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How to view Jinnah

September 11, 2012

IT is a measure of Jinnah’s stature that he remains the frame of reference for us all, no matter on which side of the divide a Pakistani is.

More or less dormant during the first two decades of Pakistan’s existence, the debate about what kind of polity Jinnah wanted for the country he founded began in earnest when the Ayub regime ended, and Yahya Khan’s Legal Framework Ordinance laid down the ground rules for Pakistan’s first general election on the basis of adult franchise.

The issue that heightened the polarisation and refocused attention on Jinnah was Z.A. Bhutto’s election shibboleth — ‘Islamic socialism’. The debate widened and got lost in the wider debate on socialism itself. But the anti-Bhutto alliance — that had the support of the capitalist class — as well as the Bhutto camp marshalled arguments from Jinnah’s speeches to prove that the Quaid-i-Azam was on their side. Neither was wrong, nor was either wholly correct.

Jinnah can be quoted profusely — and perhaps out of context — to prove that he was on a certain side to the exclusion of the other. His repeated reference to Islam and to the Muslim way of life, his mention of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as a law-giver and his pride in the Islamic system of justice, fair play and equality constituted evidence, if evidence was at all needed, said the rightist camp, that the founder was on their side — as if on the side of fundamentalism.

The other side quoted what indeed was at least one definite reference Jinnah made to Islamic socialism (at a public meeting in Chittagong in 1948) — a reference that was also made by Liaquat Ali Khan. The traces of socialist thought could also be found in Iqbal’s sayings. In the eyes of the so-called leftist camps, these views constituted an effective reply to the religious right’s claims that Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be an unadulterated theocracy.

Let’s now leave the 1970 controversy and all that followed the general election, Bhutto’s ouster and the third military dictatorship that was to hound Pakistan for 11 years. From the standpoint of intellectual debate, Ziaul Haq’s era should be ignored, for whatever he uttered and whatever the flunkies and toadies around him repeated ad nauseam were outside the realm of the intellect — it was mostly unabashed brainwashing of the nation by the brute force of the state. As the 1988 election proved, the attempt at brainwashing failed.

The decade between 1988 and 1999 was devoid of this debate, because what the nation witnessed in this period was a naked pursuit of power, in which nothing was out of bounds — including the funding of political alliances by the intelligence agencies, the attack on the Supreme Court building and the dismissal of prime ministers five times, even though they enjoyed the confidence of the National Assembly.

The debate revived in earnest during the Musharraf era — kicked off as much by his post-9/11 policies as by a photo in which the general was seen holding a dog. The great debate now was not between pluralism and fundamentalism, but some would say between secularism and Islam itself.

The debate continues. What does the Quaid stand for? Did he categorically stand for one particular school of thought, or did his speeches and sayings contain that uncanny wisdom which restrained him from saying things that would forever confine him to one prison of thought and let his legacy fall victim to political expediency that could be used in defence of vested interests and distort and disfigure his image of Pakistan?

The truth is, like the founders of all movements, philosophies and even religions, Jinnah too can be interpreted differently, it being left ultimately to the people to decide how they would like to interpret it — not through violence or force of the state or the pulpit but through a national consensus achieved through democratic means.

Pakistanis can learn a lot from Turkey. Nothing has invited the backlash against Mustafa Kemal’s secular creed more than its enforcement by ruthless generals, who violated the constitution, dismissed half a dozen elected prime ministers by undemocratic means and hanged at least one. The change that now one sees in Turkey came about through a democratic process, with the Justice and Development Party winning three general elections in a row. Given the level of emotions on both sides and the charges of high treason bandied about frequently, it is a tribute to the Turks’ political maturity that they have managed to avoid a slaughter and effected the change by peaceful means.

Pakistanis have no choice but to follow Turkey’s example, and take note also of the gradual transformation occurring in the Arab world through democratic means. Jinnah can be interpreted variously, and so it should be left to the people of Pakistan to decide how they fashion their country. In his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal dwells at length on the question of Muslim statecraft in modern times and the place which ijma has in the process of lawmaking and governance. According to him, it is parliament whose deliberations and laws should be considered ijma in a modern state. Well, then, this is the solution. Let heads not roll, nor let secular demagogues and firebrand clerics — nor the force of arms — decide how Jinnah should be interpreted. Let this interpretation be left to the Pakistani people who should, through a regular exercise of their right to vote, determine how they perceive their founder wished to see Pakistan.

Jinnah’s greatness has been encapsulated by American scholar Stanley Wolpert in the following words: “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”

Today is the Quaid’s 64th death anniversary.