Jinnah, In a Class of His Own by Eqbal Ahmed

I noticed a lot of the radio stations playing national songs on this day to celeberate the Quaid’s birthday, but there was no real talk about what the Quaid stood for or what he created. I still feel there’s a great amount of confusion about the the man who created Pakistan. People assume that just because he created an Islamic state a state for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, he was a religious man himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Jinnah enjoyed his fair share of western indulgences, however it was his principles and ideals acquired in the west that saw the dream of Pakistan through.

I am attaching an article by Eqbal Ahmed, a great Pakistani scholar not fully appreciated in his native country, about Jinnah, the man who founded a very different country from what it is today.

Jinnah, in a Class of His Own
[Dawn, 11 June 1995]

Mohammad Ali Jinnah is an enigma of modern history. His aristocratic English lifestyle, Victorian manners, and secular outlook rendered him a most unlikely leader of India’s Muslims. Yet, he led them to separate statehood, creating history and, in Saad R. Khairi’s apt phrase, ‘altering geography’.

Several scholars, among them H.M. Seervai, Aisha Jalal and Saad R. Khairi, help explain his shift from Indian nationalism to Muslim separatism but the mystery of Jinnah’s appeal remains. After all, neither Muslim nationalism nor the idea of Pakistan originated with him; he embraced them somewhat reluctantly.

There is another way of viewing the matter. In the twentieth century, two extraordinary personalities competed for the leadership of Indian Muslims. They were Abul Kalam Azad and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. As a point of departure in comprehending the aspirations of Muslims in India, we might review their biographical profiles.

The contrasts in their family background, education, culture, and styles of leadership were remarkable. Azad’s ancestors belonged since Emperor Babar’s time to the Persian and Urdu-speaking Muslim aristocracy of India. His great-grandfather was one of the last Ruknul Mudarrasin, a position roughly analogous to today’s ‘minister of education’, in Mughal India. After the War of 1857 his family migrated to Madina where it intermingled with the Sharifain aristocracy. Azad’s mother was a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed Zaher Watri, in his time Madina’s best known ‘Alim’. His father Maulana Khair al-Din gained much fame in the Muslim world for his ten-volume work on Islam, and for his central role in the restoration of Nahr Zubeida, Makkah’s main source of water. Among Indian Muslims who were still wistful over a lost empire, and reeling from the excesses of British colonisation, it is hard to envision a family with better credentials than Abul Kalam Azad’s.

Abul Kalam was a most worthy scion of an extraordinary family with roots deep in the duality—Indian and pan-Islamic—to which South Asia’s Muslims have been historically linked both psychologically and culturally. Born in Makkah, he was fluent in Arabic, at ease in Persian, and a most gifted writer of Urdu prose. He was deeply immersed in the mystical tradition of Islam. As early as 1919 he wrote on Sarmad Shaheed and the grand dichotomy between state and civil society in Islam. His later commentaries on the Holy Qura’an are still regarded as among the best in the world.

“Who is your master among the mufassareen?” I asked the late Maulana Kausar Niazi some years ago. “Abul Kalam” he replied reflexively. Al-Hilal, the magazine Azad founded in 1912, at age 22, marked the beginning of serious, mass circulation Urdu journalism. With its successor al-Balgah, it remains a milestone in the development of Urdu as a popular vehicle of political and social discourse. Azad was a spellbinding speaker and, like Jinnah, an ardent nationalist. In 1923, at age 35, he was the youngest man to be elected president of the Indian National Congress, a record Nehru will break later. An overwhelming majority of India’s Ulema supported him.

The man we shall later revere as the Quaid-i-Azam was a contemporary of Azad, and a most unlikely contender for Muslim leadership. He was born in 1876; Azad in 1890. But beyond the proximity of age, the two stood in sharp contrast to each other. While Azad’s aristocratic roots lay in the Muslim heartland of UP and Bengal, Jinnah was born to a middle class business family in the port town of Hindu-dominated Karachi. At age 21 he moved to England, thence to Bombay, the modern gateway to British India. Unlike Azad who belonged to the majority Sunni denomination of Islam, Jinnah came from the minority Shi’a community. He was the prototypical westernized Indian, tutored at Lincoln’s Inn, tailored at Saville Row, in his youth a Shakepearian actor, a constitutionalist barrister in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, married to a Parsi woman. More at home in English than his native Gujrati, Jinnah spoke little Urdu which he would later designate as Pakistan’s official language, knew neither Persian nor Arabic, and had only the rudimentary knowledge of Islam which is common to western educated Muslims. He was anathema to an overwhelming majority of the Ulema of the subcontinent, including so grand a figure as Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani and such ideologue as Abul Ala Maudoodi.

