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Interview with Saleena Karim, author of “Secular Jinnah and Pakistan, What the Nation Doesn’t Know”

Secular Jinnah and Pakistan, What the Nation Doesn’t Know

Interview by Talha Mujaddidi (Bridgehead Institute)

TM: What inspired you to write a book setting the record straight with respect to Justice Munir?

SK: My original research began with an accidental discovery that a certain speech of Jinnah (the Munir quote – ) could not be traced to any of Mr. Jinnah’s speeches but could only be found in Munir’s From Jinnah to Zia (1979) – or so I thought at the time. I had simply intended to write an article explaining the issue with the quote. In fact I almost didn’t even write the article as I had not grasped the significance of what I had found. My research took me in unexpected directions and I began to see there was much more to the story of the quote than I had first realised, but I kept the book relatively short. Sometime after SJ1’s (Secular Jinnah, 2005) release I discovered that the Munir quote actually had its origins in the ‘Munir Report’ of 1954 – i.e. same author, but different publication. Interestingly, the Munir quote was first used to deadly effect in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly debates of 1954, shortly before Ghulam Muhammad dissolved the Assembly. I have reviewed this in detail in SJ2, but otherwise my book is not centred on Justice Munir’s quote.

TM: What are the differences between the two editions – the original SJ1 and the new SJ2?

SK: SJ1 was a shorter book and it emphasised the Munir quote. SJ2 has a similar title, but as such it is completely different in terms of both style and content, even though it contains everything from SJ1 with updates. In addition, SJ2 covers pre-partition history in detail, including the Round Table Conferences of the 1930s, Mr. Jinnah’s differences with Mr. Gandhi, the provincial elections of 1936-7, and the Pakistan movement. I have also looked in detail at the constitutional background to the Lahore Resolution; I have reviewed the Cabinet Mission Plan in more depth than in SJ1; I have reviewed the debate over the Objectives Resolution; and I have looked at Jinnah’s attempts to retain national unity in Pakistan in the eighteen months before his death.

TM: Some people on Pakistani media have said that Quaid-e-Azam was not a democrat but was a dictator. Was he a dictator or a democrat, or was he in favor of a Khilafat System? What did Quaid-e-Azam think of an Islamic system of governance?

SK: The Quaid was a strong leader and he often had to make tough decisions. But in no way was he a dictator. Throughout his career he always respected and represented the interests of his people, even when he did not personally agree with them. He is one of the few true democrats of recent history. I have discussed this at length in SJ2.

The Khilafat – by which I assume you mean the Khilafat of the last millennium – no longer exists with good reason. It self-destructed because it was no longer Islamic. The original Khilafat in early Islam had started out as possibly the earliest known precedent to a modern presidency. It had taken the political system in fashion at the time – monarchy – and reinvented it within the dictates of Islamic idealism. Instead of being passed to family members, the new Caliph was elected with no regards to his socio-economic status. Unlike the kings of old, the Caliph did not enforce a despotic rule, and instead consulted with his people on equal terms. But within a few decades this system had gradually declined back into a monarchy combined with theocratic elements. It survived for a time, but its annihilation was inevitable.

There is no crystallised ‘system’ in the Quran, but every Quran-based system must follow the same core principles or it will fall, whether it calls itself a Khilafat, or a presidency, or a parliamentary democracy, or anything else that we could conceive of. I doubt that Mr. Jinnah would have called for the revival of the Khilafat, even though he spoke often of Islamic socialism and Islamic democracy. He never offered his own blueprint for a constitution, but rather he said that the ‘millat and the people’ would be responsible for putting it together. In this he followed the Quranic democratic principle of ‘mutual consultation’ (he himself referred to this Quranic principle). From everything I have read, it is far more likely that Mr. Jinnah envisioned a democratic political system that could operate within today’s global environment, but, just like the original Khilafat, it would be one that was founded upon the universal ideals of justice, liberty and unity – hence his term, Islamic democracy. This is in keeping with the timeless spirit of Islamic idealism, which transformed the monarchy into the Khilafat during the Classical era. I have gone into some detail on Islamic idealism in SJ2.

TM: What was Quaid-e-Azam like as a person, leader, and nation-state founder?

