Secularists And Jinnah’s 11th August Covenant

There is no more a sacred covenant than this speech by the founding father, statesman, law-giver and philosopher in chief ,  Mr. Jinnah,  for this country and it spoke clearly, undeniably, incontrovertibly, clearly not vaguely that religion would be separate from the state and that religion would be the personal faith of an individual. I’d like to add that there are 30 odd other speeches of Jinnah which also speak of an inclusive democratic polity unfettered by priests with a divine mission but 11th August is the most important speech because it is spoken to the constituent assembly which was about to start framing the constitution of Pakistan.    This is a solemn promise and should have the status of a sanctified compact between the state of Pakistan and all its people.   It is this compact that the honorable justices of our Supreme Court should have considered when they chose to spray the judgment against NRO with Islamic injunctionsYLH

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

No ideological tendency in Pakistan identifies itself with the August 11 speech of Jinnah with greater enthusiasm than the secularists. Among them are included the marginalised leftists, oppressed minorities, retired senior bureaucrats and radical intellectuals. Both Marxist and liberal versions of secularism inform their thinking. The secularists are divided on many things, but agree that the secular nature of the Quaid’s message is unequivocal and incontrovertible. Their lament is that his unworthy successors broke a sacred covenant of equal rights bequeathed by the Founder of Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that the Communist Party of India supported the demand for a separate Pakistan and passed a resolution in 1944, associated with a leading theorist of the Party, Dr Adhikari, in which the demand for Pakistan was described as a popular movement of the Muslim masses for national self-determination. Consequently Communists of Muslim background were advised to join the Muslim League. The Muslim League which had hitherto been emphasising the religious differences between Hindus and Muslims to justify the two-nation theory added from 1945 onwards radical slogans and arguments which portrayed the struggle for Pakistan as a class struggle of impoverished Muslims against Hindu and Sikh moneylenders and capitalists.

Some leading landlords who sympathised with Communist ideas such as Mian Iftikharuddin and Mumtaz Daultana became top leaders of the Muslim League in the Punjab. Daultana later changed course in 1953 when as chief minister of Punjab he promoted the anti-Ahmadiyya movement to bring down the weak central government under Khwaja Nazimuddin in the hope of himself becoming the prime minister. In any case, it is generally acknowledged that communist rhetoric played a noteworthy role in popularising the idea of Pakistan..

Most Muslims of undivided northern India were either peasants or artisans. There was also a powerful Muslim landlord class everywhere and a small stratum of professionals or gentry, but industry, commerce and banking were almost entirely in the hands of Hindus, Sikhs and the tiny community of Parsees. The reason why Muslims have been slow or resistant to capitalism has still not been properly investigated and theorised, but in the context of colonial India class and religious cleavages coincided rather well to portray the creation of a separate Muslim state as a panacea to all the ills afflicting the Muslim community.

However, once Pakistan was established, hostility towards communism became a centrepiece of state policy. Conservative ulema particularly attacked communism as a Godless creed. Thus, for example, in 1948 when dockyard workers in Karachi went on strike Shaikh ul Islam Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani gave a fatwa that in Islam there was no right to strike and those who incited Muslims to go on strike were wrongdoers. However, the real blow was dealt with the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case of 1951 in which a number of officers of the Armed Forces and leaders of the Communist Party of Pakistan were accused of plotting to overthrow the government. They were tried in a special court and some of them sentenced to prison terms. In 1954, the Communist Party was banned. That virtually crippled the Marxist left.

Radical nationalists of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP often invoked the August 11 speech. Their complaint was that the centre betrayed the original idea of a secular, federal Pakistan.. Mian Iftikharuddin’s Lahore-based English-language newspaper, The Pakistan Times, became a powerful voice of secular and rationalist ideas in Pakistan until the 1958 military coup of General Ayub Khan muzzled it and ultimately confiscated it. Among senior bureaucrats, Masud Khaddarposh was an eminent supporter of Islamic socialism and of a secular state. He wrote the famous dissenting note against the Sindh Hari Commission’s report, taking up cudgels on behalf of the Sindhi tenant cultivator as against the overall pro-landlord tone of the report.

