BEFORE Congress came to power in 1937, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had given little thought to what later emerged as the ‘Muslim ideology’. Till then, Jinnah had himself been an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. However, the discriminatory attitude of the Congress ministries towards Muslims in the subcontinent led Jinnah to use Islam to mobilise Muslims for a separate homeland. This demand ultimately manifested itself in the demand for an independent Muslim state expressed through the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940.
How Jinnah decided to use religion to arouse Muslims is brilliantly examined by Zamir Akhtar Khan, in his article titled Iqbal and Quaid’s vision of Pakistan. According to Khan, “Initially, the Muslim leadership, especially Quaid-i-Azam, was anxious to remain an integral part of the joint struggle for the independence of the subcontinent. Of course, he was eager to safeguard the socio-political rights and Islamic identity of the Muslims. Gradually, he realised that Hindus were hell-bent on marginalizing Muslims on the basis of new allegiance to nationalism, secularism and the brute majority [in the name of] democracy, and reduce them [Muslims] to second-rate citizens in their own homeland.”
This shift in Jinnah’s approach — which subsequently became the approach of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) — became evident when the party, which till now had been restricted to the Muslim elite, became popular among the masses.
Those who have wielded power in the country over the years have often overlooked the requirements of an Islamic state.
But how did Islam become a motivating force for uniting Indian Muslims in their demand for a separate homeland? How has it impacted the state of Pakistan? How did Congress fail to prevent the Muslim League from using religion to gain popular appeal and the ‘Two-nation theory’ to augment its drive for a separate homeland for Muslims? Was the AIML leadership, after passing the Lahore Resolution, mindful of the fact that only religion could not be the only thing to unite the citizens of a new state of heterogeneous composition?
On the 82nd anniversary of the passage of Lahore Resolution, known today as the Pakistan Resolution, these are some pertinent questions that need to be raised and discussed to help the country come to terms with some bitter realities of the past, and understand contemporary existential issues that threaten it from within.
According to Zamir Akhtar Khan, “Muslims started their struggle with a single aim to establish an independent homeland where they will be able to order their lives in accordance with the dictates of Islam … At any rate Jinnah’s political decisions, his speeches and statements provide ample evidence of the gradual but definite ideological shift from secular Muslim to simply Muslim in the Quranic sense of the term …
“When Iqbal was visiting London to participate in the Round Table Conference in 1932, he met Mohammad Ali Jinnah and discussed with him the political conditions of Muslims in India … Iqbal convinced Jinnah to apply the correct method of appealing [to the] Muslims to get united for achieving independence from British colonialism. He asked Jinnah to use Islam as a motivating force to awaken the Muslims. No doubt it was Iqbal’s high intellectual calibre which ultimately convinced Jinnah. The right approach was to invoke the Islamic spirit and appeal [to the] Muslims to devote their energies for restoration of Islamic rule in the subcontinent”.
Hence, Jinnah, while adhering to the vision of Indian Muslims and their demand for a separate homeland, decided to mobilise popular support under the banner of Islam and the two-nation theory.
One can examine and analyse the Pakistan Resolution and the subsequent successes of the Pakistan Movement from various angles. The dismal performance of the Muslim League in the 1937 elections prompted Jinnah to review the political strategy, and nudged him towards using Islam to rally popular support for a new Muslim homeland. The passage of the Lahore Resolution acted as a catalyst for the Muslim League to emerge as the sole representative of the Indian Muslims and perform better in the 1945-46 general elections.
The discriminatory policies of the Congress government (1937-39) proved to be counterproductive because it gave Jinnah and the Muslim League an opportunity to challenge the Congress narrative and exert pressure on the British government to accept the partition of the Indian subcontinent as per the Lahore Resolution.
American historian and political scientist Stephen P. Cohen, in his book The Idea of Pakistan has narrated how the Islamic ideology became central to the Pakistan Movement. According to him, “[B]y making religion the basis for a separate nation-state, argued Pakistani nationalists, the new Muslim homeland would also be a progressive state because Islam, unlike Hinduism, is a modern religion with a proud position in history as the faith that brought to perfection the religions of the modern, advanced, scientific West, Judaism and Christianity. Islam is a part of this tradition, whereas Hinduism belongs to another world, that of the complete nonbelievers.”
