Jinnah And Jefferson : Dreams From Two Founding Fathers

 Originally published by Washington Post on the independence day of the US and Jefferson’s death anniversary,  we reproduce the same article on our Independence Day.

By Akbar Ahmed

Sunday, July 4, 2010

 

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship. . . . We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.”

These are the words of a founding father — but not one of the founders that America will be celebrating this Fourth of July weekend. They were uttered by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of the state of Pakistan in 1947 and the Muslim world’s answer to Thomas Jefferson.

When Americans think of famous leaders from the Muslim world, many picture only those figures who have become archetypes of evil (such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden) or corruption (such as Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf). Meanwhile, many in the Muslim world remember American leaders such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, whom they regard as arrogant warriors against Islam, or Bill Clinton, whom they see as flawed and weak. Even President Obama, despite his rhetoric of outreach, has seen his standing plummet in Muslim nations over the past year.

Blinded by anger, ignorance or mistrust, people on both sides see only what they wish to see, what they expect to see.

Despite the continents, centuries and cultures separating them, Jefferson and Jinnah, the founding fathers of two nations born from revolution, can help break this impasse. In the years following Sept. 11, 2001, their worlds collided, but the things the two men share far outweigh that which divides them.

Each founding father, inspired by his own traditions but also drawing from the other’s, concluded that society is best organized on principles of individual liberty, religious freedom and universal education. With their parallel lives, they offer a useful corrective to the misguided notion of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West.

Jefferson is at the core of the American political ideal. As one biographer wrote, “If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right.” Similarly, Jinnah is Pakistan. For most Pakistanis, he is “The Modern Moses,” as one biography of him is titled.

The two were born subjects of the British Empire, yet both led successful revolts against the British and made indelible contributions to the identities of their young nations. Jefferson’s drafting of the Declaration of Independence makes him the preeminent interpreter of the American vision; Jinnah’s first speeches to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947, from which his statement on freedom of religion is drawn, are equally memorable and eloquent testimonies. As lawyers first and foremost, Jefferson and Jinnah revered the rule of law and the guarantee of key citizens’ rights, embodied in the founding documents they shaped, reflecting the finest of human reason.

Particularly revealing is the overlap in the two men’s intellectual influences. Jefferson’s ideas flowed from the European Enlightenment, and he was inspired by Aristotle and Plato. But he also owned a copy of the Koran, with which he taught himself Arabic, and he hosted the first White House iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy days of Ramadan.

And while Jinnah looked to the origins of Islam for political inspiration — for him, Islam above all emphasized compassion, justice and tolerance — he was steeped in European thought. He studied law in London, admired Prime Minister William Gladstone and Abraham Lincoln, and led the creation of Pakistan without advocating violence of any kind.

No one in public life is free of controversy, of course, not even a founding father. Both were involved in personal relationships that would later raise eyebrows (Jefferson with his slave mistress, Jinnah with a bride half his age). In political life, the two suffered accusations of inconsistency: Jefferson for not being robust in defending Virginia from an invading British fleet with Benedict Arnold in command; Jinnah for abandoning his role as ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and becoming the champion of Pakistan.

The controversies did not end with their deaths. Jefferson’s views on the separation of church and state generated animosity in his own time and as recently as this year, when the Texas Board of Education dropped him from a list of notable political thinkers. Meanwhile, hard-line Islamic groups have long condemned Jinnah as a kafir, or nonbeliever; “Jinnah Defies Allah” was the subtitle of an exposé in the December 1996 issue of the London magazine Khilafah, a publication of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of Britain’s leading Muslim radical groups. (Jinnah’s sin, according to the author, was his insistence that Islam stood for democracy and supported women’s and minority rights.)

But today such opinions are marginal ones, and the founders’ many contributions are commemorated with must-see national monuments — the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi — that affirm their standing as national heroes.

If anything, it is Jefferson and Jinnah who might be critical. If they could contemplate their respective nations today, they would share distress over the acceptance of torture and suspension of certain civil liberties in the former; and the collapse of law and order, resurgence of religious intolerance and widespread corruption in the latter. Their visions are more relevant than ever as a challenge and inspiration for their compatriots and admirers in both nations.

Jefferson and Jinnah do not divide civilizations; they bridge them.

akbar@american.edu

Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University’s School of International Service. This essay is adapted from his new book, “Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam.”

34 Comments

Filed under History, Jinnah, Jinnah's Pakistan, secular Pakistan, secularism, USA

34 responses to “Jinnah And Jefferson : Dreams From Two Founding Fathers

  1. bciv

    I A Rehman in today’s Dawn: “in Jinnah’s Pakistan the rights and interests of the minorities will be protected by the constitution and the law not only as something due to them but also as an insurance of the state’s integrity.”