But the most powerful secularist challenge in intellectual terms came during the period of General Zia ul Haq (1977-88). It was launched by no other person than the former chief justice of Pakistan, Muhammad Munir. In his book, From Jinnah to Zia, (1978), Munir referred to the August 11 speech and asserted that reasons for the creation of Pakistan were social and economic. Jinnah wanted to create a secular state. Munir described the ascendance of the theocratic vision of the state as a ‘quirk of history’, alleging that the ulema who had opposed the creation of Pakistan had subsequently become its ideological custodians and thus subverted the original vision on which Jinnah wanted to base Pakistan.

The author argued in support of secularism by quoting a famous saying or hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “When I enjoin something respecting religion receive it but when I counsel anything about the affairs of the world, I am nothing more than a man” (Mishkat Book 1, Chapter VI, 145-6). Munir remarked that this saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) clearly showed that he did not have authority over matters relating to worldly affairs and that in fact his statement introduced secularism in Islam.

In general, Munir adopted the technique of contrast to argue that a modern democracy and an Islamic state based on the dogmatic stance of the ulema cannot be reconciled into a coherent ideological formula. He also took issue with modernist Muslims who assert that an Islamic democracy can be a proper democracy. For him if democracy was to be practised it was imperative that religion and state be kept separate. He argued that a democracy functions when the following conditions are fulfilled: universal adult franchise, periodic elections, two or more political parties, an educated electorate and a transparent government. Besides these political prerequisites, society is based on values such as equality, freedom, tolerance, social justice and equality before the law. Munir referred to the writings of the erstwhile fundamentalist thinker of the Indian subcontinent and of Pakistan, Abul A’la Maududi, and of Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran, both of whom affirmed that an Islamic state cannot be a democracy based on popular will.

The resurrection of the August 11, 1947 speech in recent times, therefore, opens the scope for the secularists once again to assume the intellectual initiative in Pakistan. This can be done only by intellectuals committed to a democratic, egalitarian and free Pakistan..

First Published In The Daily Times.


Filed under Egalitarian Pakistan, Jinnah, Jinnah's Pakistan, Left, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, liberal Pakistan, minorities, Pak Tea House, Pakistan, People's Pakistan, secular Pakistan, secularism

17 responses to “Secularists And Jinnah’s 11th August Covenant

  1. Majumdar

    Poor commies!!! They enthusiastically supported Pakistan only to get properly shafted.


  2. yasserlatifhamdani


    The important point is undeniability of these facts.

    There is a joker from Great Britain… a follower of good ol’ Allama Pervez … Saleena Karim… who claims that Munir invented Jinnah’s “sovereignty will rest with the people statement” in his interview to Doon Campbell on May 21st, 1947.

    She is such a joker that she didn’t even bother to actually look through established primary sources before making this claim.

    Jinnah and his Pakistan are victims of all kinds of losers… Saleena Karim, and others are just some of those people.

  3. Majumdar

    If I have my facts right, the left was losing ground even while MAJ was alive. The choice of the first CMs in the three biggest provinces was hardly very encouraging- Mamdot in Punjab (right???), Kuhro in Sindh and Nazimuddin in Bengal, where AIML’s victory was perhaps more becuase of the more “progressive” leaders like Abul Hashim and Suhrawardy (although these two gentleman may have been hamstrung by the fact they were both left stranded momentarily at least in West Bengal). Then again the tebhaga movement led by Commies in Bengal suspended its agitation against the new East Pak govt but this was not reciprocated at all by Nazimuddin’s govt (possibly Vajra da can shed some light on this)

    Hope I have made some sense.


  4. yasserlatifhamdani

    Completely agree with you…

    I think the left within the Muslim League got a big hit when Daniyal Latifi types decided to stay back in India.

    Ofcourse… we have the landmark Shahbano judgment … a brief moment of triumph for rational secularism- thanks to Daniyal Latifi.

    Jinnah himself wanted a healthy balance. Being a left-leaning if not actually left politician (especially with his Fabian socialist roots) Jinnah was naturally averse to landlords and big industrial interests but saw the former as a political necessity for the League in Punjab and the latter is necessary for Economic growth.

    He did however use some of the left rhetoric in his speeches when he issued stern warnings to capitalists and landlords… repeatedly.

  5. Majumdar

    Actually it wasn’t all that bad for Pakistan that the Left got routed.


  6. kashifiat

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation”


    (PTH: Everytime someone posts a URL it is automatically in Moderation till we check it)

  7. yasserlatifhamdani

    Dear Kashifiat,

    I suppose I’ll quote my response to your link here a well:

    “I see that this is in response to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s article on Pakteahouse.

    Subhani’s Democratic Islamic State (with a Hindu – who had no clue about Islam- as a law minister) which gives equal rights to all its citizens and does not discriminate is essentially a secular state. It certainly is far far away from Maududi and Jamaat-e- Islami’s theo-democracy.

    Your problem (and Mr. Subhani’s) is that you can’t distinguish between political expediency and fact… between form and substance and your understanding of the word secularism is based on your own prejudices. What would you say to the fact that Jinnah described Turkey as the ideal Muslim state and Ataturk as the ideal Muslim leader?

    Anyway we’ve been through this and sadly you lack the skills to understand simple logical arguments because your head is clogged.

    Mr. Subhani has written a fine article. He has only erred in his definition of “secular”. You however are completely erroneous.

    Two incidents make it very clear…

    In 1943 Dr. A H Kazi of Bombay presented a resolution saying that the future constitution of Pakistan should be based on Islam. Jinnah vetoed it and declared it as nothing less than censure.

    The second was from Karachi’s Khaliqdina hall. A man got up and said “Quaid-e-Azam we have been promising Pakistan ka matlab kiya laillah ilallah” ..

    Jinnah replied: “Sit down sit down… neither I nor the working committee of the Muslim League ever promised Pakistan ka matlab…. you might have … to catch a few votes”.

    Jinnah the politician might pay speak of universal Islamic principles and egalitarian Muslim ideology, but Jinnah the statesman never allowed Islam to be brought into resolutions, constitutions, documentation.

    As a lawyer he understood the difference. His mistake was that he did not understand how his worst enemies – Maududians and the like- would one day use his words selectively out of context to defeat his own vision.”

  8. AZW


    Is it the same Saleena Karim of the Jinnah Archives?

    Now ordering and reading her whole book would take its time. I understand her book seeks to rebut the quote of Jinnah where he mentioned that “Sovereignty rests with the people”. Saleena contends that this was never spoken by Jinnah in his interview to Doon Campbell, the Reuters correspondent.

    Can you briefly point out for our knowledge where Saleena got it wrong? Not that this was the only instance where Jinnah came out forcefully against theocracy.. His other interview to Reuters and VOA (Pakistan will not be theocracy or anything like that), Aug 11 speeches and his dialogues with Raja Mahmudabad pointed out to him looking for a Muslim oriented democracy, with a healthy influence of Islamic principles, but nothing akin to an Islamic state.

  9. AZW


    Can you stop picking up bits and pieces out of Jinnah’s speeches once and for all man. Jinnah invoked religion in his speeches, no doubt about that. Call it real politicking, or using Islam to combine the disparate Muslims from Balochistan to Bengal. Maybe his politics come across as too contradictory for us who would love to slap a monogram on Jinnah as a secularist or an Islamist. Maybe he was too contradictory for the simple black and white people in the world, who are always depressed at the world that is always gray than the simple shade they would like it to be.

    Yet Jinnah was clear and unequivocal of what Pakistan would not be; an Islamic theocracy. He came out again and again unequivocally against this concept, in his speeches, in his interviews, and in every resolution in the Muslim League meetings that seek to base the constitution around Sharia and Islamic theocracy.

    You don’t like Jinnah for his contradictions, fine. At least don’t disparage him by feigning to like him. Maulana Moudoudi was more forthcoming when he stated about Jinnah and the whole of Muslim League leadership that “Pity! From League’s Quaid-e-Azam down to the lower cadres, there is not a single person who has an Islamic outlook and thinking and whose perspective on matters is Islamic”. It was a far more resounding affirmation of the non-theocratic politics of Jinnah than any of his secular proponents will make it to be.

