Originally published in Newsweek Pakistan in the issue of March 21, 2011
The Original Secular Jinnah - Picture by AFP via Newsweek Pakistan
Those who believe Pakistan was created in the name of Islam are plain wrong.
History is never without its distortions, and depends on whose perspective it is written from. The murder of history becomes an even more heinous crime when it is done to serve and advance the interests of a few at the cost of all others. Some 63 years after independence, our poor, terror-pocked Pakistan remains a country in search of an ideology.
It has become institutionalized through sheer repetition that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. This is a myth we are all being held hostage by.
The creation of Pakistan was rooted in fear, not religion. Indian Muslims feared subjugation by the Hindu majority—even in Muslim-majority states—in a post-Raj India. In fact, until 1945, “Pakistan” wasn’t even a real plan. In The History of the Idea of Pakistan, K. K. Aziz writes that our country’s founding father, Jinnah, reportedly said that the Lahore Resolution of 1940, which put forth the demand for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims, was a pressure tactic to have the wishes of the All India Muslim League respected. There’s also the fact that India’s Islamists didn’t want a new country even if it was founded “in the name of Islam.” Like other Indian Muslim leaders, Jinnah was modern and secular. And he was loathed by the religious right, especially Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami, which resisted the idea of Pakistan because they said it would divide the subcontinent’s Muslims.
The religious credentials of some Muslim leaders who supported the Congress were stronger than of those leading the Muslim League. Today’s mullahs would be hard pressed to cite the Islamic credentials of our revered founding fathers. When the Khilafat Movement was launched in 1919 to save the Ottoman Empire from collapse after its defeat in World War I, it was supported by Gandhi, who wanted to win over Muslims. Jinnah and Iqbal both opposed it, strongly. As Husain Haqqani has argued in Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, after the consolidation of British power in the late 19th century, India’s Muslim leaders often did not define themselves in terms of religion, but rather through territorial nationalism.
For those seeking a common thread to frame the story of Indian Muslims, religion was a convenient tool. Never mind that the Two Nation Theory—which held that Hindus and Muslims could not coexist in a single country—did not pan out and ignored the fact that Indian Muslims were never a homogenous group. Muslims in Bengal and Deccan, for example, were viewed by their coreligionists as potentates, usurpers, and invaders.
As negotiations for the creation of Pakistan intensified, Islam did not figure in the talks among the Muslim League, Congress, and the British. Even in the fieriest of speeches at the Muslim League session in Lahore on March 23, 1940, concerns were aired to save not Islam per se, but Muslims. Fazl-ul-Haq argued in his address that Muslims could not count on the constitutional safeguards provided for minorities, that they must stand up for their rights. Indian Muslim leaders were concerned about political—not religious—rights, and were seeking parity with the non-Muslim majority.
Pakistani nationalism relies on the myth that our country was founded on the basis of saving Islam. This myth was given a life of its own when the Constituent Assembly passed the Objectives Resolution in March 1949, ensuring that mosque and state would never be separate in Pakistan. From there flowed the rebirth of Pakistan as the “Islamic Republic,” the outlawing of Ahmadis, and those miserable Zia years. This myth has allowed the jaundiced worldview of the religious right—which opposed the creation of Pakistan—to become the mainstream narrative. It encourages those who aim to suppress, persecute, maim, and kill in the name of Islam to carry on with impunity and preach their poison because we all continue to falsely believe that Pakistan’s raison d’être was to rescue Islam.
It is said that serious damage is done when nations distort and deny their past, vowing not to learn from history. As Pakistanis, we are witnessing a most painful illustration of this axiom.