The Quaid’s Legacy
By Ras H. Siddiqu

Last December this writer was in Karachi, Pakistan, and had the opportunity to visit two great men who are admired by Pakistanis a great deal but the world knows little of. The first of the two was the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the “Great Leader” or Quaid-i-Azam as he is known; whose burial place or “Mazar” is mandatory place to visit for anyone going to Karachi and interested in Pakistan. The second person was the (thankfully very alive) social worker Maulana Sattar Edhi, whose Nobel Prize is long overdue. One man created a country based on hope and the other is keeping parts of it functioning that many have hopelessly abandoned. But for this writing let us concentrate on Mr. Jinnah. My reason for including Edhi here was that in the greatness that they have in common, neither fits the religious role that is often assigned to him.
The birth of M.A. Jinnah is celebrated every December 25th with a holiday in Pakistan. The often embattled Christian minority in that country benefits from this coincidence of birthdays and gets to celebrate its own Christmas holiday there too. In another coincidence Jinnah died on 9/11/ 1948 long before 9/11/2001 became significant to the entire world. For Pakistanis both 9/11’s have proven tragic. Jinnah’s death in 1948 left a new country leaderless or orphaned and the 2001 WTC attacks in America left Pakistan with a bad reputation, one that many others helped create but today refuse to acknowledge.
The mutilation of the truth is not just a Western phenomenon. People in the East are just as happy playing with it. Pakistanis are no exceptions as they go on and on about Jinnah’s “Jihadic” efforts to win their country for them from the exiting British Empire in India. Many myths about Jinnah have been created for the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan by local spin doctors. These myths have converted a secular liberal who hardly ever emphasized religion in his personal life into a Muslim Pope. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
Honesty, integrity, determination and professionalism are the words that come to mind to associate with the life of the founder of Pakistan. In various roles that great people have played in history, these qualities are essential. But in politics they may not always be helpful. One example that comes to mind was in the choice of a national language for Pakistan, a land where numerous languages were and are spoken. Jinnah himself was most comfortable in English. He spoke other languages (Gujrati) but the choice of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan was borne more out of necessity than anything else. Pakistanis needed to quickly choose a common vehicle of communication. In hindsight if that language had been either English or Arabic, the initial hue and cry especially from people in former East Pakistan (Bangladesh today) could have been avoided. But the decision on promoting Urdu was a logical one. Hardly anyone spoke it in the rural areas of the new country in 1947. And no local language in present-day Pakistan has since been erased because of the choice of Urdu. Jinnah’s critics have charged him with laying the seeds of secession in East Pakistan due to the choosing of one language (Urdu) for the country; a decision which was a clearly logical but politically risky.
Next, let us revisit the vision behind the idea of Pakistan. Three main personalities formed a substantial part of that vision, namely M.A. Jinnah himself, the poet Dr. Allama Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the reformist educator. There is a lot of confusion that has been generated about “The Two-Nation Theory,” both from within its followers and its antagonists. Its followers have added to the confusion by seeking a country (Pakistan) of Islamic exclusivity. Its mainly Indian and secular antagonists have labeled it as the great divider of a singular entity. But neither is correct. Two major nations exist and continue to exist in South Asia because the religious practices of Hindus and Muslims separate them even within a common cultural crucible. What the minority Indian Muslims were asking for prior to 1947 was guarantees of civil rights and liberties. Why the Indian National Congress leadership at the time refused to acknowledge or accommodate the minimal demands of the Muslim League leadership is anyone’s guess?
It is indeed surprising since these demands were coming from a very secular leadership of “cultural Muslims” and groups that were very non-traditional in their religious practices. In other words the vision of the three main individuals mentioned above and their followers had more in common with their Congress opponents than the fascists that make up groups like Al Qaeda today. And if the agreed upon accommodation between them was the birth of Pakistan, then it is both the Indians and the Pakistanis since then who have failed to live up to that agreement. A lack of progress in resolving Kashmir is one major part of that failure, a failure that is now close to reaching its sixth decade.
Compared to the vision of Pakistan’s founders the Islamic religious exclusivity that today pits the Sunni militants against the Shia militants in the country, the almost criminal neglect of ethnic and religious minority rights and an attempt to impose a form of State religion which is alien to the local Sufi culture do not bode well for Pakistan’s future. What will help today is a return to the vision presented by M.A. Jinnah which helped to make Pakistan a reality.
Jinnah’s vision consisted of a Muslim majority country where Muslims would feel comfortable in practicing their faith but he did not appear to have an exclusively Muslim country in mind. This writer firmly believes today that Jinnah never wanted or envisioned the mass exodus of the minority Hindu and Sikh communities from present-day Pakistan. He would also have wanted a long lasting relationship between Pakistan and India, one which was based on mutual respect, shared cultural traditions and not perpetual animosity.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam or Great Leader was a remarkable individual who practiced and believed in the rule of law and set very high standards for himself. He was a Western educated secular minded Muslim who married a minority Parsi and he would certainly not have appreciated a projection of himself or his vision that was not honest. Today we seem to have drifted away from what he had in mind as both Pakistan and Bangladesh try to come to terms with intolerance and extremists in their midst.
To recap, at this time last year this writer was happy to witness hundreds of Pakistanis visiting M.A. Jinnah’s final resting place. Several families of Baluchis, Pathans, Punjabis and Sindhis and others visited this Pakistani landmark during the two hours that we spent there. Somehow one could not help but wonder if they were all searching for something. Maybe some answers or a sense of belonging? These were not the elite of Pakistan, just ordinary people visiting Karachi from various places. And their presence certainly made one hopeful. Hopeful, that a tolerant Islam and Pakistan are destined to be together as long as the ideal that M. A. Jinnah had in mind and left in legacy is not changed or forgotten.

 


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