Sir Syed And Jinnah

By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari
Shahid Illyas’s article “pakistan, islam and secularism” has to rank as one of the most superficial and naïve pieces on the idea of Pakistan and its interplay with Islam.  It also underscores just how badly General Zia’s legacy has damaged the ability of the young Pakistani to think.

In his article, Mr. Illyas has isolated Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Iqbal and Jinnah as the sources for Pakistan’s present ills and struggles with political Islam.  Nothing could be farther from truth, atleast in the case of Sir Syed and Jinnah.  Allama Iqbal’s importance as is is greatly over-emphasized in Pakistani history and Mr. Illyas’ comment about Iqbal shaping Jinnah’s ideas about statehood does not actually find any real resonance in real history.   But then Illyas freely admits that his source is official Pakistani narrative as given by the Ziaist education system.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were the archetypal representatives of modernity and the Muslim embrace of the age of reason.  Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was a 19th century reformer who sought to modernize the Muslims by introducing rational thought into religion and by inducing Muslims to resort to modern European education. He was a reformer in the tradition of the great Hindu reformers like Ram Mohan Roy and Ranade.  That Ram Mohan Roy and Ranade remained confined to Hindu community should tell us something about the how people viewed themselves.   Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s insistence on Muslims staying out of Congress was along these lines and was logical.

It may come as a surprise to Shahid Illyas since his reading of history it seems is confined to official state sponsored narrative but Jinnah was one of the earliest Muslims to join Congress without regard to Sir Syed’s instructions about the Congress Party. How Jinnah the secularist and  only politician in South Asia to be called the best ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity in the subcontinent then returned to the fold of Muslim modernists of Sir Syed mould is the subject of much discussion but one thing is sure. The Aligarh school of thought – comprising westernized Muslim nationalists and traditional liberals- cannot be accused of having spawned Islamism that Pakistan faces now.

That honour goes to Mahatma Gandhi who not only introduced religion into politics but encouraged during the Khilafat Movement the Ulema and religious fanatics – the same people who according to Shahid Illyas were involved in “moral regeneration” of Muslims of India. A famous Congress socialist Patwardhan writes:

‘It is, however, useful to recognise our share of this error of misdirection. To begin with, I am convinced that looking back upon the course of development of the freedom movement, THE ‘HIMALAYAN ERROR’ of Gandhiji’s leadership was the support he extended on behalf of the Congress and the Indian people to the Khilafat Movement at the end of the World War I. This has proved to be a disastrous error which has brought in its wake a series of harmful consequences. On merits, it was a thoroughly reactionary step. The Khilafat was totally unworthy of support of the Progressive Muslims. Kemel Pasha established this solid fact by abolition of the Khilafat. The abolition of the Khilafat was widely welcomed by enlightened Muslim opinion the world over and Kemel was an undoubted hero of all young Muslims straining against Imperialist domination. But apart from the fact that Khilafat was an unworthy reactionary cause, Mahatma Gandhi had to align himself with a sectarian revivalist Muslim Leadership of clerics and maulvis. He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Maulvis. Maulana Mohammed Ali’s speeches read today appear strangely incoherent and out of tune with the spirit of secular political freedom. The Congress Movement which released the forces of religious liberalism and reform among the Hindus, and evoked a rational scientific outlook, placed the Muslims of India under the spell of orthodoxy and religious superstition by their support to the Khilafat leadership. Rationalist leaders like Jinnah were rebuffed by this attitude of Congress and Gandhi. This is the background of the psychological rift between Congress and the Muslim League’

Neither Jinnah nor Iqbal were part of the Khilafat Movement.

If there is any doubt about who the master signifiers of Islamization of Pakistan were,  then let us consider the names of people responsible for Pakistan the Islamic utopia project.

The first case of a revolt against the Pakistani state came from Waziristan by self styled Islamic Amir of Waziristan Faqir of Ipi who denounced Jinnah and Muslim League as “bastions of Qadiyanism”. Faqir of Ipi was supported in his Islamic revolt by none other than Bacha Khan, the frontier Gandhi.   Then came Majlis e Ahrar – another extremist Islamist organization that was allied with the Congress and hated Jinnah.  Majlis e Ahrar laid the foundations of anti-ahmadiyya bigotry in Pakistan. Jamaat e Islami’s role against Jinnah and Muslim League is well documented.   Jamiat e Ulema Islam, originally a breakaway group of the anti-Pakistan Jamiat e Ulema Hind, came to be dominated by the pro-Congress group again when Mufti Mahmood drove out the pro-League Thanvi group in 1956.  Thus JUI today is not the pro-League JUI but the ideological successor of pro-Congress  JUH. No wonder JUI has more often than otherwise  found itself in alliance with ANP- the ideological successor of Frontier Gandhi. One of the biggest supporters of Bhutto’s anti-Ahmedi move was Agha Shorish Kashmiri.  He was from the Majlis-e-Ahrar and a committed admirer of Maulana Azad.   General Zia came from an Ahrar family.  When the Sharifs moved their notorious amendment in 1999 to assume the position Ameer ul Momineen, they were badly advised by Rafiq Tarrar, a proud disciple of Maulana Ataullah Shah Bukhari, the Ahrari fanatic who used to abuse Jinnah in his speeches pre-partition.