Mr. Jinnah made little effort to overcome his obvious handicaps. Unlike Barrister M.K. Gandhi with whom Jinnah shared similarities of language, class, and education, and who donned the Mahatma’s home spun dhoti, Jinnah stuck to his western ways and pin-stripe suits. He bowed but rarely to populist symbols, appearing only occasionally at political ralies, and shunning the display of emotion in public. Reasoned arguments and cold logic were the hallmark of Jinnah’s discourse. He spoke at political rallies as though he were addressing a courtroom, or a conference of lawyers. This is not the populist style anywhere, least of all in South Asia. Yet, in less that a decade of his return from London in 1935, he had eclipsed his political foes no less than colleagues in the Muslim League, and successfully established himself and the League as the sole spokesman of India’s Muslims. In the elections of 1937 the Muslim League barely survived as a minor political party; in 1940 it set Pakistan as its goal. Barely seven years later the new state was born.

In the Introduction to this first volume of Jinnah papers Professor Zaidi has asked this central question: “What then turned Jinnah into the embodiment of Muslim hopes and aspirations?” One answer, admirably documented by Saad Khairi and H.M. Seervai, is that the leadership of the Indian National Congress allowed Jinnah no alternative even though he constantly probed for one. But a deeper explanation offered in Professor Zaidi’s Introduction worth quoting: “What distinguished Jinnah from his great contemporaries is that he was quite self-consciously a modern man – one who valued, above all, reason, discipline, organisation, and economy. Jinnah differed from other Muslim Leaders in so far as he was uncompromisingly committed to substance rather than symbol, reason rather than emotion, modernity rather than tradition.”

But how could this apparently modern figure so powerfully appeal to a people laden with tradition and religious inertia? I should summarise Professor Zaidi’s answer to this question: Jinnah’s peculiar appeal worked because collectively Indian Muslims had an instinctive if inarticulate grasp of recent history. “It was a community conscious of its declining condition, and it had experienced the ineffectiveness of old remedies. After all, neither the revivalist prescriptions of Shah Waliullah, nor the fiery war cries of Syed Ahmed Shahid, nor the flamboyant, though confused, demarche of the Khilafat movement – with which Abdul Kalam Azad had become associated and from which Jinnah kept a pronounced distance – provided relief from the ills which afflicted Muslim society in India. Restorationist alternatives had nearly exhausted when Jinnah re-entered the second act of contemporary Muslim tragedy in India. On their part, leaders of the Indian National Congress were so overcome with hubris that they refused to open viable political doors to this wounded and bewildered people.

Significantly, by then the modernist view of the causes of Muslim decline and of the remedies it required, especially as articulated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his ideological successors, including Iqbal, had seeped into the consciousness of the Muslim intelligentsia. There was to this phenomenon also a pan-Islamic context: In the 1930s the Muslim world as a whole had entered what Albert Hourani has described as the Liberal Age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Mr Jinnah returned from England in 1935 to find himself swept to the crest of this wave.

In the four decades that have followed his passing, Pakistan has moved precipitously away from the country its founding father had envisioned, and the people had created at costs beyond counting. The two volumes of Jinnah Papers and the archives from which they are drawn do not tell the story of the cowardice and betrayals which followed the Quaid-i-Azam. What they do tell us is who he was, how he waged a difficult and deeply painful struggle for statehood, the vision he nourished, and the hopes he had for this country. I would like to recall him and remind us in passing of what we have done with his legacy. I am sorry if in the process I cause some discomfort to some of you readers.

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5 thoughts on “Jinnah, In a Class of His Own by Eqbal Ahmed

  1. A good find. I hope this article was also translated and published in a major Urdu newspaper… Our masses should know about Jinnah beyond what PTV and private productions portray.

  2. A comment on the introduction to the main text: You mention that the Quaid created an Islamic state. I beg to differ there. In fact, our difference of opinion on the issue typifies a debate that has raged on since the emergence of the idea of Muslim separatism in the sub-continent.

    The Quaid – and this is evident from the myriad of his pre-partition speeches and letters – envisaged the creation of a state where the Muslims of the sub-continent could practice their religion without fear of oppression.

    This idea is distinctly different from that of the creation of an “Islamic state” – which by definition would be a state where the Shariah would be used as the guiding light in devising legal systems. The Quaid famously mentioned that he wanted to “have no business with that” since even before the young nation of Pakistan took it’s place on the map, obscurantists started a vitriolic campaign to mark the country down as a beacon for “Islamisation” in South Asia. Even the Quaid’s comrades in the struggle for independence had no qualms about religion and the business of the state being kept asunder….clearly evidenced by the formulation of the first constitution that upheld secular values and as a sop to the Islamists, only went as far as to recognise the sovereignty of Allah.

