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People Aur Politics

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Jinnah and Pir of Manki Sharif-Yasser Latif Hamdani

Posted by admin On December - 21 - 2017


In my opinion, the debate around Jinnah and secularism should have rested with my last piece but Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed continued it in his article on Sunday. I am personally not in favour of an endless back and forth through the pages of this newspaper and as far as I am concerned, this is my last rebuttal in this current controversy. He can have the last word as after this, I would have said what I needed to say.

The only reason for writing this piece is that Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has invoked yet another popular myth about Jinnah, which was manufactured by the Islamist ideologues in Pakistan i.e. Jinnah’s so called letter to Pir of Manki Sharif. Why does a self-professed secular minded professor repeat these myths conjured by the Islamist ideologues of the Pakistani state is something I cannot conjecture about. It is for Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed to answer. The established position in academia belongs to Cambridge school which has long overturned these myths about partition of India that Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed seeks to perpetuate. Ever since the time of Anil Seal and Ayesha Jalal, there have been many perceptive historians like Joya Chatterjee and Neeti Nair who have added new incontrovertible dimensions to the partition question. Similarly works by people like Venkat Dhulipala, a person on whose work Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed relies, have been thoroughly discredited as being written in bad faith. Those interested in critiques of Dhulipala’s mediocre attempt at besmirching the Pakistan Movement as some sort of a theocratic movement should read Dr Faisal Devji’s review of the book called “Young Fogeys: Anachronism of New Scholarship on Pakistan.”

The so called letter to Pir of Manki Sharif by Jinnah which Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has quoted throughout his academic career is based entirely on Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani’s speech delivered on March 9th 1949, long after Jinnah was dead and unable to contradict the Maulana’s point of view. It is an alleged excerpt which seems to promise Shariat from an undated letter, which does not occur in any primary source document. The same four lines of the letter were reproduced as part of the “Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah’s Correspondence” compiled by Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, whose very association with Jinnah has been suspect and whose role as the establishment’s go to guy is well known. My conclusion, having seen how Jinnah’s statements have been manufactured over the last 70 years by unscrupulous individuals on the right wing in our state is that we cannot admit this as evidence so long as we have the original in a verified primary source. In the same speech, Maulana Usmani claims that Gandhi advised Congress ministers to follow the example of Hazrat Umar (RA) and Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) in 1937 and 1938. No such reference exists in the 90 volumes of Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi either.

No resolution was ever passed committing the Muslim League to an Islamic polity.

Meanwhile, the other source that Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed quotes ie an essay by Israj Ahmad and Toheeda Begum taken from Google has a radically different letter from the one quoted by Maulana Usmani. Again, entirely un-sourced this letter speaks of Islamic ideals and principles instead of Shariat. It says in essence that a Constituent Assembly with 75 percent Muslims would obviously act in accordance with Islamic ideals and principles. This is the view generally taken by academics about the so called letter. “Actually Jinnah was ambiguous in his assurance to the Pir of Manki Sharif: he simply assured him that an overwhelmingly Muslim country could not formulate a constitution other than one which was based on ‘Islamic ideals’.” Jinnah to Pir Manki Sharif, November 18th. 1945, in Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah Kaka Khel, ‘Muslim League in the NWFP, 1936-1947’ (Peshawar Univ. M Phil thesis 1986), appendix 7. In my piece, I quoted Barbara Metcalf’s view on what Jinnah’s invocation of Islamic ideals and principles amounted to.

Pir of Manki Sharif was a young man of 35 years. His family had been connected with the Frontier Congress and his personal relationship with Bacha Khan and his family were well known. Congress had used religious Muslim parties such as Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar with great effect in Punjab and NWFP. Whatever Congress might have promised, these Congress backed parties openly promised ‘Hukumat-e-Illahaya’ and attacked the Muslim League for being a party of Kemalists and Ahmadis etc. They also called Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam. It was not that the Congress was oblivious to the religious promises made by its Muslim supporters in Punjab and NWFP. Record shows that Maulana Abu al Kalam Azad advised both Majlis-e-Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind. Also closely allied with these parties were the Khudai Khidmatgars and Khaksars who endorsed this propaganda. Against this background, Muslim League was forced to court Barelvis as counterblast. As a good lawyer, though, Jinnah made no binding promise to any of these groups. As mentioned earlier, no resolution was passed committing the Muslim League to an Islamic polity. All this time, the Congress leaders attempted to court the very same group of religious leaders. Bacha Khan himself pleaded with Pir of Manki Sharif against joining the Pakistan Movement during the referendum, warning him that he was being deceived by the Muslim League leadership which had no intention of living up to its promises.

This was entirely true because despite many appeals from the Pir after partition, Jinnah made no attempt to change the constitution or to Islamise the laws. Anyone familiar with Jinnah’s political style knows that he was not the one to bow down to political pressure exerted by the Ulema, Mashaikhs and Pirs etc based on undocumented un-sourced and ambiguous promises he might have made. It must be remembered that his opposition to the colonial state had not been epistemological in the sense Gandhi’s was. This is why political scientists like KB Sayeed and others have accused Jinnah of following the vice regal system but it was a matter of necessity for Jinnah. As the founder of the nation, he understood, as the late Cowasjee used to say, when to put the foot down.

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed seems to understate the wide-ranging political authority and legitimacy Jinnah had obtained as the Quaid-e-Azam. His word was the final word. In this sense, he was not merely just another politician. He was the final arbiter of what ought to be Pakistan and its future. Like Kemal Ataturk (in Jinnah’s words the ‘greatest Musalman of the age’) in Turkey, who too had invoked Islam and Caliphate during the Turkish war of liberation against Greece and the allies, before finally abandoning all such promises in his famous six day speech in 1928, Jinnah had risen above mere politics. His word was the law. The Constituent Assembly underscored this special status when it made the same comparison before conferring the title Quaid-e-Azam on him by law. Ataturk had obtained such unquestionable status through his military acumen. Jinnah had obtained it through his legal and political skill.

In this sense, Jinnah’s 11 August speech remains his clearest pronouncement of policy along with the several promises he made to the minorities in Pakistan which I quoted in detail in my article ‘Jinnah and the minorities’. If there is any social contract, it has to be between the Muslim majority in this country and the religious minorities to the effect that all citizens of Pakistan are equal regardless of their religion, caste or creed. This means a secular state, which is what Pakistan would have remained if Jinnah had lived longer.

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at http://globallegalforum.blogspot.com and his twitter handle is @therealylh

Published in Daily Times, December 21st 2017.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

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