Perhaps the most ironic claim by Shahid Illyas is that the 11th August speech is quoted as evidence for a secular Pakistan by “extreme nationalists”.  How strange that after claiming that Pakistan’s central motif was Islam, illyas claims that extreme Pakistani nationalists quote 11th August speech to secular ends.  In other words Illyas is arguing both sides of the argument.  I am not sure though that human rights activists, civil society, religious minorities, liberals and even ethnic minorities who quote Jinnah’s speech more than anyone else can be called “extreme nationalists”.   Nor do Jinnah’s pronouncements like the one quoted by Illyas “come forth as servants of Islam to organize educationally, politically, socially” can necessarily be deemed contradictions to Jinnah’s secular message.  Jinnah’s use of Islam was positive ie to reinforce the modernist underpinning, to encourage human rights, women’s rights, minorities rights and secular civil government. He was convincing his own people in a language they understood.

Pakistan’s present dilemma emerges from the erosion of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Jinnah’s rational approach to religion and politics.   Instead the state has invented a nationalist mythology that has sought to reinvent these gentlemen as the paragons of orthodoxy when they were anything but.  Both Sir Syed and Jinnah were denounced as Kafirs by the Islamic orthodoxy which opposed them and their actions.  It is this Islamic orthodoxy that forced Liaqat Ali Khan’s hand in the Objectives Resolution and it is this Islamic orthodoxy that was cultivated – first by Yahya Khan’s military regime and then by General Zia.    Pakistan needs to hark back to the secular ideals of Sir Syed and Jinnah to survive as a viable state.  Unfortunately articles like the one written by Shahid Ilyas are counter-productive and only serve to perpetuate Ziaist myths that have become entrenched in Pakistani society.  To use occam’s razor to do away with nuances which are critical to Pakistan’s existence will only hurt the cause further.



Filed under Pakistan

43 responses to “Sir Syed And Jinnah

  1. poke

    Another attempt by YLH to prove Jinnah secular.

    He may have been secular for most part of his life but at the most crucial point he choose to raise the bogey of islam and this is general trend in muslims.
    The moment someone tries to reform islamic societies or voices a differnt opinion , muslims gather under the same bogey and the violence follow

  2. yasserlatifhamdani

    Another bharat rhakshak chutiya writing to me when I don’t want to hear from you. Fuck off scoundrels.

  3. Ibn-e-Maryam

    Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan were secular leaders. If you carefully examine Sir Syed Ahmad Khan did not even believe in acceptance of prayers.

  4. karaya


    He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Maulvis

    While the G-man’s influence on today’s Pakistan is nothing to sneeze at, this statement might be somewhat of a long hop.

    May I ask, other than Jinnah, who all consisted of the “sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India” that the G-man diabolically shafted in 1920/21?

  5. poke

    You just cannot take a different point of view, anyway that’s ur problem.
    Why are u so anti bharat rakshak , i do not see anybody whom you brand bharat rakshak propagating violence, hate and other such stuff available in abundance in secular jinnah’s pakistan.
    Their is nothing wrong in defending one’s country, society , family from discriminatve, hateful, violent and retrogressive ideologies

  6. yasserlatifhamdani

    Read Oscar Wilde.

  7. Majumdar

    Karaya mian,

    Re: June 30, 2010 at 11:10 am

    You have a point there. Much as I agree with YLH and Aisha boudi that the old goat was a nasty piece of goods, but blaming him for all the ills of today’s subcontinental Muslims is a bit of stretch. After all he and his Muslim followers were decisively routed in 1946. So who allowed them back in.

    Unless we can convincingly establish that Murdoodi was the Gandhoo’s follower and purposefully sent by the latter as a Trojan horse to infilitrate Pakistan, we must give the poor fellow a break.

    Aisha boudi,

    ….Pakistan needs to hark back to the secular ideals of Sir Syed…..

