamist ambitions of reviving the concept of a universal caliphate.

Nevertheless, the later view was largely co-opted within the Muslim Nationalist tendency after the creation of Pakistan. But the co-option only managed to intensify the battle between the two poles of the ideology, leaving the nation locked in a constant battle between two sides of a single idea.

That is a conflict which is yet to enjoy a widespread consensual resolution.


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