Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, rightly known as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, spent most of his life advocating for a united India in which rights of all factions would be respected and Muslims given an equal representation in all state affairs. It was not until he realised this was not possible in the prevailing political atmosphere that he took up a different path to protect the rights of the Muslim minority – fighting for a separate homeland.
For as long as Pakistan has existed, liberals and conservatives have debated the true nature of the state that Jinnah envisioned and helped form. Did he want Pakistan to be a secular or an Islamic State? And what exactly do these terms mean?
Many conservatives wrongly equate secularism with immorality and lack of ethical values. The core principle of secularism is the separation of state and religion. A secular state does not interfere with the personal beliefs of the people; equal rights are given to people of all religions and equal opportunities provided to all.
Jinnah expressly advocated secularism when, during his presidential address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in August 1947, he proclaimed, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
The conservatives dismiss this speech all together and quote other passages in support of their view. In an address on October 11, 1947, for instance, Jinnah said, “Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles.”
Why would Jinnah describe secular values and speak of Islamic principles at the same time? Was he confused? Or did he consider the two synonymous? In fact, conservatives fail to interpret these Islamic ideals in the light of Jinnah’s own writings.
In a broadcast speech in February of 1948, Jinnah spoke about Pakistan’s constitution in the making, “I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody.” He continued, “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
Jinnah made it very clear that Pakistan was not going to be a theocracy. Clerics would have no say in the politics of the state. Pakistan would liberate the Muslims from social and political inequality, but not at the expense of inflicting the same on peoples of other denominations. It would equally be their home. Social freedom, equality for all and democracy would be instituted and pluralistic ideals nurtured in the new Pakistan.
Jinnah believed in the separation of state and religion and in other Quranic principles of equality of man, justice and fairplay. Evidently, these are the same principles of a secular state. These principles, Jinnah believed, were as applicable in this age as they were in the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The State of Medina was based on these same great principles. Social freedom, equality and justice were the order of the day. All citizens, whether Muslim or not, were equal before the State.
As such, it is ridiculous that the conservatives find secularism and Islam to be mutually exclusive. The difference is merely one of semantics, not of substance.
Jinnah said, “You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
Jinnah knew very well that the principles of a secular state were clearly stated in the Quran. It is those who see a distinction between the two – not Jinnah – that are actually confused.
With the passage of time, Pakistan has gradually been hijacked by forces that were against Jinnah’s principles from the very beginning. Every following constitution has been less secular than its predecessor. State has taken on itself to define and dictate people’s faith. There is no assurance of justice and certainly no attempt to promote plurality and equality of all. In fact, it is unfortunate that those who work against these principles are allowed complete freedom to operate and in many instances, even aided.
The premise for the creation of Pakistan was the protection of minority rights. Today’s Pakistan is the exact reason why a need for Pakistan was felt in the first place – to fight religious persecution, injustice and inequality and to live in peace.
Many will still not be comfortable accepting the term secular in positive light. We might choose to remain confused but what we cannot afford to confuse ourselves with is the fact that whether you name it Islamic or secular, we must fight for the core principles that Jinnah so vehemently advocated for and that we so direly lack in today’s Pakistan.
This article originally appeared on Express Tribune here