    I think u cud have better than that. Sir Syed was a great educationist no doubt and played a stellar role in modernising Muslims but calling him secular was a bit of a stretch.


  8. Raza

    Jinnah was a secular. It is a fact which has even been admitted by Advani and Jaswant Singh.

  9. Sher Zaman

    If only the leaders of our country had tried to keep the vision of these two revolutionaries alive, our country would have been a different place. The Mullahs from the very beginning tried to dismantle and disrupt the very structure of politics in our country, and led to what is happening in our country today.

  10. yasserlatifhamdani

    I wish gentlemen I could share publically the private correspondence I have had with Shahid Ilyas on his genius piece this morning where evil Punjabis are out to get Karzai and Bacha Khan.

    Pakistan is beset with crooks sadly.

  11. Sahal

    This whole punajbi domination thing is garbage that has been inbuilt in the minds of these people. Blaming others for their own weakness.

    One example is that many claim that ISI is predominantly Punjabi when infact it is dominated by Pathans. Eric Margolas and Ahmed Rashid have both commented on this.

  12. Sahal

    This Shahid Ilyas seems to be on the payroll of Afghanistan or TTP, lol.

    His main problem is that PA was able to crush the terrorists and some people cannot beleive it.

    All these anti Pakistani elements will be purged out of our country, I am not punjabi so its idiotic to say they control pakistan or all that pathetic propaganda.

  13. Bin Ismail

    Sir Syed was the greatest advocate of secularization of education of the Muslims of India. Jinnah was the greatest champion of secularization of politics of the Muslims of India.

  14. kashifiat

    Another bharat rhakshak “””chutiya””” writing to me when I don’t want to hear from you. “””Fuck off “”scoundrels.

    YLH ! I believe that you talk in the same language at your home.

    Rubbish writeup, shallow secular mentality which is proving nothing other than psychological illness.

    Agha Shorish Kashmiri is one of the hero in struggle against Quadiani cult.

  15. Masood

    @ kashifiat…you are right, quadiani is a cult. just like sunni and shiaa are.

    and i am sure ylh talks the same way at home just as you are probably called ‘kashifiat’ and not ‘kashif’ at home.

  16. ishfaq

    Dear all,

    I am amazed at the open, free and frank discussion that goes on so many subjects that are considered a taboo in Pakistan today. I visited Pakistan in 2008, first time after 71, and was amazed at the scholarly discussion, heated debates, lively discussion that goes on in the acdemic circle. Yet, it is so sad to see the country on the downhill as far as social cohesion, political stability and human dignity is concerned. The state is not doing what its meant to do, wasting its energy on issues that are not within its realm – declaring someone as non-Muslim, for example. May be someday, state would pass decree on who is a male or who is a female.

    I pray that knowledge win over ignorance, light of liberty win over utter darkness of subjugation.


  17. ishfaq

    I am wondering where are these statues? Are these in Pakistan? If so, how come the Islamists have not yet got their hands on the statues?

    In Bangladesh, govt wanted to make a statuelike structure of Lalan Shah – a 19th century sufi singer, on a road island, but the local Madrassa students brought it down in broad daylight. Now the government has acceded to their demand and erected an Islamic structure with Quranic ayat on it.


  18. yasserlatifhamdani

    These are in Islamabad … National Monument.

  19. sai aravindh

    When the authors of this website get a little tired of their non-stop eulogies for Jinnah as the Great Secular Liberal, maybe they should ponder a bit about how Jinnah’s actions in the 1940s has been a complete disaster for the the muslim community in independent India. And further that it would have been much much worse but for the strong secular foundation laid by Nehru during his near two-decade rule.

  20. @Sai Aravindh

    And maybe you should read up on the subject a little, just a little. I’m not asking much, just enough to gauge that the subject is not the post-independence condition of the Indian Muslim, which is exactly as was predicted for a minority. Nor is it the virtues of the administration of post-independence India under Nehru, or the vices of the administration of post-independence Pakistan under Ali Baba and the Twenty Legislators (we are not allowed to name the other Twenty, neither the ten in uniform nor the ten sporting two-feet long beards).

    I am sick of half-baked idiots spouting their half-digested rubbish in their half-learnt foreign languages. I am sick of the free-speech under all circumstances rules, for allowing these depressing pests to bug us again and again, as I have pointed out, on a monthly cycle. Is it surprising that there are demonstrations of PMS on this forum?

  21. sai aravindh


    I do not have to prove to anyone that I have read this post or any other, least of all to a dickhead like you. You are obviously a person of very limited intelligence, but given your ability to form a vague understanding of simple English sentences, it should not impossible (difficult, yes) for even you to figure out that my comment was not specifically directed at this post. It was a general comment on the stance of this website as regards Jinnah.

