Jinnah’s Pakistan: Islamic State or Secular Nation?

Jinnah's vision for Pakistan has long been debated, with some arguing for its secular nature and others asserting its Islamic character.

Haleemah Malik
By Haleemah Malik 8 Min Read
Jinnah's Pakistan: An Islamic State or a Secular Nation?

The question of whether Jinnah’s Pakistan was intended to be a secular or Islamic state continues to perplex Pakistanis to this day. It is not just a debate about the nation’s identity but also a reflection of the ongoing quest to determine individual identities. This debate rages among the general public, journalists, politicians, and students, and it can be traced back to the early years of Pakistan’s formation. Perhaps the most reliable way to answer this question is to turn to history itself.

Firstly, it is necessary for us to understand what secularism means. The Oxford Dictionary states that ‘Secularism is the principle of separation of state from religious institutions.’ According to the National Secular Society, ‘Secularism is defined as the political idea concerned with the best way to govern religiously pluralistic societies.’ It is basically ‘a divorce of the church and state.’ Secularism is not atheism; it is just a political ideology in which the governing body does not belong to any religion. An interesting fact is that the Mughal Empire is considered the first-ever secular state, a state where different religions were welcome.

Dr. Javed Iqbal says in his book ‘The Ideology of Pakistan,’ ‘The Islamic state of Pakistan as envisaged by Quaid e Azam embraces the qualities of an ‘ideal secular state.‘ He states that non-Muslims and Muslims in a secular state have equal rights. An Islamic state thus encompasses the fundamentals of a secular state. It gives each and every citizen the privilege to enjoy its beliefs, and so does the Pakistani constitution. But the prerequisite for that is that Islam must be proclaimed the state religion. Islam, in itself, ensures the rights of every creature, but the state cannot be separated from religion, which is why I essentially argue that Jinnah’s struggle was for an Islamic state, and history seems to agree with me.

Quaid e Azam’s interview with Doon Campbell clarifies his stance, emphasizing a democratic government free from discrimination.

The proponents of secular Pakistan, as assessed by Saleena Karim in her book ‘Secular Jinnah and What the Nation Doesn’t Know,’ support their ideology by two points. Firstly, the Munir Report, and secondly, the August 11 Minorities Speech by Jinnah. The Munir Report, published in 1954, was the result of an inquiry into the Punjab disturbances of 1953. On page 201, Justice Munir quotes Quaid e Azam without quotation marks and states that “Before the Partition, the first public picture of Pakistan that the Quaid-i-Azam gave to the world was in the course of an interview in New Delhi with Mr. Doon Campbell, Reuter’s correspondent. The Quaid-i-Azam said that the new state would be a modern democratic state, with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights to citizenship regardless of their religion, caste, or creed.”

It’s ironic how Justice Munir neither uses quotation marks nor does he cite the date in an official document of immense historical importance. Saleena Karim, Professor Golam Wahed Choudhury, and many others spotted this error in the report. The excerpt from the interview is on record and easily available.

The accurate text of Quaid’s interview with Doon Campbell on May 21, 1947, is as follows: When Quaid was asked, “On what basis will the central administration of Pakistan be set up? What will be the attitude of this government toward the Indian States?” he replied:

“The basis of the central administration of Pakistan and that of the units to be set up will be decided, no doubt, by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. But the government of Pakistan can only be a popular, representative, and democratic form of government. Its Parliament and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed, or sect, which will be the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and programme of the government that may be adopted from time to time.”

“We want a true democracy in accordance with Islam and not a parliamentary government of Western or Congress type.”

Quaid e Azam

Nowhere in his reply does Quaid say that the state will be of a modern democratic form or sovereignty resting with people, and his reference to non-discriminatory behavior is one which the Islamic state itself propagates. It seems like Justice Munir paraphrased the text of the interview and presented it with a tinge of his own ideas and thoughts. In his book ‘From Jinnah to Zia,’ Justice Munir quotes Quaid’s interview once again, but this time with quotation marks. It is obvious that he is not quoting the Quaid here but is quoting his report published in 1954. In fact, in his address to the hosted Parliament of Ismail Yusuf College, published in Times Press on p. 174, Jinnah says, “The modern democratic form of government is not suitable to the genius of the Indian people… We want a true democracy in accordance with Islam and not a parliamentary government of Western or Congress type.”

