September Special

The Founding Fathers and Pakistani Identity

The sequence of events that rapidly followed 9/11 across the world have challenged identity as never before. Questions of national, ethnic, sectarian and religious identity are raised and heatedly debated. Borders are challenged and the very notion of the modern state itself is under attack as we see in Iraq and Syria. Combined with mediocre leaders who show little signs of wisdom or compassion, most Muslim societies are plunged into turmoil. Pakistan is no exception.

In such times it is always useful to revert to the nation's origins, the source of identity itself. Although Pakistanis have inherited a rich and ancient history, the two men who encapsulated its founding myths are its founding fathers of which the two towering figures are Allama Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam.

Let us then examine what they said about Pakistani identity and their relationship to each other. In 1947, the Quaid created the largest Muslim nation in the world. The Quaid and his advisors selected a national anthem and a capital, Karachi. Yet, as the Quaid said, it was a "truncated" and "moth-eaten" state. On sheer willpower alone, and in failing health, the Quaid gave all he had to the new nation. There were many crises. There was the influx of millions of refugees who came at partition and the 1-2 million people who died in the process, the situation in Kashmir, and an administrative and defence structure that was in tatters. In addition, India refused to send Pakistan the agreed-upon division of assets. Indeed, in the first winter after the creation of the state, a group of military officers assured the Quaid they would follow him "through sunshine and fire." The Quaid replied, "Are you prepared to undergo the fire? We are going through fire, the sunshine has yet to come." Pakistanis disheartened by the state of chaos today should recall the challenges the first Pakistani's faced in 1947; and those confused by Pakistan identity should recall the two speeches the Quaid gave in August 1947 that outlined his vision for the new nation of Pakistan. I refer to these two seminal speeches as the Quaid's “Gettysburg Address.” The first was on 11 August at his election as President by the Constituent Assembly, and the second was on 14 August, at the creation of Pakistan itself.


In the Quaid's 11 August speech, he said:

"Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community – because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on and among Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on – will vanish. Indeed if you ask me this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence but for this we would have been free peoples long long ago."

The Quaid continued with a strong message of religious inclusion:

"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan…You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State…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." If the citizens of the new nation could follow these ideals, the Quaid saw a bright future. He pledged: “My guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your support and co-operation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.”

The second speech, was given on 14 August to the Constituent Assembly, when the Quaid spoke alongside Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India. In his speech, Lord Mountbatten sighted the example of Akbar the Great, the Mughal Emperor, famed for his interfaith tolerance, as a model of wise Muslim leadership. Yet the Quaid effectively snubbed this suggestion, pointing out that Muslims had a more inspiring and permanent role model, the Holy

Prophet (PBUH). The Quaid said:

"The tolerance and goodwill that great Emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries ago when our Prophet (PBUH) not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians, after he had conquered them, with the utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs. The whole history of Muslims, wherever they ruled, is replete with those humane and great principles which should be followed and practiced."

The Prophet (PBUH), the Quaid said, had established the principles on which a new state could be conducted and were rooted in justice, tolerance, and compassion, particularly for minorities. As the Quaid said, "Our own history and our Prophet have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously." Concerning the Hindu minority, Quaid said: “I am going to constitute myself the Protector-General of the Hindu minority in Pakistan.”

The speeches the Quaid made, both the two I have outlined and many others in the last year or two of his life in public and on the radio reveal a very clear vision for the new state and its Islamic character. For the Quaid, Pakistan was Islamic in the sense that it drew inspiration from the Qur'an and the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Building on these principles, Pakistan would be a popular democracy. The Quaid was well aware of democracy's drawbacks, but believed it was the best system available. He unequivocally did not envision a Pakistan run by the clergy. In a February 1948 radio broadcast, he stated: "In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Parsees – but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan." The Quaid also refused his admirer's attempts to address him as "Maulana Jinnah", saying that he was not a maulana but “plain Mr. Jinnah”.

The Quaid faced an uphill task in creating a new state, especially compared with India. In India, the Congress Party already had a high degree of organization, with leaders and networks that reached to the village level. Much of the Quaid's thinking about Pakistan was influenced by Allama Iqbal, who the Quaid would cite as his mentor. Iqbal's notions of a Muslim homeland in South Asia, the development of an Islamic destiny, the discovery of an Islamic identity and a pride in Muslim culture and tradition were all taken up by the Quaid. As the Quaid wrote in his foreword to the published correspondence between himself and Iqbal, “His views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusions as a result of careful examination and study of the constitutional problems facing India.”

At the end of his life, between 1936 and 1937 Iqbal wrote eight letters to the Quaid. In one famous letter from 1937 Iqbal identifies the Quaid as the leader of the Muslims: "You are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has a right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India, and perhaps to the whole of India." Iqbal wrote that there "is a civil war which as a matter of fact has been going on for some time in the shape of Hindu-Muslim riots...I fear that in certain parts of the country, for example in North-West India, Palestine may be repeated." Speaking of his desire for an independent state, Iqbal wrote to the Quaid: "Why should not the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside of India are?"

