Published: September 19, 2011
Jinnah founded Pakistan with the dream of it being a secular state where people could live as free citizens.However, today, Pakistan finds it hard to uphold the very ideals it was founded upon
Jinnah was an outstanding lawyer who had studied law in London. He had a modern outlook on the world and was strongly secular. Part of the oath under which he took office reads:
He was absolutely clear that the new state he was founding would accommodate people of all faiths and descent without any prejudice. To assert this point, he appointed a non-Muslim as his first law minister. The Muslims in his cabinet consisted of Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadis alike. He believed that Islam endorsed a secular democracy and the two were perfectly compatible.
“The great majority of us are Muslims. Consequently, we have a special and a very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it” he said in an address in 1948.
He believed in a Pakistan wherein the mosque would be separate from the state.
In the struggle for Pakistan, Jinnah was not faced with the Indian Congress and the British alone. He also had to endure intense animosity from hard-line Muslim clerics and counter their vile propaganda. He was accused, by the ultra right-wing, of blasphemy, and they considered him a great heretic for his secular ideology.
Prominent clerics like Maulana Maududi urged common Muslims not to side with Jinnah. Maududi wrote:
Despite this, the resolute Jinnah was successful in garnering support from the masses in most Muslim-majority areas.
Today, the nation finds it hard to uphold the very ideals it was founded upon. As it passes through dangerously volatile times, it has forsaken its founding principles of freedom and secularism.
But how and why did Pakistan turn against itself?
Even though he tried his best to steer it toward a secular democracy, Jinnah did not live long enough to see it become one. Over the coming years, Pakistan took a very troubling turn. In a matter of nine years, it became an “Islamic Republic,” and in a little over two decades, it had essentially become a theocracy.
The same extremist clerics who had opposed Jinnah and his struggle for Pakistan gradually claimed ownership of the State. They formed political groups that used religion to amass public support. Their demonstrations of street power, frequently violent, meant that sectarian hatred and intolerance was the order of the day.
Even governments avoided a clash with the radical right and became increasingly wary of arousing any negative religious sentiment and consequently losing popular vote. This only furthered the extremist cause, and in time, the original path Pakistan started on was completely forsaken. Pakistan, it is now said, was formed for the Muslims and is meant to become an Islamic theocracy where the Shariah, as interpreted by the hard-liners, is to be the ultimate law.
One tragedy after another, Jinnah’s Pakistan was dealt with massive blows. His Pakistan was no more his; it had been hijacked by forces of extremism and intolerance.
Non-Muslims could not hold the highest office in any of the core institutions anymore.
In 1953, there were widespread riots against the Ahmadi Muslims, a sect that extremists considered heretics.
The harassment of Shia Muslims and other minority groups also increased and went largely unchecked.
In 1974, the government yielded to intense pressure and declared the Ahmadiyya sect non-Muslim.
Tout de suite, the State had taken authority to decide its people’s religion, and the two were no longer separate.
General Zia ul Haq took over the country and became its third military president in 1977. To legitimize his dictatorship, he sought to please the right-wing and set to Islamize Pakistan. Amongst other things, he introduced the controversial blasphemy laws that stated death as the punishment for any derogatory remark against the Quran, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and other Islamic holy personages.
For Ahmadis, Zia also promulgated an ordinance in 1984 that criminalized the practice of their faith. Zia’s rule was the toughest for citizens who did not adhere to what had now become the state-backed perversion of Islam. Jinnah’s secular Pakistan had drifted into the hands of his enemies.
Jinnah had warned of this in his August 11th, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. He said:
In the same address, he said:
Jinnah knew that a secular form of government could bridge differences and bring together people of all faiths and backgrounds to build a strong Pakistan. Just as the Catholics had learned to live with the Protestants, he was optimistic that the Pakistan he was founding would be a successful nation, a beacon of tolerance and an example of unity in diversity. However, the men who opposed Jinnah’s ideals before partition stood in his way yet again.
Founded on freedom of religion and practice, Pakistan is one of the biggest violator of religious freedom today. For Pakistan to succeed, it will have to reverse the dangerous turn it took and get back on the path that Jinnah laid before it. The blasphemy laws must be amended, everyone must be equal citizen of the state, the anti-Ahmadi laws must be revisited and the state must remain separate from the mosque at every cost. Pakistan must educate itself and look for the unity that Jinnah so cherished in the diversity across the land.
In February 1948, Jinnah said in an address:
Unfortunately, recent events have shown that Pakistan is still far away from taking that vital turn. The government has shown little resolve to go after the perpetrators of religious hate and violence and definitely no will to even trigger a dialogue on the controversial laws of the land. With Pakistan headed toward a steep decline, the solution lies in bold courage and reform. Jinnah’s Pakistanis will have to wake up sooner than later and reclaim the land from his opponents. Pakistanis must bring about a rebirth of Pakistan – Jinnah’s Pakistan.