Jinnah, Islam, Secularism and Pakistan: Resolving Contradictions


Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi, Pakistan. For the Muslim Times’ collection of articles, promoting secularism in every country of the world

By Dr. Abdul Alim for The Muslim Times: On the eve of Christmas and the day before the birth anniversary of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan

Yesterday I watched with dismay the confusing debate on Pakistani media about Jinnah, rights of minorities and today’s Pakistan.

The show is in Urdu, my apologies, if you don’t know Urdu, you will need a friend to translate:

Several Pakistani intellectuals displayed not only a poor understanding of history, politics and Islam but also could not engage constructively with each other. In essence what happened in that show summarizes where we have gone wrong in implementing Jinnah’s Pakistan. As usual Mr. Orya Maqbool Jan, came out shouting, giving references to apparent contradictions on Jinnah’s views quoting his speeches and he deserves a better answer than those that were given to him during that show.

To the misfortune of those who do not face the facts, there is crucial missing link, which is the only way to fully understand Jinnah’s views on Islam, Secularism and Pakistan. Let me attempt to make that link.

Jinnah began his political career as an Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, proponent of nations living together in one state (Consocianalism). Both Lahore Resolution, drafted by Sir Zafarullah Khan in 1940 and acceptance of Cabinet Mission Plan by Jinnah in 1946 proved that Jinnah remained a staunch secularist and stood for United India.

When finally he resorted to Islam as a slogan to make Muslim League able to claim the sole representation of the Muslims in the sub-continent, it was clearly a political move to counter what Gandhi had done by luring the reactionary conservative Muslim clergy to his side, in the likes of Maulana Azad and the rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan by Congress.

But Jinnah’s resorting to Islam was not entirely political. Despite his life style, it would be ignorant to think that he had not evolved in his thinking on what Islam was and what it stood for. It is therefore critical to analyse what may have influenced his thinking about relationship between State and religion in a way that did not compromise his own view of secularism, Islam and modern state.


The reason why Pakistani intellectuals are so confused about Jinnah and Islam is because there is a deep denial and deliberate distortion of history of Pakistan’s founding, where the role of Ahmadiyya Movement is either completely ignored or not acknowledged. The fear of extremists and the deep state coming after them hounds even the best of the intellectuals and it is difficult to blame them. This is the reason no one has methodically investigated or looked at the possibility that Jinnah’s views on Islam could be influenced by Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam.

Let me build this case further and hope that it can resolve this terrible confusion – eating at the roots of Pakistani state.

It is now well known that among the proponents of Pakistan, the only organized, educated and religious Muslim group that unconditionally supported Jinnah was the Ahmadiyya Movement. It is now clear beyond doubt that Ahmadiyya Movement played a key role in convincing Jinnah to come back to the subcontinent in 1930s from London. This had happened at the London Mosque where he had been invited for a reception.

The history behind Jinnah’s return to Indian politics in 1934 makes for an inconvenient truth. The man whose eloquent persuasion left Jinnah no escape in returning to politics, has been forgotten in the annals of official Pakistani history. That man was not Liaqat Ali Khan and certainly not Dr. Muhammad Iqbal but Abdur Rahim Dard (far right) – an Ahmadi missionary in London (Rabwah.net)

The deep affection and respectful association between Jinnah and Sir Zafarullah Khan is also a well-known but equally vehemently denied part of our history. Jinnah considered Zafarullah almost like an adopted son. This respect was displayed amply when he appointed him the first foreign minister of Pakistan, a task that was of utmost importance given the need for acceptance of a newly formed state around the world. Zafarullah was appointed by Jinnah earlier to the Redcliff Boundary Commission, an extremely critical and delicate task showing how much trust he had in him to represent the case of Muslims. Earlier Jinnah had worked closely with Zafarullah when Lahore Resolution was drafted by him.  How valuable Zafarullah was for the cause of Pakistan and Jinnah was finally proven when he delivered Punjab to Jinnah by convincing the leader of Unionists Sir Khizar Hayat Khan (Tehdise Niamat-pp507) to abdicate in favour of Muslim League.

Communication between Jinnah and the Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad is also on record. Jinnah sent his emissary to him to ask for support and prayers to which he always got a positive reply. Sardar Shaukat Hayat in his book “The Nation that lost its soul” (page 147) mentions the following event:

“One day, I got a message from Quaid e Azam saying ‘Shaukat, I believe you are going to Batala, which I understand is about five miles from Qadian, please go to Qadian and meet Hadhrat Sahib and request him on my behalf for his blessings and support for Pakistan’s cause.’ After the meeting (in Batala) I reached Qadian about midnight, I sent a word that I had brought a message from Quaid e Azam. He came down immediately and enquired what were Quaid’s wishes. I conveyed his message for prayer and for his support for Pakistan. He said: ‘Please convey to the Quaid e Azam that we have been praying for his mission from the very beginning.’ Where the help of his followers is concerned, no Ahmadi will stand against any Muslim Leaguer.”

This conduct of Ahmadiyya Movement leadership including Sir Zafarullah Khan stood in sharp contrast to conservative clerics like Maulana Moududi, Moulana Azad and the leaders of Ahrar, who continued to oppose Jinnah in most vile and vicious way.

So what is the link between Ahmadiyya Movement, Secularim and Jinnah’s view of Islam?

It would not be a wild guess that Jinnah’s view of Islam would be entirely different from the clerics who staunchly opposed him tooth and nail and considered him “Kafir-e-Azam”. The idea of Pan-Islamism proposed by Jamaluddin Afghani, supported by Iqbal, who believed that a modern nation state is an Idol whose worship is the coffin of the concept of Ummah made Pakistan an anathema to conservative clerics.

“in taza khudaon men bada sub se watan he

Jo perehan he iska wo millat ka kafan he”

In complete contrast to the stand of conservative clergy the idea of Muslims being a separate nation was not new to Ahmadiyya Movement. It was first articulated by the Founder of the Movement in his early writings who was acutely aware of the sad state Muslims were in due to having a distinct identity. This was, however, not a political view but purely a social understanding of state of Muslims in United India.

As early as 1916 from Jinnah’s 14 points (partly inspired by this sermon of Second head of the Movement) to alerting Muslims about the ill effects of Khilafat Movement in 1920’s there was a complete congruity of views between Ahmadiyya Movement as reflected in the statements of the head of the movement and Jinnah’s own views, which cannot be mere coincidence.

What is not well known is the fact that the second head of Ahmadiyya Movement, who led the Movement from 1914 to 1967 for more than half a century, was himself in the fore front of political struggle of Indian Muslims. This was acknowledged by none else but Maulana Mohmmad Ali Johar, someone who staunchly opposed Ahmadiyya movement, who said:

““It will be ungrateful if we do not mention (the Second Khalifa) and his well- disciplined Community who have devoted all their efforts, irrespective of doctrinal differences, towards the welfare of the Muslims. These gentlemen are, on the one hand, taking an active interest in the politics of Muslims and, on the other, energetically engaged in promoting the unity, organisation, trade and preaching among Muslims.

“The time is not far away when the attitude of this organised sect of Islam will provide guidance for the Muslim nation in general and for those persons in particular who are idly sitting under the domes of Bismillah and making boastful and empty claims of service to Islam..”

Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad also delivered a historic Friday sermon 12 January 1945 which provided the basis for an unprecedented speech by Sir Zafarullah at Common Wealth Relations Conference 1945 for the freedom of India and widely acknowledged by international press and Pandit Nehru himself.

Another testimony to his wide ranging influence on politics of the sub-continent and Jinnah is the following excerpt:

Hadhrat Mirza Bashir ud Din Mahmud Ahmad was watching with dismay the unholy alliance between the Viceroy and the Congress Party, as an Interim Indian Government was formed in 1946 without Muslim participation. Mr Jinnah threatened to launch a protest movement.

On September 23, 1946, this divine figure arrived in Delhi along with a team of advisors and remained in Delhi at the residence of Ch Zafrulla Khan for three weeks.

He held high level discussions with top Indian leaders, Mr M. A. Jinnah, Mahtama Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Nawab of Bhopal, Khawja Nazimuddin, Sardar Niashtar and Nawab Chattari. Hadhrat Sahib also wrote a letter to Lord Wavell indicating to him that the Muslim League enjoyed the total support of the Indian Muslims.

A day before his departure for Qadian, Lord Wavell invited the Muslim League to join the Interim Cabinet of India.The daily Nawa i waqt in its issue of October 14, 1946 quoted Hindu Daily Milap:

This act tantamounts to torpedeoing of the Indian Independence Movement. Hadhrat Sahib in a policy lecture forcefully supported the concept of Pakistan.” (Al Fazal May 21,1947)


When Jinnah appointed Zafarullah to represent Muslim League at the Boundary Commission Reports it was the second Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement who mobilized precious community resources to support this case (Tehdese Niamat Pp 519).