Also that year, the Quaid began to refer to the "magic power" of the Muslims, which indicated a move away from his customary legalist language towards Iqbal's mysticism. From now on the Quaid would represent Pakistan through the use of Islamic symbolism. The moon of Pakistan is rising, he would say, and chose the crescent for the flag of Pakistan. We can see echoes of Iqbal in the Quaid's speeches after this point. In a May 1937 letter, Iqbal wrote to the Quaid: "The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute. The Muslim has begun to feel that he has been going down and down during the last 200 years...The question therefore is: how is it possible to solve the problem of Muslim poverty?...And the whole future of the League depends on the League's activity to solve this question. If the League can give no such promises, I am sure the Muslim masses will remain indifferent to it as before."

founding father1The Quaid reflected this theme of Iqbal's in April 1943 in his presidential address of the All-India Muslim League in Delhi: "Here I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense by a system which is so vicious, which is so wicked and which makes them so selfish, that it is difficult to reason with them. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lesson of Islam...There are millions and millions of our people who hardly get one meal a day. Is this civilization? Is this the aim of Pakistan? (Cries of 'No, No')...If that is the idea of Pakistan, I would not have it...The minorities are entitled to get a definite assurance or to ask 'Where do we stand in the Pakistan that you visualize?'"

In Calcutta in 1946 the Quaid repeated this theme of economic inequality: "I am an old man. God has given me enough to live comfortably at this age. Why would I turn my blood into water, run about and take so much trouble? Not for the capitalists surely, but for you, the poor people...I feel it and, in Pakistan, we will do all in our power to see that everybody can get a decent living." Iqbal also was suspicious of Hindu socialism, what he called "the atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal." The Quaid similarly declared in 1944: "We do not want any flag excepting the League flag of the Crescent and Star. Islam is our guide and the complete code of our life. We do not want any red or yellow flag. We do not want any isms – Socialisms, Communisms or National Socialisms."

founding father2Iqbal also believed that Muslims would be saved by a renaissance in Islam. He said in a 1930 speech to the All-India Muslim League: "One lesson I have learnt from the history of Muslims, at critical moments in their history it is Islam that has saved Muslims and not vice versa." Iqbal proposed "an assembly of ulema to protect, expand and, if necessary, to reinterpret the laws of Islam in the light of modern conditions." Iqbal was striving to give an Islamic character to the ummah, which the Quaid would also express in his own speeches such as this one:

"The injunctions of the Qur'an are not confined to religious and moral duties. The Qur'an is a complete code for the Muslims – a religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal, and penal code. It regulates everything, from religious ceremonies to the affairs of daily life; from salvation of the soul to health of the body; from the rights of all to the rights of each individual; from morality to crime; from punishment here to that in the life to come. Our Prophet (PBUH) has enjoined on us that every Mussalman should possess a copy of the Qur'an and be his own priest." Iqbal believed in pan-Islamic ideals, in the universal Islamic brotherhood. In keeping with this, he was a strong supporter of Turkey, both the Ottomans and the successor state under Ataturk. The Quaid also spoke in pan-Islamic terms. In his 1937 presidential address at Lucknow, the Quaid said: "The Muslims of India will stand solidly and will help the Arabs in every way they can in their brave and just struggle that they are carrying on against all odds." The Quaid promised to liberate first the Muslims of the subcontinent and then the Muslims of the world. He was promoting an Islamic bloc years before it occurred in reality.

Despite all of the propaganda against the Quaid from his critics about him not being a practicing Muslim, that he could not speak Urdu or say his prayers properly in Arabic, the Quaid still was acknowledged by his followers as the Quaid-i-Azam. His followers were galvanized by his Islamic vision for the new state, and his words of protection of the Muslims, such as his statement "I shall never allow Muslims to be slaves of Hindus."

At the height of the Pakistan movement in December 1944, the Quaid paused to pay tribute to Iqbal:

"To the cherished memory of our National Poet Iqbal, I pay my homage on this day, which is being celebrated in commemoration of that great poet, sage, philosopher and thinker, and I pray to God Almighty that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Aameen! Though he is not amongst us, his verse, immortal as it is, is always there to guide us and to inspire us... He was a true and faithful follower of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him) – a Muslim first and a Muslim last. He was the interpreter and voice of Islam." Together Iqbal, the poet and visionary, and the Quaid, the leader and the man of action, achieved in spite of overwhelming odds what in our times is the near impossible – they created a nation, a safe haven for Muslims. The ultimate challenge for Pakistanis today is to live up to the vision and ideals of their founding fathers.

(These ideas are reflected and further developed in Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity, Oxford University Press, 1997, by Akbar S. Ahmed.)

The writer is an eminent scholar of international repute. He is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is 'The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror became a Global War on Tribal Islam' (2013). He belonged to the Civil Service of Pakistan and served as Pakistan's High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland.

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