    Besides, we do await your comment under the thread “Separate Religion from Politics”. I have asked you this question twice now, once back in Sep 2009, and one three days back. I understand you like to come up with emotional and rather grandiose statements; the whole world in your eyes comes out to be a rather conspirational machination working against Islam. Too bad your previously favourites Taliban and their offshoots never seriously worked to hide their hideousness when the going got tough for them. My question was specifically to understand if you ever look to study something called consequences of following a discredited doctrine. Or that you are just a good example of why sordid history repeats itself for our woeful nation when we keep on failing to learn from our blunders. Yes we are trying to put you on the spot, and are quite disappointed as you come up with a poetic verse here in one thread, a Jinnah’s quote there in another one, yet never answer the pointed questions in the thread where you are specifically asked.

    P.S. I do fully realize that you and your select coterie love to quote selective parts that suit your purposes, and when confronted with contexts, we never hear back from you. Case in point; your colleague Dr. Jawwad tried to quote Jinnah’s selective speech of April 1943 address (Haji Adeel thread), and when reminded that the full speech by Jinnah actually vetoed the resolution calling future resolution of Pakistan based on Hukumat-e-Ilahiya, based on Quran, Sunnah and the rule of four Caliphs, we never heard from him again.

  10. PMA

    This essay by Ishtiaq Ahmed makes an interesting read. It is history of ‘Secularist Movement in Pakistan’ in a nutshell and rightly cover the full spectrum of ‘secularism’ (in Pakistani context). But I would like to point out few things here. First, the article fails to cover East Pakistan from 1947 to 1971. The East Wing ‘secularists’ had played a greater role in the first quarter century of Pakistan. Second, the role of USSR and the Cold War in the ‘Secularist Movement of Pakistan’ can not be ignored. This article does not touch that topic. And third: What about the post-Zia period. How do ‘secularists’ and Jinnah fair in 1988-99 and then in 1999-2008 periods.

  11. Terrific details listed here. I had been on the search for a couple hours prior to I located this one! So i am bookmarking your web site so I will be able to display my son whenever he will get home.

  12. Pingback: Can an Islamic State be Secular? - Page 2 - Pakistan Defence Forum

  13. SAK

    I was fascinated to read the material on this site. This represents to me the kind of debate that we must have and that I thought I will never ever see.
    When I stumbled upon Hamza’s chapter in a book (titled something like “Islam in the Middle East and Pakistan” – from memory in the late 1980’s) – the opening few sentences had my jaw drop. Hamza started by saying that every Pakistani child ‘knows’ that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam – and in the second sentence he denies that Pakistan was so created. It hit me hard from the word go – because it challenged all that I had ‘known’ or ‘learnt’ growing up in Pakistan. Of course I had to read the chapter through before I left the library – even though I was in a mad rush to meet the deadlines for completing my doctoral dissertation on a completely unrelated topic. It was refreshing to see someone discuss the creation of Pakistan – using references/ citations etc. rather than emotional slogans and religious pressure.
    On your site I found some serious attempts at debate and exploration of such topics. I congratulate all contributors for that. Keep up the good work!


  14. Dastagir

    Jinnah was too intelligent and academic, but was not a Practical Politician.. he was not street smart. He was out-witted by Vallabhai Patel who knew how to bring in funds (Bania/Marwari/Gujju seths).. and how to maintain private senas (headed by the likes of General Babu Bajrangi)., how to manage bureaucracy (The Great Administrator par excellence) by corrupting the bureaucracy that breeds officers like Vanzara… Compared to Patel’s criminal talents., Jinnah was a mere academic.. a paper planner. Jinnah planned on paper… Patel planned and executed riots on the ground (ground reality). That is the difference… unfortunately… Politics is not just logic.. Politics is something else… Jinnah was an “academic politician”., whereas Patel was India’s real Politician.

  15. AZW


    Thanks for your comment. I may mention that the man believed the earth to be the center of the universe, and that faster objects fall faster to the ground than lighter objects, for millenia just because man never took time to question the dogmatic beliefs and inert thinking that kept him stagnant. In Pakistan, we have suffered from this syndrome for decades. But only an honest and factual debate with its criticism can dispel the manufactured history that we have begun taking as truths.

    Please don’t feel like just an observer on the forum. Do participate in the discussions when you can.

    And a warm welcome to the PTH.

    AZW (Moderator, PTH)