Jinnah’s Pakistan: Islamic state or secular democracy?

If Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a secular democracy then is it possible that an Islamic state can be a secular democracy?

This is a topic that has been extensively discussed and debated over the years. All parties are able to provide valid evidence to support their stance on the argument and the matter has never been fully settled. While this will always be a case for MA Jinnah’s stance on the issue is without doubt ambiguous and hence open to contrasting variations, however I thought considering it is Big Jay’s birthday I will contribute my two pence as well.


Jinnah never wrote a book, he never even wrote any article or pamphlet to elaborate what was his vision for Pakistan. All the evidence we have is from his speeches, statements, letters and memories of those who met him personally and as we know none of the evidence is fully trustworthy. Take the case of his most famous and oft quoted speech to the constituent assembly, the wordings of the speech have been disputed and interestingly despite efforts the actual recording of the speech has yet to be found! It is said to be somewhere in the archives in New Delhi and Pakistani authorities are awaiting for it to handed over to them (more about that some other time).

Evidence that he wanted an Islamic state

‘’The adoption of Western economic theory and practice will not help us in achieving our goal of creating a happy and contended people. We must work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice. We will thereby be fulfilling our mission as Muslims and giving to humanity the message of peace which alone can save it and secure the welfare, happiness and prosperity of mankind." ( Speech on the occasion of the inauguration of the State Bank of Pakistan at Karachi, 1 July 1948)

"What more can one really expect than to see that this mighty land has now been brought under a rule, which is Islamic, Muslim rule, as a sovereign independent State." ( Speech in reply to the Welcome Address by the Principal, Staff and Students of Edwards College, Peshawar, 18 April 1948)

"I am glad that there is full realization on your part that now the position is basically different. It is no longer a foreign Government as it was, but it is now a Muslim Government and Muslim rule that holds the reigns of this great independent sovereign State of Pakistan. It is now the duty of every Musalman, yours and mine, and every Pakistani to see that the State, which we have established, is strengthened . . ." ( Address to the Tribal Jirga at Government House, Peshawar, 17 April 1948)

"Pakistan is the premier Islamic State and the fifth largest in the world. . . The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of men, justice and fairplay to everybody.’’ ( Radio Broadcast to the People of the United States of America, February 1948)

"You are only voicing my sentiments and the sentiments of millions of Musalmans when you say that Pakistan should be based on sure foundations of social justice and Islamic socialism which emphasizes equality and brotherhood of man." (Speech at a public reception at Chittagong, 26 March 1948)

And there are other similar quotes from various speeches and statements but I think the above is sufficient to argue that Jinnah did envision Pakistan to be an Islamic state run on Islamic principles.

Evidence that he wanted a modern democratic state

In 1944 The Ahrars made an offer to Jinnah, that provided he gives them his word that Pakistan will be run on Islamic principles they will support him in the struggle for Pakistan, Jinnah refused.

Before Jinnah left India for Pakistan Iskandar Mirza recalls that he asked him in Delhi, ''Sir we are all agreed to leave for Pakistan; but what kind of polity are you going to have? Are you going to have an Islamic state?'' and Jinnah replied. ''Nonsense, I am going to have a modern state''

The Raja of Mahmudabad recalls that in 1941-45 he was working for Muslim League and advocating for Pakistan, his dream was that Pakistan will be an Islamic state and he comments that this frequently brought him into conflict with Jinnah and Jinnah thoroughly disproved of this idea and told him not to express them from the platform of Muslim League as the public may get the wrong idea that Jinnah shared these ideas.

It was Jinnah's constant refusal to make Pakistan an Islamic state that made all Mullaha and Maududis turn against him.

Siri Prakasa, the first Indian High Commissioner recalls that Jinnah told him more than once that he intends to make Pakistan a secular state.

On 13 July 1947 at a press conference in the backyard of his house at 10 Aurengzeb Road New Delhi where all newspapers were present Jinnah clearly said that all citizens of Pakistan will be treated as the same regardless of their cast, colour...religion or creed, (This is not the principle in an Islamic state run on Sharia).