    Sure, the Quaid did develop a certain propensity for religion just before his death. In a letter to Mr.Gandhi, he asserted that “the Quran provides a complete code of life”, but to extrapolate these rare citings to harbour notions that Pakistan was envisaged to be an “Islamic state” would be far-fetched, to say the least.

    Don’t get me wrong, as much as people might doubt it’s practicability, I vociferously argue in favour of recognising the Shariah as a sufficient and universal constitution. But the facts, especially when they pertain to our very identity, must be clarified.

  3. Sheharyar, I agree with you completely on this issue. The Quaid did not intend to create an ‘Islamic state’, which by definition means a state that relies solely on the Shariah.

    I apologise for the confusion in the way I have phrased the setence, but I meant that he created a state for the Muslims of the sub-continent, which is now an Islamic Republic. Whether he intended to create an Islamic Republic is another debate, but the reality on the ground is that what he created is now trying to strike a middle path between a completely secular and a theocratic (and/or Orthodox Islamic) system of government, which is what an Islamic Republic is by definition.

    I have made the changes to the original post. Thank you for your valuable comments.

  4. It is refreshing in one sense to see that three score after the Quaid has left us, he continues to feature prominently in the discourses of contemporary Pakistanis. What is not so refreshing unfortunately, is that the same ground continues to be trodden, as if we are all adamant on establishing infinite intellectual CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) like our political leaders, afraid to innovate new perspectives on the central issues.
    For me personally, Jinnah’s singular achievement in his methods of achieving Pakistan was his uncompromising professionalism. As most of you reading this blog are aware, Jinnah had to fight an uphill case against his British and Hindu political opponents and the seeming insanity of a communalist and, eventually, pro-Partition argument. That he managed to achieved his end goal against such an unfavorable Zeitgeist is testament, not only to the ingenuity of his arguments, but also to his immense focus. In a world where many youngsters, indeed, nations as a whole, suffer from an Attention Deficit, it is comforting to know that with the right amount of perseverance, even mountains can be scaled, even oceans can be swum across. Lord Pethick Lawrence pithily said, that whereas “Gandhi died at the hands of an assassin, Jinnah died by his devotion to Pakistan”.

    In a world where, it begs to reason that what is required in Pakistan is not just dialogue, but concrete improvements in people’s living standard. Moreover, unless we have a volte-face in the societal tendency towards favour taking precedent over merit, change will not be as dramatic as it should be. Pakistanis across the globe would do well to take a leaf out of the Quaid’s book and take active steps to cure the societal ills prevalent in our community.

    On the topic of Islam and Pakistan, and the complex relationship, I would say that religion is not to blame for Pakistan’s shortcomings. To say so would be at best, incorrect, and at worst, reminiscent of the Nazi ‘Scapegoat’ theories. We all know where that ended up… Heine said that “where they star by burning books, they end with burning people”. I guess one could say that although we do not burn books as Pakistnis, the fact that we withhold education from many of our compatriots shows as a similar disregard which needs no exorbitant amount of prescient from which to conclude that Pakisatn will always be behind the ball unless we embrace education. Mind you, education is one of the most oft-repeated words in the Quran. So when you see mullahs pronouncing fatwas amok, ask yourself if they truly represent Islam, and ask whether you would be better off asking a more learned man, a mufti or scholar of similar fortitude, for answers to your questions on Islam and Pakistan. There are no easy answers to be sure, but how can we hope for them if our internal intentions are not sincere?

    If the above ideas seem scattered or disparate, I apologize to the reader. But like Zidane, I have no regrets about it, as ultimately, things which seem disparate at the time come together, like broad brushstroke of the same painting. However, to summate, I would lie to remind those acquainted with Western philosophy, and those who are not, to seek the true embodiment of Islam, before passing judgment. It embodies all of the good attributes we have in life. Perhaps then we will appreciate Goethe’s insightful remark: If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?

  5. Tayyab, I really like the way you ended your post with the quote from Goethe.

    However, I’ve spent quite some time trying to pin-point what you’re saying. My question to you is, apart from some wonderful thoughts, what exactly is the point of your comment? Is it to glorify Jinnah? Because I don’t think the article by Eqbal Ahmed does anything to harm his glory, only shows another side of his personality. Or is it glorify Islam? I don’t think it does anything to dishonour Islam either. It only highlights where Islam stood in Mr Jinnah’s personal life.

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