Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quaid-i-Azam’s Concept of Islamic State

The following is my article published in the special supplement of Dawn, December 25, 2011. It may have appeared with a different title in the newspaper (I still haven't seen the print edition, since I am out of country). 
In her explosive book, Secular Jinnah: Munir’s Big Hoax Exposed (2005), historian Saleena Karim wrote: “There has been a long-running debate in the Indo-Pak region on whether Jinnah simply sought independence for the Muslims and wanted a secular state, or whether he sought an Islamic State. To outsiders it seems very strange that there is any debate at all on such a fundamental detail in the history of Partition… However, a closer look at the debate reveals the real issue in question. It is not Jinnah’s objective; it is Islam.”

The long-standing debate may therefore be seen as a blinker that has been preventing us from asking the more important question: what did Quaid-i-Azam mean by an “Islamic state”? The question cannot be avoided because, after all, he did promise on so many occasions that Pakistan was going to be an Islamic state.

There are many interpretations of Islam but they may be divided into two basic categories. In the first category are those interpretations where the masses are considered to be the final arbiters. In other words, since there is no Church in Islam, the functional authority is assigned to the consensus of the Muslim community.

This was the basic ideal upheld by Muslim reformers who exercised the greatest influence on the masses between 1863 and 1953: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Jamaluddin Afghani, Maulana Shibli Numani, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Allama Iqbal (just to name a few). The names given to this strand of Islam by its leaders themselves was “Muslim nationalism” and “Muslim Renaissance.”

At least in South Asia, one of the most interesting features of this “Muslim nationalism” was how it gradually brought on its platform even those sects of Islam which habitually defer to the authority of a present or absent Imam – the Ismailis and Shias. As suggested by the present writer in the article ‘Think Long-Term’, published in Dawn in 2010, this development was marked most prominently by the birth of the All-India Muslim League in Dacca in 1906.

The second category of interpretations of Islam may include those interpretations where the authority of an expert is regarded as essentially superior to the consensus of the Muslim community, and those who disagree with the expert are relegated to an inferior status within the Muslim community, or may even get expelled. Depending on whom you ask, this authority may be ascribed to a religious scholar, a mystic, a ruler or now even some Western university!

Historically, this was the position of those who were opposed to Muslim nationalism: the Congress leadership of the British India, the secularists in Pakistan, and all those religious movements which did not join the Muslims’ struggle for Pakistan during the 1940s.

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah obviously belonged to the first category: he believed that Islam was to be interpreted by the whole community and not by any other authority. The campaign slogan of his followers in the elections of 1945-46 in the British India, “Muslim hai to Muslim League mien aa” (“Join Muslim League if you are Muslim”) was as much a cry of defiance against the mullah as it was a rejoinder to the Indian nationalist. The undeniable implication (which has unfortunately been denied since then) was that the masses did not have to prove their faith to any cleric. Instead, the cleric had to earn his status by first submitting to the consensus of the community.

The religious scholars who opposed this proposition apparently believed that Islam could be served better if Muslims were persuaded to become more rigid in following the personal law of Islam in a secular Indian state. 

Out of selfish motives or misguided sincerity, these ulema and reformers perceived an opportunity of becoming “caliphs” once the Muslim state got established, and especially when its founder passed away in September 1948. This may explain why the right-wing political parties in Pakistan promise to turn Pakistan into “an Islamic state” but fail to propose any practical measures except rigorous implementation of personal laws developed by theologians of a bygone era. One can clearly see that this is essentially the same agenda that was originally devised for being followed in the secular United India.

In Pakistan, perhaps the earliest attempt to give recognition to this alternate concept of “Islamic state” inside the parliament was inadvertently made by the opposition leader Sris Chandra Chattopadhya in March 1949. In order to reject the Objectives Resolution, he denied that the elected assembly in Pakistan could have the right to interpret Islam (although a precedent for this had been established in the Muslim world and approved by Allama Iqbal more than twenty years ago). Instead, Chattopadhya quoted a passage from a book by Maulana Maududi and insisted that it should be accepted as the definitive description of “Islamic state”. The idea was vehemently opposed by Sirdar Abdur Rab Nishtar but the argument of Chattopadhya was picked up a few years later by the now-infamous Justice Munir in the famous Munir Report (with the additional attribution of a fabricated quote to Jinnah).

Since then, the right-wing parties in Pakistan have been engaged in a quarrel with the secularists over whether or not Pakistan should be an “Islamic state”, but mutual differences notwithstanding, both factions agree that only the mullah has got the right to tell what an “Islamic state” is.

Therefore, the question we need to ask now is: How did Jinnah perceive an Islamic state when he repeatedly asserted, before the birth of Pakistan and afterwards, that Pakistan was going to be an Islamic state?

The answer cannot be missed. Obviously, an Islamic state according to him was fully compatible with what he stated in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947: “Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

This is an Islamic state, then, according to Quaid-i-Azam. Let’s stop calling it secularism, because Quaid-i-Azam never uttered that word and “Islamic state” could not have possibly meant anything else to him. Let’s now start asking whether we should have an Islamic state as perceived by the Quaid, and who should have the authority to decide that?


  1. Shafique sahab, this was a much needed reminder about the beginning of Pakistan and the Quaid's vision. I would push back and also say that just like the mullah should decide what an Islamic state is, he also shouldn't decide what the word secular means. Commentators have pointed out that the Charter of Medinah was the prime example of an Islamic city state that was also a secular city state- demonstrating that the two are not incompatible. But like you said this is for the Muslim community to reach a consensus on.

  2. Jinnah sought a homeland for the Muslims of India, that is what he meant by an "Islamic State". He gave his definition of that in his landmark address of 11 August 1947. The words bear repeating "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where 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. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation."

    1. Rehan saab so what is the issue? This is what an Islamic state is as existed at the time of Khulafa e Rashudun. Islamic state does not mean state only for Muslims.There is no doubt that solutions of our all problems are in the TRUE spirit of Islam.

    2. Rehan saab so what is the issue? This is what an Islamic state is as existed at the time of Khulafa e Rashudun. Islamic state does not mean state only for Muslims.There is no doubt that solutions of our all problems are in the TRUE spirit of Islam.