By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Reading through pages of history one is struck by the remarkable similarities between two leaders, contemporaries to each other, one from South Asia and the other from the frontier between Europe and Asia that is known as Turkey, but both of whom had the distinction of conjuring up nation states from a multitude of disorganized and demoralized people(s) whose only common bond was shared religious culture and a memory of a glorious empire of yesteryears. What is more is that both these leaders were in their outlook European and shared a world view which was more western than that of their own people. Both these leaders had to make hard choices and were plagued by the controversy that is the role of religion – in particular Islam- within the state. These two leaders were Mahomed Ali Jinnah, hailed as “Quaid-e-Azam” or the great leader and the founding father of Pakistan and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Modern Turkey, Ebedi Sef (Eternal Leader) and the “father of the Turks”.
Mahomed Ali Jinnah was born MahomedAli Jinnahbhai in Karachi, a vibrant provincial town in British India, in 1876, whereas Kemal Ataturk was born Mustapha in Salonica in Ottoman Turkey in 1881. Both Jinnah and Ataturk had parents who were deeply religious, though Jinnah was born into the Ismaili community – the followers of the Agha Khan- and a subset of the Shiite Branch of Islam. Ataturk’s exact religious origins are unknown. There is a claim that he was an Alavi Shiite. Others claim he was from the “Donme” or the Jewish converts to Islam. Ataturk himself identified with mainstream Hanafi Sunni Islam- the state creed of the Ottoman Empire- in his days in Army. Both were educated in High Schools run by Muslim modernists in the tradition of finest European education. Jinnah’s alma mater was the “Sindh Medressah-tul-Islam High School” (despite the name it was a school modeled on the lines of British Public school system – medressah means a school) and the Protestant Bombay Mission High School. In contrast young Mustapha was initially sent to learn the Holy Quran in madrassah but his father, Ali Reza, thought him too good for simple religious education and had him transferred to a modern school. Continue reading