  2. Sanju

    As a frequent visitor to your site, I always say, you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other.

  3. Dastagir

    With wrong means, you cannot get RIGHT results. Mr. Gandhi started this business of mixing “religion” with politics. Using the idiom and the language of symbology; from 1924-1935. In effect, India was free in 1935 with the GOI Act. Yet it took Mr. Gandhi another 12 years to sharpen the divide. He was playing a totally different ball-game, (freedom from British yoke was not his main agenda. Never… but removing / replacing islamic/muslim MOTIF was the main agenda). In other words, to destroy Ganga-Jamuna culture / Tehzeeb, and in its place have a complete Safforn Ganga Culture… (Gandhi and Hegdewar totally agreed on the “main” agenda… difference was only on the degree of difference.. Hegdewar was for a darker shade ! Even today, thats the difference b/w Congress & BJP).

    Mr. Jinnah had a victory from a legal stand-point, but Mr.Gandhi had a victory from a sociological / civilisational viewpoint. From Day 1., Gandhi ji was playing a game for something different from “independence” from Britain., and he got it.

    For this operation, he had to shift the theatre of the freedom movement from Bengal (wahan par daal nahin gali… the Bengalis were thinking people and saw thru the game… esp CR Das)., to UP (Allahabad/Kanpur/Lucknow) and Maharashtra (Wardha)., which was fertile ground for the project at hand !

    Divisions were so sharp in UP… that it was fertile ground for Mr. Gandhi for his “long-term” civilisational project (freeing India of its muslim motif)… versus. the Muslim zamindars of up. It was this tussle… literally divided the country… otherwise how brazenly Mr. Gandhi dropped Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan & Dr. Khan Sahib of NWFP…

  4. Prasad

    Dastagir //wahan par daal nahin gali//

    Sir were you then secretary of Mr Gandhi – for you have so beautifully and convincingly detailed out the entire turn of events…Guess we need some more !!

    incidentally if you didnt know, kisi ka daal nahi galti hai Bengal mein. It takes enormous efforts of jugalbandi like the latest mamta + kisenkanahya(aka kisenji) to manage foothold there !!!

  5. Dastagir

    Prasadji : Gandhi ji was not in the habit of treating his “Secretary” with some degree of decency. Please research on how he treated his secretary Pyarelal… and his siter Sushila Nayar… Take some time out.. dig into facts.. to reach your conclusions. I wouldnt push it this far, literally.

    My main thrust in the earlier post was that with wrong means.. you cannot have a right results. Mr. Gandhi mixing religion w/politics., forced a die-hard secular person like Jinnah… to take refuge in the politics of religion. (it was a reaction). Jinnah married Ruttenbai Petit… (a non muslim, who converted on marriage)., and his daughter Dina too married a non-Muslim (Neville Wadia)… compare this with Mr. Gandhi., and Mr. Nehru., and how both Mr.Gandhi & Mr.Nehru behaved in the case of Ms. Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Syed Hossain ! Their real colours., their value systems were exposed. Congress’ Secular Plank was extremely weak., thats why no one (neither hindu nor muslim) believed it to be true.

    Congress was Secular… before Gandhiji stepped on its Pandal.

  6. Farm Boy!

    check out the following documentry or jump directly to part four to get the relevence of this documentary with the above post.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/general/2008/10/200810179817753730.html

  7. neel123

    Jinnah could never foresee that Pakistan would be a country owned by its military ………. founded on three “A” s , Allah, Army, and America …… !

  8. Bade Miya

    Dastagir,
    Since you know so much about the hidden agenda of Gandhi and Nehru one wonders what made you stay back in India. If I were you, I would have moved to the new state, which I knew for sure was founded on rock solid secular foundations, much more than what India was. Now, since you chose to stay back, grin and bear the suffocating Hindu raj. Sorry, life isn’t fair.

  9. YLH

    Waisay I found a reference to a letter from Jinnah written to Gandhi during his last fast. Jinnah had sought to persuade Gandhi to break his fast and work for Hindu Muslim Unity in both India and Pakistan.

  10. Mahalingam Khan

    Dastgir is right. Mixing religion with politics gave birth 2 different entities and their subsequent development based on civilizational differences. The one sons of soils and other converted followers of an allien dogma, 2 different nations with entirely different outlooks as per the prophetic words of wise M.A Jinnah. The coming generation will pass the correct judgement on both men and their civilizational roots.

  11. ramesh

    m.a.Jinah created pakistan flashing the islamic card and than realised his mistake and wanted pakistan to be a secular state,but that was not to be as the mullahs had hijacked the the new creation to their tune.he died a dispaired man.

  12. Pingback: Jinnah And Jefferson : Dreams From Two Founding Fathers - BlogOn.pk

  13. Kafir

    ‘Jinnah And Jefferson’. What next? Jinnah and Gandhi?
    ‘He (Jinnah)….led the creation of Pakistan without advocating violence of any kind.

    ROTFL

  14. YLH

    “Jinnah and Gandhi”

    As far as I know Jinnah did not do the things that Gandhi did – ie sleep naked with his grand nieces.

    There is not one point where Jinnah has advocated violence in his life. Yes I know Indians believe in the myth of direct action being planned as violent but if you’ve read transfer of power papers you’ll realize that it is a myth and nothing else.

  15. @ramesh [August 15, 2010 at 1:01 am]

    m.a.Jinah created pakistan flashing the islamic card and than realised his mistake and wanted pakistan to be a secular state,but that was not to be as the mullahs had hijacked the the new creation to their tune.he died a dispaired man.

    A marvellous precis! Could you now do the history of independent India from 47 to 10 in fifty words or less, please? Much obliged.

    Thank you for making the reading of these many mails such an unexpectedly pleasant task.

  16. @Bade Miya [August 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm]

    Dastagir,
    Since you know so much about the hidden agenda of Gandhi and Nehru one wonders what made you stay back in India. If I were you, I would have moved to the new state, which I knew for sure was founded on rock solid secular foundations, much more than what India was. Now, since you chose to stay back, grin and bear the suffocating Hindu raj. Sorry, life isn’t fair.

    It is sad that you felt fit to write this vicious little passage. This is such a familiar prescription of the Sangh Parivar, for the benefit of every ‘uppity’ Muslim who isn’t an Uncle Tom. It would have been nice if you had stayed away from anything remotely like this outrageous statement, which fits every wrong and misleading stereotype of the vindictive and unaccommodating Hindu, obsessed with enforcing conformity with the contradiction of the Two Nation Theory, and consigning all dissenters to exile to Pakistan.

    What a piece to write on the eve of Independence Day!

  17. Bade Miya

    Bathplug,
    If there was a place where one could throw the likes of rationalist, I would recommend that too. I was not targeting dissent but outlandish stories.

  18. @Bade Miyan

    Believe me, I will stand on my head to believe that. Your recent posts have been so comforting, and this came as a clap of thunder. It was really awful. How could you?

    We are walking on the edge of a razor, and there is no room for error. Not for an instance.

    I am truly, deeply pained, and mean that literally. Next we will have a similarly vulgar piece from Girish and I will give up coming to PTH permanently. It is all getting too much.

  19. Bade Miya

    Bathplug,
    You are being a little melodramatic. Relax. A fool is a fool, whether Hindu or Muslim. I shall write a long post on this subject. In short, I think it’s a bit patronizing to look at someone’s faith before castigating them. I have a deadline but I’ll be back.
    Thanks.

    Meanwhile, Happy Independence Day to people on both sides.

  20. Tilsim

    Happy Independence Day to all! Wish all people the calm of inner fortitude, the reality of peace, the gift of prosperity, the fruits of forgiveness and the wand of tolerance.

  21. NSA

    Gandhi’s last fast was something like Jan 13-18 1948. Jinnah wrote to him then?

  22. YLH

    Well it is referenced by Raj Mohan Gandhi. I haven’t seen the original thing.

  23. sober

    I am fedup of the mudslinging people do wrt people who are dead and gone for nearly 60 years plus.Just because people cannot manage their country even after 63 years of independence,some smart small timer wants to start commenting on it all.Stop blaming history.It is the present which is rotten not the past.

  24. Bin Ismail

    @ ramesh (August 15, 2010 at 1:01 am)

    “…..m.a.Jinah created pakistan flashing the islamic card and than realised his mistake and wanted pakistan to be a secular state,but that was not to be as the mullahs had hijacked the the new creation to their tune.he died a dispaired man…..”

    May I respectfully reword that as follows:

    M. A. Jinnah created Pakistan, pursuing a secure economic and social future for all the inhabitants of the Muslim-majority states of India. He wanted Pakistan to be a secular state, but the mullahs hijacked the new creation.

  25. RTZ

    “M. A. Jinnah created Pakistan, pursuing a secure economic and social future for all the inhabitants of the Muslim-majority states of India. He wanted Pakistan to be a secular state, but the mullahs hijacked the new creation.”

    It’s intresting that the government machinery has never been in the hands of Mullhas in Pakistan anytime since 1947. Looking at the list of Pakistani leaders since independence (PM, President) etc., there has not been a single mullah. In fact, the illustrious list looks pretty suave if appearences are anything to go by.

    The electoral history of Pakistan suggests that hardline parties have never been able to win significant number of seats and have never had more than a peripheral presence. The administration has always been in the hands of well-educated people – and it is they who bear the primary responsibility for the unhappy state Pakistan is in.

    Benazir Bhutto was the first woman PM of any islamic country – and that would have been an achievement by itself. However, her tenure saw the creation of Taliban- the most regressive, anti-woman organization if there ever was. Nawaz Sharif was close to declaraing Sharia law for entire Pakistan. Gen Zia’s role in Islamization bears no mentioning. PM ZA Bhutto constitutionally outlawed Ahmadis.

    Of course, any society would have its own share of extremists who never fail to create ruckus. It is true for any society – and is no more true for Pakistan than for others.

    But is it correct to put the entire radicalization of Pakistan on that factor alone (assuming Pakistan is radicalized)?? How much responsibility do the elite, educated, urban class (with appreciation of good life and western values) share for the current state??

    At best, a combination of factors may have been a causative effect – but blaming only mullahs is an oversimplification.

  26. YLH

    Elite had their role to play. The elite perhaps believed that religion could have a positive role…

    I am reading the “Agony of Pakistan” by Sir Zafrulla which is one of the finest expositions on the creation of Pakistan and history till the 1970s. Even his concluding chapters refers to Pakistan’s ideal being an Islamic welfare state and Islamic culture for all.

    The elite believed that Islam itself could create a paradoxical secularity… They were driven by Islamic modernism of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other 19th century reformers.

    Our well meaning gentleman A A Khalid is also of the same view. But such secularity can only develop over centuries. John Locke comes only centuries of such reformation.

    Islam on the other hand has gone through a revival.

    *** This Message Has Been Sent Using BlackBerry Internet Service from Mobilink ***

  27. AZW

    Yasser:

    I am reading the “Agony of Pakistan” by Sir Zafrulla which is one of the finest expositions on the creation of Pakistan and history till the 1970s. Even his concluding chapters refers to Pakistan’s ideal being an Islamic welfare state and Islamic culture for all.

    The elite believed that Islam itself could create a paradoxical secularity… They were driven by Islamic modernism of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other 19th century reformers

    I have to read this book now. And I can’t agree more that the founding Muslim Leaguers had an image of a country where Islamic principles will reign, but somehow they naively thought that the state would not be a religiously Islamic state. The poison of Islamic political system espoused by Sayyed Qutub and Moudoudi had not gained wide traction by the late 1940s, hence the ML had no idea that their idea of a non-theocratic state with strong religious influences will destroy itself due to the inherent contradictions within this idea.

    Some of them like Raja Sahib, Bahadur Yaar Jang openly espoused the theocratic state. Some wanted some religion, but not all. Where all of them got it wrong, and the present ones will keep getting it wrong, is that this arrangement is unstable and is prone to getting hijacked from time to time. No wonder, all of the 1946 Muslim League legislatures voted for and spoke passionately for the Objectives Resolution. The idea that Pakistan would become a laboratory of Islamic principles and would somehow transform itself into a Islamic secular republic is unworkable. It was a huge mistake by those who followed Jinnah, and I sincerely believe this thinking (that is still widely embraced by the present policy makers) will cause further destruction in the future.

    But this thinking has to be embraced by the population and only democracy can instil that thought over a period of time. For if democracy is working, then we can speak up as well. And if more of people like us can speak up, maybe the message will start filtering through. And only if democracy keeps on going we have chances of replacing present political leaders of the like of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari with better ones. Until then, they are still the political leaders and we have to accept them for their political credentials. The risk I see is that the present system is mortally wounded as Pakistani economy crashes out. There is a lot more chance of another Zia-ul-Haq, General Irshad, Burmese Junta types, Moammar Gaddafis appearing on the scene and grinding the whole nation for the next few decades. Maybe that’s why it is so depressing at times to ponder upon our future; there is so much that could go wrong, and there are so many easy (and later incalculably expensive) options available right now to impose another strand of artificial stability on Pakistan under the garb of religiously flavored nationalism.

  28. ramesh

    @bin esmail,thank you for your reword,but no disrespect meant.@rtz true the gov. machinery was not in the hands of mullahs,but all the leaders since 47 had their hands tied behind their backs. all the hardliners were appeased.

