Jinnah Secular or Islamist?September 18, 2009
Interview with Saleena Karim, author of a most important book on Quaid-e-Azam, “Secular Jinnah: Munir’s Big Hoax Exposed”. Saleena Karim is also the founder and director of Jinnah Archive, world’s first comprehensive digital library on Quaid-e-Azam. This is a must read interview.
“The new state would be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of religion, caste or creed.” Mr. Munir claims that these are the words of the Quaid from an interview to Reuters’ Doon Campbell. In reality these words appear nowhere in that particular interview, and in fact they appear nowhere at all (I spent years checking)”
Q) Please tell us briefly about yourself, your education and background.
A) I am a writer born and brought up in the UK. Almost as soon I learned to read, I wanted to write. When I went to Loughborough University I wanted to take a degree in publishing, but for reasons that are not worth mentioning here, I ended up studying Human Biology and obtained a BSc. I had no interest in pursuing a career in my subject area, so I followed my instinct and began writing part-time. At first I was mostly translating short articles mostly on Islam (Urdu-English), and also started a work of fiction, but I became a full-time writer after I wrote Secular Jinnah: Munir’s Big Hoax Exposed in 2005. As a child I was brought up with religious values and always considered myself a spiritual individual. As I grew older I began to question some of our traditional religious teachings and began to study Quranic principles in depth. I became very interested in Islamic philosophy and in particular, ethics, and this study helped me in ways I cannot even begin to describe.
Q) How did you get interested in the life of Quaid-e-Azam, and what inspired you?
A) Until a few years ago I knew relatively little about the Quaid-i-Azam but accepted he was a hero of Islamic history by default. My father got me interested in his life originally, but I only learned about him in detail after I began work on Secular Jinnah. I was inspired in the first instance by Mr. Jinnah’s speeches, which I later referred to as a first-hand resource on his thinking.
Q) The readers want to know what is it that Justice Munir has said in his book that is either wrong or controversial about Quaid-e-Azam?
A) In short, there is a statement that the late Chief Justice Munir quoted in his book From Jinnah to Zia. It reads:
“The new state would be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of religion, caste or creed.” Mr. Munir claims that these are the words of the Quaid from an interview to Reuters’ Doon Campbell. In reality these words appear nowhere in that particular interview, and in fact they appear nowhere at all (I spent years checking). In the first edition of my book I explained that since 1979 (when Mr. Munir’s book was released) right up until the present no one had spotted that the quote was a fake. Since then I have learned that the quote has its origins not in 1979, but in the famous Munir Report of 1954. That’s the short story, but in my book I went into much more detail about how this quote has became the favourite amongst even the best-known commentators on Mr. Jinnah to try and undermine his stated cause.
Q) What inspired you to write a rebuttal to Munir’s book?
A) It may sound trivial to go after just one fake quote, but I was inspired to write my rebuttal because of it. When I first encountered the Munir quote in From Jinnah to Zia, I did for a short time wonder whether the Quaid was a true secularist after all. I pursued the original source of the Munir quote purely to find out the truth. But this was before I obtained the original transcript of the interview. If the Munir quote had turned out to be real, I would definitely have accepted and argued that Mr. Jinnah was a secularist – but that would still have had no bearing on my personal thoughts regarding the Pakistan idea. In the beginning I intended to write just a short article detailing the finding, but my research soon showed that Mr. Munir’s quote (which I now call the ‘Munir quote’) has had an astonishing impact on scholarship. Admittedly, I myself found it difficult to believe at first, but I knew I had to write a book.
Q) Tell us about your book. How come it got such high praise from various sections of the readers’ community?
A) Other than exposing the damage done by the Munir quote, my book argued in favour of a ‘Muslim’ rather than a ‘secular’ Jinnah. I have put quotes around these words because I’m aware that they tend to mean different things to different people. The biggest problem in fact, is the meaning and use of words like ‘secularism’, ‘Islam’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘ideology’, etc. But insofar as there are two broad camps arguing over Mr. Jinnah, my research convinced me to side with the much-misunderstood ‘Muslim Jinnah’ camp. To my mind Quaid-i-Azam does not fit into the ‘secular’ category, and I explained why in the first book. I also discussed some of the myths surrounding Mr. Jinnah. The number of people actively backing the ‘Muslim Jinnah’ argument is currently dwindling. This I suspect is part of the reason that my book was well-received by the readership, who probably felt that a new entry from this side was long overdue.
Q) Did Quaid-e-Azam want to create a secular Pakistan or a Pakistan based on Islamic principles?
