Monday May 27, 2024

An ideological Muslim state: the reality check

December 25, 2022

By Imama Khan

The Muslim Ummah holds Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was born on December 25, 1876, in high regard, not just for his charismatic leadership but also for his role in establishing the first ever ideological Muslim state in history. In light of Pakistan’s current scenario, where everything must centre around fundamentalist Islamist ideology, it appears, regrettably, that the term “ideological Muslim state” has been misused much too frequently. What is evident is that Jinnah’s vision of a welcoming homeland for the subcontinent’s minorities is still a dream that has not yet come true. We need to investigate and engage with Jinnah’s philosophy, life, politics, and his role as a leader of the Muslim Ummah at a time when Pakistanis face an identity issue in defining our present and future paths as a nation-state.

Although Jinnah said, “Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but also the Muslim ideology, which has to be preserved, has come to us as a precious gift and treasure, and which we hope others will share with us”, he also supported a secular state where a citizen’s faith would be his own private concern. Some of Jinnah’s most memorable quotes are “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” and “You may belong to any religion, caste, or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” However, all recordings of this speech by Quaid have, sadly, been erased.

The far-left and far-right frequently see these two notions as incompatible, which has long led to contentious discussions between the two. The left side claims that Jinnah founded Pakistan to ensure religious freedom for all, while the right wing claims that Jinnah favoured a wholly Islamic state. In fact, these two concepts are just two sides of the same coin and do not contradict each other. This is the fundamental essence of Jinnah’s vision for a Muslim nation: an Islamic state where Muslims and followers of all other religions would be free to practise their own faith without interference from the state. Jinnah envisioned a Muslim-majority nation that was also secular and forward-thinking, with the state’s role being to protect religious freedom rather than to restrict it. As Jinnah famously said, “Religion should not be allowed to come into politics”, “Religion is merely a matter between man and God.” The fundamental principles Jinnah adhered to throughout his political career can also be ascertained by taking a close look at his lengthy and tumultuous public life.

In 1906, Jinnah joined the Indian National Congress, the country’s major political organisation that was working to abolish British colonial rule. He advocated for cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in India at the time and adopted a strategy of a common front against the British. He regarded himself as a steadfast Congressman and disapproved of political movements that divided Hindus and Muslims in India. As a result, Jinnah did not join the All-India Muslim League, an organisation formed to advocate for the rights and interests of British India’s Muslims, until 1913. He remained a member of both parties for many years. In 1920, Jinnah quit because his confidence in the Congress party had begun to decline. He grew more worried about Congress’ emphasis on Hindu identity in India and the absence of political representation for the nation’s Muslim minority. Jinnah was also alarmed by the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a violent paramilitary group that opposed Muslim-Hindu unity and increasingly sought to convert or expel Muslims from India. The RSS took its cues from European fascist parties. Jinnah was unanimously chosen to lead the Muslim League in 1934, and he remained an outspoken supporter of Muslims’ rights in a united India. Until the 1940s, he was opposed to the segregation of the Indian subcontinent into Muslim and Hindu dominant regions. The Congress’ refusal to accept a federation in which Muslim-majority regions enjoyed greater political representation during this time period, as well as the escalating sectarian violence stoked by both Hindu and Muslim right-wing groups, all contributed to the defaulting of a substitute to partition. At this time, Jinnah emphasised that Muslims would never have complete equality and safety in a country with a Hindu majority. With the founding of Pakistan in 1947, Jinnah eventually assisted Indian Muslims in establishing their own country.

Jinnah was aware of what might occur when religious ideals make life for minorities unbearable, as he went from being an “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” to someone who thought Muslims could never exist under a Hindu majority. No other Muslim politician could match Jinnah’s level of modernism and contemporary vision because he was the most Westernised political figure in the history of India. More than any other Muslim leader, Jinnah engaged with non-Muslim leading figures and a plethora of British officials during the course of his career, and he did so for about 40 years before undergoing a paradigm shift. Jinnah was also a man who didn’t pull punches, didn’t put up with nonsense, and called a spade a spade. He had a strong distaste for political jargon and preferred political wilderness over playing to the crowd. Such a man could not possibly have supported an Islamist-oriented state where people could kill other people on spurious grounds of “blasphemy,” where tolerance levels are so low that Muslims of one sect would kill Muslims from another sect, and where all the principles and guidelines Jinnah preached have been forgotten.

In February 1948, Jinnah said, “Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of men, justice and fair play to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state —to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.” It is evident from Jinnah’s political career and many of his statements that he never intended to remove religion from the state apparatus. Instead, the Quaid wanted Pakistan to be a country that is clearly Islamic, in which no government has the right to meddle in an individual’s religious life because that is strictly between God and man, and that an Islamic state is not a theocratic one but instead espouses the Quran and the Sunnah as its guiding principles. It appears that as a country, we failed to comprehend what the Quaid meant when he spoke of an “Islamic state” in its most basic terms. Jinnah’s concept of an “Islamic state” was strongly aligned with freedom, modernism, and progressivism. Quaid’s life and beliefs need to be reviewed by not just Pakistan but the entire Muslim world, which appears to have veered off the proposed course, particularly following the surge of Islamisation, in order to get back on course.

Muslim empires like the Mughal Empire provided them with land; poets like Allama Iqbal gave them a feeling of destiny; and Islam offered the Muslim Ummah a sense of solidarity. But Jinnah’s imposing status comes from the fact that he offered the Muslims all three by spearheading the Pakistan movement and founding the state of Pakistan. He truly is the Muslim Ummah’s true hero, a never-ending source of inspiration, and a brilliant leader.

-Imama Khan is an Islamabad-based researcher pursuing “Defence and Stragetic Studies” at Quaid-i-Azam University and working as a Research Associate with Global Village Space.

She has previously worked as a research intern at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and has published in The News, Global Village Space,

and Pakistan Observer.

She can be reached at: