By Ishtiaq Ahmed
When the Hindu members of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly expressed their worries about ‘sovereignty over the entire universe belonging to God’, Liaquat Ali Khan assured them that a Muslim state should have no problem in having a non-Muslim as prime minister. However, this was not true
Jinnah wanted to establish a Muslim-majority state, but not a Muslim-majoritarian state that would privilege Muslims over non-Muslims in their status and rights as citizens; hence he spoke of Pakistani nationalism and not Muslim nationalism when on August 11, 1947 he addressed the Pakistan Constituent Assembly:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state…We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state…Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
Stanley Wolpert, who is considered a sympathetic biographer of Jinnah, has noted that when Jinnah was delivering his address even his immediate disciples were visibly confused and shaken. What Jinnah was doing was repudiating the basis of nationhood on which he had demanded Pakistan: that Muslims were a separate nation from other communities of India. Now, he seemed to champion inclusive nationalism. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur mentioned (‘Whose progeny? — I’, Daily Times, June 20, 2010) the 1928 Nehru Report as having made the same pledge. In fact, this was explicitly stated in the Nehru Report: “There shall be no state religion; men and women shall have equal rights as citizens.”
So, then, why first divide India on the basis of an exclusive nationalism based on religious criteria and then adopt an inclusive formula based on territorial criteria? Jinnah never explained. He simply employed a strategy that would deliver the objective: the creation of a separate Muslim state. Moreover, both before and after the creation of Pakistan he did refer to Islam playing a role in the polity. The letter to Pir Manki Sharif is testimony to that. Therefore, all sections of Pakistani society could pick and choose a statement of his or pledge given by him that suited their sensibilities.
His followers were less charismatic. They were products of the Aligarh Muslim University. They had been fed on the Romantic School of eclectic historical narrative associated with Syed Ameer Ali, Shibli Nomani and others. Iqbal greatly augmented such thinking with his poetic recital of the glory of Islam, especially that of its military exploits. Thus bringing Islam in the centre of Pakistani national identity was imperative for them to justify the creation of Pakistan.
Hence, when the Hindu members of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly expressed their worries about ‘sovereignty over the entire universe belonging to God’, Liaquat Ali Khan assured them that a Muslim state should have no problem in having a non-Muslim as prime minister. However, this was not true even when the wording of the Objectives Resolution was pompous and ornamental; there was a catch. Somebody had to translate God’s sovereignty into authoritative and binding commands. The framers of the Objectives Resolution attempted a caricature of the idea of the ‘sovereign’ that originally Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) had developed. The Hobbesian Sovereign was to be chosen by the people and was a tangible person or a body of persons. John Austin (1790-1859) had reinforced the same idea that the sovereign must be someone real. With God now being declared as sovereign, and such a sovereign not identifiable as a concrete individual (king) or as a body (national parliament), the will of the sovereign had to be determined by someone.
Since the two undisputed sources of ascertaining such will were the Quran and Sunnah, it meant that their authority would override all other wills. Such a pre-condition disqualified non-Muslims from effectively taking part in the constitution-making process. The discussions in the Constituent Assembly dragged on for years as the members tried to find a solution that was both Islamic and democratic. The 1956 and 1962 constitutions came up with a formula that said that all laws repugnant to Quran and Sunnah will be removed, and all laws brought into consonance with the Quran and Sunnah. Both declared that only a Muslim male could be president of Pakistan.
During the colonial period, inflating the Muslim percentage of the total Indian population was good for Muslim nationalism, so all those who had in the 1931 and 1941 Census of India entered their names in the records as Muslims were accepted as Muslims. So, Sunnis, Wahabis, Shias, Ahmedis, Communist Muslims, all were welcomed by the Muslim League. Now, when the will of God and representing the presidency was concerned, the problem of who is a Muslim could not be evaded for long. Historically, all Islamic states had been either the Sunni or Shia or Khwariji states.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, some new groups with drastically different theologies were claiming to be Muslims as well. Consequently the movement to make Pakistan an Islamic state based on Sunni-Shia dogmas emerged soon after independence. In 1951, Maududi proposed a 22-point Islamic agenda called theo-democracy — that is both a democracy and a theocracy. Only a mullah could formulate such a hyphenated contradiction.
The next on the process of exclusion were understandably the Ahmedis whose beliefs were irreconcilable with the Sunni and Shia doctrine of Khatm-e-Nabuwat or the Finality of the Prophethood of Mohammad (PBUH). This was formalised in 1974 when the elected members of the National Assembly declared the Ahmedis as non-Muslims. Bhutto indeed exploited this for political purposes, but he was by no means the first to exploit Islam for political gains; this was deeply rooted in the emergence of Pakistan.
The Pakistani Shia minority is too large — 10-20 percent depending on who you talk to — and too well-connected within Pakistan and regionally. Excluding them from the category of equal citizens may not be possible formally, but it is inherent in the nature of a confessional state to discriminate against those who do not comply with ‘correct belief’.
(To be continued)
Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore and a Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. At ISAS, he is currently working on a book, Is Pakistan a Garrison State? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org