A) This is the big question. Mr. Jinnah certainly did not tire of talking about Islamic democracy and Islamic socialism. In my book I showed that there are literally hundreds of references to Islamic terminology and principles in Mr. Jinnah’s speeches. Additionally, whilst he stressed the absolute equality of non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan, he never once used the word ‘secular’ to describe the country. There is also some evidence lying around which shows that there were non-Muslims who properly understood Mr. Jinnah’s view of Islam, if you know where to look. These facts should really speak for themselves. People arguing for ‘secular Jinnah’ tend to get upset by this argument because they assume that I, or whoever else, is trying to imply that the Quaid was pro-theocracy. They think for instance that we support a class distinction between religious minorities and majorities, or that we advocate the idea of legislation either being written or authorised by ulema. Yet, as every sensible Muslim and especially Pakistani Muslim knows, a state truly guided by Islamic principles is as far removed from theocracy as is an ideal secular state (I might add that there is not one example of either of these states in existence today). The Quaid himself made this point about theocracy versus Islam, which again I showed in my book. The few people who do support such ideas – taken, unfortunately, from fundamentalist literature, rather than the Quran – usually belong to parties that historically were opposed to Partition and Pakistan. So why give their views special attention, and why assume that every ‘non-secularist’ agrees with them?
Q) How would you describe Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan? How far are we today as a nation from Quaid’s Pakistan?
A) ‘Quaid-i-Azam’s Pakistan’ as such never had a chance to establish itself. At any rate, it is not right to speak of ‘Quaid’s Pakistan’ when Mr. Jinnah said that it was up to the people and the Constituent Assembly to decide the form of their constitution. But we can safely say that the main difference between Mr. Jinnah’s time and now is that back then, a majority of people truly believed that they would rise out of poverty, be given the chance to educate themselves and then make a positive contribution to the international community, in the name of Islam. Pakistan appeared on the map at a time when the Muslim world was facing a political identity crisis, following the abolition of the Caliphate in Turkey. The end of the Caliphate was necessary, but this left the Muslim world in a void. Many people saw the creation of this new Muslim country as a laboratory where Islam would be established afresh, so to speak, taking account of contemporary political and sociological conditions. For this reason Islam in Pakistan was described as the ‘third way’, representing neither capitalism nor communism, but a form of socialist democracy conforming to Islamic (and thus universal) principles of liberty and justice. There was no question therefore, of recreating an early form of Islamic state which may have had merits in its time but could not be made to work in the twentieth century. Again, exactly how this would work was left up to the people and the Constituent Assembly. The Quaid’s sheer integrity and strength of personality was enough to keep the early leaders of Pakistan together – just. Within a few years of his death however, personal rivalries and a lack of intellectual unity between these same politicians came out into the open, marking the end of ‘Quaid’s Pakistan’ practically before it had begun. Today we see nepotism, despotism, jobbery, and discrimination running rampant in Pakistan – all qualities of the worst type of secular state (not to mention the worst of a theocracy). To even begin to undo all of this, will require first and foremost that the people look within themselves and make a concerted demand that they want things to change. Unity must come first.
Q) What do you think about the new book on Jinnah that Jaswant Singh has just written? Have you read that?
A) I have not read the book, but I have seen the interview in which Mr. Singh described its contents. From what he said there seems to be nothing remarkable or new that hasn’t been said by someone else already. There was an interesting article on this subject by Dr. Waheed Ahmad in Pakistan’s News International recently. He suggests on the one hand that Mr. Singh had courage for challenging the wisdom of certain Congress leaders before Partition. On the other, he mentions that some cynics might question the motives of the author, who is after all a veteran member of a far-right political party. Whom does it suit to be told that Mr. Jinnah never really wanted Partition? Is it not suggestive of a wish to see the two countries reunited as one India? I admit to being one of the cynics.
Q) What is the Jinnah Archive? Is it just a website or some project?
A) The idea behind the Jinnah Archive is to make the speeches of the Quaid-i-Azam easily available online. Most collections of speeches have short print runs and they end up in a few university libraries in random places across the globe. My own difficulty in obtaining collections of speeches when researching Secular Jinnah gave me the idea to try and create a searchable database on the Net. Thereafter I began tracking down and purchasing all the printed collections that I could find, and then I built the website. Some distinguished academics kindly helped by giving permission to make full use of their collections. The whole project is privately funded, is non-profit, and is entirely free to the public. Unfortunately it has been neglected of late because I was working almost completely on my own from the beginning, and other unrelated projects have taken up my time in between. This is however, something I will rectify in the very near future.
Q) How do you want to contribute to Jinnah’s Pakistan?
A) That’s an interesting question. We all should utilise our individual talents to the best of our ability. Mine is writing. I hope that my use of the pen will at least get people to think about the Pakistan idea, and not to give up on it.
Q) How would you describe Jinnah?
A) How does anyone describe an awesome personality such as Mr. Jinnah? He was evidently a man of unswerving integrity, high intelligence, pride, conviction, strength, and with more than a smidgen of dry humour. A true example of a Muslim leader, certainly one of the finest of the twentieth century, if not the finest.
Q) When is the second edition of your book coming out?
A) Soon, though I can’t promise a particular date. It’s close to completion and has already been picked up by a publisher. Unlike the first edition, this one should be made available in Pakistan as well as internationally, in both Urdu and in English languages. It contains much more on the story of Mr. Munir’s literary legacy, and in it I reveal one or two other surprises as well. But I can say no more for now.
Saleena Karim, team PKKH thanks you for giving us time to conduct this interview.