The examples of similar positions taken by Ahmadiyya Movement and Jinnah quoted above are too many to be a product of mere coincidence. Even if a direct relationship cannot be established between the two, it is quite clear that some constructive understanding existed between how Ahmadiyya Movement saw political and social revival of Muslims and support to Pakistan and Jinnah’s own views.

So how do we reconcile these two statement of Jinnah which are apparently contradictory?

” The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly…..Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught Equality of men, Justice and Fairplay to ‘EVERYBODY’…..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, February 1948.Talk on Pakistan broadcast to the people of USA]

Address to the Karachi Bar Association, 25 January 1948: Quotes:

“Islam and its idealism have taught democracy. Islam has taught equality, justice and fairplay to everybody.”

“The Prophet (PBUH) was a great teacher. He was a great law-giver. He was a great statesman and he was a great Sovereign who ruled. No doubt, there are people who do not quite appreciate when we talk of Islam. . . Islam is not only a set of rituals, traditions and spiritual doctrines. Islam is a code for every Muslim which regulates his life and his conduct in even politics and economics and the like.”

“Why this feeling of nervousness that the future constitution of Pakistan is going to be in conflict with Shariat Laws? . . . Islamic principles today are as applicable to life as they were 1,300 years ago. ”

Source: Jinnah: Speeches and Statements 1947-1948, Introduction by S.M. Burke, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2000, pp. 97-98

These apparent contradictions can only be resolved if Pakistanis can open their eyes and try to understand the influence and role of Ahmadiyya Movement not only in the founding of Pakistan but in the reinterpretation of Islam.

The Ahmadiyya view of relationship between Islam and nation state was clearly enunciated by the Founder of the Movement in his publications and pronouncements in late 19th century. This was elaborated very clearly by the Fourth Head of the Movement, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, who states;

“I have studied this issue in depth. I have studied the Muslim scholars of the past century who have spoken on this subject and written a lot on it, and who have NOT been able to resolve the issue properly. If Islam proposes a government which is representative of God, then the issue is to be looked at from a different angle altogether.

If, on the other hand, Islam proposes a system of government which is common to various denominations of religions and different people, then an entirely different outlook would appear.

In my opinion, the first is NOT the case. Because Islam pleads for the secular type of government more than any religion and more than any political system.

Now, this is surprising for some. But I can quote from the Holy Qur’an and prove the point. The very essence of secularism is that absolute justice must be practiced regardless of the differences of faith and religion and color and creed and group.

This, in essence, is the true definition of secularism”.

Given this, it is not very difficult to see what Jinnah meant when he talks about Islam, Sharia and its implementation in Pakistan as he saw it.  There is no contradiction if this is seen from an Ahmadiyya point of view. By these statements Jinnah was articulating the fact that state being a coercive instrument and Islam being a voluntary act cannot be merged into one and therefore, must stay separate as in secular tradition. This is in accordance to verse of the Qur’an that states “there is no compulsion in religion”. However, Islamic ideals of democracy, equality of rights, secularism, justice and welfare are the responsibility of the state. Similarly Sharia can never be in conflict with the laws of a state because, the domain of sharia is a personal and voluntary submission to a code of law that is a communal process and not to be enforced by state under any circumstances upon anyone who does not voluntarily submit to them. The high ideals of honesty, integrity, fair play and high moral conduct are values of Islam that all of us must practice following the example of the Holy Prophet of Islam whether we are economists, politicians or bankers.

Jinnah understood the Holy Prophet’s role in founding the first Secular State of Madinah writing the first ever constitution in the world a view held by the Ahmadiyyah Movement in Islam.

So in essence Pakistan can be an Islamic welfare state which is based on high Islamic ideals of secularism, pluralism and democracy. There was no contradiction in Jinnah’s statements on Islam and its implementation in Pakistan.

It is, therefore, this reinterpretation of Islam that could explain Jinnah’s apparently contradictory statements. Until Pakistani intellectuals’ recognize and give Ahmadiyya Movement its due place in the formation and conceptualization of Pakistan they will remain lost in this maize of self-defeating dialogues which keeps building confusion while the nation rots.

2 replies

  1. The world has evolved and changed dramatically since 1947. We have to stop obsessing over history of 6 decades ago and look at our contemporary world and our global village and realize that we as a human race need secularism to co-exist with love and harmony.

    Every country needs to begin its journey to gradually come, more and more, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed upon in 1949.

  2. Jinnah has to be brought out every now and then just as Jefferson has to be quoted to counter people like Trump. We cannot get our future right if we cannot get the history right by claiming it from those who have distorted it. If any nation needed correct understanding of Islam and secularism to become a nation it is Pakistan today and we hope they can get it right sooner rather than later.

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