On secularism, Jinnah and Pakistan

jinnah delivering a political speechMy contribution for Jinnah Institute’s secular space

What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy, not for a theocratic state – Mohammad Ali Jinnah

Sixty-three years after the country was created, the term secular remains the most contested and misunderstood political concept in Pakistan. Mention the word secular and there is a litany of protests. The right wing thinks that secularism is an outright blasphemy of sorts, while the liberals hold that the genesis of Pakistan was through an anti-secular process. It is amazing that this happens in a country which was founded by a genuinely secular leader of the subcontinent. Until the 1930s, Jinnah was an undisputed ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity and even in 1946 he was willing to make political bargains within the context of a secular and decentralized India.

If anything, the Indian National Congress despite its rhetoric of secularism failed the ultimate test of being accommodative of the Muslim demands. Here ‘Muslim’ was not a religious identity but a broad banner for a community’s cultural, economic and political interests. It would be naïve to suggest that there was no religious motivation in Pakistan’s creation. In fact there were many who interpreted Pakistan as an Islamic country. However, Jinnah was categorical in his stance. There is enough evidence to suggest that he shunned the notion of a theocracy. Yet the contradiction of creating a country for Indian Muslims posed a challenge to the new state-project. For instance Jinnah is said to have told Raja Saheb of Mahmoodabad as to whose Shariah would Pakistan follow. Iskandar Mirza’s version is even starker when he quoted Jinnah: “Shariah? Whose shariah? No. I shall have a modern state.”
Whatever doubts on Jinnah’s intentions or political rhetoric employed by the Muslim League, Pakistan was meant to be a polity where state was separate from religion. Jinnah was unequivocal about the vision of the state when he spoke on the floor of Pakistan’s first constituent assembly on August 11, 1947: […]