The second point is that in the August 11 speech for minorities, Quaid says, “We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.”

Jinnah is emphasizing rights for every religion. An Islamic state has specific rulings and a set of rights for other religions, with every right that a human deserves. I do not find any objection or confusion in this statement, and it is often presented as evidence of Quaid’s liking for a secular state, which it certainly is not. A point to be noted is that Quaid disliked theocracy. A theocracy is a government in which priests rule in the name of God. According to Iqbal, Islam does not propagate theocracy. The rules and laws have already been set for an Islamic state, and no religious leader or mullah has been given the right to create them. Quaid’s resentment towards a theocracy is also manipulated and presented as his disliking towards an Islamic state, but the fact is that theocracy and Islamism cannot prevail at the same time.

Looking into some of Quaid’s speeches, it is quite clear that he wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state. Before 1930, Quaid may be described as a secular Muslim, and historians quote his pre-1930 speeches, but the change in Quaid’s ideology and drastic tilt towards Islamism after 1930 is undeniable. Yet some professors and historians, like Ayesha Jalal and Pervez Hoodbhoy, still say otherwise. Perhaps it is their own liking that they attribute to Jinnah.

Jinnah’s speeches and quotes unambiguously demonstrate his vision for Pakistan as a premier Islamic state, rooted in Islamic principles.

In Quaid e Azam’s broadcast to the people of the US in February 1948, he called Pakistan the “Premier Islamic State.” Quaid says, “The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality for men, justice, and fair play to everybody.”

In a public address in Chittagong dated March 26, 1948, Jinnah says, “Pakistan should be based on [the] sure foundations of social justice and Islamic socialism.”

On page 22 of Fatima Jinnah’s book, My Brother, she quotes Quaid as follows: “The economic system of the west has created almost insoluble problems for humanity… The adoption of western economic theory and practice will not help us … present to the world an economic system based on the true concept of Islam.”

In an address to the Bar Association, Karachi, January 25, 1948, Jinnah completely negates the idea of a secular constitution. “Why is this feeling of nervousness that the future constitution of Pakistan is going to be in conflict with Sharia laws? Islamic principles have no parallels. Today, these principles are as applicable to life as they were 1,300 years ago···.”

In a message to the editor of Muslim Views, Columbo (Ceylon), on the Holy Prophet’s birthday in Bombay on February 5, 1945, he says, “Islam came into the world to establish democracy, peace, and justice; to safeguard the rights of the oppressed. It brought to humanity the message of equality between the rich and the poor, between the high and the low. The Holy Prophet fought for these ideals for the majority of his life. Is it not, therefore, the duty of every Muslim, wherever he may be, to do his level best to preserve the great ideals and the glorious tradition of Islam, to fight for the equality of mankind, the achievement of man’s legitimate rights, and the establishment of democracy? We in India believe that Pakistan is our legitimate demand and our birthright. We believe that it is in consonance with democratic principles and justice. We are, therefore, determined to fight for it, and inshaAllah, we shall win.”

Quaid has said, very clearly and multiple times, that Pakistan will be an Islamic state. There is no question after the following speeches. Jinnah’s Pakistan is an Islamic state because there is no parallel to Islamic principles. It is disappointing how extremely able journalists and historians twist the nation’s fathers’ words just to propagate what they like, but history defies all of these charges. It still speaks loud and clear for an Islamic state, just like Jinnah did.

Haleemah Malik, one of Pakistan’s youngest authors and the writer of the novel “The Sky We Own,” has a keen interest in Pakistan’s history.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in articles and blogs on Aware Pakistan are solely those of the authors and do not represent the official stance of the website. We are not liable for the accuracy of information provided by authors.

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