In 1948 during his visit to Dhaka he told Srish Chandra Chattopadhyaya, ''Tell your people not to be afraid and not to leave Pakistan, for Pakistan will be a democratic state where Hindus will have the same rights as Muslims''

In his letter to Dr Khan Sahib he clearly indicated his desire to change Muslim League into National League and open to every citizen of Pakistan but mentioned that for this idea he was being attacked by mad mullahs and extremists.

Finally the August 11 speech to constituent assembly which to too well known to need quoting.

We can also look at his actions like appointing Jogendera Nath Mandal the first president of the constituent assembly and the first law minister, now it would be rather silly to ask an assembly headed by a Hindu to make the constitution of an Islamic state would be rather odd indeed.

So where does this lead us, it looks as Jinnah was saying in his speeches something different from what he is hinting in privet meetings regarding his vision of Pakistan. Yet is he really saying something which is contradictory? I don’t think so, at least not when we try to see things from his eyes.

There are few questions which need to be asked:
1. Did Jinnah want Pakistan to be a secular democracy?
2. Did Jinnah want Pakistan to be an Islamic State?
3. If indeed Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state what exactly did he think an Islamic state means?
4. If Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a secular democracy than is it possible that an Islamic state can be a secular democracy?

Did Jinnah want Pakistan to be a secular democracy?

Here it is worth pointing out that the word secular was never used by Jinnah to describe his Pakistan. Even when he was asked directly if he wanted Pakistan to be a secular or a theocratic state while he was clear that it will not be a theocratic state he was evasive on it being a secular state. So as to the first question was can say that he wanted Pakistan to be a modern democracy yet would not call it a secular democracy. However here we must pause for a second and ask what exactly is a secular state? A secular state is neutral in matters of religion and neither supports not opposes any particular set of religious beliefs or practices. As Professor Hoodbhoy puts it so well it is about creating a level playing field for citizens of every religious belief and practice. So when Jinnah repeatedly insisted that all citizens of Pakistan regardless of their religion would be considered equal was it any different from this definition of a secular state? Even if he did not use the word secular what he was describing was a secular state and in my opinion he avoided the word secular due to the silly misconception prevalent among a large section of Muslims that a secular state is an anti-religion and anti-Islam state where their religion will be banned.

Did Jinnah want Pakistan to be an Islamic State?

Here the answer has to be yes for he repeatedly said so. However, we must ask what exactly did he understand is an Islamic state? Is it a state where all laws are framed as in Sharia and Quran as they were 1300 years ago? If that is what he wanted then why was he so vehemently opposed to Pakistan being a theocracy? For who would be ideal to lead a country to be run on 1300 years old religious laws but our Maulanas who are experts in this? Why would Maulana Maudodi, the most prominent scholar advocating a country run on the Islamic system oppose Jinnah calling him Kafir-a-Azam and his baby Na-Pakistan if what Jinnah was doing was creating such an Islamic state?

I am afraid the truth is that whatever some people would like to infer from Jinnah’s words he never wanted a country run on established Sharia as it was known then and is known now. I am sure my learned friend and outstanding scholar of Pakistan history Professor Istiaq will disagree with me for he refers to a letter by Jinnah to Pir of Manki Sahriff promising Sharia law in Pakistan, well I have seen that letter myself and it did not say anything like that though Professor sahib tells me there was another letter which was clearly for Islami nizam but I have not seen it so cannot accept it as evidence without thorough scrutiny.

Yes Jinnah did want Pakistan to be an Islamic state, for to expect a country where 80-90% population is Muslim to be anything else would have sounded a bit silly. However it is quite clear and demonstrated by him for example when child marriage bill was being debated that Jinnah did not believe any law, even if it was considered divine, to be unchangeable in line with human development after discussion. In other words, while Jinnah was quite clear that the Islamic principles will be used in how Pakistan develops he made no promises that every sharia law will be enforced in Pakistan regardless of how primitive and barbaric it looks to be in the light of modern human thought process.

If indeed Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state what exactly did he think an Islamic state means?

Now what about him repeatedly stating that Pakistan will be run on Islamic principles? Well what are the Islamic principles? What are the principles of any religion? As Leo Tolstoy explains about his idea of a true religion, ‘’ The principles are very simple, comprehensible and uncomplicated. They are as follows:
that there is a God who is the origin of everything;
that there is an element of this divine origin in every person, which he can diminish or increase through his way of living;
that in order for someone to increase this source he must suppress his passions and increase the love within himself;
that the practical means of achieving this consist in doing to others as you would wish to do to you. All these principles are common to Brahmanism, Hebraism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Mohammedanism. ‘’

So in my opinion when Jinnah said his Pakistan will adopt Islamic principles as its constitution his concept of these principles was the same as Tolstoy's. And this comes out quite clearly in his 11th August address when says that after sometime there will remain no difference between Muslims, Hindus and Christian citizens of Pakistan for they will all be seen as and act according to the same principles.

It is also demonstrated by his statement that in an Islamic state all laws and made and decisions taken after discussion and consultation.
In other words in Jinnah’s mind his Islamic Pakistan would give all of her citizens the same legal status regardless of their religion and will allow them to practice their respective religions freely not favoring any specific religion nor hindering any particular religion. Now tell me doesn't this concept of an Islamic state look to be the same as a secular state?

If Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a secular democracy then is it possible that an Islamic state can be a secular democracy?

I think we already have the answer to this question. If we take the definition of an Islamic state as propagated by Ibn Taymuyyah, Ibn Wahab, Maudodi and as practically put to practice by the Taliban, Iranian Mullas and Baghdadi then certainly Jinnah had no intention of touching such crap with a barge-pole. If however an Islamic state is where the universal principles of tolerance and equality are applied, where every law is made in way that is consistent with the principles of a modern humanistic society, where everything is decided after discussion and consultation among all the citizens of every religion, sex and caste, then I am sure Jinnah had no problems in adopting this as his vision for Pakistan.

Jinnah is also blamed for using the religion card in achieving his aims. Well we have to remember that Jinnah never once said either in public or privet that he was not a Muslim, unlike Nehru he never declared himself to be secular. And as far as using religion in politics it was Gandhi who introduced this to India despite Jinnah’s protests. And in the 1946 elections religion was used freely to get Muslim support by both The League and The Congress, it is worth noting that while we criticize Jinnah for allowing his party workers to use religion we should keep in mind that the secular Nehru was allowing his party members to do the same, at least we cannot accuse Jinnah to be a hypocrite like Nehru who proclaimed secular politics yet allowed the use of religion when it suited him.

Renowned historian Ayesha Jalal cautions in judging Jinnah just on the basis of his words. Jinnah was a man of immaculate credibility. Even as an outstanding lawyer, a profession where telling lies is considered a way of life Jinnah would never lie. However, that does not mean he would tell people a truth that would lead to him to losing a case. Jinnah was thus a master in evading the questions that would weaken his case, and he brought the same skills to politics where if he would have just come on stage and announced that he will have a secular Pakistan it would have meant that no one would have given him a second look. So he did not say this but instead talked about a Pakistan run on Islamic principles of social justice and democracy which were more or less the same as practiced in a modern, secular democracy. In this Jinnah was envisaging an Islam which has now evolved to a higher religion as described by Sir Alama Iqbal in his book The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam; a religion without rituals, without priests and without dogma, based on universal modern principles of equality, liberty and fraternity.

Finally we should not forget that Jinnah repeatedly said that it is the people of Pakistan who will decide what path Pakistan follows and how it develops its state ideology. And regardless of what Jinnah’s vision may have been it is only of academic interest for now it is up to the Pakistani people do steer their nation in the direction they want to. And here things are rather worrying for a recent poll showed that 79% of Pakistanis are in favor of enforcing the conventional, centuries old Sharia as the law of Pakistan. And here I feel to blame Jinnah for the ills of Pakistan is the same as to blame USA or the Yahudis, for if the people of Pakistan have decided not to use their brains and follow a 1300 year old dogma then what can we expect but disaster.

Dr Aamir Butt was born in Lahore and is now living in the UK. He works for the national health service as a consultant dermatologist. He has interest in history and aspires to become a fiction writer 

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