    I dont think I need to respond the second paragraph – obviously you are trying to describe yourself. But why this level of self-hatred? Its not your fault that you are born dumb. Anyways, you seem “half”way in the process of self-discovery.. keep going!

  22. PMA

    Vajra (July 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm):

    “…..for allowing these depressing pests to bug us again and again…….on a monthly cycle……..Is it surprising that there are demonstrations of PMS on this forum?”

    Vajrai: You sexist. Do you talk in the same language at your home?

  23. Tilsim

    @ Sai Arvindh

    Based on Vajra’s contributions to the debate on many posts, he can hardly be described as dumb. Miffed, a little intolerant today but hardly dumb.

  24. Chote Miyan

    “Miffed, a little intolerant today..”
    PMS, maybe?

  25. Hayyer


    Actually you are right, but the sexism runs both ways. Imagine if you would, the following-:

    “I do not have to prove to anyone that I have read this post or any other, least of all to a dickhead like you.”

    Vajra should have addressed himself to Srimati Aurobindo.

  26. sai aravindh

    Since you appear to be acquainted to Vajra, why dont you use your persuasive powers and ask him to behave with a minimum level of decency? (Instead of trying to persuade me that he is not dumb). Or do you think its a lost cause – i would blame you thought on those lines.

  27. yasserlatifhamdani

    Vajra is a genius.

  28. PMA

    Hayyer (July 1, 2010 at 10:54 pm):

    chutiya, fuck off, dickhead, left testicle, right testicle, PMS…..

    Body parts, bodily functions and fluids….all are now flying as well as flowing freely like a fresh brew in Rumi’s Tea House.

    Aravindo and Aurobindo was clever. I once asked the old sage if in his native language “v” and “b” were interchangeable. I see that they are.

  29. Tilsim

    “Body parts, bodily functions and fluids….all are now flying as well as flowing freely like a fresh brew in Rumi’s Tea House”

    Yes, we do get ‘the totally lost it’ moment in the Tea House. In this case I blame Chote Miyan. He told Vajra yesterday that there was a generational gap! Vajra might have been attempting to make amends in his style:)

  30. karaya

    Mohtarram Majumdar sahab,

    After all he and his Muslim followers were decisively routed in 1946.

    There are people who think that the Congress not conceding the status of sole spokesman of India’s Muslims to the AIML during the CMP negotiations was a great injustice. The stranglehold of Gandhi and the irrelevance of the J-man in today’s Pakistan (not to speak of India’s Muslims) might have proved those people wrong.

    Meanwhile, India is hell bent on following the ideals of our man, Sir Syed, by devaluing competitive exams and making jati/birth a crucial component in evaluating a student’s worth (India gets it a bit wrong by actually helping out the low birth types but then Pakistanis also find it hard to live up to Gandhi’s ideals of go-raksha sometimes, or so I hear). However, if your handle on PTH is anything to go by, I understand your discomfort with Sir Syed what with his threats of using the Pathan to set the Bengali Hindoo straight and all.

  31. @Hayyer

    I regret the language and tone of my post following the latest infliction. It was completely out of harmony with the bitter regret that most fits these murderous times. I can only plead temporary insanity, and I hope that seeing the provocation, you will allow the benefit of extenuating circumstances to ameliorate your reactions.


    You will have filled Majumdar’s cup to the bitter brim, as he brought that particular story about Sir Syed to this forum, laughing fit to burst as he did so. It was placed immediately after one of my posts, but without addressing me, and I have often wondered if the correct thing to do was to draw myself up to my 5′ 8″ and strike him to the ground.

    However, you will be remembered in the stories that will be told about PTH in future, for having imitated Majumdar; strikingly original as he is, one can only trail in his wake, picking up his stories, burnishing them with well-placed apostrophes and blushing modestly as adoring crowds surround them.

  32. Tilsim

    A single post does not a man make..

    You are ….VAJRA!

  33. ishfaq

    Sir Syed Ahmed, Iqbal and Jinnah would have been legitimate target of the Jihadists had they been alive today.


  34. Bin Ismail

    @ishfaq (July 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm)

    I’m not so sure about Iqbal. Sir Syed – possibly. Jinnah – most certainly.

  35. ishfaq

    Dear Bin Ismail,

    I think, Iqbal’s “Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam” if reprinted and recirculated today would raise enough hue and cry in the Mullah community to demand his head. Sir Syed’s effort of imparting English and science education to Muslims is to the Mullah’s a ‘Kuffuri’ act. Fatwa was promulgated then as now. Only under the British Raj the Mullahs could not raise their heads high enough. As some columnist in Pakistan wrote sometimes back that the Mullah whose status was slightly above village barber is today driving a Pajero with guards carrying AK-47 . Those who used to live on fitra and zakat, have the power today to challenge the state.