It is another story, however, that those who wielded power in the state of Pakistan overlooked the requirements of an Islamic state; namely peace, equality, tolerance, social justice and welfare of the people. Islam was just used by state actors to keep power in the hands of feudal lords as well as military and bureaucracy elites, as and when needed, having little to do with the welfare of the masses. As a result, a sense of deprivation deepened in the then East Pakistan and in the minority provinces of Pakistan, exposing the mirage of two-nation theory in ensuring social justice, democracy and political pluralism.
Meanwhile, in the process of galvanising popular support on the basis of Islamic ideology since March 1940, the Muslim League did not do adequate homework in terms of planning and strategising statecraft in preparation of Pakistan’s emergence on the world map.
It failed to identify and effectively tackle the ethnic, linguistic, cultural and sectarian cleavages that were likely in the new state of Pakistan and had the potential to derail any effort to ensure justice, social and economic development, rule of law and good governance, which are all the components essential in an Islamic welfare state.
The League leadership also did not take note of the words of Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, a senior Congress leader and the first education minister of India, to the effect that if the Muslims living in the minority provinces migrated to Pakistan, they would not be acceptable to the locals and there would be a conflict between them and the native population. His prediction about the possible trouble came true in the shape of Bangladesh.
The late Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, a noted Indian scholar who headed the Mumbai-based Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, in his article published in Dawn (Aug 15, 2010), titled Maulana Azad and partition, while quoting from Azad’s book India Wins Freedom about possible consequences, cited: “If India was divided into two states, there would remain three-and-a-half crore Muslims scattered in small minorities all over the land. With 17 per cent in UP, 12 per cent in Bihar and nine per cent in Madras, they will be weaker than they are today in the Hindu-majority provinces. They have had their homelands in these regions for almost a thousand years and built up well-known centres of Muslim culture and civilization there”.
Furthermore, in the same article, while referring to Maulana Azad, Dr Asghar Ali stated: “As the youngest president of the Congress in Ramgarh session, he [Maulana Azad] said in his presidential address, ‘[I]f an angel descends from heaven with the gift of freedom of India and declares from Qutub Minar that India is a free country, I would not accept it unless Hindus and Muslims were united. If India does not get freedom it would be India’s loss, but if Hindus and Muslims do not unite, it would be the entire humanity’s loss’.”
Hence, the use of religion compromised the very ideals that the idea of Pakistan was supposedly based upon. By using religion as a tool, the Muslim leaders of that time ended up inadvertently setting themselves up for trouble. The idea of a Pakistan, as envisioned by founding fathers, where there was no discrimination on the basis of race, language and place of origin was essential, actually got compromised.
Exclusionary politics on the basis of religion paved the way for discriminatory attitudes on other issues as well, as demonstrated by the events of 1971, the mainstreaming of religion in politics and the grumbling by elements in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan.
Meanwhile, the demise of Jinnah, and the subsequent absence of political wisdom in the then Muslim League couldn’t stop the elites from using Islam for their parochial interests in the initial years of the country, negatively affecting the fortification of other prerequisites for developing a strong and egalitarian country, like social justice, focus on human and social development, pluralism, democracy, rule of law, adherence to merit and good governance.
Once the religions had been politicised, the leaders could do little stop its usage by other political stakeholders as well. Over the years, this very politicisation of Islam has led to further ramifications for Pakistan through its troubled relationships with many an element.
All of Pakistan’s most pressing issues today — religious extremism, terrorism, ethnic and sectarian violence — are in some way fruits of political expediency displayed before 1947. One way out of the current mess is for the authorities to stop using and stopping others from using religion as a political crutch, while building a strong narrative to reinforce the social ideals of Islam for better governance.
The writer is Meritorious Professor and former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi.