Many a self proclaimed “liberals” have made the case that Pakistan’s establishment has created a history that blends Islam and Nationalism to serve its interests. These people go on to claim that the much revered Muhammad Ali Jinnah, AKA Quaid e Azam, was a liberal Muslim nationalist who had nothing more than a secular democratic state in mind regarding Pakistan. Muhammad Iqbal is told to be little more than just another poet-philosopher who has been patronized only after the creation of Pakistan. The two, Iqbal and Jinnah, are told to be completely different people, and representatives of two completely different trends. Of course, there is always another group that even goes on to dispute Iqbal, but these set of people fail to make a good case; for Iqbal was too clear in both poetry and prose.
Whatever the Quaid had in mind must be understood by taking many facts into consideration. No one moment in Jinnah’s life can be decisive as a judgment in this regard. It would be absolutely naïve to overlook the fact that Jinnah went through a multitude of phases in both his intellectual and political life. It was surely Jinnah who once criticized Gandhi for his mixing of religion with politics. But it was the same who used religion as a banner in the historical movement directed towards the creation of a separate Muslim state.
I’m going to leave the topic of Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan for some other time. But for now, I focus on Iqbal’s part in shaping Jinnah’s political scheme for Indian Muslims.
The famous “Letters of Iqbal to Jinnah” are particularly relevant. These two letters were released by the Quaid e Azam himself in the form of a pamphlet, to which he also added a forward, that stands significant, as his views and comments, on the ideas presented by Iqbal.
Hector Bolitho, the author of “Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan”, has said about Jinnah and these letters “He (Jinnah) worked alone, with no personal staff and not even a secretary to copy his letters and keep his papers tidy. But there was one bundle of letters, in a drawer, to which he could turn for consolation: they had been written to him by Sir Muhammad Iqbal”; so important were these pieces of paper to the Quaid e Azam.
It’s true that these letters were one way but the positions held within can be attributed to both men, Iqbal and Jinnah. Although Iqbal is the producer of the words, Jinnah owns them as he says,“His views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusions”; implying to say that if before he agreed to most of what was being said, he later on came to agree with all of what was being said.
So what was so important in the letters? Well, the letters give a clear and precise picture of what Iqbal had in mind.
He is seen in a letter being critical of Nehru and his socialistic tendencies. Iqbal believes that Socialism can’t work with Brahmanism (Brahman-the priestly class in Hinduism) and can neither be acceptable to Muslims. He says “The atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal [Nehru] is not likely to receive much response from the Muslims…the insertion of… Socialism into the body-politic of Hinduism is likely to cause much bloodshed among the Hindus themselves… Whether the fate of socialism will be the same as the fate of Buddhism in India I cannot say. .. it is clear to my mind that if Hinduism accepts social democracy it must necessarily cease to be Hinduism… The question therefore is: how is it possible to solve the problem of Muslim poverty?”
In this context, he makes clear his solution to the problem. His words must be understood carefully, “Happily there is a solution in the enforcement of the Law of Islam and its further development in the light of modern ideas. After a long and careful study of Islamic Law I have come to the conclusion that if this system of Law is properly understood and applied, at last the right to subsistence is secured to everybody. But the enforcement and development of the Shariat of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states. This has been my honest conviction for many years and I still believe this to be the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as to secure a peaceful India.”
Iqbal expresses quite explicitly that if there is a solution; it lies only in Islam. He says clearly that Muslims needed separate states so the Islamic concept, as a way of life, may be applied.
He does, however, stress that modern ideas should help develop the Islamic conception of law and state. He even says that “for Islam the acceptance of social democracy in some suitable form and consistent with the legal principles of Islam is not a revolution but a return to the original punty of Islam. The modern problems therefore are far more easy to solve for the Muslims than for the Hindus.” Hence, it seems as though what he envisioned was a modern democratic republic based strictly on Islamic principles.
Iqbal’s vision seems crystal clear from the above. Jinnah also mentions in his forward “I had no alternative but to publish the letters without my replies as I think these letters are of very great historical importance, particularly those which explain his views in clear and unambiguous terms on the political future of Muslim India.”These words show that Iqbal’s scheme was particularly relevant to Jinnah. He believes that the issues Iqbal raises and the solutions he suggests must be carried on to the coming generations.
In the context of the above, we can understand Jinnah’s sayings such as “The adoption of Western economic theory and practice will not help us in achieving our goal of creating a happy and contented people. We must work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on the true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice.” And “Pakistan should be based on sure foundations of social justice and Islamic socialism which emphasize equality and brotherhood of man”
To say, even now, that Jinnah was secular, a word he never used to describe Pakistan, based only on his westernized background and education would be grave injustice.
References are italicized above