  36. Bin Ismail

    Dear Ishfaq,

    The reason for my saying that I was not so sure about Iqbal, was that these days you find the mullahs in Pakistan quoting more extensively from Iqbal’s poetry than from the Quran. You’re right about Sir Syed. He was indeed declared kafir for promoting the “farangi taaleem”. As for Jinnah, they christened him “kafir-e azam”. Literally, “azam” means “the greatest”. Therefore, kafir-e azam would mean “the greatest of all kafirs”. Just imagine – even greater kafirs than the Ahmadis.


  37. vetch

    Sir Syed’s role as a secular was only confined to the muslim feudal class, an act which will built life long ties with the British and later American masters. The ties which at a later stage played an important role in creating militant islamic organizations to fight against the soviets in Afghanistan.

    Ayesha needs to read her history more carefully.
    We need herzl’s secularism just about as much as religious extremism.

  38. @vetch

    Sir Syed’s role as a secular was only confined to the muslim feudal class…

    This wasn’t very clear.

    1. Do you mean that he acted secular only with regard to the Muslim feudal class?

    2. If so, what were the other classes you had in mind?

    3. How was his behaviour with them?

    an act which will built life long ties with the British and later American masters.

    This is even more mysterious.

    4. Whose life? Sir Syed Ahmad’s? That ended in 1898. Is it your argument that after 1898, there were no ties between the British and American and whoever it is that you wish to implicate in your statement, since the protagonist was dead and gone?

    The ties which at a later stage played an important role in creating militant islamic organizations to fight against the soviets in Afghanistan.

    Fascinating. The ties between Sir Syed Ahmad and his British and American masters, which lasted as long as his life and presumably concluded in 1898, along with his life, played an important role in creating militant Islamic organisations to fight against the Soviets (or perhaps state-owned farms, or constituent state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, since we find the word ‘soviet’ rather than ‘Soviet’) in – what was it? – the 1980s?

    What did it all mean, finally?

    Is it that you believe that the feudals, the only people with whom Sir Syed Ahmad acted secular, acquired the trust of the British and the Americans, and 82 years after Sir Syed Ahmad’s death, used this trust to create militant Islamic organisations to fight against the Soviets? the feudals, in other words, built the Taliban?

    You really, truly think so? Or you think something else, but thought what you wrote might amuse people, so uploaded it anyway?

  39. Majumdar


    Vetch’s tracing links between Sir Syed and the Taliban isn’t that far off from the official Indian “nationalist” history isn’t it? With MAJ being the link joining Sir Syed on one hand and Taliban on the other.


  40. @Majumdar

    I get it. All Muslims are the same, so let’s join up the dots and see who’s connected to whom.


    Whoever was responsible politically and administratively for this “official Indian ‘nationalist’ history” ought to be put into a room with K****f or U**i for 24 hours. It’ll feel like he’s spent an eternity in hell.

  41. Majumdar


    All Muslims are the same, so let’s join up the dots and see who’s connected to whom.

    No, no, … it is a lot more sophisticated than that.

    It goes like this.

    1. Sir Syed encouraged Muslims to think of themselves as a distinct nation.
    2. MAJ being thwarted by MKG as leader of Indian national movement joined on to #1.
    3. Muslim notables esp of Pakistan region saw a threat to their position joined MAJ. MAJ in turn pandered to them ‘cos without their support, he wont become Baba-e-Qaum.
    4. Having gained Pakistan, in order to suppress their own bholi bhali awaam and in order to further their own private aims of loot and plunder in Kashmir, India, A’stan and the Central Asian ‘stans, they created the bogeyman of India misused Islam to create jihadis all over the place.


  42. Voldemort

    sai aravindh,

    well said. vajra is a pompous ass much in the mould of yasser. no wonder the two get on like a house on fire. whenever the man has no argument, he “advises” others to read up (like he is doing now). as if doing that will cure him of his ignorance.

  43. Prasad

    M Akram Khan:

    nothing more but another high decibel bunkus. Pure trash/nonsense to say the least.

    First of all you paint Jinnah as ‘Pro islamist’ – he may have hanged himself if he was alive !!

    Yes Zia was not just pro islamist – but father of modern islamist pakistan along with Z. Bhutto (having converted pakistan from islamic republic into an islamist republic)

    You guys seriously need a life