  29. no_communal

    I have been a fairly regular reader of PTH and I applaud it for its modernism and thoughfulness. I have thought deeply about some of the issues discussed here and thought I should share some of them here. I am not writing as a person of any religious community and I will not divulge my own (I was born with one but do not practise it). However, I lived a long part of my life in India and have enough experience of the largest minority there.

    Since we are talking about Pakistan’s elite and how (if any) they contributed to the radicalization, let me express my humble views. I think most of the elite (including Jinnah) were well-meaning, particularly Jinnah. I do believe that Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be like India only with a muslim majority. However, I also believe that they were naive. Jinnah, himself the epitome of western thoughts and ideals in personal life, was not a mass leader. At least, he (or any of his successors) did not have a feel for the ominous consequences of religiously-driven separatism, especially in a large mass of uneducated population (in both India and Pakistan, Muslim and Hindu). I am not saying this because I have any disregard for Jinnah (please don’t take offense, anyone). In fact, in personal life and beliefs I identify much more with Jinnah than, say, Gandhi. I also do not think Jinnah gave the Direct Action day that name because he planned violence (and no, Indian textbooks do not say that either). But I believe he and others were naive not to see that eventually violence was bound to take place (and both communities would take part in it in large numbers). The same with partition. Of course, had he known that there would be millions dead (not to speak of the eventual radicalization and the perpetual animosity between Pakistan and India), he probably would not have insisted on partitioning the country (as evidenced by his purported remark towards the end of his life). But he and others were naive not to see it. To just have a dream (as the title of this article suggests) is one thing, but to put millions and millions of people through the process, you need to have more than a dream. I also think, even if he did not die just after founding the country, the relation between Pakistan and India and the eventual radicalization would not have been very different. This is because Jinnah tried to impose mature ideals on an immature mass people (again, in both Pakistan and India, Muslim and Hindu), and he and others with him should have the foresight to see this. As M. J. Akbar recently wrote, the fallout of the partition has been especially bad for the muslims of the sub-continent, because a once cogent and homogenous community is now divided, intolerant, and generally not at peace anywhere. In this sense, Jinnah is like a tragic hero. I am saying this from my long experience of this community in India.

    The common argument for partition as we hear it is that it was aimed at giving the Indian muslims more opportunities, which they would not otherwise have in hindu-dominated India. Take the case of the Harijans (not the Adivasies, who are having a different revolt today) in India. They were probably in much worse shape than muslims in pre-partition India. Indeed they vehemently wanted a separate electorate. Now look at Uttar Pradesh today. Mayavati, and the three Yadav’s are now among the most important politicians in India. It is true that increasing the lots of millions and millions of people take a long time, but there is no denying that the situations of the Harijans are far far better today than they were in 1947. So, I ask the question, would breaking the land along caste lines (after millions dead and homeless and perpetual animosity with perpetually stifled development between the divided parts) have been a better solution for the Harijans?

    Even so, I believe Jinnah’s ideals are among the finest in not just Pakistan or India but the entire muslim world. And I agree that selected lines from his Aug speech should be learned by rote by school children in the entire muslim world.

  30. Bin Ismail

    Jinnah did not conceive a theocracy at any rate. He believed in imbibing the Islamic principles of Equality, Justice and Fairplay in the constitution, and there’s nothing theocratic about this.This is very different from having what is generally understood these days as a Shariah State. Advocates of the so-called Shariah State envisage the ulema in the seat of power, who would be functioning as the legislators, interpreters and enforcers.

    These are Jinnah’s words:

    ” 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)

  31. Majumdar

    Yasser Pai,

    I am reading the “Agony of Pakistan” by Sir Zafrulla which is one of the finest expositions on the creation of Pakistan and history till the 1970s. Even his concluding chapters refers to Pakistan’s ideal being an Islamic welfare state and Islamic culture for all.

    I guess MZK sb wanted an Islamic state but when it arrived, he didn’t like it too much…….

    Regards

  32. Zainab Ali

    An excellent article that compares the achievements of two great leaders of the world; Quaid-e-Azam tried to make this a peaceful place for every religion, but sadly the religious forces did their best to destroy his legacy.

  33. Bin Ismail

    @ Majumdar (August 16, 2010 at 11:07 am)

    “…..I guess MZK sb wanted an Islamic state but when it arrived, he didn’t like it too much…..”

    Zafrulla Khan’s understanding of an “Islamic” state was very much the same as that of Jinnah – a state promising Equality, Justice and Fairplay to all its citizens, in equal measure, for these ideals in mutual conjunction, very much embody the spirit of Islam. It is not rationally possible to assume even for a moment that Zafrulla Khan’s concept of the Islamic state was that of the Mullah, by whom he himself as an Ahmadi had been severely persecuted.

    Regards.