“Pakistan ka matlab kya, la illah ila Allah”?
(What is the meaning of Pakistan, “There is no God but God”)
Mahomedali Jinnahbhai of Bombay would beg to differ.
When Asghar Sodai, a schoolteacher from Sialkot, penned this poem, he probably never imagined it to become as iconic as it has today. Sodai passed away 10 years ago in May of 2008, at the age of 82. He was never a significant political figure in is life, but in his death, his words remain alive and well and hugely influential in the Pakistan of today. However, these words are problematic to say the least, and their prevalent popularity in Pakistan is cause for concern for any true advocate of Jinnah’s ideals.
The single most pervasive, and perhaps most dangerous misconception in Pakistan, is that this country was created for the cause of Islam. This is far-removed from the truth, and Jinnah made this clear in his press conference of 14th November 1946 when he categorically stated: “I am not fighting for Muslims, believe me, when I demand Pakistan.” No, he was fighting instead for humanity, secularism, and for the equal rights of minorities, which in the then circumstantial political climate happened to be Muslims.
Jinnah articulated his position:
“[There is] 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 words were not an epiphany unique to Jinnah; they are lifted almost word for word from the Qur’an, the very book that Pakistanis hold dearer than anything else. Notwithstanding their origin, it would appear that Pakistan has forgotten the very principles on which its foundation was erected. In today’s Pakistan, our fellow countrymen face being demonised and outcast simply for not being our ideological clones.
Jinnah never advocated for the affiliation of religion and state. On the contrary, in his iconic speech to the first Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 he firmly acknowledged: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” Yet in our times, the state is steeped in religious affairs, dictating correct interpretations of faith and even defining the limits of free speech, an indispensable human right. In today’s Pakistan, elderly booksellers face arrest simply for having the audacity to think differently than us. And where the ousting of Princeton educated economists from their advisory government roles is considered a victory for ‘Naya Pakistan’.
While Jinnah himself was undeniably fluid in his faith, his country has degenerated into a harsh terrain of mechanical religiosity that has left no room for the acceptance of viewpoints that diverge from the mainstream. What should be a deeply personal and private matter has now become the plaything of mullahs, who may alter, twist, and enforce faith at their whims with no one daring to interrupt their merriment. Jinnah envisioned in a broadcast to the American people in February 1948: “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.” How wrong he was. In today’s Pakistan, clergymen gorge themselves on absurd, endless fatwas on all aspects of public and private life.
What would the Quaid say if he saw Pakistan today? A homeland created for a minority now forces citizens to declare animosity amongst each other, even though we are members of one nation. Have we forgotten the very reasons for which this country came into existence? No state is without flaws, no people without failings, and no leaders without faults; yet this cannot mean that we continue to hang hollow portraits of the Quaid in our offices and schools as we simultaneously disregard the very doctrine that he left in his legacy.