SK: That question would require a book to answer, and there are quite a number available. Every well-known biography reveals aspects of Mr. Jinnah’s personality and his political leadership. I will not recommend any title in particular, but I would suggest that all who are interested in what made him the ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ should try to read literature from various sources to get an all-round picture, bearing in mind that you can’t believe everything you read, but most books contain shades of the truth. My own book is more a political biography than it is a general one, though I have touched upon his personal life in places. It is also as an examination of pre-partition and early Pakistan history from 1906-1954. As for the Quaid’s personality, much is said about him as a ‘cold’ or emotionally detached leader, but this really only tells us that he was an immensely private person. The only ones who knew what he was really like are those who lived with him or were around him everyday. Nevertheless, the one outstanding facet of Mr. Jinnah’s personality that is acknowledged by even his foes is his sense of honesty. It was primarily on this basis that I took his statements on Islam and partition seriously and not as mere rhetoric to please the Muslim masses or to bargain with his political contemporaries. In doing so, I discovered much about his outlook on Islam, and have come to realise that in fact he is a rare type of Muslim who has been much misunderstood.

TM: In SJ2, what do you mean when you say that Quaid-i-Azam is neither secularist nor religionist nor a product of synthesis (secular-Islam)?

SK: Quaid-e-Azam seems to have been misunderstood because many commentators, Muslims included, have not viewed Islam as he did, and so they look at his personality and career through their own prisms. His speeches and writings provide clear and definitive evidence that he was neither a secularist in the technical sense any more than he was a religionist in the technical sense. The same is true for Iqbal, who is wrongly accused of being the leading light in favour of what is sometimes called ‘secular-Islam’ – a supposed mix of old religious concepts and present-day political theories. Without getting too philosophical, Islam and secularism are based on completely different views of the universe, which is why combining them is absurd. Islam is neither a religion nor a polity but a code of conduct that influences our every action. Jinnah said it best when he said that Islam was about life. Both he and Iqbal understood this, and I have provided ample proof from their own statements.

I have spent a long time looking at the peculiar syntax of the Quaid’s statements, and have concluded that he belongs to a distinctly different category of thought, as does Iqbal. I have shown that Mr. Jinnah’s choice of words and phraseology changes in a particular manner from the mid-1930s onward. It is for these reasons that I have said that the Quaid was neither a secularist, nor a religionist, nor a ‘secular-Muslim’. I have also outlined in SJ2 what he really stood for, and again have provided documentary proof. Hopefully readers will see that it is necessary to re-evaluate the Quaid’s so-called ideological leanings before we can find clear-cut answers to other seemingly difficult questions, such as the actual meaning of the Two-Nation Theory.

TM: Have we as a nation done justice to Quaid-e-Azam as founder of a nation as other nations treat their founders?

SK: This is difficult to answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Compared with most others, and on the historical scale, Pakistan is a young country. She is still finding her feet. As I wrote in my preface, the debate over the Quaid is not really about him and his personal preferences, but about the Pakistan idea. Was there ever a Pakistan idea? What was it? Was it realistic, or a pipedream? Once Pakistanis reach a consensus (and this could take a very long time), then perhaps they will be in a better position to answer such a question. Time will tell.

TM: What was the influence of Allama Iqbal on Quaid-e-Azam’s political career or political ideology?

SK: In SJ2, I have looked at the differences and parallels between the careers of Dr. Mohammad Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. They were both long-serving members of the Muslim League and both were genuinely concerned about the condition of Muslims in India. But they had different ideas on how to resolve the Hindu-Muslim dispute, and thus how to uplift their people. In fact even into the 1930s, the two were not fully in agreement on their respective political approaches until after 1936. Iqbal had warned that the Indian social fabric (namely the Hindu caste system) urgently needed reform before Hindus and Muslims could work together effectively to attain independence. In those days he predicted that Indian society would not be true to the democratic principle because this was contrary to Brahminism. So he became a ‘separatist’ earlier than did the Quaid. Mr. Jinnah meanwhile was an optimist and so he did not accept this prediction for a long time. Even at the start of the provincial elections of 1936, he said that in the future Hindus and Muslims would become either ‘partners’ or ‘nations’. It is obvious from that speech that he hoped, even at this stage, that they would opt for the former. This was the first time he ever described Muslims as a ‘nation’ rather then as a ‘community’ (this is significant in political science), and he rarely used the word at this stage. After the Congress won the elections, it took steps to secure an unrivalled dominance. It tried to effectively dissolve all other parties including the Muslim League by demanding that they sign its pledge unconditionally. It enforced the highly controversial Wardha Scheme of education, in which Hindu culture was said to be ‘imposed’ on all Indian school children whilst simultaneously suppressing non-Hindu cultures. There was an outcry from minority and ethnic groups, and not only Muslims. This was enough to convince Mr. Jinnah that Dr. Iqbal’s warnings were correct, and I believe it was at this point he really began to agree with Iqbal’s separatist stance. Though we have no direct record of Iqbal’s intellectual influence on Mr. Jinnah, I have produced evidence of this influence through a comparison of the Quaid’s statements and letters with statements and writings of Iqbal. The parallels are quite revealing.

TM: Recently some pseudo-liberal left scholars of Pakistan have said that neither Jinnah wanted Pakistan, nor Iqbal talked about creating a separate homeland for the Muslims of India, and that Jinnah was forced to make demand for Pakistan because of Indian Congress attitude. Is this true?

SK: It is true that Dr. Iqbal did not demand partition, because in his time it was completely impractical. Choudhuri Rahmat Ali – who of course coined the word ‘Pakistan’ – had in mind a ‘Commonwealth’ of all Muslim-majority territories including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bengal. Ali’s ideas, originally published in 1933, were romantic and completely unrealistic. Iqbal’s more pragmatic ‘separatist’ scheme – and really it was a ‘prediction’ rather than a ‘demand’ (as he himself said) came three years prior to that. He called India a ‘continent’ in any case, so his recommendation for provincial autonomy was a pragmatic and relatively painless means of securing Muslim homelands which for all intents and purposes would be free. His hypothesis about the Indians’ readiness for democracy was put to the test in 1936. He lived just long enough to see his prediction proven correct, and he died in 1938, two years before the Lahore Resolution. Having looked at the available evidence carefully, I am convinced that had he lived into the 1940s, Iqbal would have backed the partition demand and he would have likely taken the lead alongside Mr. Jinnah in uniting the Muslim masses, looking for educational or other intellectual means to do so. As for the claim that Mr. Jinnah did not really want partition, I have discussed my point of view in detail in SJ2, but there is something that I think we should draw some attention to. People have long been treating ‘partition’ as something of a dirty word because they equate it with ‘balkanisation’. Some misguided (however well-intentioned) Pakistanis are really just trying to apologise for the events in 1947. But partition and balkanisation are not one and the same. ‘Balkanisation’ literally means the creation of mutually hostile states. It basically means a state created of hate. The Congress propaganda machine of the 1940s often used the most frightening language to put people off the idea of partition. It continuously implied that Pakistan was being created expressly to be an enemy of India, and that it intended to revive Muslim imperialism. In reality nothing like this was on the agenda, and the Quaid emphatically denied the claims. He differentiated between partition – which he described as a parting of ‘friends’ – and balkanisation, which became the tragic reality of 1947 for both Pakistan and India. He was not, as Time Magazine unjustly called him, a ‘man of hate’.

TM: When will your book be available in Pakistan and in Urdu languages which is very important?

SK: My book is on contract with a Pakistani publisher for both an English and Urdu edition. The English edition is due for release on 27 December 2010 at the Karachi International Book Fair. The Urdu edition should be out early next year.

Secular Jinnah & Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know
By Saleena Karim
Publisher: CheckPoint Press, Ireland
RRP: 14.95 GBP, 19.95 USD (Price in PAK RS to be confirmed)
Pages: xiii, 318
Author’s Website: – Includes details of the book, contents page, and a full chapter of SJ2 online.

Saleena Karim is a British Asian writer and editor. She is also founder/director of the Jinnah Archive online. Though she has a BSc degree in Human Biology from Loughborough University, her passion has always been writing, in whatever form. She has worked as a webmaster, as a literary columnist and as an editor; she has translated a number of Urdu articles into English; and she has also been a co-writer for a UK television show (Deliver!). Her first non-fiction book, Secular Jinnah: Munir’s Big Hoax Exposed (2005), received critical acclaim. Her main subjects of interest are Islamic ethics and M.A. Jinnah.

Talha Mujaddidi is founder of Bridgehead Institute a think tank based in Pakistan

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